The end result is that Nvidia has taken care of business with this GeForce 9800 GTX. It delivers very good performance, better than the 8800 GTX' (by an average of 7%) and close to the 8800 Ultra (especially without antialiasing). The performance is also good enough to put the 8800 GTS 512 MB out of the running, with a little surprise: Despite an identical GPU and similar throughputs (+4% in the raw-processing-power department, +13% for memory bandwidth), the gain in actual gaming is sometimes as much as 40% (average 13%). That's because the GeForce 8 drivers were older at the time of our test, and will catch up when Nvidia finally gets around to updating them (a beta version of ForceWare 174.74 has just been released).
To put the icing on the cake, the price of this 9800 GTX is relatively low - $300-350, less than the HD 3870 X2. Its price, in fact, is lower than most of the other cards we tested here except for the 8800 GT, HD 3870 and 8800 GTS 512 MB. The addition of HybridPower support is also promising, even though we won't get the benefit of it right away.
Still, as was the case with the 9800 GX2, Nvidia gives the impression that it's resting on its laurels and giving us just enough to get by. The first question that arises is the legitimacy of this card, since it's only slightly different from preceding cards (the 8800 GTX and Ultra and the 8800 GTS 512 MB). Indeed, Nvidia has sunk a little deeper into the quicksand of the contradictions its launch of the GeForce 9 series got it into. Yet it costs more than the 8800 GTS 512 MB, now available at between $245-320.
A more serious problem is that the GeForce 9800 GTX suffers from two real shortcomings. The first is the limited amount of memory, at 512 MB. That's just not comprehensible for a card that's supposed to replace the 8800 GTX, which had 768 MB. It limits high resolution/antialiasing performance in certain games, and cancels out the advantage of installing the card in an SLI or triple SLI configuration - even though it supports SLI.
Worse, the 9800 GTX has another drawback we thought we'd never run into again on a midrange or high-end card from Nvidia: With its quick-accelerating fan, it's noisy under load, and sometimes even at idle!
So come on, Nvidia. Is this really the best you can do 17 months after the 8800 GTX?
Nvidia GeForce 9800 GTX: A card that's almost as fast as the 8800 Ultra at a much lower price is a good thing. But a year and a half after the release of the GeForce 8 series, and even though AMD doesn't really have anything that can go head to head with this card, we'd have liked a little more punch to replace the 8800 GTX with (which is also now being sold for under $400). What we got instead was a card that's very noisy under load and limited by a stingy 512 MB of memory. These drawbacks are especially disappointing given that the 8800 GTS 512 MB is very similar and less expensive.
+ Performance close to that of the 8800 Ultra at half the price / Support for HybridPower (with compatible motherboards) - Noisy under load / Only 512 MB of memory / Not different enough from the 8800 GTS 512 MB, 8800 GTX and Ultra, although they're previous-generation cards and often less expensive.