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MSI GeForce 8800 GTX (NX8800GTX-T2D768E)
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Date: Jan 22, 2007
Section:Graphics/Sound
Author: Shane Unrein
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Introduction, Specs & Features

As enthusiasts, we are always anxiously awaiting new GPU architectures, with additional pipelines and more memory. All of these aspects usually go into creating the next must-have flagship video card. Like us, you've probably been wondering when single GPU cards would sport a full gigabyte of memory. Dual-GPU cards, like NVIDIA's GeForce 7950 GX2, already boast 1GB of high-speed GDDR3. And as exciting as that may sound, it isn't quite as geek-tastic as having 1GB of memory coupled to a single GPU.

We all know it's coming; it's only a matter of time. NVIDIA's latest line-up, the GeForce 8 Series, got us one step closer as the 8800 GTX features 768MB of fast GDDR3 memory. New architecture, new features, DirectX 10 support, 768MB of GDDR3 RAM and a 384-bit memory interface; the 8800 GTX has a lot of exciting things going for it. And at over ten and a half inches in length, the 8800 GTX is definitely a monster.

Today, we have an MSI 8800 GTX (specifically, the NX8800GTX-T2D768E) on the test bench. In addition to comparing it to a GeForce 7950 GX2 and Radeon X1900 XTX, we'll hook it up to a 65-inch 1080p TV for some big-screen gaming.

MSI 8800 GTX: Features & Specs
Model Number: NX8800GTX-T2D768E
Memory: 768MB DDR3

Video Output Function:
    - TV-out + HDTV Support
    - Two Dual-link DVI Connectors
    - SLI Bridge

384-Bit Memory Interface
Clocks:
    - GPU: 575 MHz
    - Memory: 1.8 GHz (effective)

Performance:
    - Memory Bandwidth (GB/sec): 86.4
    - Fill Rate (Billion pixels/sec): 36.8
 
NVIDIA unified architecture:
Fully unified shader core dynamically allocates processing power to geometry, vertex, physics, or pixel shading operations, delivering up to 2x the gaming performance of prior generation GPUs.


GigaThread Technology:
Massively multi-threaded architecture supports thousands of independent, simultaneous threads, providing extreme processing efficiency in advanced, next generation shader programs.

Full Microsoft DirectX 10 Support:
World's first DirectX 10 GPU with full Shader Model 4.0 support delivers unparalleled levels of graphics realism and film-quality effects.

NVIDIA SLI Technology:
Delivers up to 2x the performance of a single graphics card configuration for unequaled gaming experiences by allowing two cards to run in parallel. The must-have feature for performance PCI Express graphics, SLI dramatically scales performance on today's hottest games.

NVIDIA Lumenex Engine:
Delivers stunning image quality and floating point accuracy at ultra-fast frame rates.
16x Anti-aliasing: Lightning fast, high-quality anti-aliasing at up to 16x sample rates obliterates jagged edges.

128-bit floating point High Dynamic-Range (HDR):
Twice the precision of prior generations for incredibly realistic lighting effects - now with support for anti-aliasing.

NVIDIA Quantum Effects Technology:
Advanced shader processors architected for physics computation enable a new level of physics effects to be simulated and rendered on the GPU - all while freeing the CPU to run the game engine and AI.

NVIDIA ForceWare Unified Driver Architecture (UDA):
Delivers a proven record of compatibility, reliability, and stability with the widest range of games and applications. ForceWare provides the best out-of-box experience and delivers continuous performance and feature updates over the life of NVIDIA GeForce GPUs.

OpenGL 2.0 Optimizations and Support:
Ensures top-notch compatibility and performance for OpenGL applications.

NVIDIA nView Multi-Display Technology:
Advanced technology provides the ultimate in viewing flexibility and control for multiple monitors.

PCI Express Support:
Designed to run perfectly with the PCI Express bus architecture, which doubles the bandwidth of AGP 8X to deliver over 4 GB/sec. in both upstream and downstream data transfers.

