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Conclusion

GeForce 9600 GT/GTS 250/GTX 260 Non-Reference Roundup
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First, let’s consider the GeForce 9600 GT cards: Gigabyte’s GV-N96TSL-1GI, the silent, passively-cooled card, and its GV-N96TZL-1GI, the overclocked card with the Zalman cooler and fan.

On Newegg, the silent GV-N96TSL-1GI goes for $105, compared to the overclocked GV-N96TZL-1GI, which is priced at $120

If you have an HTPC case with decent airflow to accommodate the passive card, we think this decision is a no-brainer since the GV-N96TSL-1GI makes no noise whatsoever, and compared to its its actively-cooled sibling, actually kept its GPU cooler, overclocked almost as much, and can be purchased at a lower price. This looks like an ideal choice for a home-theater PC that doubles as a gaming machine. Off the top of our heads, we can’t think of a faster passively-cooled gaming card with a better price/performance ratio. We’ll note that the GV-N96TZL-1GI currently has a $20 mail-in rebate offer, which would make it $5 less than its silent brother and a little more attractive for frugal buyers or those with less-than-ideal case airflow.

This brings us to the Asus ENGTS250 DK ($160 on Newegg) and the Zotac GTS 250 AMP! edition (not yet available on Newegg). Assuming these will be available at similar prices, the buyer has a bit of a choice to make. Zotac offers no-frills, out-of-the-box raw performance, while the Asus model supplies sophisticated cooling and 2D power efficiency, but requires some overclocking to get the most out of it. Also notable is that the $160 price range puts these cards within spitting distance of the reference model Radeon HD 4870s and GeForce GTX 260s, so they are a little harder to recommend. When the prices work themselves out to market levels, these GeForce GTS 250 cards should drop to the $145 range. At that price, they'll be a good buy between the cheaper GeForce GTS 250 models and the higher-priced Radeon HD 4870 and GeForce GTX 260 cards.

Finally, we’re left to consider MSI’s new N260GTX Lightning and Asus’ ENGTX260 Matrix cards. Both of these cards offer extremely powerful and appealing features. MSI’s Black Edition offering sports twice the amount of memory of any GeForce GTX 260 we’ve ever seen, a sublime 10-phase power system, and an appealing AirForce panel with which voltages and clock speeds can be manipulated. Asus’ Matrix, on the other hand, has much tighter control over the card’s low-level functions for the serious overclocker and a passive silent cooling mode.

Which card is better? That depends on what you’re looking for. The MSI N260GTX BE offers a ton of memory, and the AirForce panel allows the novice overclocker to push the card to run as fast as it can go without needing to know the nuances of the art of overclocking. It can turn the everyman into an overclocking champion, and let's face it, the AirForce panel offers a bit of "bling-bling" as well to impress your friends.

On the other hand, the Asus ENGTX260 Matrix appeals to more serious overclockers with tight, powerful controls via the iTracker utility, as well as complete silence when in Windows. This Asus card offers more power and control for those who are interested in learning how to use it.

What’s the bottom line? Well, without e-tail pricing, it's difficult to gauge where these cards will fall in relation to reference boards or pricier GeForce GTX 275 cards. But I am fairly confident that, given a choice between one of these non-reference GTX 260s and a reference GTX 275, I'd likely pick one of these intricately-engineered cards. They have the potential to reach or maybe even surpass the GeForce GTX 275's performance, and they're coupled with impressive features that any enthusiasts will find appealing.

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  • -3 Hide
    Mottamort , May 7, 2009 6:25 AM
    I was rather disappointed with this article. Not the article itself but with the slightly misleading Title/Intro. When clicking the article I thought I was going to find a massive battle between these vendors on different tiers, instead you show us different instances of 2 slightly different cards of the same type from one vendor....if that makes sense
    I mean you have Gigabyte vs Gigabyte in the 9600gt section, Asus vs Asus in the 250 section and so on.

