Asus EN9800GT Matrix Edition

Graphics Cards
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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 1680x1050 / 1600x1200 resolution, though some games will require the level of detail to be turned down. It is more than capable at resolutions of 1440x900 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.

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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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