Review: Ultra in a dust cloud
A few days ago we talked about XFX's 9800 GX2 and now it's time to get back to it, this time around pitted against the 8800 Ultra. The 9800 GX2 is a stunning card and it assures Nvidia bragging rights for months to come. It outperforms the Ultra all the way to the retirement home, making way for Nvidia's ninth generation.
The XFX 9800 GX2 is a reference designed card with reference clocks. Its GPUs run at 600MHz, the Shaders are clocked at 1500MHz and the Gigabyte of memory runs at 1000MHz (2000MHz effectively). Like all other partners, XFX is currently offering only the reference card, but we're expecting to see some overclocked cards on the market pretty soon.
Thanks to its huge, black metal case and the Borg-esque "9" on the sticker the XFX card looks pretty mean. The tentacles on the "9" are looking for an acquaintance in the form of another 9800 GX2 card. Quad-SLI is going to push gaming in the ultra high-end to a whole new level. We still can't write much about Quad-SLI, as the NDA is in force until March 25. All we can say is that it works and scales well.
We showed you the picture a few days ago, but in case you've missed it, here it is again. An XFX flavored Quad-SLI setup on a 790i Ultra motherboard, also from XFX. Looks nice, doesn't it ?
We will jump to benchmarking now, as we've described the new 9800 GX2 in detail in our previous reviews. In short, it consists of two G92 GPUs working in tandem, thanks to AFR SLI technology. The new card retains all the good sides of the G92 GPU, but thanks to the dual GPU design the card has a total of 256 stream processors, 1GB of memory, 1508 million transistors, etc. Double the numbers, double the fun. Best of all, we end up with a single dual slot card which provides you with as much performance as two dual slot 8800 GTS cards in SLI.
By combining two 9800 GX2 cards you'll get Quad-SLI, sticking two 8800 GTS cards into your rig on the other hand will get you just plain SLI. This is what makes this card different and keeps it one step ahead of other G92-based products. XFX's 790i Ultra has three PCI Express slots, which means that we can install three Geforce cards in a Tri-SLI setup. The upcoming 9800 GTX is the first card to support Tri-SLI, but it's possible that the 9800 GT will also feature Tri-SLI support. Nvidia's 790i chipset is the first to feature DDR3 support.
Thanks to XFX, who were kind enough to send us a 790i Ultra motherboard along with 9800 GX2 cards, we were able to change our testbed. Apart from using DDR3 memory, we also installed Vista x64. Our first 9800 GX2 reviews were done with Windows XP and we were curious to find out how the new card performs under Vista. Both Nvidia and ATI are turning to Vista and XP is slowly going into retirement.