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XFX 8800 GT 256MB XXX Alpha Dog Edition
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Date: Feb 11, 2008
Section:Graphics/Sound
Author: Shane Unrein
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Introduction, Specs and Features

By now, we assume just about everyone knows the GeForce 8800 GT's story.  NVIDIA launched the 512MB 8800 GT in late October of last year and touted a price range of $200-250.  But retail prices initially ended up being over $300 due to supply issues. You can bet that ATI was smiling a couple weeks later when the company launched the Radeon HD 3850 and 3870 and retail stock was available closer to MSRP prices. NVIDIA hit back, though, by launching the 256MB version of the 8800 GT and getting more stock onto store shelves. It goes without saying that NVIDIA wanted this 256MB part to remain closer to those original $200-250 price claims.

You may be wondering what the differences are between the 256MB and 512MB 8800 GTs, besides the amount of memory of course. The two cards have the same number of stream processors (112), same reference core clock (600 MHz), same reference shader clock (1.5 GHz), and the same 256-bit memory bus. The difference is in the memory clock: the 256MB reference memory clock is 1.4 GHz while the 512MB reference memory speed is 1.8 GHz.

Most of you are probably already familiar with XFX, and if so, you know that the company consistently offers some of the best factory overclocks on the market. One such overclock can be found in XFX's new 8800 GT 256MB XXX Alpha Dog Edition card. The card's core is overclocked to 650 MHz, and its memory is boosted to 800 MHz (1.6 GHz DDR). To see just how well this Alpha Dog performs, we're going to pit it against an arsenal of competitors, including a reference Radeon HD 3850, a reference 8800 GT 256MB, and a reference 8800 GT 512MB. Read on to see how it fares.

XFX GeForce 8800 GT 256MB XXX
Features & Specifications

Fabrication:  65nm

Number of Transistors: 
754 Million

Stream Processors:  112

Memory Interface:  256-bit

Frame Buffer Size:  256 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.

 

 



    


There is nothing too surprising about the packaging that XFX uses for this 8800 GT. The company's new Alpha Dog character stares us down like he's guarding the contents inside the box, which we're happy to report is no bigger than it needs to be, in typical XFX fashion. We are fans of minimal packaging, as long as everything inside is still protected.


    


As you can see in the first picture above, the 8800 GT is definitely protected. It is surrounded by a dense yet soft foam and rests inside of an anti-static bag. Beneath the card, we were happy to find a decent little bundle. The bundle includes the following items: a quick install guide, a "tips and techniques" guide, an "I'm Gaming, Do Not Disturb" placard to hang on your door, two VGA-to-DVI adapters, an S-video cable, an HDTV-out (component video) cable, PCI Express power cable, a driver CD, and the full version of the game Lost Planet: Extreme Condition.

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Closer Look: 8800 GT 256MB XXX Alpha Dog Edition

 

Closer Look: 8800 GT 256MB XXX Alpha Dog Edition
The Alpha Dog and the Omega Dog?

Just like the box, the 8800 GT 256MB XXX Alpha Dog Edition card itself sports the mug of a tough looking dog thanks to a custom decal applied by XFX. The color scheme, black and green, is typical of current XFX cards. We know looks don't help performance, but we can't help but think this is a cool looking card. In the second picture below, you can see the back of the card, which reveals all of the screws that secure the cooler and gives you a nice view of the black PCB.
 

    


You might find it interesting that the 256MB and 512MB 8800 GTs look identical. They are both single-slot cards that stretch out at around nine inches in length. As you can see in the three images below, this 256MB 8800 GT sports a black cooler with a black fan. Additionally, take note of the black aluminum stabilizer bar, which can be seen in the third image. This bar sports a white XFX logo and helps the card maintain its rigidity.
 


        


As is typical of of mid-range and high-end cards these days, the 8800 GT 256MB XXX Alpha Dog Edition features two DVI-D connectors and a TV-out connector. To fit its desired color scheme, XFX made them a bright green/yellow. If we turn the card around 180 degrees, you can see the 6-pin power connector.



    



In addition to sporting some suave looks, the 8800 GT 256MB XXX Alpha Dog Edition also boasts a nice factory overclock, which is not surprising considering the "XXX" moniker. The core of this XXX Alpha Dog is clocked at 650 MHz, and the memory is running at 800 MHz (1.6 GHz DDR). The reference 8800 GT 256MB clocks are 600 MHz and 700 MHz (1.4 GHz DDR), respectively.

