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MSI NX7950GX2-T2D1GE GeForce 7950GX2
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Date: Sep 21, 2006
Section:Graphics/Sound
Author: Shane Unrein
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Introduction, Specifications & Features

NVIDIA created a ton of buzz in the gaming community when it first introduced SLI. That buzz quickly gave way to a huge success, and the buzz and success really haven't diminished since. In fact, the birth of Quad SLI has only reinvigorated the buzz.  Quad SLI is currently possible thanks to NVIDIA's GeForce 7950 GX2 video card. A 7950 GX2 is a single card that features two G71 GPUs. This means that you can run pseudo-SLI in a single PCI Express x16 (or x8) slot and essentially enjoy the benefits of SLI on some non-SLI capable motherboard (as long as the motherboard's BIOS has been updated to provide support for the 7950 GX2).

We finally have another retail 7950 GX2 in the HotHardware labs, and it comes from MSI. Rather than just call it the "MSI GeForce 7950 GX2," MSI opted to call it the NX7950GX2-T2D1GE. Like other 7950 GX2s, this bad boy features 1GB of fast DDR3 memory and a 512-bit memory interface. The GPU and memory clocks are the same as the NVIDIA reference card speeds (500MHz and 1.2GHz, respectively). So let's jump right in and see how the NX7950GX2-T2D1GE performs.

MSI NX7950GX2-T2D1GE: Features & Specs
Enter MSI's GeForce 7950 GX2 (MSI Part No: MS-V801-065)
Features
Support Memory: 1GB DDR3

Video Output Function
    - TV-out (S-Video Connector)
    - Dual DVI Connector

512-Bit Memory Interface
MSI Vivid Video Technology
    - Vivid brings the easiest way to optimize graphic quality.
    - Colorize your vision when browsing digital photos!!!
    - Sharpen characters' edges!!!
    - Enhance contrast when playing games!!!
 
Technical Specifications

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

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

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

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 UltraShadow II Technology

  • Designed to enhance the performance of shadow-intensive games

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 PCI Express x16
  • Designed for high-speed GDDR3 memory
System Requirements
- A compatible PCI Express motherboard and SBIOS. Please visit www.nvidia.com/GX2 for a list of compatible motherboards and SBIOS.
- A 6-pin PCI Express supplementary power connector.
- A minimum recommended 400W system power supply (with 12V current rating of 27A).

  

The MSI NX7950GX2-T2D1GE is packaged in a blue and white box that features an angelic female and boasts the card's features and specifications. The box also includes a handle for easy transportation of the package.

  

The NX7950GX2 rests snugly surrounded by sturdy styrofoam. Our sample arrived without a problem, so we believe the packaging is adequate. Inside the package, MSI includes a plethora of accessories and software. The accessories include a TV-out cable (S-video and component supported), two DVI-to-VGA adapters, an S-video cable, a Y-power cable, a Quick Installation Guide, and a Quick User's Guide. The software includes a full game (King Kong - The Official Game of the Movie) and a bunch of utilities, which you can find listed below. Overall, it's a decent bundle, but we would like to see a newer game included.

MSI developed software
. VGA Driver
. MSI Live Update Series ( Live VGA BIOS & Live VGA Driver)
- Automatically online download & update VGA BIOS & Drivers, reduce the risk of getting the wrong files, and never have the trouble on web site searching.
. GoodMen
  Automatically release the system memory space, reduce the risk of system hang-up.
. LockBox
- Instantly enter the data lock mode when you must leave your system for a while.
. WMIinfor
- Automatically list the detail system configuration, it helpful for engineering service people.
. MSI VIVID
- Vivid brings the easiest way to optimize graphic quality. Colorize your vision when browsing photos!!! Sharpen characters edge! Enhance contrast when playing game!
. MSI Live
- Including all real time life information you need, such as Live MSI Product News, Live Daily Information, Live Personal Schedule Manager, Live Search and more.
. MSI Secure DOC
. E-Color
. MediaRing
. ShowShift
. ThinSoft Be Twin
. Adobe Acrobat Reader
. Norton Internet Security 2005
. Microsoft DirectX 9.0
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Closer Look at the Card

 

One thing that is important to reiterate and make clear is that a single 7950 GX2 can be used on non-SLI motherboards, even CrossFire motherboards. Not every PCI Express motherboard is compatible, but many are. Not only must the motherboard have a PCI Express x16 slot, but it must also have a compatible system BIOS. For more information, visit www.nvidia.com/GX2. This was a great decision by NVIDIA as it provides SLI opportunities to people who are reluctant to change motherboards. For Quad SLI, though, you will need an SLI motherboard.

A Shiny New MSI 7950 GX2
Both Barrels Are Loaded

  

When we were first teased about Quad SLI in January, the cards were very long. Thankfully, that is a thing of the past as the 7950 GX2 is no longer than other high-end cards. Their average size is rather impressive considering how much horsepower they are packing. You can see in the first picture that MSI's design doesn't stray from NVIDIA's reference design in any substantial way. The only change is the sticker on the top of the cooler, which features the same angelic woman from the box.

      

As you can see in the pictures above, the 7950 GX2 is basically a GPU, PCB and cooler sandwich. Cooler, GPU, PCB, cooler, GPU, PCB. The GPUs are cooled by two identical coolers. If you want to read more about how these two GPUs are linked and work together, feel free to check out our 7950 GX2 launch article. As you might expect, this card does require the space of two expansion slots. Usually we'd see that as a downer, but in the case of the GX2 it's easy to accept.