Dual 400MHz RAMDACs:
Blazing-fast RAMDACs support dual QXGA displays with ultra-high, ergonomic refresh rates - up to 2048x1536@85Hz. 

Dual Dual-link DVI Support:
Able to drive the industry's largest and highest resolution flat-panel displays up to 2560x1600.

Built for Microsoft Windows Vista:
NVIDIA's fourth-generation GPU architecture built for Windows Vista gives users the best possible experience with the Windows Aero 3D graphical user interface.

NVIDIA PureVideo HD Technology:
The combination of high-definition video decode acceleration and post-processing that delivers unprecedented picture clarity, smooth video, accurate color, and precise image scaling for movies and video.

Discrete, Programmable Video Processor:
NVIDIA PureVideo HD is a discrete programmable processing core in NVIDIA GPUs that provides superb picture quality and ultra-smooth movies with low CPU utilization and power.

Hardware Decode Acceleration:
Provides ultra-smooth playback of H.264, VC-1, WMV and MPEG-2 HD and SD movies.

HDCP Capable:
Designed to meet the output protection management (HDCP) and security specifications of the Blu-ray Disc and HD DVD formats, allowing the playback of encrypted movie content on PCs when connected to HDCP-compliant displays.

Spatial-Temporal De-Interlacing:
Sharpens HD and standard definition interlaced content on progressive displays, delivering a crisp, clear picture that rivals high-end home-theater systems.

High-Quality Scaling:
Enlarges lower resolution movies and videos to HDTV resolutions, up to 1080i, while maintaining a clear, clean image. Also provides downscaling of videos, including high-definition, while preserving image detail.

Inverse Telecine (3:2 & 2:2 Pulldown Correction):
Recovers original film images from films-converted-to-video (DVDs, 1080i HD content), providing more accurate movie playback and superior picture quality.

Bad Edit Correction:
When videos are edited after they have been converted from 24 to 25 or 30 frames, the edits can disrupt the normal 3:2 or 2:2 pulldown cadences. PureVideo HD uses advanced processing techniques to detect poor edits, recover the original content, and display perfect picture detail frame after frame for smooth, natural looking video.

Video Color Correction:
NVIDIA's Color Correction Controls, such as Brightness, Contrast and Gamma Correction let you compensate for the different color characteristics of various RGB monitors and TVs ensuring movies are not too dark, overly bright, or washed out regardless of the video format or display type.

Integrated SD and HD TV Output:
Provides world-class TV-out functionality via Composite, S-Video, Component, or DVI connections. Supports resolutions up to 1080p depending on connection type and TV capability.

Noise Reduction:
Improves movie image quality by removing unwanted artifacts.

Edge Enhancement:
Sharpens movie images by providing higher contrast around lines and objects.


    

Like the last MSI card we reviewed, the MSI 8800 GTX is packed in a box sporting an angelic woman and a carrying handle. The back of the box of course boasts some of the main features of the card. Once we opened the box, we were glad to see the $600 card surrounded by styrofoam.

  

We were also glad to see a decent bundle included with this flagship card. MSI includes a handful of accessories: two VGA-to-DVI adapters, two PCI Express power cables, one S-video cable and one TV-out cable (with S-video and component video connectors). In addition to the accessories, the bundle includes a bunch of software, including Serious Sam II, CyberLink PowerCinema and Power2Go, and all the utilities listed below.

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.
. StarOSD
- StarOSD can monitor system information, adjust monitor figuration, and overclock system.
. Dual Core Center
. 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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A Closer Look at the Card

 

A Shiny New MSI 8800 GTX
Large and In Charge

    

MSI opted to not deviate from NVIDIA's reference design for its 8800 GTX. As you can see, it's a big card with a large, two-slot cooler and a long slab of PCB. The PCB, in this case, is black. When we flip the card over, you can see that eleven screws hold the cooler on. You may also have noticed that there are no memory chips on the back, which means all of the GDDR3 is directly under the cooler.

