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Asus EN9800GT Matrix Edition

Asus carries seven different GeForce 9800GT models; we chose to look at the Matrix Edition, which features a rear-exhaust cooler and numerous “Hybrid” themed features designed to appeal to a greener audience. Most intriguing is “Super Hybrid Engine” which purports to offer lower power consumption in idle and better performance and stability under load.

Asus EN9800GT Matrix Edition

November 25, 2008 by Lawrence
Lee

Product
Asus EN9800GT MATRIX/HTDI/512M
PCI-E Video Card
Manufacturer
ASUSTeK
Street Price
~US$140

Shopping for a graphics card can be a daunting task. Deciding on a GPU may
be the easiest part, as there are no lack of review sites benchmarking GPUs
against one another. The hard part is wading through the dozens of manufacturers
to select the flavor that best suits your needs. And even then, there are still
decisions to made. For example, a quick look on Asus’ web site shows fifteen
different cards
utilizing the same GeForce 9800 series GPU. Even if you
narrow it down the the GT flavor of this GPU, there are still seven models that
use three different heatsink styles.

Four of these models utilize a simple radial heatsink, and two feature a box-style
cooler similar to the reference heatsink on the GTX
260
that we reviewed in September. The last one — the one that’s on
our test bench today — is the Matrix edition, which has a design that’s
somewhere in-between.


The box.

To differentiate themselves further, Asus advertises their "Super Hybrid
Engine" on the box, which promises power savings in 2D and better performance
in 3D mode. It seems that Asus’ EPU (Energy Processing Unit) feature has found
its way from motherboards onto graphics cards. Coupled with nVidia’s HybridPower
feature (available only on select nVidia motherboards), the Asus EN9800GT Matrix
seems to be targeted at a greener audience. We will take their "Super Hybrid
Engine" with a grain of salt until we can obtain some real results. After
all, we were none too impressed
with EPU
.


Technical specifications according to GPU-Z.

For those who don’t know, the 9800GT is a clumsily disguised 8800GT. They sport
the exact same technical features and clock speeds: G92 core, 112 stream processors,
600MHz / 900MHz / 1500MHz core / memory / shader frequencies respectively. Though
the change in name was also supposed to be accompanied eventually with a 55nm
die shrink, 65nm 9800GTs are still shipping to this day — our review sample
included. Asus’ EN9800GT Matrix has specifications very close to reference standard,
the only difference being a 12 MHz (2%) bump in GPU core clock speed. Cooler
and software aside, it is basically a plain-jane 8800/9800GT, which is considered
by many to be a budget/mid-level gaming card.

Asus EN9800GT Matrix: Specifications
(from the
product web page
)
Graphics Engine NVIDIA GeForce 9800GT
Bus Standard PCI Express 2.0
Video Memory DDR3 512MB
Engine Clock 612 MHz
Shader Clock 1.512 GHz
Memory Clock 1.8 GHz ( 900 MHz DDR3
)
RAMDAC 400MHz
Memory Interface 256-bit
CRT Max Resolution 2048 x 1536
DVI Max Resolution 2560 x 1600
D-Sub Output Yes x 1 (via DVI to D-Sub
adaptor x 1)
DVI Output Yes x 1 (DVI-I)
HDMI Output Yes x 1
HDTV Output (YPbPr) Yes
HDCP Support Yes
TV Output Yes (YPbPr to S-Video and
Composite)
Adapter/Cable Bundled 1 x DVI to D-Sub adaptor
1 x HDTV-out cable
1 x Power cable
1 x S/PDIF cable
Software Bundled ASUS Utilities & Driver
Note The card size is 4.376
inches x 9 inches

BOX CONTENTS & PHYSICAL DETAILS

When shopping for a 9800GT, check the specifications carefully — manufacturers
usually do not follow the reference design, so different 9800GT’s have different
video outputs, clock / memory speeds, memory type, and coolers.


The EN9800GT Matrix comes in a large box, and the card itself is cushioned
well with foam and interior spacer boxes to keep the card immobile. Accessories
include a component cable, DVI to VGA adapter, S/PDIF cable and 6-pin
PCI Express power adapter.


The Matrix heatsink is a two-slot exhaust cooler. The center is covered
in a black plastic shroud to direct air out the back of the case.


The fins in the circular portion of the heatsink are spaced closely together,
while those near the rear are further apart. The PCB measures 22.8cm across,
which is modest by modern standards. It will fit in standard ATX and mATX
cases, though the cooler may block motherboard components directly beneath
it.