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Test System and Test Results with 3DMark06

For testing the 8800 GT 256MB XXX Alpha Dog Edition, we used an Intel Core 2 Duo E6400 on an Abit Fatal1ty FP-IN9 SLI motherboard. We also used 2GB of Corsair DDR2 (TWIN2X1024A-5400UL) RAM and a 120GB Maxtor SATA hard drive. The 8800 GT 256MB XXX Alpha Dog Edition was compared to an NVIDIA GeForce 8600 GT, an NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GT 256MB, an NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GT 512MB, an ATI Radeon HD 3850 and an ATI Radeon X1950 Pro. Note: Because we are using both DirectX 9 and DirectX 10 capable cards, we will not be enabling DX10 effects in the DX10 games in order to provide an apples to apples comparison.

HotHardware Test System
Intel C2D Powered

Processor -

Motherboard -


Video Cards -







Memory -


Audio -

Hard Drive -

 

Hardware Used:
Intel Core 2 Duo E6400 (2.13GHz)

Abit Fatal1ty FP-IN9 SLI
nForce 650i SLI chipset

XFX 8800 GT 256MB XXX Alpha Dog
ATI Radeon HD 3850
NVIDIA GeForce 8600 GT
NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GT 256MB
NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GT 512MB
ATI Radeon X1950 Pro


2048MB Corsair XMS2 DDR2-675MHz
CAS 4

Integrated on board

Maxtor DiamondMax Plus 9

120GB - 7200RPM - SATA

Operating System -
Chipset Drivers -
DirectX -

Video Drivers
-



Synthetic (DX) -
DirectX -
DirectX -
DirectX -
OpenGL -
Relevant Software:
Windows Vista
nForce Drivers v8.43
DirectX 10

NVIDIA Forceware v169.25

ATI Catalyst v7.11


Benchmarks Used:
3DMark06 v1.1.0
Crysis SP Demo
Half-Life 2: Episode 2
Company of Heroes v1.71
Enemy Territory: Quake Wars



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

3DMark06
Futuremark recently launched a brand new version of its popular benchmark, 3DMark06. The new version of the benchmark is updated in a number of ways and now includes not only Shader Model 2.0 tests but also 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 the number of instructions 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.

The 8800 GT 256MB XXX Alpha Dog Edition started things off just where we thought it would: a little better than the reference 8800 GT 256MB, better than the reference Radeon HD 3850, and not quite as good as the 8800 GT 512MB. The Shader Model 3.0 / HDR test results were the most interesting as the 8800 GT 256MB XXX Alpha Dog Edition's boosted clocks helped it gain around a 300 point lead on both the 8800 GT 256MB and the Radeon HD 3850.

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Test Results with Company of Heroes

 

Performance Comparisons with Company of Heroes
Details: http://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 1280x1024 and 1600x1200 with 4x anti-aliasing and all of the game's image-quality related options set to high.

At 1280x1024, the top four cards perform pretty similarly, except for the Radeon HD 3850 which slips over 15 FPS behind the pack when anti-aliasing is enabled. At 1600x1200, though, we have to thank the 8800 GT 256MB XXX Alpha Dog Edition's factory overclock for allowing it to perform quite a bit better than the Radeon HD 3850 and the 8800 GT 256MB. The XXX Alpha Dog can't quite keep up with the 512MB 8800 GT, though.

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Test Results with ET: Quake Wars

 

Performance Comparisons with ET: Quake Wars
Details: http://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 8x anisotropic filtering.

As you can see, the more interesting results here are once again at the 1600x1200 resolution. What is odd is that the 8800 GT 256MB XXX Alpha Dog Edition puts up a really great score (compared to its competitors) with no anti-aliasing (AA) and no anisotropic filtering (AF), but once 4x AA and 8x AF are enabled, the 8800 GT 256MB XXX Alpha Dog Edition takes a huge hit. Neither the 8800 GT 512MB nor the Radeon HD 3850 take as significant of a hit (not even close really). We ran the test a few extra times just to make sure we were getting the correct results. We're not sure what caused the 8800 GT 256MB XXX Alpha Dog Edition's performance to drop so much at the higher resolution one AA was enabled, but we suspect its smaller frame buffer we being taxed.