    :-/
  • 2 Hide
    dragonsprayer , May 7, 2009 7:14 AM
    Great article
    i wish it had more cards, i think you need 4 parts, try some back cards like the 4870x2 darkknight? good stuff as always!
    thx!
  • 0 Hide
    randomizer , May 7, 2009 9:38 AM
    Man, this article makes my 9600GT look so old.
  • 0 Hide
    crisisavatar , May 7, 2009 10:12 AM
    wow how is the gts 250 performing so close to the gtx 260 wasn't the gtx 260 20% faster ?
  • 2 Hide
    enterco , May 7, 2009 10:55 AM
    It's not clear to me why are you comparing '3dmark score' when you should post 'GPU score'.... It's a graphics card comparision, not platform comparision.
  • 0 Hide
    randomizer , May 7, 2009 10:59 AM
    entercoIt's not clear to me why are you comparing '3dmark score' when you should post 'GPU score'.... It's a graphics card comparision, not platform comparision.

    Nothing but the cards is changed so you're not comparing platforms.
  • 0 Hide
    acasel , May 7, 2009 12:39 PM
    We cannot see clearly the bang for the buck card there if we ain't seeing some ati cards like the 4770 and others..



    The drop down menu sure is fast... :-)
  • 0 Hide
    xsamitt , May 7, 2009 1:16 PM
    You noticed that too hey LOL.Check out my lovely Avatar.
  • 2 Hide
    enterco , May 7, 2009 2:53 PM
    randomizerNothing but the cards is changed so you're not comparing platforms.

    Sure. A reason more to show GPU score. 3dmark score is too much influenced by CPU's power, and it's no longer relevant, the way it used to be once...
    By using a Quad Core and a low-performing GPU you can achive same 3dmark score as using a dual core combined with a considerably stronger GPU, 3dmark Vantage gives too much credit to CPU. But the overall FPS in games it's often higher in the second case: dual core + better GPU.
  • 3 Hide
    marraco , May 7, 2009 4:17 PM
    Recent review showed the 260 being neck to neck with the 4870; both in price and performance, those cards are in the same point.

    Since my 8800GT should be between the 9600 and the 250, I guess that the best upgrade path is to buy a second 8800GT, reaching probably 260/4870 performance.

    I searched the web for 8800GT SLI benckmark running in i7 920, but got no one single review...

    I think that tomshardware should review non up-to-date cards as the 8800 and the ATI equivalents, in crossfilre/SLI, since for many users, it should make sense to buy a second card that to upgrade to a 260/4870.

    older reviews on those cards does not accounted for the scalability on I7 x58 platform, and probably ATI and Nvidia dedicated more time tweaking drivers for newer cards, so maybe the 8800GT does not perform well today (the SLI on core 2/Quad did not worked very well in the past)
  • 3 Hide
    zuke , May 7, 2009 5:20 PM
    I'll second Marraco's suggestion above. I got an aging 8800GTS, and so I'm wondering if I should SLI it or buy a new Nvidia 250/260... I'm not gonna get anything by trying to sell it used.
  • 1 Hide
    marraco , May 7, 2009 7:27 PM
    marraco...I searched the web for 8800GT SLI benckmark running in i7 920, but got no one single review...
    It looks like I searched the wrong queries.
    here are some benchmarks. They show performance like a pair of 4770 (better than 4890), But I trust much more Tomshardware benchmarks :) 


    http://www.xtremesystems.org/forums/showthread.php?p=3775122
  • -2 Hide
    cleeve , May 7, 2009 9:04 PM
    entercoIt's not clear to me why are you comparing '3dmark score' when you should post 'GPU score'.... It's a graphics card comparision, not platform comparision.


    Franly, I find the 3DMarks show a more realistic performance difference than the GPU score.
  • 0 Hide
    cleeve , May 7, 2009 9:04 PM
    mottamort...Asus vs Asus in the 250 section and so on.:-/


    The GTS 250 cards were ASUS vs. Zotac.
  • 0 Hide
    cleeve , May 7, 2009 9:06 PM
    dragonsprayerGreat article wish it had more cards, i think you need 4 parts, try some back cards like the 4870x2 darkknight? good stuff as always!thx!


    We had a lot of vendors submit non-reference GeForce cards so this is the article we had the parts for. I'm trying to make more graphics card reviews happen so I'm planning on a Radeon version in the future.
  • 0 Hide
    cleeve , May 7, 2009 9:08 PM
    zukeI'll second Marraco's suggestion above. I got an aging 8800GTS, and so I'm wondering if I should SLI it or buy a new Nvidia 250/260... I'm not gonna get anything by trying to sell it used.