From this angle three heatpipes are visible. One curves to make a large
"C" with fan in the middle, and the other two are connected
to the longer exhaust fins.


The EN9800GT Matrix has built-in HDMI and S/PDIF pass-through connectors.
An internal S/PDIF header must be connected for audio output.


THE COOLER & INSTALLATION

Warning — removing the heatsink from most products may void the warranty.
Do so at your own risk.


Removing the EN9800GT Matrix cooler is a trivial task. On the trace side
of the PCB there are two pushpins holding down the VRM heatsink, six Phillips-head
screws attached to the ramsink module, and only four screws in the center
securing the actual cooler.


With the screws off, only a small amount of twisting is required to pop
the heatsink off. If aftermarket cooling is to be used, the tertiary heatsinks
can most likely be left in place — very convenient.


The cooler’s three heatpipes are soldered directly to a thin copper base
plate. The black portions of the heatsink do not directly aid in thermal
dissipation. They are there simply to provide a stable structure for mounting
and to direct airflow.


Installed in our test system.

TEST METHODOLOGY

Our test procedure is an in-system test, designed to:

1. Determine whether the card’s cooler is adequate for use in a low-noise system.
By adequately cooled, we mean cooled well enough that no misbehavior
related to thermal overload is exhibited. Thermal misbehavior in a graphics
card can show up in a variety of ways, including:

  • Sudden system shutdown, bluescreen or reboot without warning.
  • Jaggies and other visual artifacts on the screen.
  • Motion slowing and/or screen freezing.

Any of these misbehaviors are annoying at best and dangerous at worst —
dangerous to the health and lifespan of the graphics card, and sometimes to
the system OS.

2. Estimate the card’s power consumption. This is a good indicator of how efficient
the card is and will have an effect on how hot the stock cooler becomes due
to power lost in the form of heat. The lower the better.

3. Determine the card’s ability to play back high definition video, to see
if whether it is a suitable choice for a home theater PC.

Test Platform

Measurement and Analysis Tools

Testing Procedures

Our first test involves recording the system power consumption using a Seasonic
Power Angel as well as CPU and GPU temperatures using SpeedFan and ATITool (or
just SpeedFan if a nVidia based card is used) during different states: Idle,
under load with CPUBurn running to stress the processor, and with CPUBurn and
ATITool’s artifact scanner (or 3D View, which produces even higher power consumption)
running to stress both the CPU and GPU simultaneously. This last state mimics
the stress on the CPU and GPU produced by a modern video game. The software
is left running until the GPU temperature remains stable for at least 10 minutes.
If artifacts are detected by ATITool or any other instability is noted, the
heatsink is deemed inadequate to cool the video card in our test system.

If the heatsink has a fan, the load state tests are repeated at various fan
speeds while the system case fan is left at its lowest setting of 7V. If the
card utilizes a passive cooler, the system fan is varied instead to study the
effect of system airflow on the heatsink’s performance. System noise measurements
are made at each fan speed.

Video Playback Testing

For our second test, we play a variety of video clips with PowerDVD. A CPU
usage graph is created via the Windows Task Manger for analysis to determine
the approximate mean and peak CPU usage. If the card (in conjunction with the
processor) is unable to properly decompress the clip, the video will skip or
freeze, often with instances of extremely high CPU usage as the system struggles
to play it back. High CPU usage is undesirable as it increases power consumption,
and leaves fewer resources for background tasks and other applications that
happen to be running during playback. Power draw is also recorded during playback.

Video Test Suite


1920×816 | 24fps | ~10mbps
H.264:
Rush Hour 3 Trailer 1
is encoded with H.264. It has a good mixture
of light and dark scenes, interspersed with fast-motion action and cutaways.

1440×1080 | 24fps | ~8mbps
WMV3:
Coral Reef Adventure trailer
is encoded in VC-1 using the WMV3
codec (commonly recognized by the moniker, "HD WMV"). It features
multiple outdoor landscape and dark underwater scenes.

1280×720 | 60fps | ~12mbps
WVC1: Microsoft Flight Simulator X trailer is
encoded in VC-1. It’s a compilation of in-game action from a third person
point of view. It is encoded using the Windows Media Video 9 Advanced
Profile (aka WVC1) codec — a much more demanding implementation
of VC-1.

1920×1080 | 24fps | ~19mbps
WVC1: Drag Race is a recording of a scene from
network television re-encoded with TMPGEnc using the WVC1 codec. It
features a high-paced drag race. It is the most demanding clip in our
test suite.