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Test Results with with Half-Life 2: Episode 2

 

Performance Comparisons with Half-Life 2: Episode 2
Details: http://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 1280x1024 and 1600x1200 with 4x anti-aliasing and 8x 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 only result that was surprising at 1280x1024 was the No AA / No AF score of the Radeon HD 3850. At that setting, it smoked the 8800 GT 256MB XXX Alpha Dog Edition, along with all the other cards. On the other hand, once 4x AA / 8x AF and HDR were turned on, the 8800 GT 256MB XXX Alpha Dog Edition surged back and beat the Radeon HD 3850 in addition to the 8800 GT 256MB by a respectable margin. At 1600x1200 4x AA / 8x AF / HDR, the 8800 GT 256MB XXX Alpha Dog Edition decided to beat down the Radeon HD 3850 and 8800 GT 256MB a little bit more. At either resolution, though, the 8800 GT 256MB XXX Alpha Dog Edition can't quite keep up with the 8800 GT 512MB.

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Test Results with Crysis

 

Performance Comparisons with Crysis
Details: http://www.ea.com/crysis

Crysis
If you're at all into enthusiast computing, the highly anticipated single player demo of the hot, new 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 a 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.

Crysis can really murder a system, and it apparently really likes to have a frame buffer size of at least 512MB, which is not surprising since Crysis is such a demanding game. The 8800 GT 512MB puts the hurt on the 8800 GT 256MB XXX Alpha Dog Edition, as well as the rest of the lot.

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Overclocking the 8800 GT 256MB XXX Alpha Dog Edition

 

Overclocking the 8800 GT 256MB XXX Alpha Dog Edition
Going beyond the stock settings...

Since the 8800 GT 256MB XXX Alpha Dog Edition is already overclocked out of the box, it is bound to have more headroom, right? Well, in typical HotHardware fashion, we set out to answer just that question. And the answer was "yes." Our sample did indeed have more overclocking headroom, as we were able to push the core to from 650 MHz to 720 MHz and the memory from 800 MHz to 920 MHz.

We were pretty happy with this overclock, but you should keep in mind that not all cards will overclock the same. In short, your mileage may vary.


 


You can look at the performance charts above to get an idea of how much better the 720 / 920 overclock performed. We thought the overclocked Half-Life 2: Episode 2 score at 1280x1024 4x AA / 8x AF / HDR was especially nice.

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Performance Summary and Conclusion

 

Performance Summary: Overall, the XFX 8800 GT 256MB XXX Alpha Dog Edition's performance was quite good. The card outperformed the Radeon HD 3850 in most cases and was only slightly behind the 8800 GT 512MB in many cases.


 

XFX has a solid offering with its 8800 GT 256MB XXX Alpha Dog Edition. For the most part, it outperforms the 256MB Radeon HD 3850, and it manages to stay within striking distance of the 512MB 8800 GT in many cases. The only thing that makes us pause before recommending this card is the current retail pricing situation for mid-range cards. It's kind of confusing and hard to keep it all straight at the moment.

At the beginning of this article, we spoke about the price of GeForce 8800 GTs, Radeon HD 3850s and 3870s. If we check current price levels of 512MB 8800 GTs, they can be found for around $250-280 or so. The Radeon HD 3870s, which also have 512MB of memory, are running between $230 and $280. The 256MB Radeon HD 3850 is on sale for as little as $170, while nicer, overclocked versions easily push $200 or so. The XFX 8800 GT 256MB XXX Alpha Dog Edition, on the other hand, is available from $230. We do not envy anyone with a $170-250 video card budget right now. While we suspect prices on the 256MB will continue to come down, we're not sure how soon that will be.  Regardless, we do think you should at least take a closer look at the XFX 8800 GT 256MB XXX Alpha Dog Edition if it is within your budget, and you are shopping for a new card.

If you want to game at resolutions higher than 1600x1200 and/or love to crank up the eye candy, especially with newer games like Crysis, then we think you'll want to save up for a 512MB card, like one of XFX's 512MB 8800 GTs. Otherwise, if your budget can't stretch any further than $230, the XFX 8800 GT 256MB XXX Alpha Dog Edition is definitely worthy of your consideration. With its practical bundle, excellent performance, and Double Lifetime Warranty, the 8800 GT 256MB XXX Alpha Dog Edition is not likely to disappoint.

•  Excellent performance
•  Fairly Quiet
•  Double Lifetime Warranty
•  Good bundle
•  DirectX 10 support
•  Not much more for a 512MB 8800 GT right now

 



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