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NVIDIA GeForce 6800 GS
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Date: Nov 07, 2005
Section:Graphics/Sound
Author: Marco Chiappetta
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Introduction & Specifications

The mainstream video card market is about to get a shot in the arm courtesy of the folks at NVIDIA. Today the company is officially unveiling a new addition to their popular GeForce 6 Series of products, the GeForce 6800 GS. The GeForce 6800 GS is a new 12-pipeline, mainstream product, that promises relatively high-performance at a much more affordable price than the flagship products of today. We were recently given the opportunity to evaluate the new GeForce 6800 GS, so armed with a few other mainstream video cards, some that are currently available (Radeon X800 XL & GeForce 6800 GT) and one that is not available just yet (Radeon X1600 XT), we decided to see how NVIDIA's new product stacked up. Read on to see what we found out. You'll be happy you did...

Specifications & Features of the GeForce 6800 GS
A More Powerful Mainstream NV4x
CINEFX 3.0 SHADING ARCHITECTURE
  • Vertex Shaders
    Support for Microsoft DirectX 9.0 Vertex Shader 3.0
    Displacement mapping
    Vertex frequency stream divider
    Infinite length vertex programs*
  • Pixel Shaders
    Support for DirectX 9.0 Pixel Shader 3.0
    Full pixel branching support
    Support for Multiple Render Targets (MRTs)
    Infinite length pixel programs*
  • Next-Generation Texture Engine
    Up to 16 textures per rendering pass
    Support for 16-bit floating point format and 32-bit floating point format
    Support for non-power of two textures
    Support for sRGB texture format for gamma textures
    DirectX and S3TC texture compression
  • Full 128-bit studio-quality floating point precision through the entire rendering pipeline with native hardware support for 32bpp, 64bpp, and 128bpp rendering modes


NVIDIA HIGH-PRECISION DYNAMIC-RANGE (HPDR) TECHNOLOGY

  • Full floating point support throughout entire pipeline
  • Floating point filtering improves the quality of images in motion
  • Floating point texturing drives new levels of clarity and image detail
  • Floating point frame buffer blending gives detail to special effects like motion blur and explosions
  • New rotated-grid anti-aliasing removes jagged edges for incredible edge quality

INTELLISAMPLE 3.0 TECHNOLOGY

  • Advanced 16x anisotropic filtering
  • Blistering-fast anti-aliasing and compression performance
  • Support for advanced lossless compression algorithms for color, texture, and z-data at even higher resolutions and frame rates
  • Fast z-clear
  • High-resolution compression technology (HCT) increases performance at higher resolutions through advances in compression technology

ULTRASHADOW II TECHNOLOGY

  • Designed to enhance the performance of shadow-intensive games, like id Software's Doom III

ADVANCED ENGINEERING

  • Designed for PCI Express x16
  • Support for the industry's fastest GDDR3 memory
  • 256-bit advanced memory interface
  • 0.11 micron process technology
  • Advanced thermal management and thermal monitoring
ADVANCED VIDEO AND DISPLAY FUNCTIONALITY
  • Dedicated on-chip video processor
  • MPEG video encode and decode
  • WMV9 decode acceleration
  • Advanced adaptive de-interlacing
  • High-quality video scaling and filtering
  • Integrated NTSC/PAL TV encoder supporting resolutions up to 1024x768 without the need for panning with built-in Macrovision copy protection
  • DVD and HDTV-ready MPEG-2 decoding up to 1920x1080i resolutions
  • Dual integrated 400 MHz RAMDACs for display resolutions up to and including 2048x1536 at 85Hz.
  • Dual DVO ports for interfacing to external TMDS transmitters and external TV encoders
  • Microsoft Video Mixing Renderer (VMR) supports multiple video windows with full video quality and features in each window
  • VIP 1.1 interface support for video-in function
  • Full NVIDIA nView multi-display technology capability

NVIDIA DIGITAL VIBRANCE CONTROL (DVC) 3.0

  • DVC color controls
  • DVC image sharpening controls

OPERATING SYSTEMS

  • Windows XP
  • Windows ME
  • Windows 2000
  • Windows 9X
  • Macintosh OS, including OS X
  • Linux

API SUPPORT

  • Complete DirectX support, including the latest version of Microsoft DirectX 9.0
  • Full OpenGL, including OpenGL 1.5

* The operating system or APIs can impose limits, but the hardware does not limit shader program length.