Estimating DC Power

The following power efficiency figures were obtained for the
Seasonic S12-600
used in our test system:

Seasonic S12-500 / 600 TEST RESULTS
DC Output (W)
65.3
89.7
148.7
198.5
249.5
300.2
AC Input (W)
87.0
115.0
183.1
242.1
305.0
370.2
Efficiency
75.1%
78.0%
81.2%
82.0%
81.8%
81.1%

This data is enough to give us a very good estimate of DC demand in our
test system. We extrapolate the DC power output from the measured AC power
input based on this data. We won’t go through the math; it’s easy enough
to figure out for yourself if you really want to.

TEST RESULTS

BASELINE, with Integrated Graphics: First, here are the results of
our baseline results of the system with just its integrated graphics, without
a discrete video card. We’ll also need the power consumption reading during
CPUBurn to estimate the actual power draw of discrete card later.

VGA Test Bed: Baseline Results
(no discrete graphics card installed)
System State
CPU
Temp
System Power
AC
DC (Est.)
Idle
22°C
73W
Unknown
CPUBurn
39°C
144W
115W
Ambient temperature: 21°C
Ambient noise level: 11 dBA
System noise level: 12 dBA

Note: In our semi-anechoic chamber, our VGA test bed now measures
12 dBA@1m. Ambient noise is only 11 dBA.

ASUS EN9800GT MATRIX:

VGA Test Bed: Asus EN9800GT Matrix
System
State
System SPL@1m
GPU
Temp
CPU
Temp
System Power
AC
DC (Est.)
Idle
15 dBA
48°C
24°C
109W
84W
CPUBurn
15 dBA
48°C
43°C
181W
147W
CPUBurn + ATITool
31 dBA
68°C
43°C
228W
187W
CPUBurn + FurMark
31 dBA
68°C
44°C
238W
195W
Ambient temperature: 20°C
Ambient noise level: 11 dBA.
System noise level (minus graphics card): 12 dBA@1m.

At idle, the stock fan was fairly quiet, producing a gentle but definitely
audible low-pitched hum. Our test platform measured 12 dBA@1m without a graphics
card; installing the EN9800GT Matrix increased this reading by 3 dBA. The GPU
temperature was very low at just 48°C. We very rarely see such a low temperature
without using an aftermarket cooler.

As the system was stressed with CPUBurn and ATITool/Furmark, the fan ramped
up in two different stages — once when the GPU reached approximately 60°C
and again at 65°C. Soon after, the GPU temperature stabilized at 68°C.
By then, the noise level had increased dramatically to 31 dBA@1m. The character
of the noise was very unusual — an unfortunate result of the heatsink design
which has the radial portion of the cooler covered in the shroud. The tightly
confined turbulent air combined with the aggressive motor noise produced what
sounded like an old CRT television without an input signal — a spitting
combination of static and snow.

As an additional test, we blocked off the exhaust port with masking tape and
found that the GPU and CPU temperature increased by only a single degree, suggesting
it would have been better to remove the casing altogether and allow the heatsink
to breathe inside the system. It’s also possible that the temperature simply
wasn’t high enough for the exhaust system to be beneficial. In either case,
the design seems to be flawed.

In addition to the usual squealing under load which plagues many modern graphics
cards, the card emitted a constant, high-pitched whine when first installed,
which did not stop until the drivers were installed and the system rebooted.
Furthermore, after a fresh reboot the card occasionally generated an unusual
squeal that fluctuated in frequency and tone for about two minutes. It was as
if a tiny gremlin had crawled inside the machine and started to play miniature
bagpipes. The noise was associated with an increase in GPU temperature to about
58°C, suggesting the GPU was under some kind of load that we were not aware
of. While we weren’t able to track down the cause, we were able to record the
noise. Here is a sample:


GPU-Z’s sensor tab.

That wasn’t the end of our problems. We were unable to get a fan speed reading
using any of the applications we typically use. The only monitoring software
we did get working was GPU-Z, which could only report the core and memory clock
speeds and GPU temperature. According to GPU-Z, the core and memory clocks stayed
at stock speeds throughout testing, both during idle and load.

POWER

The power consumption of an add-on video card can be estimated by comparing
the total system power draw with and without the card installed. Our results
were derived thus:

1. Power consumption of the graphics card at idle – When CPUBurn is
run on a system, the video card is not stressed at all, and stays in idle mode.
This is true whether the video card is integrated or an add-on PCIe 16X device.
Hence, when the system power under CPUBurn with just the integrated graphics
is subtracted from the system power under CPUBurn with the add-on card, we obtain
the increase in idle power of the add-on card. (The actual
idle power of the add-on card cannot be derived, because the integrated graphics
does draw some power — we’d guess no more than a watt or two.)

