Introduction

Asus 9600 GT TOP

The 9600 GT is the darling of the gaming world with its lower power consumption, stellar performance, and ease on the wallet. What happens when the world’s leading enthusiast motherboard supplier rolls up its sleeves and gets a little dirty with NVIDIA’s price/performance leader? You get the ASUS 9600 GT TOP, an overclocked and beyond the limit of ordinary video card. One glance at the huge heat sink on this card and you know that Asus is serious about its performance. While it does look like something that would be found on a CPU, this beast keeps the G94 core of the 9600 GT nice and cool.

Asus 9600 GT TOP

Beyond the heat sink we see that Asus has gone a different route with the color of the PCB, it is a nice bluish-green that sets itself apart from “lesser” 9600 GT brethren. Further differentiating the card from a reference model is the core and memory speed. Coming in with a 70 MHz bump in core speed to 720 MHz, the Asus 9600 GT can walk the walk.

Asus 9600 GT TOP

Although there isn’t a change in memory speed from the reference card, the 9600 GT benefits the most from the Core and Shader speed increases. The memory on our card is Samsung K4J52324QE-BJ1A 1000MHz rated GDDR3, so if you’re into overclocking you should easily be able to get an extra 100MHz since they are clocked at 900MHz.

Asus 9600 GT TOP

The video connectors are the standard twin Dual-Link DVI cables with an S-Video style out that can be used with included adaptors to hook it up to an HDTV. Let’s take a look at the box and bundle to see what other connections are available. Yes, the DVI connector on the left is Yellow!

Box, Bundle and Test System

Bundle

Asus 9600 GT TOP

Asus has been using these very long boxes for their retail video cards for some time now and although they are a little awkward, they are less bulky than some other card boxes. The box does its job well, clearly noting what card it is and advertises that the card is overclocked and comes with an upgraded heat sink. It also shows that the card is PCI-E 2.0 and that it is HDCP ready.

The bundle shipped with the card is a little above the norm for a value card. There is the standard manual and driver disk, RGB cable, and power cable. Also included are a DVI-VGA adaptor, DVI-HDMI adaptor, and a SPDIF cable. Finally, we have a standalone manual explaining how to hook up the HDMI/SPDIF, a straightforward operation but something that oft goes overlooked by other card partners.

Test Setup

Test System

The test system was running Windows Vista Ultimate 32-bit with all available Microsoft updates including the hotfixes required for enthusiast video cards to run correctly. NVIDIA Forceware 169.28 beta drivers were used on all of the GeForce 8800 series graphics cards, and 175.16 used for the 9600 GT. ATI Catalyst 8.3 drivers were used for all ATI cards. All results shown in the charts are averages of at least three runs from each game or application used. Memory timings were set to 1000MHz 4-5-4-15. The XFX GeForce 8800 GTX were standard models and the GeForce 8800 GTS were the Palit 1GB Sonic SLI Video Cards.

Keep in mind that we are using FRAPS for many of our tests and the results can vary a few percent since these are not scripted runs.

 

Intel Test Platform

Component

Brand/Model

Live Pricing

Processor

Intel Core 2 Quad QX9770

Motherboard

XFX nForce 780i SLI

Memory

Crucial PC2-8500 2GB

Video Card

See Above

Hard Drive

Western Digital Raptor 150GB

Cooling

Thermalright Ultra 120 Extreme

Power Supply

Thermaltake ToughPower 1000W 

Operating System

Windows Vista Ultimate

 

Call of Juarez

BIOSHOCK on NVIDIA GeForce 8800 Ultra

Call of Juarez is a Western-themed first-person shooter from the Polish developer Techland. First released for Windows in 2006 as a DirectX 9 title, it was re-released on June 12, 2007 as a DirextX 10 game title. Call of Juarez was one of the first games to utilize Microsoft's DirectX 10 and it is included in our testing for this reason. We have tested Call of Juarez before, but that was version 1.1.1.0 EN.  Today, the performance results are from version 1.3.0.1 EN, which is a newer version with performance enhancements.

Call of Juarez Benchmarking

Call of Juarez Benchmarking

Benchmark Results: As you can see this benchmark pushes DirectX 10 graphics cards to the breaking point with high quality settings at 2560x1600. The PNY 9600 GT puts on a strong performance here, with improvements in the latest drivers it's competing with the 8800 GT and GTS.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Benchmark

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl uses the 'X-ray Engine' to power the graphics. It is a DirectX 8/9 Shader Model 3.0 graphics engine. Up to a million polygons can be on-screen at any one time, which makes it one of the more impressive engines on the market today. The engine features HDR rendering, parallax and normal mapping, soft shadows, widescreen support, weather effects and day/night cycles. As with other engines that utilize deferred shading (such as Unreal Engine 3 and CryENGINE2), the X-ray Engine does not support anti-aliasing with dynamic lighting enabled. However, a "fake" form of anti-aliasing can be enabled with the static lighting option; this format utilizes a technique to blur the image to give the false impression of anti-aliasing. The game takes place in a thirty square kilometer area, and both the outside and inside of this area is rendered to the same amount of detail.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Benchmark Performance

S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Benchmark Performance

Benchmark Results: In STALKER we see another strong showing from the 9600 GT. The latest 8.5 drivers helped out the 3870 but the 9600 GT is just too much.

Need For Speed Pro-Street

Need For Speed Pro Street Benchmarking

Need for Speed: ProStreet is the 11th installment of Electronic Arts' popular racing game series Need for Speed and was released on November 2, 2007.

