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XFX GeForce 7900 GT 550M Xtreme VIVO
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Date: Jul 21, 2006
Section:Graphics/Sound
Author: Shane Unrein
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Introduction and Specifications

As of late, due to reported issues with overheating and graphic anomalies with overclocked GeForce cards, many gamers are starting to think twice before purchasing factory overclocked cards. Some hesitation before buying the highest overclocked card makes sense, but XFX along with the other companies affected by this problem are addressing customers' concerns and backing up their products with solid warranty support.

If you've lost some faith in XFX, you might want to consider that NVIDIA appears to be 100% behind the company. The only factory overclocked GeForce 7950 GX2 at launch was from XFX (the XFX GeForce 7950 GX2 570M XXX).  The two companies have a strong relationship at this time.

This article isn't about overclocking issues or GX2s, though. It's about one of XFX's new GeForce 7900 GTs - the XFX GeForce 7900 GT 550M Xtreme with VIVO. We took two of these cards for a spin and ran them through some benchmarks, paying particular attention to any possible heat issues and image quality problems. We're happy to report that the cards performed flawlessly. Read on to see just how well they stack up against the competition.

XFX GeForce 7900 GT 550M Xtreme VIVO
Model Number: PV-T71G-UCP7
GPU Clock: 550 MHz
Memory Clock: 1.63 GHz (effective)
Memory: 256 MB GDDR3


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
.
_Delivers true high dynamic-range (HDR) lighting support
.
_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 SLI Technology
.
_Patented hardware and software technology allows two GPUs to run in parallel to scale performance
.
_Scales performance on over 60 top PC games and applications

NVIDIA PureVideo Technology
.
_Dedicated on-chip video processor
.
_High-definition H.264, MPEG2 and WMV9 decode acceleration
.
_Advanced spatial-temporal de-interlacing
.
_Inverse telecine (2:2 and 3:2 pull-down correction)
.
_High-quality video scaling
.
_Video color correction
.
_Microsoft Video Mixing Renderer (VMR) supports multiple video windows with full video quality and features in each window

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-link DVI capability to drive the industry's largest and highest resolution digital flat panel displays up to 2560x1600
.
_Integrated HDTV encoder provides analog TV-output (Component/Composite/S-Video) up to 1080i resolution
._Full NVIDIA nView multi-display technology capability


Advanced Engineering
.
_Designed for PCI Express x16
.
_Designed for high-speed GDDR3 memory


Operating Systems
.
_Windows XP/XP 64/ME/2000
.
_Built for Microsoft Windows Vista
.
_Linux
.
_Macintosh OS X


XFX Unique Features
.
_Double Lifetime Warranty

Software/Game Bundle

._Driver CD
.
_Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Legend

Accessories Bundle
._User Manual
.
_2 x S-video cable
.
_2 x DVI-to-VGA adapter
.
_VIVO cable
.
_PCI Express power cable



  

XFX packs the 7900 GT 550M Xtreme VIVO in its trademark X-shaped box, which is cool but can be somewhat of a hassle to open up to gain access to the product within. Inside the box, XFX packs a smaller box that holds the hardware and accessories.

  

In typical XFX fashion, the included bundle is rather simple. The best part of the bundle is the inclusion of the relatively new Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Legend. The rest of the bundle consists of the required cables (PCI Express power cable, two S-video cables, two DVI-to-VGA adapters, and VIVO cable) and a driver CD.

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Closer Look at the Card

 

XFX probably offers the widest variety of 7900 GTs on the market. The company's web site lists nine different 7900 GT models. As you probably already know, XFX likes to overclock its cards. Instead of offering just one set of clock speeds, though, XFX offers several. This is just one way that it differentiates between its 7900 GT models. The other way is the presence or absence of VIVO capability. Our test cards happen to be model PV-T71G-UCP7, which is a VIVO card overclocked to 550MHz for the core (450MHz is the NVIDIA reference speed) and 1.63GHz for the memory (1.32GHz is the reference). These Xtreme Edition clock speeds are not far behind XFX's top-of-the-line 7900 GT XXX Edition model.

