Graphics Cards Guide

NVIDIA GeForce 9600 GT 512MB (Reference Card) review

NVIDIA GeForce 9600 GT 512MB - The Nemesis of ATI

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Introducing the GeForce 9 Series

Introducing the GeForce 9 Series

Anyone tracking the financial fortunes of the tech industry would have noticed the tremendous year that NVIDIA experienced in 2007. As we had commented last year, it had been a fantastic year with record revenues and profits and even ending with accolades from Forbes magazine. The latest evidence of its remarkable growth came last week, when NVIDIA announced another record fourth quarter financial results. This has resulted in an unlikely scenario where the market capitalization of NVIDIA now stands at more than 12 billion and with the difficulties faced by ATI/AMD recently, lead to some wild speculation that NVIDIA could be a potential buyer of a troubled ATI/AMD valued by the market at only 4 billion.

NVIDIA has already flexed its financial strength with its recent acquisition of physics developer Ageia and with that, the promise of some of those Ageia technologies finding their way to NVIDIA's professional graphics products. Also, with the recent launch of a mobile applications processor with HD playback capabilities, the APX 2500, the company seems to have covered both the high performance computing segment and the potentially huge mobile industry. Does it mean that the consumer graphics segment has been sewn up?

In fact, it would be premature to say that NVIDIA has won the consumer graphics segment. No doubt it has managed to capture a substantial overall market share from its rival, but ATI has hit back with a dual GPU solution, the Radeon HD 3870 X2 that finally gives the company a high-end product. Additionally, NVIDIA's recent record in the mid-range segment has not been too impressive, with a gaping void in its product lineup between the GeForce 8600 GTS and the GeForce 8800 GT. Although the company has tried to foster a stop gap solution in the form of the GeForce 8800 GS, the scarcity of this SKU suggests that few vendors have taken the trouble to manufacture it.

The reason for this reluctance to accept the GeForce 8800 GS is apparent today, for vendors should start shipping, (if they haven't already) the first of NVIDIA's GeForce 9 series, the GeForce 9600 GT. While it is ostensibly the first of the GeForce 9 series, we have actually witnessed some of its capabilities before, as the G94 core at the heart of the GeForce 9600 GT belongs to the same architecture family as the G92 found on the GeForce 8800 GT and 8800 GTS 512MB (so there's no DX10.1 or Shader Model 4.1 yet). The G94 is the weaker of the two, with only 64 stream processors compared to the 112 found on the G92 (and the full 128 on the GTS 512MB model). There are some differences of course in terms of memory and clock speeds but one could almost say it's the same core.

This means that the GeForce 9600 GT has the distinction of having a 256-bit bus, making it the first mid-range NVIDIA product to have such bandwidth. Its predecessors like the GeForce 8600 GT only had 128-bit bus. NVIDIA has also given it a respectable 512MB of GDDR3 memory, a sign perhaps that mainstream graphics frame buffer size has now grown to 512MB. Like the G92, the G94 is built on a 65nm manufacturing process, thereby reducing its power consumption. It's rated at 95W for power draw, similar to the Radeon HD 3850 and less than the 105W of the GeForce 8800 GT. Hence, the temperatures on the GeForce 9600 GT are likely to be lower than that on the GeForce 8800 GT.

The architecture similarities also ensures that you'll get the latest NVIDIA's PureVideo HD hardware on the GeForce 9600 GT, including the VP2 that will drastically reduce CPU utilization for HD video playback. NVIDIA also revealed that the GeForce 9600 GT is able to decode two video streams simultaneously, which is extremely useful for those PiP (picture in picture) moments. There are also improvements made to how PureVideo does dynamic contrast during video playback, with the GPU now able to analyze each frame before deciding whether to adjust the contrast on the fly. These are changes that are present on the G92 based cards but NVIDIA has only elaborated on them now.

But moving back to the performance aspect of the GeForce 9600 GT that we're sure readers are more interested in. The table below lists the important specifications of this new card, compared to some of its competitors and also the previous 8600 models. Immediately, one notices that NVIDIA has compensated for the lower number of stream processors on the GeForce 9600 GT by increasing clock speeds. The memory bus, size and type are identical, leading to a similar memory bandwidth of 57.6GB/s. You can also expect the memory to be of the 1.0ns GDDR3 variety like the GeForce 8800 GT (at least for stock-clocked products). If you're interested in the core architecture of the G9x GPU, you can refer to our previous GeForce 8800 GT article.

How the GeForce 9600 GT stacks up
Model NVIDIA GeForce 9600 GT 512MB NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GT 512MB NVIDIA GeForce 8600 GTS 256MB NVIDIA GeForce 8600 GT 256MB ATI Radeon HD 3870 512MB ATI Radeon HD 3850 256MB
Core Code G94 G92 G84 G84 RV670 RV670
Transistor Count unknown 754 million 289 million 289 million 666 million 666 million
Manufacturing Process 65nm 65nm 80nm 80nm 55nm 55nm
Core Clock 650MHz 600MHz 675MHz 540MHz 775MHz 670MHz
Stream Processors 64 Stream Processors 112 Stream Processors 32 Stream Processors 32 Stream Processors 64 Shader units consisting of 320 Stream Processors 64 Shader units consisting of 320 Stream Processors
Stream Processor Clock 1625MHz 1500MHz 1450MHz 1190MHz 775MHz 670MHz
Texture Mapping Units (TMU) or Texture Filtering (TF) units 32 56 16 16 16 16
Raster Operator units (ROP) 16 16 8 8 16 16
Memory Clock 1800MHz GDDR3 1800MHz GDDR3 2000MHz GDDR3 1400MHz GDDR3 2250MHz GDDR4 1660MHz GDDR3
DDR Memory Bus 256-bit 256-bit 128-bit 128-bit 256-bit 256-bit
Memory Bandwidth 57.6GB/s 57.6GB/s 32.0GB/s 22.4GB/s 72.0GB/s 53.1GB/s
Ring Bus Memory Controller NIL NIL NIL NIL 512-bit 512-bit
PCI Express Interface PCIe ver 2.0 x16 PCIe ver 2.0 x16 x16 x16 PCIe ver 2.0 x16 PCIe ver 2.0 x16
Molex Power Connectors Yes Yes Yes No Yes Yes
Multi GPU Technology Yes (SLI) Yes (SLI) Yes (SLI) Yes (SLI) Yes (CrossFire) Yes (CrossFire)
DVI Output Support 2 x Dual-Link 2 x Dual-Link 2 x Dual-Link 2 x Dual-Link 2 x Dual-Link 2 x Dual-Link
HDCP Output Cable? Yes Yes Yes Vendor dependent Yes Yes
Street Price US$169 - 189 ~US$219 - 259 ~US$109 - 149 ~US$90 - 120 ~US$189 - 234 ~US$149 - 169