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Gigabyte GeForce 7950 GT
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Date: Jan 01, 2007
Section:Graphics/Sound
Author: Shane Unrein
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Introduction, Features & Specifications

NVIDIA has enjoyed quite a bit of success the last couple of years thanks in part to its GeForce 6 and 7 Series graphics cards. Like every other company in the world, NVIDIA likes to ride its success as long as possible. In NVIDIA's case, this can be done with product refreshes. The most recent refresh brought us the GeForce 7950 GT, interestingly positioned between the 7900 GT and 7900 GTX.

What's attractive about the GeForce 7950 GT is that it doesn't cost much more than a 7900 GT yet it offers nearly the same performance of a much pricier 7900 GTX. Additionally, the 7950 GT sports 512MB DDR3 clocked at 1.4GHz (effective). The GPU core runs at a speedy 550MHz. Just like the 7900 GT and GTX, the 7950 GT also boasts 8 vertex shaders and 24 pixel shaders.

Today, we have a 7950 GT from Gigabyte in the labs to see just how well the new GeForce 7 Series card can perform. The GV-NX795T512H-RH features reference clock speeds and a Zalman cooler for a little differentiation outside of the typical reference design HSF assembly.  Read on to find out more...

Gigabyte GeForce 7950 GT: Features & Specs
Model Number: GV-NX795T512H-RH
Features
Support Memory: 512MB DDR3

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

256-Bit Memory Interface
Clocks:
    - GPU: 550 MHz
    - Memory: 1.4 GHz (effective)
 
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

  

Gigabyte's 7950 GT comes in a standard Gigabyte graphics card box that features Sid Meier's Civilization IV artwork on the front and enticing features and marketing blurbs on the back.

  

As you probably guessed by now, this card comes bundled with a full version of Sid Meier's Civilization IV. In addition, Gigabyte throws in PowerDVD 6, two DVI-to-VGA adapters and a connector box for S-video and HDTV (component video) output. If you're not looking to add cost with extra frills, this is the 7950GT bundle for you.

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Closer Look at the Card

 

Typically when Gigabyte strays from reference designs, the company tends towards silent or quieter operation. This is just the case with its 7950 GT. Although not silent, the Zalman VF700-AlCu fan-sink employed by Gigabyte is quieter than many other solutions on the market and it has received many favorable reviews on the web.

A Shiny New Gigabyte 7950 GT
Is that a Zalman VF700-AlCu fansink I see?

    

Zalman is famous for making great coolers, so it's nice to see the Zalman VF700-AlCu cooler on the Gigabyte 7950 GT. The only thing we don't like about the Zalman cooler is that it's taller than some other coolers out there, including the reference design. The VF700 basically turns the single-slot 7950 GT into a two-slot card. Whether or not that's a big deal will be up to you. We think it's workable in most situations, but the card probably won't meet the size requirements of some users.

    

We find it interesting that Gigabyte covered all of the card's connectors (even the SLI connector) with blue protective covers. When handling Gigabyte's 7950 GT, we recommend you be careful around the cooler's fins. They can be bent easily. Overall, the cooler does a nice job keeping the GPU cool, and it does so without much noise.

  

If you've been researching midrange and high-end cards lately, you won't be surprised to see that output connectors on the 7950 GT include two DVI connectors and a TV-out connector. What might surprise you though, is that this card features a 4-pin (Molex) power connector instead of the typical 6-pin PCI Express power connector we are used to seeing on cards like this. We aren't sure why Gigabyte made this choice, but it is interesting nonetheless and does provide a bit more flexibility with older power supplies that might not have these connectors.

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Test System & 3DMark06 Performance

For testing the Gigabyte 7950 GT, we used an Athlon 64 X2 4600+ processor on a DFI LANParty NF4 SLI-DR motherboard. We also used 2GB of Corsair DDR (TWINX2048-4400) and a 120GB Maxtor SATA hard drive. The Gigabyte 7950 GT was compared to a Sapphire Radeon X1950 Pro, an XFX 7900 GT 550M Xtreme and an ATI Radeon X1900 XTX. Note that the XFX GeForce 7900 GT is overclocked (550MHz core / 1.63GHz memory), while the 7950 GT, X1900 XTX and X1950 Pro are not.

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

Sapphire Radeon X1950 Pro
XFX GeForce 7900 GT 550M Xtreme
Radeon X1900 XTX

2048MB Corsair XMS PC4400 RAM
CAS 2

Integrated on board

Maxtor DiamondMax Plus 9

120GB - 7200RPM - SATA

Operating System -
Chipset Drivers -
DirectX -

Video Drivers
-




Synthetic (DX) -
DirectX -

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

NVIDIA Forceware v93.71

ATI Catalyst v6.11


Benchmarks Used:
3DMark06 v1.0.2
Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory v1.05
F.E.A.R. v1.08
Half-Life 2: Episode 1
Need for Speed Carbon v1.2
Quake 4 v1.3
Prey 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.

A GeForce 7950 GT with reference clock speeds, like the one we are testing here, will perform better than a 7900 GT with reference clock speeds but typically won't quite hit the performance of a reference 7900 GTX. Because the XFX 7900 GT sports a nice overclock, we expected it to go toe-to-toe with the 7950 GT in most tests. That's what we are seeing here in our first tests.

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Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory Performance

 

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.

The Gigabyte GeForce 7950 GT performs well in SCCT. It even hangs pretty well against the X1900 XTX, which costs $80-100 more.

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F.E.A.R. Performance

 

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.

In the F.E.A.R. tests, the Gigabyte GeForce 7950 GT falls slightly behind both the X1900 XTX and the overclocked XFX 7900 GT but not by a huge margin.

