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Other thoughts
There are a few things I have to note about these cards – firstly the noise. Each card individually was fine and could barely be heard above the ambient noise in my case, but the 9600GT cards in SLI were quite loud. I usually game with headphones on so noise doesn’t bother me most of the time, but for someone who is fussy about sound levels then these things have the potential to get on your nerves.

Next – the heat. The 9800GTX has an excellent cooler and expels most of the heat out the rear of the case through its dual-slot cooler, but the other setups aren’t so good. The 9600GT has a single-slot cooler which just creates more heat to circulate around your case – and twice as much in SLI. The 9800GX2, whilst it has a dual-slot cooler, still manages to vent most of its heat into the case as well. During testing this thing was like a little fan heater in my case – you definitely need good ventilation if you plan on running one of these.

Lastly – driver issues. You have to expect these with new cards. The first run of the Crysis benchmark on all three cards resulted in major on-screen artifacts. Quitting out and starting again seemed to resolve this issue, but it’s not a welcome sight. Then there’s the inconsistent SLI scores – I know it has to be a joint effort between hardware manufacturers and software developers on this front, but to have negative scores in the ET:QW test was just shocking. I’ll presume that future driver revisions will help correct this.

So, what do I think about the new 9 series from nVidia? Well, I think they can fit perfectly into any gamer’s shopping list.

There's the $289 9600GT for the budget oriented gamer; the $559 9800GTX (or $578 9600GT SLI setup for those with SLI motherboards) for the mainstream enthusiast; and the $1029 flagship 9800GX2 for the cashed-up power user.

I would have no hesitation in recommending any of these cards over their 8-series counterparts, with one exception – the $300 to $400 market. This is still the hunting ground of the 8800GT, there’s no two ways about that. We’ll have to wait until the 9800GT to see if this highly successful card can be knocked off its perch.

If I had to pick one card as the overall best choice, it would be the 9800GTX. It’s cheaper than its predecessor, the 8800GTX, without sacrificing any performance; has an excellent cooler; is nice and quiet; and has fantastic overclocking potential. Anybody who is after above-average performance from their GPU will not be disappointed with this card at all.

Overall though, quite simply, the nVidia 9-series = win.