XFX GeForce 7900 GT 550M Xtreme VIVO
Overclocked and Stylin' in Black

  

When XFX first released its 7900 GTs, the company didn't make any significant changes to the cards other than clock speed bumps. The initial goal was to just get cards on the shelves as quickly as possible on launch day. A little while later, XFX finally released a newer spiced up design that features an all-black styling with neon yellow/green highlights as you can see in the two pictures above. We are quite fond of the cosmetic changes. The cards look much cooler and meaner than their green-PCB counterparts.

  

Even the PCI slot bracket is black, and so is the metal brace that sits on top of the card. For cooling, XFX stuck with the stock NVIDIA heatsink, which is unfortunate because it is rather loud. The noise these cards produce is easily their biggest downside. We were surprised by how much we could hear them over the rest of our system, which is probably average in terms of noise level.

    

As with all current cards at this performance level, the XFX 7900 GT Xtreme features dual DVI outputs. Additionally, the model we received supports VIVO functionality, which not only allows you to output the signal to a TV but also to input and capture an external source, like a VCR or video camera for example. We like that XFX continued the cool color scheme even for the DVI connections. On the flip side, you can find the typical 6-pin PCI Express power connector.

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Test System & 3DMark06

For testing the 7900 GT Xtreme, we used an Athlon 64 3800+ processor on a DFI LANParty NF4 SLI-DR motherboard. We also used 1GB of low latency Corsair DDR (TWINX1024-3200XL) and a 120GB Maxtor SATA hard drive. The 7900 GT Xtreme was tested in both single and SLI configurations and compared to an ATI Radeon X1900 XTX with reference clock speeds. Although an X1900 XTX typically sells for $200+ more than a 7900 GT, the XFX 7900 GT Xtreme holds up rather well against it in our test system.

HotHardware Test System
AMD Athlon 64 3800+ Powered

Processor -

Motherboard -


Video Cards -



Memory -


Audio -

Hard Drive -

 

Hardware Used:
AMD Athlon 64 3800+

DFI LANParty NF4 SLI-DR
nForce4 SLI chipset

XFX GeForce 7900 GT 550M Xtreme VIVO
Radeon X1900 XTX

1024MB Corsair XMS PC3200 RAM
CAS 2

Integrated on board

Maxtor DiamondMax Plus 9

120GB - 7,000RPM - SATA

Operating System -
Chipset Drivers -
DirectX -

Video Drivers
-




Synthetic (DX) -
DirectX -

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

NVIDIA Forceware v84.21

ATI Catalyst v6.5


Benchmarks Used:
3DMark06 v1.0.2
X3: Reunion
Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory v1.05
F.E.A.R. v1.05
Half-Life 2: Lost Coast
Quake 4 v1.2



Performance Comparisons with 3DMark06 v1.0.2
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.

As you can see here, a solo 7900 GT Xtreme performs quite well, especially when compared to the X1900 XTX that costs quite a bit more. As expected, when combining two cards in SLI, the performance is quite a bit better.

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Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory

 

Performance Comparisons with Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory v1.05
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 all of the cards we tested. However, High Dynamic Range rendering was disabled so that we could test the game with anti-aliasing enabled (a future patch should enable AA with HDR on the X1K family). We benchmarked the game at resolutions of 1280x1024 and 1600x1200, both with and without anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering.

From the graphs above, you can see that SCCT is a great game for showcasing the benefits of SLI. At 1600x1200, the SLI configuration performs 64-82% better than the single 7900 GT Xtreme setup. We also like how well the 7900 GT Xtreme performs relative to the X1900 XTX.

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X3: Reunion

 

Performance Comparisons with X3: Reunion
Details: http://www.egosoft.com/games/x3/info_en.php

X3: Reunion
Many of today's popular benchmarks are based on First Person Shooters (FPS), so in an effort to mix things up a bit, we have some performance data recorded using Egosoft's X3: Reunion demo. The X3 game engine makes use of DirectX 9.0 class pixel shader and lighting effecting to produce the images in the game world. Egosoft recommends a 1.7GHz or higher speed CPU be used with the game, in conjunction with at least 512MB of RAM and a video card with at least a 128MB frame buffer. Gameplay is somewhat reminiscent of Origin's Privateer / Wing Commander games, which is a welcome break from the myriad shooters on the market today.

The results from this benchmark are typically pretty close for high-end cards due to a CPU limitation, and our results were no different. If our test system's CPU was a little more powerful, we might see more disparity here.

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F.E.A.R.