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Half-Life 2: Episode 1 Performance

 

Performance Comparisons with Half-Life 2: Episode 1
Details: http://www.half-life2.com/

Half-Life 2: Ep 1
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. Fortunately, HL2 proved popular enough that we are getting more play in the form of episodes. We benchmarked Episode 1 at 1280x1024 and 1600x1200 with a long, custom-recorded timedemo that takes us through both outdoor and indoor environments.

In Half-Life 2, both ATI cards put a little spankin' on the NVIDIA cards. However, you can definitely play Episode 1 with plenty of eye candy cranked on with any of these cards.

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Need for Speed Carbon Performance

 

Performance Comparisons with Need for Speed Carbon
Details: http://nfs.ea.com/

NFS Carbon
Dating back to the days of floppy disks, EGA, and the Lamborghini Countach, the Need For Speed franchise is undoubtedly one of the most popular in gaming history. The most recent addition to the franchise is Need For Speed Carbon, a racing-sim loaded with muscle cars and exotics in addition to a number of lighting and special graphics effects. We ran these Carbon benchmarks by utilizing FRAPS and tracking framerates on the same track, using the same car with every graphics card. The game was configured with all of its graphics-related options set to their maximum values, with motion blur enabled. We tested the game at resolutions of 1280x960 and 1600x1200.

Ouch! Both ATI cards put quite a hurtin' on both NVIDIA cards in NFS Carbon. The Gigabyte GeForce 7950 GT does manage to squeak out a victory over the overclocked 7900 GT.  NVIDIA must have a bit of driver polishing to do with this game engine, obviously.

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Quake 4 Performance

 

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 and other OpenGL games, we typically see NVIDIA cards perform at least a little better than comparable ATI cards. With that said, the results here weren't too surprising. It's nice to see that the extra 256MB of memory on the 7950 GT versus the 7900 GT actually pays off here quite nicely when 4xAA and 8xAF are enabled. The Gigabyte GeForce 7950 GT really smokes in Quake 4 with AA and Aniso turned up.

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Prey Performance

 

Performance Comparisons with Prey
Details: http://www.prey.com/

Prey
After many years of development, Take-Two Interactive recently released the highly anticipated game Prey. Prey is based on an updated and modified version of the Doom 3 engine, and as such, performance characteristics between the two titles are very similar. Like Doom 3, Prey is also an OpenGL game that uses extremely high-detailed textures and a plethora of dynamic lighting and shadows. But unlike Doom 3, Prey features a fair share of outdoor environments as well. We ran these Prey benchmarks using a custom recorded timedemo with the game set to its "High-Quality" graphics mode, at resolutions of 1280x1024 and 1600x1200.

We expected a bit more from Gigabyte's GeForce 7950 GT here, since it did so well in Quake 4, and both games are based on the Doom 3 engine. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case. The overclocked XFX GeForce 7900 GT outpaces the Gigabyte's 7950 GT by several frames per second but there is still not a large delta between the cards.  In addition, the similarly priced Radeon X1950 Pro is beaten handily by the Gigabyte GeForce 7950GT, with or without AA enabled in this test.

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Overclocking the Gigabyte 7950 GT

 

Overclocking the Gigabyte 7950 GT
Hit the nitrous and enjoy the ride...

The default core and memory clock speeds for the Gigabyte 7950 GT are 550MHz and 700MHz (1.4GHz effective), respectively. We installed CoolBits and began bumping up the clocks. We tested for stability along the way and finally settled on 610MHz for the core and 800MHz (1.6GHz effective) for the memory, overclocks of 11% and 14%, respectively. That's the kind of headroom we like to see. As always, don't expect every Gigabyte 7950 GT to overclock the same. Your mileage will vary, and overclocking can void your warranty.

With the cranked up clocks, we put the GB's GeForce 7950 GT back through the ringer for some more testing. It remained stable and put up some solid numbers.

The overclocked Gigabyte GeForce 7950GT took on all mid-range cards with ease in these tests and even began to approach the performance of a significantly more expensive Radeon X1900 XTX.

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Performance Summary & Conclusion

 

Performance Summary: With the GeForce 8 Series taking over flagship duties in the NVIDIA camp, and with GeForce 7900 GT and GTX stock depleting, the GeForce 7950 GT makes for a good substitute at this price point.  Gigabyte's GeForce 7950 GT boasts excellent DX9 class performance in virtually any game engine on the market today.  Gigabyte's offering definitely met our expectations and proved to have good headroom for overclocking as well.

We like that Gigabyte chose to utilize a Zalman cooler for their GeForce 7950GT card, instead of the reference cooler, to reduce noise. The downsides to this are that the Gigabyte 7950 GT is taller than most (or all) other 7950 GTs, and the Zalman cooler may increase its cost a bit. The fact that the Gigabyte 7950 GT costs more than many competitive 7950 GTs may be proof of the latter.

Other than the inclusion of Civilization IV, Gigabyte's 7950 GT bundle is one of the lightest we've seen in this class of a card. Very few accessories are included, but at least a decent full-version game helps make up for that. Although, to be honest, many users rarely use many of the accessories that come with most cards anyway.

At just under $300, which is $20-50 more expensive than the competition, Gigabyte needs to possibly rethink its pricing strategy on the GeForce 7950 GT. We like the card for its overclocking potential especially, but if we didn't care about the Zalman cooler or the inclusion of Civilization IV, we would definitely consider other GeForce 7950 GTs before rushing out to buy this one.

.  Great performance
.  SLI support
.  512MB DDR3
.  Dual DVI
.  Zalman cooler quieter than many other coolers
.  Civilization IV included
.  Pricier than competition
.  Warranty not as good as some of the competition
.  Zalman cooler turns a 1-slot card into a 2-slot card
. Limited availability at present

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