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GeForce 8800 GT Round-Up: Asus, EVGA, MSI
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Date: Jan 03, 2008
Section:Graphics/Sound
Author: Marco Chiappetta
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Introduction and Specifications


At the end of October '07, NVIDIA's GeForce 8800 GT 512MB hit the scene and garnered near universal praise due to its strong performance and value proposition.  With its revamped 65nm GPU and single-slot board design, the GeForce 8800 GT was poised to storm the $200 - $249 graphics card space.  However, due to availability issues, street prices remained on the high side at launch.  This was especially the case for factory-overclocked models from well respected manufacturers that are currently selling for upwards of $300.

Availability is still tight for the GeForce 8800 GT, but we thought it was time to round a few cards up for a HotHardware-style benchmark fest.  We’ve got factory-overclocked GeForce 8800 GT cards from Asus, EVGA, and MSI in house, the EN8800GT TOP, the e-GeForce 8800 GT KO, and the NX8800GT, respectively.  At their most basic level, all three of these cards are quite similar, but each company does put their own spin on the GeForce 8800 GT in an effort to differentiate their product from the competition.  Which one does the best job remains to be seen...



NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GT
Features & Specifications

Fabrication:  65nm

Number of Transistors: 
754 Million

Stream Processors:  112

Memory Interface:  256-bit

Frame Buffer Size:  512 MB

ROPs: 
16

HDCP Support:  Yes

HDMI Support: 
Yes

Connectors:
2xDual-Link DVI-I
7-Pin TV Out

RAMDACS: 
400MHz

Bus Technology: 
PCI Express 2.0

Max Board Power: 
110 Watts

NVIDIA unified architecture:

Fully unified shader core dynamically allocates processing power to geometry, vertex, physics, or pixel shading operations, delivering up to 2x the gaming performance of prior generation GPUs.

Full Microsoft DirectX 10 Support:
World's first DirectX 10 GPU with full Shader Model 4.0 support delivers unparalleled levels of graphics realism and film-quality effects.

NVIDIA SLI Technology:
Delivers up to 2x the performance of a single graphics card configuration for unequaled gaming experiences by allowing two cards to run in parallel. The must-have feature for performance PCI Express graphics, SLI dramatically scales performance on today's hottest games.

NVIDIA Lumenex Engine:
Delivers stunning image quality and floating point accuracy at ultra-fast frame rates.
16x Anti-aliasing: Lightning fast, high-quality anti-aliasing at up to 16x sample rates obliterates jagged edges.

128-bit floating point High Dynamic-Range (HDR):
Twice the precision of prior generations for incredibly realistic lighting effects - now with support for anti-aliasing.

NVIDIA Quantum Effects Technology:
Advanced shader processors architected for physics computation enable a new level of physics effects to be simulated and rendered on the GPU - all while freeing the CPU to run the game engine and AI.

NVIDIA nView Multi-Display Technology:
Advanced technology provides the ultimate in viewing flexibility and control for multiple monitors.

Dual 400MHz RAMDACs:
Blazing-fast RAMDACs support dual QXGA displays with ultra-high, ergonomic refresh rates - up to 2048x1536@85Hz.

Dual Dual-link DVI Support:
Able to drive the industry's largest and highest resolution flat-panel displays up to 2560x1600.
NVIDIA PureVideo HD Technology:
The combination of high-definition video decode acceleration and post-processing that delivers unprecedented picture clarity, smooth video, accurate color, and precise image scaling for movies and video.

Discrete, Programmable Video Processor:
NVIDIA PureVideo HD is a discrete programmable processing core in NVIDIA GPUs that provides superb picture quality and ultra-smooth movies with low CPU utilization and power.

Hardware Decode Acceleration:
Provides ultra-smooth playback of H.264, VC-1, WMV and MPEG-2 HD and SD movies.

HDCP Capable:
Designed to meet the output protection management (HDCP) and security specifications of the Blu-ray Disc and HD DVD formats, allowing the playback of encrypted movie content on PCs when connected to HDCP-compliant displays.

Spatial-Temporal De-Interlacing:
Sharpens HD and standard definition interlaced content on progressive displays, delivering a crisp, clear picture that rivals high-end home-theater systems.