 

Performance Comparisons with F.E.A.R.
Details: 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 v1.05, 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 maximum values, but with soft shadows disabled (soft shadows and anti-aliasing do not work together currently). Benchmark runs were completed at resolutions of 1280x960 and 1600x1200, with and without anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering enabled.

The XFX 7900 GT Xtreme really flexes its muscles here, both in solo and SLI mode. At 1280x960, the XFX card outperforms the X1900 XTX by itself, and in SLI, the 7900 GT Xtreme really shines and provides a nice boost when AA and AF are enabled. The story is very similar at 1600x1200. We are extremely pleased with the 7900 GT Xtreme's performance in F.E.A.R.

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Half-Life 2: Lost Coast

 

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 Lost Coast at 1280x1024 and 1600x1200 using the built-in stress test.

The 7900 GT Xtreme continues to shine quite bright even in the X1900 XTX's presence. If you like Source engine based games, then you should be able to crank up the eye candy and enjoy them in all their splendor.

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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 these Quake 4 benchmarks using a custom demo with the game set to its "High-Quality" mode, at resolutions of 1280x1024 and 1600x1200 without anti-aliasing enabled and then again with 4X AA and 8X aniso enabled simultaneously.

As you all probably know, NVIDIA cards have a history of outperforming ATI cards in Open GL games, and that's what we see here. The $200+ cheaper 7900 GT Xtreme is outperforming the X1900 XTX at all settings. The benefits of SLI aren't really apparent until we crank up the settings to 1600x1200 with 4X AA and 8X AF, where SLI offers an increase of over 30FPS.

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Overclocking the 7900 GT 550M Xtreme

 

Although the 7900 GT Xtreme is already overclocked to 550MHz for the core and 1.63GHz (effective) for the memory, we had to see if we could crank it up any more and actually see some performance benefit from it. We used Coolbits to overclock the solo and SLI configurations to 565MHz (core) and 1.7GHz (memory).

Overclocking the 7900 GT 550M Xtreme
Overclocking the Overclocked

As you can see, our overclock proved to not be worth the effort. We're not too surprised for a couple of reasons. First, our test system's CPU isn't the most powerful. Secondly, the cards already have a nice overclock, and our overclock wasn't very high beyond that high overclock. The factory overclocks are sufficient, and we see no reason to push them any higher. Besides, it voids your warranty to do so, and we'd rather take advantage of XFX's Double Lifetime warranty than get two more frames per second in a game.

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Performance Summary & Conclusion

 

Performance Summary: We found the XFX 7900 GT 550M Xtreme's performance to be quite impressive, especially when stacked up against the Radeon X1900 XTX, a card that typically costs $200 more (~$280 vs. ~$480). We are pleased with both the single card and SLI performance of XFX's overclocked 7900 GT. The SLI performance in Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory and F.E.A.R. is especially worth noting.

XFX's 7900 GT 550M Xtreme offers a nice combination of performance and features. Although it is not NVIDIA's current flagship card, it performs quite respectably against ATI's current flagship (Radeon X1900 XTX). Not only does the card offer a warrantied factory overclock, but it also features VIVO capability, making a very capable card even better.

The bundle is a little understated, but the inclusion of the latest Tomb Raider game is appreciated. We also like the fact that XFX includes not one but two S-video cables. It's always nice to have extra cables around. What we really find attractive about XFX's cards is the Double Lifetime warranty offered with GeForce 6 and 7 Series cards. This warranty allows you to have a lifetime warranty that carries on to the next person you sell the card to, which means two people can benefit from the lifetime warranty.

While the 7900 GT 550M Xtreme is a great card, it is not perfect. The biggest complaint we have about the card is its fan noise. We could easily hear the card over all the other fans in our test system (four 80mm fans, a CPU cooler and PSU fan). Unfortunately, this could be a deal breaker for many people since quiet/silent computing's popularity continues to grow.

As we mentioned at the beginning of this article, we did not experience any problems with these factory overclocked XFX cards. They proved to be stable and solid pixel-pushing powerhouses. We are awarding the XFX 7900 GT 550M Xtreme VIVO a 9 on the Heat Meter.

.  Excellent Performance
.  Double Lifetime warranty
.  VIVO
.  Full version game included
.  Factory overclock
.  Loud cooler
.  Bundle could be better

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