    

In the three pictures above, you get a better look at the huge, heatpipe-based cooler. The fan looks sort of like a hamster's running wheel and pushes hot air out through the slotted PCI slot cover. Another thing to note in the first picture is the pair of SLI connectors.

    

As you might expect from a high-end card, the MSI 8800 GTX sports two dual-link DVI connectors and a TV-out connector. It probably won't surprise you to see a 6-pin PCI Express power connector on this card, but it might surprise you to find two. Additionally, the connectors are not oriented the way you might expect. They are actually oriented 90 degrees counter-clockwise from the usual placement. In other words, the connectors (when the card is installed) point up towards the top of the case rather than towards the front of the case.

As we mentioned before, the MSI 8800 GTX is a monster of a card. Here you can see how it compares in size to the MSI 7950 GX2. The tape measure shows that the 8800 GTX is around one and a half inches longer than the 7950 GX2. That's one big card! As a matter of fact, we decided to see how well the card would fit in a Lian-Li PC60 case. Take a look at the two pictures below to see the trouble we ran into.

  

The card is too long to fit in the case due to it running into the hard drive in the case's hard drive cage. The pictures show the corner of the hard drive preventing the card from coming down as far as is necessary to allow it to be inserted into the PCI Express slot. There is nothing unusual about this case or the motherboard. This is the first time we've ever seen this problem with a video card.

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Test System & 3DMark06 Performance

For testing the MSI 8800 GTX, 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 MSI 8800 GTX was compared to an NVIDIA GeForce 7950 GX2, NVIDIA GeForce 7950 GT, ATI Radeon X1950 Pro and an ATI Radeon X1900 XTX.

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 GeForce 8800 GTX
NVIDIA GeForce 7950 GX2
NVIDIA GeForce 7950 GT
ATI Radeon X1950 Pro
ATI Radeon X1900 XTX

2048MB Corsair XMS PC4400 RAM
CAS 2

Integrated on board

Maxtor DiamondMax Plus 9

120GB - 7200RPM - SATA

OS -
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 v93.71/97.44

ATI Catalyst v6.11


Benchmarks Used:
3DMark06 v1.1.0
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.

As expected, the MSI 8800 GTX makes quick work of the competition. What we are most interested in with these tests is how much the MSI 8800 GTX outperforms the 7950 GX2 and even the X1900 XTX to a lesser extent. It's nice to see the single-GPU MSI 8800 GTX beat the dual-GPU 7950 GX2 by a respectable margin in all three metrics.

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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.

Overall, the MSI 8800 GTX outperforms the 7950 GX2, but the margin is more or less underwhelming. A more powerful processor, such as a high-end Core 2 Duo, would likely provide different results. We would expect the 8800 GTX to edge out the 7950 GX2 by a larger margin.

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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.

Over and over again, F.E.A.R. proves to be a respectable test. From the results, you can tell that our system wasn't allowing the MSI 8800 GTX to really stretch its legs. It still wins the most punishing tests (1600x1200), but not by a very large margin. If you love F.E.A.R. and eye candy, and you plan on purchasing an 8800 GTX, you should definitely buy a processor that is more powerful than an AMD Athlon 64 X2 4600+.

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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.

The ATI cards excel in the Half-Life 2 tests. Actually, all of the cards post good scores for the 1600x1200 4xAA / 8xAF test. Once HDR is enabled, though, the MSI 8800 GTX shines through to show that not even HDR makes it break much of a sweat in HL2. This is the kind of difference we think you should get from a $600 card.

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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.

You can see in the second chart that the MSI 8800 GTX really shines at 1600x1200 with 4xAA / 8xAF. It's also worth noting that enabling this level of graphics effects doesn't impact performance by more than about two frames per second on the GTX, while the other cards took a much larger hit percentage-wise.

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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. We were hoping to see the MSI 8800 GTX pull a little further ahead of the 7950 GX2, but the results are still respectable.

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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.

Here we see the MSI 8800 GTX outshining the competition again. As expected, the 7950 GX2 is the nearest competitor, but it is still around 20 FPS slower at 1280x1024 and over 15 FPS slower at 1600x1200.