High-Quality Scaling:
Enlarges lower resolution movies and videos to HDTV resolutions, up to 1080i, while maintaining a clear, clean image. Also provides downscaling of videos, including high-definition, while preserving image detail.

Inverse Telecine (3:2 & 2:2 Pulldown Correction):
Recovers original film images from films-converted-to-video (DVDs, 1080i HD content), providing more accurate movie playback and superior picture quality.

Bad Edit Correction:
When videos are edited after they have been converted from 24 to 25 or 30 frames, the edits can disrupt the normal 3:2 or 2:2 pulldown cadences. PureVideo HD uses advanced processing techniques to detect poor edits, recover the original content, and display perfect picture detail frame after frame for smooth, natural looking video.

Video Color Correction:
NVIDIA's Color Correction Controls, such as Brightness, Contrast and Gamma Correction let you compensate for the different color characteristics of various RGB monitors and TVs ensuring movies are not too dark, overly bright, or washed out regardless of the video format or display type.

Integrated SD and HD TV Output:
Provides world-class TV-out functionality via Composite, S-Video, Component, or DVI connections. Supports resolutions up to 1080p depending on connection type and TV capability.

Noise Reduction:
Improves movie image quality by removing unwanted artifacts.

Edge Enhancement:
Sharpens movie images by providing higher contrast around lines and objects.

 

 


We detailed the GeForce 8800 GT’s architecture and features in-depth in our launch coverage from last October, so we won’t go in depth again here.  As you can see from the list of features and specifications above, the 8800 GT is somewhat of a hybrid between the 8600 and 90nm G80-based 8800 series.  The G92 at the heart of the GeForce 8800 GT has an updated video engine like the GeForce 8600, but with a shader and ROP configuration reminiscent of a GeForce 8800.

If you’d like more information regarding the GeForce 8800 GT and its innermost workings, we suggest reading our launch article which is available right here. Otherwise, read on for Asus, EVGA, and MSI’s take on NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GT.

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The Combatants



Unlike the majority of today’s high-end graphics cards, the GeForce 8800 GT features a single-slot cooler.  The cooler, and its associated shroud, cover the entire front side of the card and it is outfitted with a relatively small, fan.  The card’s 512MB of frame buffer memory and GPU both make contact with the cooler which is made of aluminum and copper.

The GeForce 8800 GT’s PCB is shorter than the oversized 8800 GTX, and it features only a single SLI connector.  Outputs include a pair of dual-link DVIs and an S-Video / HD output.  GeForce 8800 GT cards require a single 6-pin supplemental PCI Express power connector as well.

All three of the cards we’ll be featuring here have these aspects in common and differ only in clock speeds, bundles, and appearance.


   

    
MSI NX8800GT
 

The MSI NX8800GT – and the other two cards from Asus and EVGA below – is essentially an NVIDIA reference board design with higher GPU core and memory clock speeds and with a custom decal affixed to its fan shroud.  MSI includes a driver / utility CD with their card, along with a user’s manual, a quick installation guide, a DVI-to-VGA adapter, a dual Molex-to-6-Pin PCI Express power adapter, an S-Video cable and a HD component output dongle.  Sorry folks, no game was to be found.

The MSI NX8800GT has a core GPU clock speed of 660MHz with 950MHz (1.9GHz DDR) memory.  Those are increases of 60MHz and 50MHz, respectively, over NVIDIA’s reference specifications.  And we should also note the card has a 3-year warranty.

 



    

    
Asus EN8800GT TOP
 

Asus’ offering is based on NVIDIA’s reference design as well.  The Asus EN8800GT TOP has a custom decal affixed to its fan shroud, and it is bundled with a leather CD / DVD case, a driver and utility disk, and a second utility disk that includes a number of proprietary Asus applications in addition to a copy of 3DMark06.  The card’s bundle also includes a DVI-to-VGA adapter, a dual Molex-to-6-Pin PCI Express power adapter, a HD component output dongle, and a full version of the current, DX10 title Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts – a quality title to say the least.

The Asus EN8800GT TOP happens to be factory overclocked too.  Its GPU core is clocked at an impressive 700MHz and its memory is clocked at 1GHz (2GHz DDR).  These relatively high clock speeds, made the Asus EN8800GT TOP the fastest of the three cards featured here.  And like MSI’s entry, the Asus EN8800GT TOP carries a 3-year warranty.
 



