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Gigabyte Radeon 9800XT (GV-R98X256D)

Check out this review of Gigabyte’s current flagship ATI graphics card. The GV-R98X256D features good performance and a solid bundle. Check it out…

[review_ad]Introduction


For a long time Gigabyte has been offering video cards featuring technology from the world’s leading graphics chip designers. Of course, I’m referring to ATI and NVIDIA. In the past, Gigabyte has even offered graphics cards featuring Intel, Matrox, and 3Dfx chips. Now, the company is focused on the top two, since, among other reasons (like one of those companies being defunct), that is where all the money is. For the curious, here’s a link to Gigabyte’s video card line-up.

Gigabyte was generous enough to let us take a look at one of their flagship products – the Gigabyte Radeon 9800 XT (GV-R98X256D), which features 256 MB of DDR memory and all of the features of ATI’s 9800 XT VPU, like core and memory clock speeds of 412 MHz and 730 MHz (DDR), respectively. To differentiate its 9800 XT offering from the numerous others out on the market, Gigabyte has included a generous bundle with this board. In the box, you get three games – Will Rock, Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness, and Rainbow Six 3: Raven Shield – and a coupon for Half Life 2. To help you watch DVDs, Gigabyte also includes the great software DVD player, Power DVD 5.0.

With the recent announcement by NVIDIA of their latest GPU and ATI’s heir to their high-end throne’s announcement right around the corner, the video card market is soon to see a whole new crop of “bargain” cards. These are the top-end boards from the previous generation being sold at considerable discounts to make room for the next generation boards at the top price tier. That would probably be a good thing to keep in mind when reading this review. Also, recent driver releases from ATI and NVIDIA could shake things up a bit in the race between the 5950 Ultra and the 9800 XT, where the 9800 XT has been widely regarded as the performance king for a while. Before we get into that, though, let’s take a closer look at this board from Gigabyte.



Specifications & Features

Please go to ATI’s website for complete details of the Radeon 9800 XT’s specs and features. Here are some of the highlights:

Specifications:

Graphics Processor: ATI RADEON 9800 XT
Core Clock Frequency: 412 MHz
Memory Clock Frequency: 730 MHz DDR
Memory: 256 MB DDR
Memory Interface: 256-bit
Bus: AGP 8X

Features:

  • Powered by RADEON 9800 XT VPU
  • Supports DirectX 9.0
  • 8-pixel pipeline architecture
  • DVI output
  • TV-out
  • Supported by Gigabyte’s V-Tuner overclocking utility


Package Contents:

  • GV-R98X256D Graphics Board
  • Drivers/Utilities CD
  • User´s Manual
  • S-Video Cable
  • Composite Video Cable
  • Composite to S-Video adapter
  • DVI-I to D-Sub adapter
  • PowerDVD 5.0
  • Will Rock (Full Version)
  • Rainbow Six 3: Raven Shield (Full Version)
  • Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness (Full Version)
  • Coupon for Half Life 2



Installation

Installing this board was as simple as it should be. I simply put it in the AGP slot, booted into Windows XP, and installed ATI’s latest drivers – Catalyst 4.4. The drivers and control panel installed fine and after a reboot and some resolution tweaking, everything was good to go. I did notice a little more room in my case, since this board is a one slot solution as opposed to the 5950 Ultra’s two slot solution. Although I don’t have space concerns for my case, I’m sure that having a high-end one slot solution would be very nice for a case that is packed with hardware.


Performance

For a while now, there has been a general consensus among the unbiased gamer community that the 9800 XT has at least a slight overall performance advantage when compared to the 5950 Ultra. However, many new driver revisions have been released since most of the reviews comparing these two chips were written. As we all know, drivers can make a big difference in performance. That is why I think it is worthwhile to take another look at this comparison. I would expect Gigabyte’s Radeon 9800 XT and the reference NVIDIA GeForce FX 5950 Ultra used in this comparison to perform relatively evenly across most games.

I also did some overclocking of this board by changing the core and memory clocks with Gigabyte’s V-Tuner software. It was very handy and worked well.

Test System:

  • Gigabyte GA-K8VNXP (BIOS version F5) (review)
  • AMD Athlon 64 3200+
  • Hitachi Deskstar 7K250 80GB Serial ATA 7200RPM Hard Drive w/8MB Buffer
  • Reference GeForce FX 5950 Ultra or Gigabyte Radeon 9800 XT
  • Corsair TWINX1024-3200LLPRO (2x512MB DDR-SDRAM) (review)
  • Operation System: Windows XP with Service Pack 1
  • Chipset Driver: 3.13
  • Graphics Card Driver: Forceware 56.72 for 5950U and Catalyst 4.4 for 9800 XT
  • DirectX Version: 9.0b

Benchmark Results

I have omitted the usual 3DMark03 benchmarking because Futuremark has not given its stamp of approval on the Forceware 56.72 drivers. However, I think we can glean enough information from the other benchmarks I ran.