2. Power consumption of the graphics card under load – The power draw
of the system is measured with the add-on video card, with CPUBurn and ATITool
running simultaneously. Then the power of the baseline system (with integrated
graphics) running just CPUBurn is subtracted. The difference is the load power
of the add-on card. (If you want to nitpick, the 1~2W power of the integrated
graphics at idle should be added to this number.) Any load on the CPU from ATITool
should not skew the results, since the CPU was running at full load in both
systems

Power Consumption Comparison (DC)
Card
Est. Power (Idle)
Est. Power (ATITool)
Est. Power (FurMark)
ATI HD 4670
3W
38W
40W
ATI HD 3850
11W
55W
N/A
Asus EN9600GT
Silent
26W
65W
N/A
Palit HD 3870
17W
72W
N/A
Asus EN9800GT
Matrix
32W
72W
80W
ATI HD 4830*
18W
80W
87W
Diamond HD 4850
50W
101W
N/A
Asus ENGTX260
35W
122W
N/A
* We were unable to determine the number of stream
processors enabled on our HD 4830 production sample. Power consumption
may be higher on retail units.

We estimate the power draw of the EN9800GT Matrix to be approximately 32W during
idle, 72W with ATITool running, and 80W with Furmark. On load it is quite similar
to the HD 3870, but
with much higher idle power consumption. It is also incrementally more power
hungry the EN9600GT
though if its power management software had been operational, it may have done
better in this regard. For a midrange card, these numbers are more or less the
norm.

The key Asus software provided with the card, iTracker (for controlling fan
speed and monitoring temperatures) and Super Hybrid Engine (dynamic voltage
/ frequency control) froze up on our test system when we attempted to load them.
We tried different versions of the software along with various driver sets to
no avail. We were therefore unable to test Asus’ Super Hybrid Engine power saving
ability. Whatever power management there was occurred at the driver level, not
in software. Without the advantage of Super Hybrid Engine, we can assume that
the performance our test sample is typical of other 9800GT’s. This accords with
other reviews around the web: A modest increase in idle power consumption over
the 9600GT is about right for a reference design 9800GT.

Video Playback

Video Playback Results: EN9800GT
Video Clip
Mean CPU Usage
Peak CPU Usage
AC Power
Rush Hour
3%
9%
~119W
Coral Reef
18%
29%
~127W
Flight Sim.
31%
46%
~138W
Drag Race
34%
47%
~141W

The EN9800GT handled our video playback testbed with ease. CPU usage during
playback fairly low except for our more demanding VC-1 clips.

Video Playback Comparison
Video Clip
HD 3870
EN9600GT
EN9800GT
Mean
CPU
AC
Power
Mean
CPU
AC
Power
Mean CPU
AC
Power
Rush Hour
3%
~105W
2%
~113W
3%
~119W
Coral Reef
27%
~118W
15%
~121W
18%
~127W
Flight Sim.
50%
~130W
28%
~131W
31%
~138W

Compared to two cards with similar power draws, the EN9800GT Matrix proves
to be a bit inefficient for video playback alone. Its higher idle power consumption
carries over to video playback when neither the CPU or GPU is under stress.

MP3 SOUND RECORDINGS

These recordings were made with a high
resolution, lab quality, digital recording system
inside SPCR’s
own 11 dBA ambient anechoic chamber
, then converted to LAME 128kbps
encoded MP3s. We’ve listened long and hard to ensure there is no audible degradation
from the original WAV files to these MP3s. They represent a quick snapshot of
what we heard during the review.

These recordings are intended to give you an idea of how the product sounds
in actual use — one meter is a reasonable typical distance between a computer
or computer component and your ear. The recording contains stretches of ambient
noise that you can use to judge the relative loudness of the subject. Be aware
that very quiet subjects may not be audible — if we couldn’t hear it from
one meter, chances are we couldn’t record it either!

The recording starts with 5~10 seconds of room ambiance, followed by 5~10 seconds
of the VGA test system without a video card installed, and then the actual product’s
noise at various levels. For the most realistic results, set the volume
so that the starting ambient level is just barely audible, then don’t change
the volume setting again.

