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NVIDIA GeForce 7800 GS: AGP, Alive and Kicking
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Date: Feb 02, 2006
Section:Graphics/Sound
Author: Matt Beauvais
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Introduction, Specifications & The Card

AGP was supposed to fade away after the insurgence of PCI Express, wasn't it? Well yes, it was and it will in time, but as we're showing you today you can still breathe some new life into an aging AGP based system, thanks to NVIDIA. While PCI Express is the current interface of choice for new graphics products, the existing installed base of AGP equipped systems is huge. And many of these users would like to upgrade their video cards, but simply don't have the funds, or choose not to, upgrade their motherboards and perhaps processors as well. Upgrading to a PCIe based video card these days would mean getting a whole new motherboard, if you're still using a motherboard with an AGP slot. For the sake of providing a solid upgrade from existing AGP solutions, without having to break your bank account, NVIDIA is announcing their fastest AGP card yet, the GeForce 7800GS AGP.

The reference clock speeds for the GeForce 7800 GS are 375MHz for the core, with a 1.2GHz memory speed. As is the case with many of NVIDIA's current offerings though, they've given some flexibility with the clock speeds to their partners. Today we'll be looking at XFX's version of the GeForce 7800 GS, which boasts a 440MHz core speed, and 256MB of 1.3GHz DDR3 memory.

   

 

NVIDIA GeForce 7800 GS
The Newest AGP Card From NVIDIA
NVIDIA CineFX 4.0 Shading Architecture
_Vertex Shaders
·
_Support for Microsoft DirectX 9.0 Vertex Shader 3.0
·
_Displacement mapping
·
_Geometry instancing
·
_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
·
_Accelerated texture access
·
_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


API Support
• Complete DirectX support, including the latest version of Microsoft DirectX 9.0 Shader Model 3.0
_Full OpenGL support, including OpenGL 2.0


64-Bit Texture Filtering and Blending
_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


NVIDIA Intellisample 4.0 Technology
_Advanced 16x anisotropic filtering (with up to 128 Taps)
_Blistering- fast antialiasing and compression performance
_Gamma-adjusted rotated-grid antialiasing removes jagged edges for incredible image quality
_Transparent multisampling and transparent supersampling modes boost antialiasing quality to new levels
_Support for normal map compression
_Support for advanced lossless compression algorithms for color, texture, and z-data at even higher resolutions and frame rates
_Fast z-clear


NVIDIA UltraShadow II Technology
_Designed to enhance the performance of shadow-intensive games


NVIDIA Digital Vibrance Control (DVC) 3.0 Technology
_DVC color controls
_DVC image sharpening controls
NVIDIA PureVideo Technology
_Adaptable programmable video processor
_High-definition MPEG-2 and WMV9 hardware acceleration
_Spatial-temporal de-interlacing
_Inverse 2:2 and 3:2 pull-down (Inverse Telecine)
_4-tap horizontal, 5-tap vertical scaling
_Overlay color temperature correction
_Microsoft Video Mixing Renderer (VMR) supports multiple video windows with full video quality and features in each window
_Integrated HDTV output


Composited Desktop Hardware Engine
_Video post-processing
_Real-time desktop compositing
_Accelerated antialiased text rendering
_Pixel shader-driven special effects and animation


Advanced Display Functionality
_Dual integrated 400MHz RAMDACs for display resolutions up to and including 2048x1536 at 85Hz
_Dual DVO ports for interfacing to external TMDS transmitters and external TV encoders
_Full NVIDIA nView multi-display technology capability


Advanced Engineering
_Designed for AGP*
_Designed for high-speed GDDR3 memory


Operating Systems
_Windows XP/XP 64/ME/2000
_Linux
_Macintosh OS X



The GeForce 7800 GS GPU:
Front View





The GeForce 7800 GS GPU:
Underside View


Due to the fact that the new NVIDIA GeForce 7800 GS GPU is based upon the same core architecture as the GeForce 7800 GTX, it shares essentially the same feature set as its higher-powered counterpart. We've detailed NVIDIA's latest architecture in-depth in our original coverage of the GeForce 7800 GTX launch back in June, so we'd recommend perusing that article if you're not familiar with what the GTX brings the table.

On top of everything offered by NVIDIA's previous flagship AGP card, the GeForce 6800 Ultra, the GeForce 7800 GS GPU incorporates new anti-aliasing modes in the Intellisample 4.0 engine that improve the appearance of partially transparent textures, such as those used in many outdoor scenes for foliage. The GeForce 7800 GS also has an updated PureVideo processor, with more features than its predecessor. And of course, the GeForce 7800 GS has enhancements to its pixel and vertex shader pipelines for increased performance, as well.