AquaMark3

The AquaMark3 benchmark utilizes a real 3D game engine (called krass™) with DirectX 9.0 features, such as Pixel Shaders 2.0, to render a beautiful underwater world. This engine is used in AquaNox 2: Revelation and the RTS game Spellforce. I ran the default benchmark that can be run in an unlicensed version of AquaMark3 and two benchmarks with custom settings.

Video Card
FPS
Default – 1024×768, noAA/4xAF, max. detail
Gigabyte Radeon 9800 XT 44.33
NVIDIA GeForce FX 5950 Ultra 44.71
Custom – 1024×768, Q3AA/8xAF, max. detail
Gigabyte Radeon 9800 XT 35.93
NVIDIA GeForce FX 5950 Ultra 32.08
Custom – 1280×1024, Q3AA/8xAF, max. detail
Gigabyte Radeon 9800 XT 26.97
NVIDIA GeForce FX 5950 Ultra 23.69

It looks like the Radeon 9800 XT pulls ahead on this one when anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering are enabled.

Gun Metal Benchmark 1 (v1.20s)

The Gun Metal benchmark is another true game engine benchmark. The game and benchmark were developed by Yeti Studios. Anisotropic filtering is always enabled in this game, and anti-aliasing is enabled in the game’s video options.

Video Card
FPS
1024×768 – 2xAA
Gigabyte Radeon 9800 XT 31.76
NVIDIA GeForce FX 5950 Ultra 32.85
1280×1024 – 2xAA
Gigabyte Radeon 9800 XT 25.01
NVIDIA GeForce FX 5950 Ultra 26.56
1600×1200 – 2xAA
Gigabyte Radeon 9800 XT 19.80
NVIDIA GeForce FX 5950 Ultra 21.65

Every other comparison of these two chips with this benchmark have turned out the same as this one, with the 5950 Ultra enjoying a decent performance lead in all cases.

Halo

Microsoft’s Halo on the Xbox is still one of the console’s premier titles. After a couple years of enjoying its success on their console, Microsoft decided to share this great game with the PC gaming masses (and make some more money on it, of course). I updated Halo to the latest patch level, which is 1.4, for these benchmarks and used the timedemo feature. The timedemo feature does not really provide a realistic in game performance number; I would compare it to a flyby type of benchmark. But, it still allows us to see how these boards perform on this currently popular game.

Video Card
FPS
1024×768 – NoAA/NoAF
Gigabyte Radeon 9800 XT 63.32
NVIDIA GeForce FX 5950 Ultra 56.53
1280×1024 – NoAA/NoAF
Gigabyte Radeon 9800 XT 41.98
NVIDIA GeForce FX 5950 Ultra 37.36
1600×1200 – NoAA/NoAF
Gigabyte Radeon 9800 XT 29.38
NVIDIA GeForce FX 5950 Ultra 27.40

It looks like the Gigabyte Radeon 9800 XT is the clear leader in Halo timedemo performance. I’ve been playing Halo at 1024×768 with all details on high and v-synch disabled, and it runs buttery smooth and looks great!

X2: The Threat – Rolling Demo

X2: The Threat is another game that does not hold back on the eye candy. Most of the stunning visuals are courtesy of DirectX 8-level features, such as DOT3 bumpmapping. The “rolling demo” basically runs through a series of short scenes that you would most likely see while playing the game.

Video Card
FPS
1024×768 – NoAA/NoAF
Gigabyte Radeon 9800 XT 63.15
NVIDIA GeForce FX 5950 Ultra 73.66
1280×1024 – NoAA/NoAF
Gigabyte Radeon 9800 XT 50.13
NVIDIA GeForce FX 5950 Ultra 60.09
1600×1200 – NoAA/NoAF
Gigabyte Radeon 9800 XT 40.19
NVIDIA GeForce FX 5950 Ultra 46.72


Video Card
FPS
1024×768 – 4xAA/8xAF
Gigabyte Radeon 9800 XT 43.97
NVIDIA GeForce FX 5950 Ultra 50.30
1280×1024 – 4xAA/8xAF
Gigabyte Radeon 9800 XT 31.61
NVIDIA GeForce FX 5950 Ultra 36.52
1600×1200 – 2xAA/8xAF
Gigabyte Radeon 9800 XT 32.78
NVIDIA GeForce FX 5950 Ultra 38.37

The Radeon 9800 XT does not seem to be able to stand up to the 5950 Ultra in this benchmark.

Unreal Tournament 2003 Demo

Unreal Tournament 2003 certainly needs no introduction. It’s a first-person shooter that’s been around a while, and it’s been benchmarked countless times. I used the UT2K3Bench utility from benscustomcases.com to run these benchmarks on the Antalus and Asbestos maps. I ran a custom benchmark with four bots and maximum detail. I excluded benchmarks with no anti-aliasing or filtering because I figured people with these boards would want to be turning them on with such an old game.