Comparison

FINAL THOUGHTS

Gaming: Please check out the gaming-oriented reviews of the GeForce
9800GT at Tweaktown,
techPowerUp,
and HardwareCanucks.
The general consensus is that the 9800GT is a solid budget graphics card, superior
to the ATI HD 3000 series,
but inferior to the HD 4850.
It is more or less equivalent to the HD 4830
and can make the majority of PC games playable at 1680×1050 / 1600×1200 resolution,
though some games will require the level of detail to be turned down. It is
more than capable at resolutions of 1440×900 and below. The Asus Matrix edition
is essentially the same as other 9800GTs only with a slight increase in core
clock speed.

Video Playback: Video playback was very good. The decoding hardware
is the same featured on the rest of the GeForce 9 series cards.

Cooling: Idle, the stock cooler was relatively quiet, but on load the
noise level and character were unsettling. The fan was far too aggressive for
our liking. The fan speed could have been ramped down significantly while keeping
the GPU temperature at an acceptable level.

Power Consumption: By our estimates, the Asus EN9800GT Matrix requires
approximately 32W when idle and up to 80W DC when stressed to the limit. The
idle figure is relatively high — some ATI cards use less than 20W, and
the HD 4670 even managed an extremely impressive 3W. It’s hard to say whether
Asus’ power management system would have made a difference if we had gotten
it to work properly. Without it, we can treat it as a vanilla 9800GT without
too much reservation. Under load, 80W is about the right amount considering
the amount of 3D performance a 9800GT delivers.

Overall, the Asus EN9800GT Matrix has the performance of a decent budget gaming
card, but it was plagued with problems affecting the criterion we care about
most: noise. The baffling squealing upon boot up may have been isolated to our
sample as we have not heard about this issue anywhere else. An 80W GPU is not
that hard to cool, but the stock cooler treats it like a 100W+ chip. A few tweaks
to the fan control system could easily solve this, but the cooler itself is
overdone. The overall design is focused on expelling warm air out the back of
the case, but when we plugged the exhaust port, the temperature difference barely
registered. We were also unable to get the Asus software to work, which was
highly touted, at least from a marketing standpoint.

With an average price of about ~$140, the Asus EN9800GT Matrix and its brethren
are in the same price category as the Radeon HD 4830. As the 3D performance
is similar, other criteria are needed to make the decision between the two.

There are a few areas in which the HD 4830 is superior. First off, it has lower
idle power consumption. As GPUs typically sit idle for long durations in the
majority of systems, the extra wattage can eventually build up. Secondly, the
HDMI support is much better on the HD 4830 as it and other ATI HDMI-ready graphics
cards have a built-in audio processor. The EN9800GT Matrix and other nVidia
cards require a physical S/PDIF feed from a sound card (or onboard sound) for
HDMI audio, which not all users possess. And, while we can’t say that other
9800GT’s are poorer acoustically, a case can be made against the Matrix edition.
Perhaps if we had gotten Asus’ software to load, we might have been able to
reduce the fan noise to levels similar to those of the HD 4830.

While it may seem like a slam-dunk in the HD 4830’s favor, there is one unknown
quantity still sitting on nVidia’s bench — a 6th man if you will. As GPUs
have become more and more powerful, the tools to utilize their capabilities
for more than just gaming and high definition video are emerging. nVidia’s CUDA
technology is a programming model that allows software developers to create
code that can be executed by the GPU rather than the CPU. It is supported on
GeForce series 8 cards and higher. CUDA is nVidia’s first step in a long awaited
move toward GPGPUs (general purpose graphics processing units). Adobe is an
early adopter of the technology — the upcoming CS4 update to their Creative
Suite will support CUDA, allowing some effects and processes to be accelerated
using GPU power, which may make users of popular programs such as Photoshop,
Lightroom, and Premiere very happy. It should be noted, however, that exactly
how much difference CUDA will make is a mystery as of yet.

For now, the HD 4830 may be the better card for most users, but any 9800GT
could ultimately be superior for content creators. It’s hard to say until more
applications are released with CUDA support, and when/if ATI ever gets something
similar working on their cards.

Asus EN9800GT Matrix
PROS

* Fairly quiet when idle
* Decent 3D performance
* Good HD playback

CONS

* Poor acoustics under load
* Unusual squealing problem
* High idle power consumption
* Buggy software

Our thanks to ASUSTeK
for the video card sample.

* * *

Articles of Related Interest
Filling the Gap: ATI Radeon HD 4830
Redefining Budget Gaming Graphics: ATI’s
HD 4670

Asus ENGTX260: A Quiet Graphics
Card for Gamers?

Diamond Radeon HD4850
Asus EN3650 Silent Graphics
Card

Asus EN9600GT Silent Edition
Graphics Card

* * *

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