The GeForce 7800 GS is a 16-pixel pipeline part, with 6 vertex shaders, 8 ROPs, and a 256-bit memory interface. Other than these specifications, the GS shares essentially the same feature set with other products in the GeForce 7 family.

    

    

    

Pictured Here: The XFX GeForce 7800 GS
Core Clock: 440MHz
Memory Clock:
1.3GHz
Frame Buffer:
256MB

Their GeForce 7800 GS shipped in XFX's signature "X" shape box. Inside you'll find a molex connector splitter, DVI to VGA converter, S-Video cable, a users manual and a quick installation guide. It's a fairly spartan bundle with no games to show off the technology. The card itself is fairly large, about the size of a 6800 Ultra, but with a much smaller cooler. The fan does a good job of keeping things cool, and isn't at all that loud. One problem we ran into with our sample though, was that the shroud was making contact with the fan's blades, causing the fan to spin incorrectly. We feel this is an isolated incident, and we don't expect it to be a wide spread problem.

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Our Test System & 3DMark06

HOW WE CONFIGURED THE TEST SYSTEMS: We tested our NVIDIA based cards on an ABit AV8 K8T800 chipset based motherboard, powered by an AMD Athlon 64 3200+ (Venice Core) processor and 1GB of low-latency Mushkin Redline RAM. The first thing we did when configuring the test system was enter the 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. We tested at the two most popular resolutions according to a recent poll of our readers, using a mid-range system representative of many existing AGP based systems.

The HotHardware Test System
AMD Athlon 64 FX Powered

Processor -

Motherboard -


Video Cards -


Memory -


Audio -

Hard Driv
e -

 

Hardware Used:
AMD Athlon 3200+ (2GHz, Venice Core)

ABit AV8
VIA K8T800 Chipset

Nvidia GeForce 6800 Ultra AGP
Nvidia GeFroce 7800GS AGP

1024MB Mushkin Redline PC3200 RAM
CAS 2

Integrated on board

Western Digital "Caviar"

80GB - ATA 100

Operating System -
Chipset Drivers -
DirectX -

Video Drivers
-



Synthetic (DX) -
DirectX -

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

NVIDIA Forceware v81.98



Benchmarks Used:
3DMark06 v1.0.2
FarCry v1.33*
F.E.A.R.
Half Life 2*
Quake 4*

* - Custom Test (HH Exclusive demo)

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

3DMark06
Futuremark recently launched a brand-new version of their 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 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.

Futuremark's latest has the 7800 GS clearly beating the competition here, in both the overall score, and in the individual SM 2.0 and 3.0/HDR tests. From here on, we'll be focusing on how well it bests Nvidia's previous AGP king, the GeForce 6800 Ultra. Let's continue with some gaming benchmarks, shall we?

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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 last 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 article using the standard Regulator demo, at various resolutions without anti-aliasing or anisotropic filtering enabled, and then again with 4X AA and 16X aniso enabled concurrently.

First up in our round of in-game benchmarking, is the widely popular Far Cry. The last thing you need when fighting mercs on a tropical island, is to have your frame rates drop to the floor. Fortunately, all of the cards tested here are able to handle this game at 1024x768, even with AA and AF turned up. The XFX GeForce 7800 GS takes the lead, but not by all that much. The CPU is what's holding us back here, but we'll see how things turn out once we up the resolution.

At a resolution of 1280x1024, and with 4x AA and 16x AF, we start to get an idea of how well the 7800 GS performs. The XFX 7800 GS is nearly 10FPS faster than the GeForce 6800 Ultra, and about 5FPS faster than the stock GeForce 7800 GS.

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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 '04 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 1,024 x 768 and 1,280 x 1,024 without any anti-aliasing or anisotropic filtering and with 4X anti-aliasing and 16X anisotropic filtering enabled concurrently.

Considered by some to be one of the best PC games ever, Valve's Half-Life 2 also sports a well coded engine. None of the cards we tested had a problem handling this game at a resolution of 1024x768, even with AA and AF applied.

Well, we raised the resolution and the XFX GeForce 7800 still churned out over 100FPS on average. The only card to have a little trouble, was the GeForce 6800 Ultra, but even NVIDIA's previous flagship AGP card was able to maintain a framerate over 80FPS with AA and Aniso at 1280x1024.

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F.E.A.R. v1.02

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 was Monolith's paranormal thriller F.E.A.R. 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 popular title. Here, all graphics settings within the game were set to the high values, but with soft shadows disabled (Soft shadows and anti-aliasing do not work together currently). Benchmark runs were then completed at resolutions of 1024x768 and 1280x1024 (by editing the cfg file), with and without anti-aliasing enabled, and with no anti-aliasing and 4x anisotropic filtering, which is automatically set when using high quality settings.

