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EVGA e-GeForce 7950 GX2
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Date: Dec 05, 2006
Section:Graphics/Sound
Author: Robert Maloney
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Introduction

When we first took a look at the Gigabyte GA-SN-SLI Quad Royal motherboard a few months back, we gave it solid praise, yet lamented on what we thought was an exciting opportunity. The board was capable of supporting up to four individual PCI-e based graphic cards, but the Quad Royal was only able to support two GeForce cards running in an SLI configuration. Around the same time we posted that review, however, NVIDIA was promoting Quad SLI in pre-configured systems through a handful of resellers - typically for a premium. NVIDIA remained mum on the prospect of a DYI Quad SLI setup for a time, while in the labs they better prepared the hardware and drivers.

From this testing was born the GeForce 7900 GX2, and subsequently the readily available GeForce 7950 GX2. While both cards essentially used the same GPU, the 7950 GX2 board was smaller, sleeker, and worked on a broader number of chipsets. This came about through the use of a custom PCI Express switch that adhered to the PCI Express standard. EVGA has provided us their own GeForce 7950 GX2, and we've got one in the lab for testing, so let's get down to comparing this behemoth to the current stable of GeForce cards.

   

EVGA 7950 GX2: Features & Specs
EVGA gives us a two-for-one deal
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

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

Software/Game Bundle
._Driver CD
._Voucher for Half Life 2:Episode One

Accessories Bundle
._User Manual
._1 x S-video cable
._1 x Component Video cable

._2 x DVI-to-VGA adapters
._PCI Express power cable

 


    

One typically expects higher prices for a card with the expected performance of the 7950 GX2, never mind buying two of them for a Quad SLI setup.  As such, it would be nice to get a little something extra in the package.  EVGA does their best to mitigate the situation by including the essentials: a component-out cable, an S-Video cable, two DVI-to-VGA adapters, and a PCI-Express power splitter. Of course, installation guides and CD-ROMs were included, although the latest drivers from NVIDIA were needed to test some of the cards in our testing suite.  A last throw-in was an activation code for Half-Life 2: Episode One.  One still needs to download the game over Steam, but we appreciate the ability to try out a newer game to show off all of this hardware.

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Taking a Closer Look

EVGA e-GeForce 7950 GX2
A double-decker sandwich of silicon 

        

A single 7950 GX2 packs the wallop of two single-GPU cards, falling in somewhere between the level of two 7900 GTs and two 7900 GTXs. The first and foremost point to make when talking about the GX2 is that is brings SLI performance to just about anybody - as long as your board supports it. Obviously, placing two of these GPUs so close together is bound to build up some heat. To downplay this issue, the 7950 GX2 has been clocked down to 500MHz, which also should mean some lower voltages, and thus lower temperatures.

      

Each GPU is installed on its own PCB with separate cooling solutions and memory. For the most part, the power circuitry has been moved towards the bracket end of the card reducing its size to a tidy nine inches. Differing from the older 7900 GX2 setup, only a single "goldfinger" connection is needed to connect more two cards for SLI, and only one 6-pin power lead is necessary per card. For a full technical briefing on the 7950 GX2, feel free to check out our 7950 GX2 launch article.

       

Installing two 7950 GX2s really doesn't involve anything advanced as far as the procedure goes, but there are some caveats.  For example, installation on the GA-8N-SLI basically took up all of the available slots from PEG 2 downwards, and caused some wiring issues with the SATA cables for the hard drives, as they are placed right at the end of the video cards.  Obviously, one needs to consider all facets before walking down this road.

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Testing System and 3DMark06

 

HOW WE CONFIGURED THE TEST SYSTEM: We tested the EVGA e-GeForce 7950 GX2 on the Gigabyte GA-8N-SLI - an nForce 4 Intel Edition SLI X16 chipset-based motherboard - powered by an Intel Pentium 4 550 processor and 2GB of Corsair XMS2 DDR2 memory. The first thing we did when configuring this test system was enter the BIOS and loaded 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 nForce 4 chipset drivers, 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 then disabled, the hard drive was defragmented, and a 1536 MB permanent page file was created on the same partition as the Windows installation. Lastly, we set Windows' Visual Effects to "best performance," installed all of the benchmarking software, and ran the tests. 

The HotHardware Test System
The Everyday man's system

Processor -

Motherboard -


Video Cards -




Memory -

Audio -

Hard Driv
e -

 

Hardware Used:
Intel Pentium 4 550 (3.4GHz)

Gigabyte GA-8N-SLI Quad Royal
nForce4 SLI X16 chipset

EVGA e-GeForce 7950 GX2
NVIDIA GeForce 7950 GT
NVIDIA GeForce 7900 GS
NVIDIA GeForce 7900 GT


2048MB Corsair XMS2 DDR2

Integrated

2x Western Digital SE16 (RAID 0)

7,200RPM - SATA II - 250GB

Operating System -
Chipset Drivers -
DirectX -

Video Drivers
-




Synthetic (DX) -

DirectX -
DirectX -

DirectX -
DirectX -
OpenGL -
Relevant Software:
Windows XP Professional SP2
nForce Drivers v6.86
DirectX 9.0c

NVIDIA Forceware v92.91



Benchmarks Used:

3DMark06 v1.0.2
Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory v1.05
X3: Reunion DEMO
F.E.A.R. v1.0.7
Half Life 2 - Lost Coast
Quake4 v1.2*

* - 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 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.