Need For Speed Pro Street Benchmark Results

Need For Speed Pro Street Benchmark Results

Benchmark Results: At both resolutions we see that the 9600 GT is able to outperform the 3870. Pro Street again shows how well the G92 and G94 cores improved on the 8800 GTX with increased shader speed.

Call of Duty 4

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare is a first-person shooter developed by Infinity Ward and published by Activision for Xbox 360, Playstation 3 and PC. It is the fourth installment in the Call of Duty video game series. It was announced on April 25, 2007 and was released on November 6, 2007 in North America. The single player game can be completed in well under seven hours, but the graphics are awesome.

Call of Duty 4 Benchmarking

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare runs on a proprietary graphics engine, and has features such as true world-dynamic lighting, HDR lighting effects, dynamic shadows and depth-of-field. "Bullet Penetration" is calculated by the engine, taking into account things such as surface type and entity thickness. Certain objects, such as cars, and some buildings are destructible. This makes distinguishing cover from concealment important, as meager protection such as wooden fences, thin walls and such no longer provide sufficient protection. The bullet's speed and stopping power are decreased after penetrating an object, and this decrease is calculated realistically depending on the thickness and surface of the object penetrated. The game also makes use of a physics engine, which was not implemented in previous Call of Duty titles for the PC. Death Animations are a combination of pre-set animations and ragdoll physics. Some mistook the game's graphics to be DirectX 10 based, but it is stated that the graphics use DirectX 9.

Call of Duty 4 v1.51 Benchmark Results

Call of Duty 4 v1.51 Benchmark Results

Results: Call of Duty 4 puts all of our cards through some serious stress. You may notice that the 9600 GT is faster than the 8800 GT and GTS. Keep in mind that the updated drivers improved performance for the 9600 GT and that this FRAPS run is hard to get exactly the same each time and can vary a few percent.

3DMark 2006

3DMark 2006

3DMark 2006

3DMark 06 is the worldwide standard in advanced 3D game performance benchmarking and the latest version in the popular 3DMark series! 3DMark06 tests include all new HDR/SM3.0 graphics tests, advanced SM2.0 graphics tests, AI and physics driven single and multiple cores or processor CPU tests and a collection of comprehensive feature tests to reliably measure next generation gaming performance today.

3D Mark 2006

3D Mark 2006

3D Mark 2006

3D Mark 2006

Benchmark Results: 3DMark doesn't show much difference between our PNY 9600 GT and the 8800 GT 256MB, but our actual gaming experience says otherwise!

Overclocking

With a factory clock of 720MHz we cannot expect too much of an overclock without volt modding the card, which is beyond the scope of this article. We fired up the EVGA Precision Overclocking tool and paired it up with ATI Tool to load the card while we tested for the highest overclock.

Asus 9600 GT TOP

We were able to reach 740MHz, a 20MHz boost on the core, with complete stability and 1040MHz on the memory, a 140MHz increase. While they are not big numbers it is easily attained and the heat sink has no problems handling the heat whatsoever.

Overclocked tests:

How does the card perform in real life games after the higher clocks?

Call of Duty 4:

Call of Duty 4 v1.51 Benchmark Results

In call of Duty 4 we see a mild boost of just over 2fps, which is something that I would doubt to be noticeable.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.

Call of Duty 4 v1.51 Benchmark Results

 

And in STALKER we see a similar increase of just over 3fps. Since it's already outputting 70+fps there isn't much to write home about the overclock on this card. If you were to get into volt modding however you would probably get some incredible gains with this heatsink!

Power Consumption and Conclusion

For testing power consumption, we took our test system and plugged it into a Seasonic Power Angel. For idle numbers, we allowed the system to idle on the desktop for 15 minutes and took the reading. For load numbers, we measured the peak wattage used by the system while running the game Call of Duty 4 at 1280x1024 with high graphics quality.

Call of Duty 4 v1.51 Benchmark Results

At idle there is a slight advantage for the HD3870 in total system power consumption...

Call of Duty 4 v1.51 Benchmark Results

under load however both of the 9600 GT's have an advantage. You can see that the overclocked Asus card is pulling just a little more power with the increased clock speeds.

 

Conclusion

The Asus 9600 GT TOP edition is obviously not the fastest card in NVIDIA’s line up but that is not the goal here. As of this writing, the Asus 9600 GT is selling for $129 after a $20 Mail-in-rebate, which is an astounding value! You get a card with a great cooling, low-noise heat sink, and an overclocked card for the same price as a reference model. Though the performance differences weren’t that large compared to the reference card the heat sink easily makes this card the, forgive the pun, TOPS in its class.

In the big picture we just saw the release of the GTX 280 and GTX 260, two incredible performing cards, both with very large price tags. If the past couple of generations are anything to go by then it may be some while before we see the trickle down of that technology to this price point. For $130 this card is a steal for anyone not powering a huge flat panel.

One thing I cannot rave enough about is the heat sink; it is very near silent and stays that way. The fan is running at “full speed” all of the time, no throttling up and down, and no big ramp up when you first boot the PC until the driver loads. It just has great cooling and very little noise.

Legit Reviews Value Award

Legit Bottom Line: The Asus 9600 GT TOP provides an outstanding value for today’s gamer on a budget with great performance over run-of-the-mill 9600 GT and a heat sink that won’t leave you deaf or your card overheated.