With the more efficient core, and higher memory clock speeds, the GeForce 7800 GS manages to beat 6800 Ultra by a couple of FPS, with and without the use of AA/AF. However, the much faster XFX GeForce 7800 GS, with higher clock and memory speeds, pulls ahead of the bunch by a decent margin.

When raising the resolution, the difference becomes a little less noticeable, however the XFX GeForce 7800 GS is still able to put up some decent numbers. These are the average frame rates though, so don't expect a solid gaming experience at these settings, as it will dip below 30FPS on many occasions.

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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 1,024 x 768 and 1,280 x 1,024 without anti-aliasing enabled and then again with 4X AA and 16X aniso enabled simultaneously.

NVIDIA's products have traditionally been known to excel in OpenGL based games and applications. We reaffirm this today, as each of the cards we tested performs well in this game. Thanks to the extra power of the XFX 7800 GS, we are able to get an extremely smooth experience when playing at 1024x768 with AA and AF enabled. Even the reference 7800 GS puts out some great results, continuing to best the 6800 Ultra.

As we near the end of our testing, the same story continues on. Once again the GeForce 7800 GS performs better than the GeForce 6800 Ultra. The last test of ours is to see how well the card can overclock, and we know you're as eager as we are for the results, so let's get to it...

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Overclocking the 7800 GS

Overclocking the GeForce 7800 GS
(Fastest 3D Video) + Overclocking = Even Faster Card

For overclocking, we used the coolbits registry hack to enable the overclocking features in the Forceware control panel. We decided to have the software automatically detect the highest possible clock speeds first. We came away with 486MHz on the core, and 1.38GHz for the memory. The auto overclock detector can sometimes be a bit conservative though, so of course we had to try for more. We used the artifact detecting feature of ATI Tool first, and ran the card for 15 minutes at our assigned clock speeds. With no artifacts, we kept pushing the card until we seemed to hit a wall at around 490MHz core speed, and 1.42GHz for the memory. To make sure this was stable, we ran ATI Tool for 30 minutes, and can report there were no artifacts.

Performance scaled well with the increase in clock speeds. With our card overclocked, we were about to reach above 45FPS in our Quake 4 benchmark with anti-aliasing and aniso enabled. F.E.A.R. produces similar results. However, with such a graphically intense game, we only see a couple of extra FPS thanks to the increase in clock speeds.

Finally, we would like to mention that throughout all of our benchmarking, especially the half hour of ATI Tool artifact testing, the temperature of the core never went above 68'C. The ambient temperature of our test area hovered around 24'C.

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Our Summary & Conclusion

We're pleased that NVIDIA decided to release the GeForce 7800 GS AGP. There are still a lot of users out there using motherboards that support AGP and no they have access to a current GPU architecture. With an MSRP of $349 USD though, those of you who currently own a GeForce 6800 Ultra might not be able to justify the investment for the performance gains shown here. But if you're still using a card such as the Radeon 9800 Pro or GeForce 5900 and are craving more performance, and you don't want to change any of your other components, you should give this card some serious consideration. And over time, GS prices will surely drop, and could drop quickly like they did with the 6800 GS. We're told prices below $300 are possible very soon after cards become available.

By raising the clock speeds well beyond the standard 7800 GS specs, XFX has an AGP based graphics card in their line-up capable of providing very good frame rates in many of today's hottest, and most graphically demanding games. Though we did have an initial problem with the cooling solution, it did not sour our overall experience, especially when looking back on the performance. Though it would have been nice to receive at least one game in the package to showcase the card's capabilities and performance.

This card is NVIDIA's fastest AGP based card yet, as it bested the GeForce 6800 Ultra in all of our tests. That, coupled with the fact that it will be available for purchase in a matter of days, makes the 7800 GS appealing as an upgrade for those who absolutely must stick with an AGP based system.  If you've got the means though, upgrading to a PCI Express based motherboard and graphics card is a better solution.  NVIDIA GeForce 7800 GS AGP-based graphics cards will be available for purchase at Best Buy retail stores and on their wesbite on Sunday, February 5, 2006 in North America, with worldwide availability from other leading e-tailers on February 6, 2006, according to NVIDIA. The XFX version of the card we tested here was fine product overall, and we're giving it an 8 on the Heat Meter.

_NVIDIA's Fastest AGP Card
_XFX version overclocked out of the box
_Head room for more overclocking
_Basic bundle
_Problem with the cooling solution on our sample

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