The chip formerly codenamed NV42 has become the GeForce 6800 GS. As its name implies, the GeForce 6800 GS is a new addition to the GeForce 6 Series, and as such it offers essentially the same feature set as the older GeForce 6 cards that came before it. To name just a few, the NVIDIA GeForce 6800 GS has full support for Shader Model 3.0 features, including the Vertex Texture Fetch (VTF) capability missing from ATI's recently introduced X1K series of products. The GeForce 6800 GS also has support for 64-bit floating point texture filtering for high dynamic-range (HDR) lighting effects, NVIDIA's PureVideo on-chip video processor is present as well, and the GS fully supports SLI (Scalable Link Interface) for higher-performance, dual-board graphics support. For more information on the GeForce 6 architecture, we recommend taking a look at this article, and more information about SLI is available here.

The GPU at the core of the GeForce 6800 GS features 12 pixel-pipelines, 5 vertex shaders, and a 256-bit memory interface. And the GPU is manufactured on a .11 micron (110 nanometer) process. Strictly from a feature standpoint, the GeForce 6800 GS is much like the older 12-pipe GeForce 6800, but due to some refinements to the core, the use of a more advanced .11 micron manufacturing process, and GDDR3 memory, NVIDIA was able to ramp clock speeds much higher than their previous 12-pipe product.

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GeForce 6800 GS: Showcase

With all of the new video cards that have been released over the past few months, it can be difficult to know how one card compares to another in any given category.  To give you an idea of how the new NVIDIA GeForce 6800 GS stacks up against a few other products with similar price points, give or take a few bucks, we've put together a simple chart with some pertinent performance details...

NVIDIA's reference specifications call for the GeForce 6800 GS GPU to be clocked at 425MHz with 500MHz (1.0GHz DDR) memory. The GeForce 6800 GS has 12 pixel-pipelines, 5 vertex shaders, and a 256-bit interface to its 256MB GDDR3 frame buffer memory. These numbers equate to a peak fillrate of 3.4GPixels/sec / 5.1GTexels/sec with a maximum of 32GB/s of memory bandwidth. This put the GS well ahead of the GeForce 6800 in terms of raw performance, and just shy of the 6800 GT in the fillrate department.

The NVIDIA GeForce 6800 GS
She Should Look Familiar

      

      

      

      

If you take a look at the new GeForce 6800 GS, you'll see that it is physically very similar to the existing 12-pipe GeForce 6800 (AGP version reviewed here). The GS uses a very similar PCB to the standard GeForce 6800 and the same single-slot active cooler with heat-pipes is used to cool the GPU and memory. At the upper corner, near the retention bracket, you'll see the card's SLI connector, and although NVIDIA claims lower power requirements for this card it does have a supplemental 6-pin PCI Express power connector at the other end of the board as well. According to NVIDIA, the 6800 GS has a maximum power utilization of approximately 70W and they recommend at least a 350W power supply be used for a single board setup, and at least a 420W power supply for SLI configurations. As you can see in the last shot above, the GS has a less elaborate voltage regulator configurations, which alludes to the new card's less stringent power needs.

Our GeForce 6800 GS' output block housed a single DB15 analog output, a single DVI output, and an S-Video output. Like previous cards in the GeForce 6 series, the GeForce 6800 GS can power dual-independent displays from a single card.

