PNY 9800 GTX XLR8 OC review

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Our first look at the Nvidia GeForce 9800 GTX, one of the most powerful cards from the new 9-series, left us distinctly underwhelmed. While there was an impressive chunk of power available, we were disappointed by the lack of genuine, groundbreaking performance – and the relatively high price, given it’s essentially an updated 8-series card.

PNY 9800 GTX XLR8 OC review

PNY, though, has delivered the first overclocked 9800 GTX we’ve seen and, along with it, the promise that the flagship GPU of Nvidia’s latest generation of cards can finally deliver the frame rates we initially expected.

The plastic chassis, aside from the XLR8 branding, is identical to the reference card, and there’s a range of enhancements beneath it that should go some way to boosting performance. The original core clock speed of 675MHz has been improved to 725MHz, and the memory clock now stands at 2320MHz as opposed to the original 2200MHz.

The memory bandwidth has also seen an improvement thanks to the increase in clock speed – from 70.4GB/s to 74.2GB/s. The various fillrates have also seen increases thanks to the improved power of the card: the pixel rate has jumped from 10.8GPixel/s to 11.6GPixel/s, and the texture rate has risen to 46.4GTexel/s, from the original figure of 43.2GTexel/s.

Despite this multitude of improvements, when we pitted the XLR8 against the original 9800 GTX in our test rig – an MSI X48 Platinum motherboard with an Intel Core 2 Extreme QX9650 processor and 2GB of 1333MHz DDR3 RAM – we only saw modest performance gains.

Our low and medium Crysis tests are largely irrelevant with such powerful cards, with both GPUs scoring within 3fps of each other and decimating the benchmarks. The XLR8 scored 142fps and 72fps in our low and medium benchmarks respectively, and the standard 9800 GTX replied with similar scores: 141fps and 69fps in the same tests.

More demanding tests, though, didn’t exhibit the sort of performance improvements that we expected. Our high Crysis benchmark, which runs at a resolution of 1,600 x 1,200, again saw a mere 3fps separating the cards, with the XLR8 scoring 36fps and coming out on top. Increasing the quality settings to ‘very high’ saw frame-rates drop below playable levels, although the PNY card again had the edge, although only by two frames per second.

There’s little else about the card to differentiate the PNY XLR8 from the reference model. They even run at the same temperature, with both cards peaking at 61 degrees Celsius in the midst of our benchmarks. We expected the PNY card to be slightly warmer than the standard 9800 GTX, but the fan runs faster – at 30,424rpm compared to 30,187rpm – and brings the temperature in line.

Thankfully, both cards run relatively quietly, especially compared to noisy stablemate the 9800 GX2, and won’t be tremendously noticeable inside a case.

Power consumption, though, is one area where the two cards differ – the increased horsepower of the XLR8 means that our test rig’s consumption peaked at 258W, compared to the 242W power draw of the same PC with a standard 9800 GTX fitted instead.

There’s no doubt that the XLR8 has plenty of competition in the high-end graphics market, and the proliferation of alternative GPUs may scupper its chances of success when the gains over the standard 9800 GTX aren’t particularly notable. If you demand superb performance, then it’s worth considering a pair of 8800 GTS 512MB or 9600 GT cards, for instance, running in SLI. There’s also the 9800 GX2 which, although considerably more expensive, offers unrivalled performance on a single PCB thanks to a pair of GPUs.

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