    

    
EVGA e-GeForce 8800 GT KO


This brings us to the EVGA e-GeForce 8800 GT KO.  Like the other two cards featured here, the EVGA e-GeForce 8800 GT KO is virtually unchanged from NVIDIA’s reference design, save for the card’s custom fan-shroud decal.  Its bundle includes a user’s manual, a couple of EVGA stickers, a driver / utility CD, dual DVI-to-VGA adapters, a dual Molex-to-6-Pin PCI Express power adapter, an S-Video cable and a HD component output dongle.  Along with these items, however, the EVGA e-GeForce 8800 GT also comes with a full version of Enemy Territory: Quake Wars – one more adapter than the other cards and a game that’s on-par with Asus’ choice.

Like the MSI NX8800GT and the Asus EN8800GTS TOP, the EVGA e-GeForce 8800 GT KO is factory overclocked.  This card’s GPU came in at 675MHz with 975MHz (1.95GHz DDR) memory, which falls right in between the MSI and Asus cards.  EVGA’s lifetime warranty, however, is much better than either company’s.

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Our Test Systems and 3DMark06


HOW WE CONFIGURED THE TEST SYSTEMS: We tested all of the graphics cards used in this article on either an EVGA nForce 680i SLI motherboard (NVIDIA GPUs) or an Asus P5E3 Deluxe (ATI GPUs) powered by a Core 2 Extreme QX6850 quad-core processor and 2GB of low-latency Corsair RAM. The first thing we did when configuring the test systems was enter their respective BIOSes and set all values to their "optimized" or "performance" default settings. Then we manually configured the memory timings and disabled any integrated peripherals that wouldn't be put to use. The hard drive was then formatted, and Windows Vista Ultimate was installed. When the installation was complete we fully updated the OS, and installed the latest DX10 redist and various hotfixes along with the necessary drivers and applications.

The HotHardware Test System

Core 2 Extreme Powered


Processor
-


Motherboard -






Video Cards -










Memory -




Audio -

Hard Drive
-

Hardware Used:
Core 2 Extreme QX6850 (3GHz) 


EVGA nForce 680i SLI
nForce 680i SLI chipset

Asus P5E3 Deluxe
X38 Express 

ASUS EN8800GT TOP
MSI NX8800GT
EVGA e-GeForce 8800 GT KO
GeForce 8800 GTS
GeForce 8600 GTS
Radeon HD 3870
Radeon HD 3850
Radeon HD 2900 XT
Radeon HD 2600 XT


2048MB Corsair PC2-6400C3
2 X 1GB
2048MB Corsair DDR3-1333 C7
2 X 1GB

Integrated on board

Western Digital "Raptor"

74GB - 10,000RPM - SATA



OS - 

DirectX -

Video Drivers
-



Synthetic (DX) -
DirectX -
DirectX -
DirectX -
DirectX -
OpenGL -

 
 
 
Relevant Software:

Windows Vista Ultimate

DirectX 10

NVIDIA Forceware v169.09
ATI Catalyst BETA v8.43


Benchmarks Used:
3DMark06 v1.0.2
Company of Heros - DX10
Crysis - DX10
Half Life 2: Episode 2*
Enemy Territory: Quake Wars*

* - Custom Test
(HH Exclusive demo)


Performance Comparisons with 3DMark06 v1.0.2
Details: www.futuremark.com/products/3dmark06


3DMark06
3DMark06 is the most recent addition to the 3DMark franchise. This version differs from 3Dmark05 in a number of ways, and includes not only Shader Model 2.0 tests, but Shader Model 3.0 and HDR tests as well. Some of the assets from 3DMark05 have been re-used, but the scenes are now rendered with much more geometric detail and the shader complexity is vastly increased as well. Max shader length in 3DMark05 was 96 instructions, while 3DMark06 ups that number to 512. 3DMark06 also employs much more lighting and there is extensive use of soft shadows. With 3DMark06, Futuremark has also updated how the final score is tabulated. In this latest version of the benchmark, SM 2.0 and HDR / SM3.0 tests are weighted and the CPU score is factored into the final tally as well.