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Our Test System & 3DMark05

HOW WE CONFIGURED THE TEST SYSTEM: We put together two different test systems for this article.  We tested our NVIDIA based cards on a Gigabyte K8NXP-SLI nForce 4 SLI chipset based motherboard, powered by an AMD Athlon 64 FX-55 processor and 1GB of low-latency Corsair XMS RAM. However, the ATI based cards were tested on an ATI reference Radeon Xpress 200 motherboard, but with the same processor and RAM. The first thing we did when configuring these test systems was enter each BIOS and load the "High Performance Defaults."  The hard drive was then formatted, and Windows XP Professional with SP2 was installed. When the installation was complete, we installed the latest chipset drivers available, installed all of the other necessary drivers for the rest of our components, and removed Windows Messenger from the system. Auto-Updating and System Restore were also disabled, the hard drive was defragmented, and a 768MB permanent page file was created on the same partition as the Windows installation. Lastly, we set Windows XP's Visual Effects to "best performance," installed all of the benchmarking software, and ran the tests.

The HotHardware Test System
AMD Athlon 64 FX Powered

Processor -

Motherboard -





Video Cards -




Memory -


Audio -

Hard Driv
e -

 

Hardware Used:
AMD Athlon 64 FX-55 (2.6GHz)

Gigabyte GA-K8NXP-SLI
nForce4 SLI chipset

ATI Reference CrossFire MB
ATI Radeon Xpress 200 CF Edition

GeForce 6800 GS

GeForce 6800 GT
Radeon X1600 XT
Radeon X800 XL


1024MB Corsair XMS PC3200 RAM
CAS 2

Integrated on board

Western Digital "Raptor"

36GB - 10,000RPM - SATA

Operating System -
Chipset Drivers -
DirectX -

Video Drivers
-





Synthetic (DX) -
DirectX -

DirectX -
DirectX -
DirectX -
OpenGL -
OpenGL -
Relevant Software:
Windows XP Professional SP2 (Patched)
nForce Drivers v6.82
DirectX 9.0c

NVIDIA Forceware v81.87

ATI Catalyst v5.10a beta


Benchmarks Used:
3DMark05 v1.2.0
Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory v1.04
F.E.A.R.
FarCry v1.33*
Half Life 2*
Doom 3 v1.3 (Single Player)*
Quake 4*

* - Custom Test (HH Exclusive demo)

Performance Comparisons with 3DMark05 v1.2.0
Details: http://www.futuremark.com/products/3dmark05/

3DMark05
3DMark05 is the latest installment in a long line of synthetic 3D graphics benchmarks, dating back to late 1998. 3DMark05 is a synthetic benchmark that requires a DirectX 9.0 compliant video card, with support for Pixel Shaders 2.0 or higher, to render all of the various modules that comprise the suite. To generate its final "score", 3DMark05 runs three different simulated game tests and uses each test's framerate in the final tabulation. Fillrate, Memory bandwidth, and compute performance especially all have a measurable impact on performance in this benchmark. We ran 3DMark05's default test (1,024 x 768) on all of the cards and configurations we tested, and have the overall results posted for you below.

All of the cards we tested were evenly matched in the default 3DMark05 benchmark. The fact that the Radeon X1600 XT finishes on top, even though its got the lowest fillrate and memory bandwidth of the bunch by far, shows that this benchmark is mostly bound by shader compute performance. The new GeForce 6800 GS finishes strong in a very close second place, and the GT and X800 XL were right on top of each other at 4999 and 4975, respectively.

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Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory

Performance Comparisons with Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory v1.04
Details: http://www.splintercell3.com/us/

SC: Chaos Theory
Based on a heavily modified version of the Unreal Engine, enhanced with a slew of DX9 shaders, lighting and mapping effects, Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory is gorgeous with its very immersive, albeit dark environment. The game engine has a shader model 3.0 code path that allows the GeForce 6 & 7 Series of cards, and the new X1000 family of cards, to really shine, and a recent patch has implemented a shader model 2.0 path for ATI's X8x0 generation of graphics hardware. For these tests we enabled the SM 3.0 path on the GeForce cards and the X1600 XT, but the SM 2.0 path was enabled for the older Radeon X800 XL. High Dynamic Range rendering and parallax mapping were disabled to keep the playing field somewhat level, and we benchmarked the game at resolutions of 1,280 x 1024 and 1,600 x 1,200, both with and without anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering.