    If your card has 512MB, your 8800 GTS is simply an underclocked GTS 250. If you overclock it you'll bring performance much closer to the new GTS 250, I wouldn't upgrade... just add another one if your board supports it.
  • 0 Hide
    cleeve , May 7, 2009 9:14 PM
    acaselWe cannot see clearly the bang for the buck card there if we ain't seeing some ati cards like the 4770 and others.


    This isn't a budget card roundup, it's a GeForce non-reference roundup. Of course we'll have articles that focus on Radeon vs. GeForce, but this isn't one of 'em. :) 
  • 1 Hide
    cleeve , May 7, 2009 9:17 PM
    marracoRecent review showed the 260 being neck to neck with the 4870; both in price and performance, those cards are in the same point.Since my 8800GT should be between the 9600 and the 250, I guess that the best upgrade path is to buy a second 8800GT, reaching probably 260/4870 performance.I searched the web for 8800GT SLI benckmark running in i7 920, but got no one single review...


    Absolutely, a second 8800 GT is the way to go for you.

    If you want to know what two 8800 GTs can do, remember that the 9800 GT is simply a re-badged 8800 GT. Just google something like "9800 GT SLI benchmark" and you'll have a good idea what your cards can accomplish.
  • 0 Hide
    nerrawg , May 7, 2009 9:27 PM
    Great article guys.
    One thing that I think is blatantly obvious, at least from the cards in this article, Is that there is a price premium for NVidia cards in the low-mid price ranges ($60-120). Lets compare non-reference ATI and NVIdia cards focused on gamers: (Not counting MIRs)

    Low-Mid range gamer card: (512MB)
    9600GT 512 MB gigabyte overclocked edition: $100
    9600GT cheapest $77
    9800GT cheapest - $115
    4670 cheapest $65
    4830 cheapest - $84
    4770 cheapest - $100
    4850 cheapest (Non-reference OC model) - $110

    Comparing these prices to Cleeve's relative performance chart it looks like NVidia takes a bit of a premium for their lower end cards. So I ask, why?

    Mid-high range: (512MB)
    Cheapest 250 - $130
    Cheapest 4870 - $165

    Mid-high range: (1GB)
    Cheapest GTS 250 - $145
    Cheapest 4870 - $175

    Things look better for Nvidia in the mid-high range, as the GTS 250 is priced in between 4850 and the 4870 - which is were everyone says it lies performance wise.

    So why do we perceivably pay a premium for low range NVidia cards? Could it be that there is a general conception amongst the consumers purchasing GPUs in this price range that NVidia is better than ATI - regardless (or in ignorance) of the bench marks? Or is it that NVidia is arrogant in their pricing?

    I ask you
  • -2 Hide
    nerrawg , May 7, 2009 9:28 PM
    Great article guys.
    One thing that I think is blatantly obvious, at least from the cards in this article, Is that there is a price premium for NVidia cards in the low-mid price ranges ($60-120). Lets compare non-reference ATI and NVIdia cards focused on gamers: (Not counting MIRs)

    Low-Mid range gamer card: (512MB)
    9600GT 512 MB gigabyte overclocked edition: $100
    9600GT cheapest $77
    9800GT cheapest - $115
    4670 cheapest $65
    4830 cheapest - $84
    4770 cheapest - $100
    4850 cheapest (Non-reference OC model) - $110

    Comparing these prices to Cleeve's relative performance chart it looks like NVidia takes a bit of a premium for their lower end cards. So I ask, why?

    Mid-high range: (512MB)
    Cheapest 250 - $130
    Cheapest 4870 - $165

    Mid-high range: (1GB)
    Cheapest GTS 250 - $145
    Cheapest 4870 - $175

    Things look better for Nvidia in the mid-high range, as the GTS 250 is priced in between 4850 and the 4870 - which is were everyone says it lies performance wise.

    So why do we perceivably pay a premium for low range NVidia cards? Could it be that there is a general conception amongst the consumers purchasing GPUs in this price range that NVidia is better than ATI - regardless (or in ignorance) of the bench marks? Or is it that NVidia is arrogant in their pricing?

    I ask you
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