On Tuesday, two "new" Nvidia graphics cards slipped out into the wild: the GeForce 9800 GT and GeForce 9500 GT. We noted that the former's specifications were essentially identical to those of the older GeForce 8800 GT, and readers commented that the 9500 GT looked awfully similar to the older 8600 GT, as well.
Wary of marketing trickery, we dropped Nvidia a line to ask for some details about the new cards. Two days later, we finally have our answer.
According to Nvidia Technical Marketing Director Nick Stam, the GeForce 9800 GT is indeed "very much similar" to the 8800 GT in "nearly all tech specs." There are two exceptions, however. The 9800 GT has optional HybridPower support, which—if Nvidia partners choose to release cards with the feature enabled—allows compatible motherboards to switch between discrete and integrated GPUs to save power. Also, Stam says the 9800 GT features a 65nm graphics chip today, but it will eventually see a shrink to 55nm with "no [difference] in [performance] between the two processes." 9800 GT pricing should range from $125 to $149—roughly where the 8800 GT lies today.
In passing, Stam had some interesting comments about why Nvidia essentially opted to re-introduce the 8800 GT under a different name ten months later:
When we first came out with our G92-based 8800 GT, the timing wasn't right to introduce a whole new 9-series. We didn't have all the pieces of a 9-series line-up at that time, so we went with the brand of 8800 GT. Having rolled out a top-to-bottom 9 series over the last few quarters, this is now the right timing for 9800 GT branding.
But what about the GeForce 9500 GT? Like the 9800 GT, this card is launching with a 65nm graphics processor, but Nvidia will eventually swap that GPU out for a 55nm die-shrink. Stam didn't reveal what GPU the card uses, but according to the official reviewer's guide, the chip packs 314 million transistors. That's a few more than the 289 million in the 80nm G84 GPU that powers the GeForce 8600 GT.
Official Nvidia benchmarks in the reviewer's guide suggest the 9500 GT is about 17% faster on average than the 8600 GT. That's not entirely surprising, considering the 9500 GT does have a 10MHz core speed advantage, 210MHz shader speed edge, and 100MHz-higher memory speed than the 8600 GT (if you look at the 9500 GT flavors with GDDR3 memory, at least).