 

The GeForce 6800 GS and 6800 GT perform on near identical levels in the Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory benchmark. The GT's slight fillrate advantage and additional vertex engine puts it a couple of frames per second ahead of the GS at both resolutions and test settings. However, the GeForce 6800 GS completely dominates the yet to be released Radeon X1600 XT. The X1600 XT isn't even competitive here. The older Radeon X800 XL puts up a much better fight though, and actually comes out on top in the high-resolution test when anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering are enabled.

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F.E.A.R.

Performance Comparisons with F.E.A.R
More Info: http://www.whatisfear.com/us/

F.E.A.R
One of the most highly anticipated titles of 2005, Monolith's new psychological thriller F.E.A.R promises to be as thrilling to the mind as it is to the eyes. Taking a look at the minimum system requirements, we see that you will need at least a 1.7GHz Pentium 4 with 512MB of system memory and a 64MB graphics card that is a Radeon 9000 or GeForce4 Ti-class or better to adequately run the game. Using the full retail release of the game patched to v1.02, we put the graphics cards in this review through their paces to see how they fared with a promising new title. Here, all graphics settings within the game were set to the maximum values, but with soft shadows disabled. Benchmark runs were then completed at resolutions of 1280x1024 and 1600x1200, with and without anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering enabled.

 

F.E.A.R. turned out to be another game where the GeForce cards put up a dominant performance. Just like we saw in the Splinter Cell benchmark, the GeForce 6800 GS and GeForce 6800 GT were right on top of each other, with a slight edge going to the GT thanks to its higher peak fillrate and sixth vertex engine. Once again, the Radeon X1600 XT couldn't keep pace with the other cards we tested, but the Radeon X800 XL was fairly strong once anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering were enabled.

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FarCry v1.33

Performance Comparisons with FarCry v1.33
Details: http://www.farcry.ubi.com/

FarCry
If you've been on top of the gaming scene for some time, you probably know that FarCry was one of the most visually impressive games to be released on the PC this past year. Courtesy of its proprietary engine, dubbed "CryEngine" by its developers, FarCry's game-play is enhanced by Polybump mapping, advanced environment physics, destructible terrain, dynamic lighting, motion-captured animation, and surround sound. Before titles such as Half-Life 2 and Doom 3 hit the scene, FarCry gave us a taste of what was to come in next-generation 3D Gaming on the PC. We benchmarked the graphics cards in this review with a custom-recorded demo run taken in the "Catacombs" area checkpoint, at various resolutions without anti-aliasing or anisotropic filtering enabled, and then with 4X AA and 16X aniso enabled concurrently.

 

We had another virtual photo-finish with our custom FarCry benchmark. Without an additional pixel processing employed, the GeForce 6800 GT, GeForce 6800 GS and Radeon X800 XL finished one, two and three at both resolutions, with a maximum of only 6 frames per second separating the three cards. The Radeon X1600 XT lagged behind the competition by hefty margins, though. When we enabled anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering, however, the three top cards reversed their positions, with the Radeon X800 XL finishing first, followed by the GS and then the GT, by margins ranging from about 4 to 9 frames per second.

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Half Life 2

Performance Comparisons with Half-Life 2
Details: http://www.half-life2.com/

Half Life 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.  So, when Valve announced Half-Life 2 was close to completion in mid-2003, gamers the world over sat in eager anticipation. Unfortunately, thanks to a compromised internal network, the theft of a portion of the game's source code, and a tumultuous relationship with the game's distributor, Vivendi Universal, we all had to wait until November 2004 to get our hands on this classic. We benchmarked Half-Life 2 with a long, custom-recorded timedemo in the "Canals" map, that takes us through both outdoor and indoor environments. These tests were run at resolutions of 1,280 x 1,024 and 1,600 x 1,200 without any anti-aliasing or anisotropic filtering and with 4X anti-aliasing and 16X anisotropic filtering enabled concurrently.