Overall, the three GeForce 8800 GT cards we tested performed in-line with expectations in 3DMark06, considering each card's respective clock speeds.  The Asus finished on top, followed by EVGA and then MSI.  Also note, that the 8800 GTS 640MB card listed in the graphs is based on the G80, not G92.  The newer G92-based version is faster than the 8800 GT.







If we tunnel deeper into 3DMark06's results, we see how each card's overall score was derived.  Once again, as expected, the Asus card finished in the top spot in both the shader model 2.0 and shader model 3.0 / HDR tests, followed closely behind by EVGA's offering, and then the MSI NX8800GT.

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Half Life 2: Episode 2



Performance Comparisons with Half-Life 2: Episode 2

Details: www.half-life2.com



Half Life 2:

Episode 2

Thanks to the dedication of hardcore PC gamers and a huge mod-community, the original Half-Life became one of the most successful first person shooters of all time.  And thanks to an updated game engine, gorgeous visual, and intelligent weapon and level design, Half Life 2 became just as popular.  Episode 2 offers a number of visual enhancements including better looking transparent texture anti-aliasing. These tests were run at resolutions of 1,280 x 1,024, 1,600 x 1,200 and 1,920 x 1,200 with 4X anti-aliasing and 16X anisotropic filtering enabled concurrently.  Color correction and HDR rendering were also enabled in the game engine as well.  We used a custom recorded timedemo file to benchmark all cards in this test.



The three GeForce 8800 GT cards tested here were tightly grouped in our custom Half Life 2: Episode 2 benchmark, as expected.  As you can see, they were also significantly faster than the competition at all resolutions.

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Company of Heroes



Performance Comparisons with Company of Heroes

Details: www.companyofheroesgame.com



Company of Heroes

Relic Entertainment's World War II era real-time strategy game Company of Heroes was originally released as a DirectX 9 title for Windows.  But recent upates to the game have incorporated support for new DirectX 10 features that improve image quality and enhance the game's finer graphical details.  The game features a built-in performance test which which we used to attain the results below. Our Company of Heroes tests were run at resolutions of 1,280 x 1,024, 1,600 x 1,200 and 1920 x 1200 with 4X anti-aliasing and all of the game's image-quality related options set to their maximum values.


Unlike the Half Life 2: Episode 2 results on the previous page, this time around with Company of Heroes, the competition was able to pull ahead of the GeForce 8800 GT cards at a couple of resolutions.  Once again, however, the highest clocked GT - the Asus EN8800GT TOP - finished in the lead in relation to the other GTs, followed by EVGA, and then MSI.

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Enemy Territory: Quake Wars



Performance Comparisons with ET: Quake Wars

Details: www.enemyterritory.com



Enemy Territory: 
Quake Wars
 

Enemy Territory: Quake Wars is Based on id's radically enhanced Doom 3 engine and viewed by many as Battlefield 2 meets the Strogg, and then some.  In fact, we'd venture to say that id took EA's team-based warfare genre up a notch or two.  ET: Quake Wars also marks the introduction of John Carmack's "Megatexture" technology that employs extremely large environment and terrain textures that cover vast areas of maps without the need to repeat and tile many small textures.  The beauty of megatexture technology is that each unit only takes up a maximum of 8MB of frame buffer memory.  Add to that HDR-like bloom lighting and leading edge shadowing effects and Enemy Territory: Quake Wars looks great, plays well and works high end graphics cards vigorously.  The game was tested with all of its in-game options set to their maximum values with soft particles enabled in addition to 4X anti-aliasing and 16x anisotropic filtering.


The three factory-overclocked GeForce 8800 GT cards featured here returned to the head of the pack in our custom Enemy Territy: Quake Wars benchmark, once again finishing with Asus in the lead, then EVGA, and then MSI.

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Crysis Performance



Performance Comparisons with Crysis

Details: www.ea.com/crysis



Crysis

If you're at all into enthusiast computing, the highly anticipated single player demo of the hot, new, upcoming FPS smash-hit Crysis, should require no introduction. Crytek's game engine visuals are easily the most impressive real-time 3D renderings we've seen on the computer screen to date.  The engine employs some of the latest techniques in 3D rendering like Parallax Occlusion Mapping, Subsurface Scattering, Motion Blur and Depth-of-Field effects, as well as some of the most impressive use of Shader technology we've seen yet.  In short, for those of you that want to skip the technical jib-jab, Crysis is HOT.  We ran the SP demo with all of the game's visual options set to 'High' to put a significant load on the graphics cards being tested.