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65-inch 1080p Gaming with the MSI 8800 GTX

 

We decided to take a quick break from the norm here at HotHardware and dive into some big-screen gaming. When we think of flagship cards like the MSI 8800 GTX, widescreen, high-definition gaming inevitably comes to mind. We just had to hook the card up to a 65-inch Mitsubishi 1080p DLP TV and show you what it looks like. Enjoy!

65-inch 1080p Gaming!
Just in case that 20-inch LCD isn't big enough for ya...

For those of you who don't know, 1080p is equivalent to the resolution of 1920x1080, which is a 16:9 widescreen resolution. It's hard to portray how cool 65 inches of gaming is, but we hope these pictures at least do it some justice.

    

For reference, there is a stack of CDs on the left speaker (yeah, we know we need to clean up), and in the lower left hand corner, you can see the top of a SilverStone HTPC case (it's silver). The TV we hooked the test rig up to has a DVI input, so the picture looks absolutely crystal clear.

    

After we stopped gawking, we got back to practical duties and set off to benchmark the MSI 8800 GTX at 1920x1080 with a few games. You can see the results of those tests below.

We were happy to see the MSI 8800 GTX post playable scores in all three sets of tests. We suddenly feel a compelling urge to wrap this up so we can get back to 65-inch 1080p gaming. You can't really blame us, right?

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Overclocking the MSI 8800 GTX

 

Overclocking the MSI 8800 GTX
Turbo engaged...

The default core and memory clock speeds for the MSI 8800 GTX are 575MHz and 900MHz (1.8GHz effective), respectively. Although this is a beast of a card that offers monster performance, we had to check its overclocking headroom. So, we began bumping up the clocks. We tested for stability along the way and finally settled on 620MHz for the core and 960MHz (1.92GHz effective) for the memory, overclocks of 7.8% and 6.7%, respectively. That's right around the same amount of headroom we've seen with other 8800 GTXs we have tested. As always, don't expect every 8800 GTX to overclock the same. Your mileage will vary.

With the cranked up clocks, we put the MSI 8800 GTX back through the ringer for some more testing. It remained stable and put up some solid numbers. Performance in F.E.A.R went up by about 9.4% and Prey showed a 7.9% increase.

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Performance Summary & Conclusion

Performance Summary: The GeForce 8800 GTX is definitely the top performing card on the market right now, and MSI's offering is a great example. Overall, nothing else can touch the 8800 GTX at the moment, especially when you look at its performance versus other single-GPU solutions. We are very pleased with its performance especially at higher resolutions with high levels of anti-aliasing an anisotropic filtering enabled.

We have a couple of concerns regarding the MSI GeForce 8800 GTX, and all other 8800 GTX cards for that matter - physical size and price. At over 10.5" long, buyers need to be aware of what case they are putting this card into before committing the cash because it may not fit (we had trouble fitting it into a Lian Li PC 60), especially considering the size of the commitment. At the time of this writing, that commitment looks like about $580 according to our PriceGrabber search engine. That's a big monetary dent for sure, but you do get what you pay for. In this case, that would be best of class performance.

In addition to top performance, MSI packs some goodies in with its 8800 GTX. While Serious Sam II isn't the newest title, it can be quite fun and has some stunning visuals, so we are happy to see it included. We are also happy with the rest of MSI's bundle. All the cables and accessories we expect to see are included. In addition, MSI throws in a slew of utilities for a number of different tasks.

If you can get over the size and price, then we think you would be quite pleased with the MSI 8800 GTX, especially if you have a powerful processor. If you have concerns about the size, price or your processor's power, we recommend that you take a look at the more affordable 8800 GTS.

.  Highest performance
.  SLI support
.  768MB GDDR3
.  Dual dual-link DVI
.  DirectX 10 support
.  Decent bundle included
.  Two-slot behemoth (length may be an issue in some systems)
.  Warranty not as good as some of the competition
.  Expensive

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