 

Our custom Half Life 2 benchmark proved to be no match for any of the cards we tested here. In this benchmark, the Radeon X1600 XT put up some decent numbers, approaching 60 FPS at 1600x1200 with 4XAA and 16X aniso, and the Radeon X800 XL came out on top in every test configuration. The GeForce 6800 GS and GT were evenly matched, with a somewhat surprising edge going to the GS. Either the new GeForce 6800 GS' pixel shader pipes have been optimized for higher efficiency, and the optimizations give it an edge in some circumstances, or the GS's higher vertex processing advantage over the GT (531M/s vs. 525M/s) gives it an edge here.

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Doom 3

Performance Comparisons with Doom 3
Details: http://www.doom3.com/

Doom 3
id Software's games have long been pushing the limits of 3D graphics. Quake, Quake 2, and Quake 3 were all instrumental in the success of 3D accelerators on the PC. Now, many years later, with virtually every new desktop computer shipping with some sort of 3D accelerator, id is at it again with the visually stunning Doom 3. Like most of id's previous titles, Doom 3 is an OpenGL game that uses extremely high-detailed textures and a ton of dynamic lighting and shadows. We ran this batch of Doom 3 single player benchmarks using a custom demo with the game set to its "High-Quality" mode, at resolutions of 1,280 x 1,024 and 1,600 x 1,200 without anti-aliasing enabled and then again with 4X AA and 8X aniso enabled simultaneously.

 

It's all NVIDIA in our custom Doom 3 benchmark.  Here, the GeForce 6800 GS and GeForce 6800 GT perform at near identical levels with anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering disabled -- less than 1 frame per second separate the two cards at both resolutions. With anti-aliasing and aniso enabled, however, the GeForce 6800 GT pulls ahead of the GS by 12% to 15% depending on the resolution.

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Quake 4

Performance Comparisons with Quake 4
Details: http://www.quake4game.com/

Quake 4
id Software, in conjunction with developer Raven, recently released the latest addition to the wildly popular Quake franchise, Quake 4. Quake 4 is based upon an updated and slightly modified version of the Doom 3 engine, and as such performance characteristics between the two titles are very similar.  Like Doom 3, Quake 4 is also an OpenGL game that uses extremely high-detailed textures and a ton of dynamic lighting and shadows, but unlike Doom3, Quake 4 features some outdoor environments as well. We ran this these Quake 4 benchmarks using a custom demo with the game set to its "High-Quality" mode, at resolutions of 1,280 x 1,024 and 1,600 x 1,200 without anti-aliasing enabled and then again with 4X AA and 8X aniso enabled simultaneously.

 

We recorded and absolutely murderous demo for our new Quake 4 benchmark. Our custom demo takes us from an outdoor environment in the "Dispersal" map, into a long corridor and through a passage, while battling about a dozen creatures of varying types. We also rotated through a handful of different weapons to throw in a few different lighting effects for good measure. What we ended up with is a spread the looks just like Doom 3, just with lower framerates. Once again, the GeForces pulled way ahead of either Radeon, with the GT outpacing the GS by only a few frames per second depending on the resolution and level of pixel processing being applied.

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Overclocking the GeForce 6800 GS

Overclocking the GeForce 6800 GS
(Fast 3D Video Card) + Overclocking = Even Faster Card

As we neared the end of our testing, we spent a little time overclocking the GeForce 6800 GS using the clock frequency slider available within NVIDIA's Forceware drivers after enabling "CoolBits". To find the card'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 our test system became unstable...