More expected results with teh Crysis GPU benchmark.  The highest clocked card of the bunch, the Asus EN8800GT TOP took the top spot, followed by the next highest clocked card, the EVGA e-GeForce 8800 GT KO, and finally the MSI NX8800GT. The deltas separating the three GeForce 8800 GT cards were miniscule, however.

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Overclocking The 8800 GT


Despite already being overclocked from the factoty, before we concluded our testing, we also spent some time overclocking the GeForce 8800 GT cards using the GPU core and memory clock frequency sliders available withing NVIDIA's Forceware drivers when nTune is installed.  After some experimentation, however, we found that all three cards overclocked to very similar levels (within a couple of MHz of on another), so we've included only one overclocked result here.  Please keep in mind, your mileage may vary.


Overclocking the GeForce 8800 GT 512MB

You've Gotta Love 'Free' Performance

 
To find the GeForce 8800 GT's peak core and memory frequencies, we slowly raised their respective sliders until we begun to see visual artifacts on-screen while running a game or benchmark, or until our test system was no longer stable.  In this particular case, we never saw any artifacts, but the test system would freeze almost immediately after launching a game.





When all was said and done, we hit a stable 725MHz GPU clock speed with 2.08GHz memory.  While overclocked, we re-ran a couple of high resolution benchmarks to show the performance gains offered by the higher clock speeds.  Because the cards were already significantly overclocked from the factory, however, we gained only a couple of frames per second in both tests with our somewhat higher, final overclocked speeds.

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Our Summary and Conclusion


Performance Summary: The three GeForce 8800 GT cards tested for this article performed as expected throughout our entire battery of benchmarks.  The highest clocked card of the three, Asus' EN8800GT TOP, finished slightly ahead of EVGA's e-GeForce 8800 GT KO, which in turn finished slightly ahead of the MSI NX8800GT. In terms of the GeForce 8800 GT's performance in general versus its main competition, for the money, the GeForce 8800 GT is the card to own.


ASUS EN8800GT TOP:
The Asus EN8800GT TOP is an excellent graphics card.  Due to its relatively high clock speeds, it finished in the lead in the vast majority of the benchmarks we ran, and it always outpaced its lower-clocked GeForce 8800 GT-based competition.  It also had a great bundle that included a full version of a current DX10 title, Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts.  The Asus EN8800GT TOP's high clock speeds and bundle, however, also make it the most expensive card of the bunch, that is if you can find it.  Only one seller was offering this card via our Pricegrabber search engine at a price of $330.  When availability improves, we expect the card's street price to settle in around $299 though.


  • Great Bundle
  • Highest Clock Speeds
  • Strong Performance
  • "Only" a 3-Year Warranty
  • Availability
  • What's with the HUGE box?



EVGA e-GeForce 8800 GT KO:
Although Asus' offering ended up being slightly faster, EVGA struck a nice balance with their e-GeForce 8800 GT KO.  This was the second fastest card of the bunch (by an ever so slight margin), but it has the best bundle and also has the best warranty.  Availability is scarce at the moment, but according to Pricegrabber, this card can be had for about $290.  That makes the e-GeForce 8800 GT KO more affordable than Asus' offering, even though it has a more complete bundle and longer warranty.  All things considered, we can't help but recommend the EVGA e-GeForce 8800 GT KO for enthusiasts in the market for a quality GeForce 8800 GT card.


 

  • Best Warranty
  • Great Bundle
  • High Clock Speeds
  • Strong Performance
  • Availability
  • Not as fast as Asus' card


MSI NX8800GT:
At about $279, the MSI NX8800GT is the least expensive of the factory-overclocked GeForce 8800 GT cards we tested here.  Although its lower clock speeds put it behind Asus' and EVGA's offerings in terms of performance, this card is still a great performer and much faster than stock "reference" GeForce 8800 GT cards.  Like the other cards, availability is somewhat limited, but for under $280 this card is worth every penny.  Ultimately, we feel EVGA's entry offers a better value if you account for its bundle and warranty, but you can't go wrong with any of the GeForce 8800 GT cards we've shown you here today.

  • Lowest Price
  • Strong Performance
  • Availability
  • Basic Bundle




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