   

 

Although there are three graphs shown above, they all share the same characteristics.  The three single GPU cards from NVIDIA match up evenly with the scores rising incrementally from the 7900 GT to the higher speed 7900 GS and then to the 7950 GT.  From there, the 7950 GX2 and 7900 GT SLI combo take a quantum leap, with the highest overall score going to the SLI pair.  The GX2 claims slightly better performance in Shader Model 2 testing and the 7900 GT SLI returns the favor with Shader Model 3 results.

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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 our first look in an actual game that shows how the 7950 GX2 fares against some other GeForces in NVIDIA's line-up, including head-to-head comparisons with a true SLI combination of two 7900 GTs.  The initial results, however, don't have the GX2 really outdistancing the newer 7950 GT by more than a few frames per second at either resolution, even when using anti-aliasing and Anisotropic filtering. 

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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. The gameplay is somewhat reminiscent of Origin's Privateer, which is a welcome break from the myriad shooters on the market today.

 

 

At lower resolutions, there really aren't a lot of noticeable differences between the cards.  If anything, it's more interesting to point out that the 7900 GT SLI combination actually placed last in the initial run, although it recovered somewhat by salvaging a second spot to the 7950 GX2 with AA and Aniso applied.  Once we move to a higher resolution, the bottleneck moved more from the CPU to the GPU, and all single GPU combinations suffered somewhat.  The 7950 GX2 and 7900 GT SLI numbers barely changed from the lower resolution frame rates.

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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. Using the full retail release of the game patched to v1.0.7, 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 supported resolutions of 1280x960 and 1600x1200, with and without anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering enabled.

 

 

We started out with the GX2 and 7900 GT SLI setups running neck and neck, putting almost 15 frames between them and the single card varieties.  This delta nearly doubled at 1600x1200, with the SLI combo pulling slightly ahead of the GX2.  Enabling some additional pixel processing put a lot more stress on all of the combatants, with a typical loss of 30 fps per setup, per test.  However, we'd all have to agree that getting 65fps at 1600x1200 with 4xAA/8xAF with the GX2 would be much more enjoyable than the 37fps that the single 7900 GT provides.  

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Half Life 2: Lost Coast

 

Performance Comparisons with Half Life 2: Lost Coast
Details: http://www.half-life2.com/
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. A new addition to the HL family, we benchmarked the add-on 'Lost Coast' at 1280x1024 and 1600x1200 using the built-in video stress test.

 

 

Quite similar to the X3: Reunion results, lower resolution testing is handled quite readily by all of NVIDIA's lineup.  Again, we also notice that single card setups manage to outproduce their SLI brethren, including the GX2, which produced the lowest scores in the 1280x1024 testing.  The start of the 1600x1200 testing saw little change until we enabled the anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering.  Only with these enabled were the GX2 and 7900 GT SLI setups able to overtake the single cards, and by a healthy margin of 8-10%.  

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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, 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, we need to crank up the AA and Aniso to 4x AA / 8x AF before we can separate the wheat from the chaff.  Standard testing had all five setups running within a 1-3fps window, but enable some AA and it's a whole different picture.   The GX2 and SLI combo are barely affected by these changes, losing a frame here, a few frames there.  The single card setups, on the other hand, lost from 20-33% when these settings are used.

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Overclocking the 7950 GX2

 

The default core and memory clock speeds for the 7950 GX2 are 500MHz and 600MHz (1.2GHz effective), respectively. We used the sliders available within NVNDIA's Forceware drivers after enabling Coolbits to overclock the card as far as 578MHz for the GPU and 764MHz for the memory and then re-ran a couple of the benchmarks to see what kind of gains were achieved.

Overclocking the e-GeForce 7950 GX2
When fast just isn't fast enough

 

It's not really much of a stretch to expect the results we got, which came out to an overclock of close to 15% on the core and nearly 25% on the memory.  What is more impressive, is that we achieved these gains in such a close-knit configuration that makes up the 7950 GX2.  Two GPUs and memory, overclocked, and sitting mere inches away from each other.  Picking up 10 frames per second in F.E.A.R. can only put a smile on your face.

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Performance Summary & Conclusion

Performance Summary: As you would expect form a card with a pair of G71 GPUs and 1GB of frame buffer memory running in tandem, the EVGA GeForce 7950 GX2 performed much like a pair of GeForce 7900 GT cards running in SLI mode.  The EVGA GeForce 7950 GX2 was clearly much faster than any of the other single-GPU based cards we tested, and it traded the top spot in most tests with the 7900 GT SLI setup.

If you're looking for a top performing video card, look no further. The EVGA e-GeForce 7950 GX2 is one of the most powerful you can get, and it brings SLI-type performance to just about everyone.  There's no need for special hardware and a single power cable is sufficient to get up and running.  Of course, another benefit of the 7950 GX2 is that, should you have the need and the wallet to do so, you can go ahead and add a second 7950 GX2 to create a Quad SLI setup, gaining the power of four GPUs to push pixels around your screen.

Quad SLI does come at a price, however, and it will limit the potential buyer to nForce-based motherboards.  Additionally, Quad SLI requires not only the right board, but a powerful power supply unit, ample cooling fans, and, obviously, two 7950 GX2s.  At $500-550 or so per 7950 GX2, that's a heady price, and that's before accounting out all of the rest of the parts.  As a single card purchase, however, the EVGA GeForce 7950 GX2 is a powerful option.

  • Brings Pseudo-SLI To Non-NVIDIA Chipsets
  • Quad SLI now available to the masses
  • Great Performance
  • Good Bundle
  • Expensive, Especially for Quad SLI
  • Motherboard layout could cause installation woes

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