 

To put it mildly, our particular GeForce 6800 GS sample turned out to be one heck of an overclocker. We were able to take our card up from its default 425MHz core clock speed all the way up to 540MHz, and were able to increase its 1.0GHz memory clock sup to 1.23GHz. Yes, that an 115MHz increase in core clock speed (27%) and a 230MHz increase in the memory clock (23%). And as you'd expect, pushing the core and memory clocks up by over 20% had a significant impact on performance. To demonstrate the benefits overclocking had on performance, we re-ran the default 3DMark05 benchmark and our custom Doom 3 benchmark at 1600x1200 with 4X anti-aliasing and 8X anisotropic filtering enabled.  As you can see, our 3DMark05 score jumped by over 1200 points and Doom 3's framerate went up by 9.3 frames per second, an increase of about 25%. If this type of overclock turns out to be typical of all GeForce 6800 GS cards, we suspect there are some very happy budget overclockers in the world today...

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Power, Noise & Temperatures

Total System Power Consumption, Acoustics & Temperatures
It's All About the Watts and Decibels

We have a few final data points to cover before we bring this article to a close. Throughout all of our benchmarking, we monitored how much power our NVIDIA based test system was consuming using a power meter, monitored GPU core temperatures, and also set up a sound level meter about six inches away from the graphics card. Our goal was to give you all an idea as to how much power each configuration used and to explain how loud the configurations were under load. Please keep in mind that we were testing total system power consumption here, not just the power being drawn by the video card alone.

Our trusty Season Power Angel power meter reported lower power consumption numbers for the new GeForce 6800 GS configuration, while idling and while running at a full load. Although the core on the GS is running at a much higher clock speed than the GeForce 6800 GT (425MHz vs. 350MHz), the fact that its manufactured on a more advanced 110 nanometer process and has fewer pixel / vertex shader pipes translated into lower power consumption overall.

The GeForce 6800 GS also proved to be a relatively cool running GPU. While idling at the Windows desktop NVIDIA's drivers never reported a core GPU temperature higher than 39oC.  And while running the taxing RTHDRIBL demo at nearly full-screen with the resolution set to 1600x1200 for about 20 minutes the GS' core temperature peaked at 62oC.

Lastly, we want to talk about the amount of noise generated by the cooler on the GeForce 6800 GS. We won't talk for long though, because there isn't much to report. The noise generated by the cooler on the GeForce 6800 GS was drowned out by our systems CPU cooler and PSU fans, and our noise meter registered the same decibel level regardless of which video card was installed.

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Our Summary & Conclusion

Performance Summary: Throughout our entire battery of tests, the new GeForce 6800 GS proved to be an excellent performer.  The GeForce 6800 GS was consistently faster than a Radeon X800 XL and it easily outpaced a Radeon X1600 XT.  It performed on-par with a 16-pipeline GeForce 6800 GT in most benchmarks, and even managed to pull ahead of the GT in a handful of tests, including 3DMark05 and Half Life 2.

We're going to get right to the point here. The new GeForce 6800 GS is a winner.  With an MSRP of $249 this card currently has an unbeatable price / performance ratio.  It has all of the features that made the GeForce 6 series a success, and performs almost identically to a more expensive GeForce 6800 GT. Our particular sample also turned out to be an excellent overclocker. In fact, it overclocked so well, we saw performance improvements of over 20% in a couple of popular benchmarks. On top of its excellent performance in multiple categories, the GeForce 6800 GS will be available today. And if history is any indicator, the GeForce 6800 GS' street prices will drop well below the $249 MSRP rather quickly, and NVIDIA's board partners will likely release boards clock higher then the reference specifications further improving the card's price / performance ratio. There is a lot to like about the new GeForce 6800 GS. We suspect this card is going to be very popular with gamers on a budget. If you can't afford to spring for a more powerful card like a GeForce 7800 GT or Radeon X1800 XL, you'd be hard pressed to find a better value than the GeForce 6800 GS.

**Update 11/7/05 - 1:00PM EST: It seems the the GeForce 6800 GS is already in-stock and ready for sale at multiple on-line retailers. And best of all, it's already selling for well below MSRP.  In fact, NewEgg's got them for $209 at the moment. (NewEgg, Monarch, MWave)

_Great Price / Performance Ratio
_Relatively Low Power Consumption
_Available NOW!
_Excellent Overclocker
_Single DVI
_We Couldn't Test SLI

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