UT2K3 Demo – Antalus

Video Card
FPS
1024×768 – 4xAA/8xAF
Gigabyte Radeon 9800 XT 93.19
NVIDIA GeForce FX 5950 Ultra 93.53
1280×960 – 4xAA/8xAF
Gigabyte Radeon 9800 XT 61.93
NVIDIA GeForce FX 5950 Ultra 63.20
1600×1200 – 4xAA/8xAF
Gigabyte Radeon 9800 XT 47.05
NVIDIA GeForce FX 5950 Ultra 47.54

UT2K3 Demo – Asbestos

Video Card
FPS
1024×768 – 4xAA/8xAF
Gigabyte Radeon 9800 XT 145.82
NVIDIA GeForce FX 5950 Ultra 138.81
1280×960 – 4xAA/8xAF
Gigabyte Radeon 9800 XT 100.65
NVIDIA GeForce FX 5950 Ultra 99.09
1600×1200 – 4xAA/8xAF
Gigabyte Radeon 9800 XT 83.39
NVIDIA GeForce FX 5950 Ultra 82.06

The two boards swap performance leads depending on the map, and the most prominent lead the Gigabyte’s lead at 1024×768 on Asbestos. For some reason, that lead all but vanishes when the resolution is cranked up a notch.

Savage

Although it does not utilize the latest graphics features of these boards, Savage can tax the graphics hardware (and the rest of the system) with its expansive environments and numerous characters on-screen battling to the death simultaneously. It utilizes an OpenGL engine that is not based on Quake3, if you can believe that.

Video Card
FPS
1024×768 – NoAA/NoAF
Gigabyte Radeon 9800 XT 25.93
NVIDIA GeForce FX 5950 Ultra 34.96
1280×1024 – NoAA/NoAF
Gigabyte Radeon 9800 XT 24.98
NVIDIA GeForce FX 5950 Ultra 33.98
1600×1200 – NoAA/NoAF
Gigabyte Radeon 9800 XT 24.90
NVIDIA GeForce FX 5950 Ultra 31.69

Video Card
FPS
1024×768 – 4xAA/8xAF
Gigabyte Radeon 9800 XT 25.75
NVIDIA GeForce FX 5950 Ultra 29.86
1280×1024 – 4xAA/8xAF
Gigabyte Radeon 9800 XT 24.92
NVIDIA GeForce FX 5950 Ultra 24.18
1600×1200 – 4xAA/8xAF
Gigabyte Radeon 9800 XT 23.31
NVIDIA GeForce FX 5950 Ultra 20.10

The Gigabyte 9800 XT is getting a sound thrashing in this benchmark until AA and AF are enabled. Then, the tables are turned and it leads in the end. Interestingly, the performance on the 9800 XT takes only a minuscule peformance hit when 4xAA/8xAF is enabled.

Overclocking

Gigabyte allows you to adjust the core and memory clocks with its V-Tuner application. It is an easy application to use, and I was pleased with it’s functionality; however, it would be nice if it would show some other useful information, like the core temperature.

I also tried using ATI’s OVERDRIVE feature, which automatically adjusts the core clock frequency to a “safe” maximum based on the current core temperature. I ran one Halo timedemo with this feature enabled, and the performance did not increase at all, so I decided to just turn to V-Tuner for my overclocking tests. I was able to get this board to run stable at 440 MHz core clock frequency and 400 MHz memory clock freqency. I did notice some rendering defects at these speeds, though, but they were barely noticeable. Here are my results at these clock speeds:
Halo – 1024×768, NoAA/NoAF 67.34 FPS
AquaMark3 (Default Benchmark) 46.15 FPS
AquaMark3 (Custom Benchmark – 1280×1024, Q3AA/8xAF) 28.89 FPS

Conclusion


Although it may not be the cheapest Radeon 9800 XT graphics board around, for $420, Gigabyte’s GV-R98X256D offers a lot of value for only about $20 more than many of the competitors 9800 XT offerings. Gigabyte does this by offering full versions of four games – three in the box (Will Rock, Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness, and Rainbow Six 3: Raven Shield) and a “coupon” for the other (the highly-anticipated Half Life 2). That’s easily well over $100 in games! I searched some popular online retailers for other 9800 XTs and could not find many packages that beat this. Of course, for people who already have these games or who are not interested in them, perhaps going for a cheaper 9800 XT would be a better option. However, the value of Half Life 2 alone would probably make it worth the price differential.

As I mentioned earlier, next generation boards are due to hit the streets soon, which will make Gigabyte’s and other companies’ 9800 XTs even more appealing to people who are willing to wait for the next great bargain. Of course, this also applies to NVIDIA’s 5950 Ultra products. This is a really important consideration since the 9800 XT is not a clear performance leader any more. Right now, you can get some 5950 Ultra boards for less than $400, which might make the 9800 XTs a hard sell to some. You will probably find Gigabyte’s 5950 Ultra product for about the same price as their 9800 XT board, though. Basically, if you want a board based on ATI’s current top-performer, you can’t go wrong with this board from Gigabyte. However, if you want to save a little bit of money for equal or great performance (depending on the games you play), you may want to look at 5950 Ultra boards. Either way, you may save a little more money by waiting for the next generation boards to hit retail shelves.

I am awarding the Gigabyte GV-R98X256D an 8.5 out of 10 and the Bjorn3D Seal of Approval!

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