    

Like other high-end cards on the market today, MSI's 7950 GX2 features dual DVI connectors and a TV-out connector with HDTV support. Although this card is more powerful than other single card solution, it still only requires one connection to your power supply.

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Test System & 3DMark06

For testing the NX7950GX2, we used an Athlon 64 X2 4600+ processor on a DFI LANParty NF4 SLI-DR motherboard. We also used 2GB of Corsair DDR RAM (TWINX2048-4400) and a 120GB Maxtor SATA hard drive. The NX7950GX2 was compared to an XFX 7900 GT 550M Xtreme in both single and SLI configurations and to an ATI Radeon X1900 XTX with reference clock speeds. Note that the XFX 7900 GTs are overclocked, which we expect will give them a slight advantage when in SLI mode over the NX7950GX2.

HotHardware Test System
AMD Athlon 64 X2 4600+ Powered

Processor -

Motherboard -


Video Cards -



Memory -


Audio -

Hard Drive -

 

Hardware Used:
AMD Athlon 64 X2 4600+

DFI LANParty NF4 SLI-DR
nForce4 SLI chipset

MSI NX7950GX2-T2D1GE
XFX GeForce 7900 GT 550M Xtreme VIVO
Radeon X1900 XTX

2048MB Corsair XMS PC4400 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 v91.45

ATI Catalyst v6.8


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.

MSI's 7950 GX2 really impressed us in 3DMark06. We did expect the XFX 7900 GTs to perform the best in this benchmark since they are overclocked, but the 7950 GX2's scores are impressive considering it is a single card. The following game benchmarks will tell us if this two-GPU wonder can maintain impressive numbers in real-world scenarios, however.

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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.

Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory is a great game for the NX7950GX2 to show its capabilities. If it were overclocked to speeds equivalent to the XFX 7900 GTs, it would be right on par with the 7900 GT SLI configuration.

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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.

There really isn't a lot of fluctuation in X3 performance between high-end cards. It is worth noting that the 7950 GX2's performance didn't fall going from 1600x1200 to 1600x1200 with 4x AA / 8x AF.

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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.

F.E.A.R. is another game that demonstrates the power of putting two GPUs on one card. The NX7950GX2 put up some very nice numbers here.

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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.

In our Lost Coast benchmark, MSI's 7950 GX2 failed to beat out the Radeon X1900 XTX when AA and AF were not enabled. When 4x AA and 8x AF were turned on, though, the GX2 counters with a better set of numbers.

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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.

In Quake 4, the 4x AA / 8x AF scores really show the potential of the GX2. You should be able to crank the resolution up to 1600x1200 and turn the eye candy up to at least 4xAA and 8x AF and have a smooth gaming session.

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Overclocking the NX7950GX2

 

The default core and memory clock speeds for the NX7950GX2 are 500MHz and 600MHz (1.2GHz effective), respectively. We used Coolbits to overclock the card to 550MHz (core) and 1.4GHz (memory). It was perfectly stable at these speeds. As you can see in the graphs below, the clock bumps definitely helped the GX2 make up some ground on the pair of 7900 GT Xtreme cards, which are clocked at 550MHz (core) and 1.63GHz (memory).

Overclocking the NX7950GX2
Time for Some Turbo Charge Action

The core was overclocked 10%, and the memory was overclocked 16.7%. This resulted in a performance gain of 4-10%. Not too shabby.

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Performance Summary & Conclusion

 

Performance Summary: Usually, good price / performance ratios are reserved for more affordable mid-range cards. Flagship cards rarely offer a lot of value, however.  That's just not the case with the 7950 GX2, though. It offers performance that somewhat justifies its $550+ price tag. The GX2 performs roughly on par with a pair of GeForce 7900 GT cards, and its price is in-line with the cost of two GTs.  And MSI's version of this card proved to be an excellent representative of NVIDIA's flagship.

If you've got a motherboard with a single PCI Express x16 slot, and you're tempted to upgrade your system, you could go get an SLI or CrossFire ready motherboard and pick up a pair of GeForce or Radeon cards, but that may not be the best route with the GX2 on the scene.  You just go buy a single 7950 GX2, use your current motherboard, and save yourself some money, and end up with similar performance in the end. From our experience with the NX7950GX2, we recommend adding it to your consideration list.

One thing that you need to keep in mind if you do intend to purchase only a single 7950 GX2 is that you cannot run dual monitors and pseudo-SLI multi-GPU high-performance mode on the card simultaneously. You have to choose one or the other in the driver control panel, just like traditional two-card SLI.

While we do appreciate MSI's attempt to add value to its bundle by including a plethora of handy utilities, we'd still like to have seen the company update its game selection. We would also like to see a factory overclock, but only one of NVIDIA's partners has been allowed to do that so far with the GX2, so it seems MSI's hands are tied on that one, and we can't hold it against them.  Based on its features and performance, we are awarding the MSI NX7950GX2-T2D1GE an 8.5 on the Heat Meter.

.  Excellent performance
.  1GB of DDR3 on one card!
.  SLI on non-SLI mobos anyone?
.  Add another for Quad SLI!

.  GX2 is the fastest single card solution available
.  Not the quietest coolers around
.  Bundle could use an update
.  Warranty not as good as some of the competition

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