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Mainstream GeForce 8 Series Round-Up: MSI & Gigabyte
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Date: May 23, 2007
Section:Graphics/Sound
Author: Jeff Bouton
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Introduction and Retail Packaging

small_001.JPG The premium graphics card market is in a lopsided state.  NVIDIA's GeForce 8800 series is still relatively unchallenged in the high-end space, a position which has been futher solidified with the addition of the 8800 Ultra.  By giving the GeForce 8800GTX a nominal speed bump, NVIDIA continues to maintain its lead.  ATI, on the otherhand, is still trying to get their R600 on store shelves in mass quantities, after receiving a lukewarm reception at launch.  The Radeon HD 2900 XT we recently reviewed turned out to be a decent performer, but is nowhere near the challenger to the GeForce 8800 as we all thought it might be.  While "who's the fastest" may be the most popular and exciting topic, it's also the least likely to affect the masses, as it's safe to estimate the majority of us don't shell out upwards of $599 or more for a superfast video card. 

Today, we're going to stay grounded, evaluating several lower cost video cards designed to strike a balance between price and performance.  What we have on tap are two models based on the GeForce 8600, the MSI NX8600GT T2D256E and the Gigabyte GV-NX86S256H with Silent-Pipe III cooling.  Lastly we have the MSI NX8500GT TD256E which brings basic DX10 gaming performance to those on a strict budget.  In the pages ahead we'll have the three go head-to-head-to-head to see how each stacks up, then we'll throw in comparison scores from a similarly priced GeForce 7600GT and ATI Radeon X1950 Pro for good measure.  Think you can guess which was the best performer?  Well, it may not be as obvious as you might think.  Before we get started, let's take a moment to break down the retail packaging that complements each of these cards.

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The Gigabyte GV-NX86S256H has the most attractive retail bundle of the three cards we're evaluating here.  The package includes a detailed User's Manual which covers installation of the hardware, drivers from the accompanying drivers CD and GIGABYTE's V-Tuner 3 overclocking utility.  There are detailed steps for configuring the drivers to your liking along with images demonstrating proper usage of the card's component adapters.  The package also includes two DVI-to-D-sub adapters to help connect standard VGA monitors to the card's DVI ports.  Additionally, a HDTV/Video Out block is provided that delivers Y, Pb, Pr outputs as well as an S-Video port.  A power cable is also incuded that converts two Molex connections into a standard 6-pin PCI Express power connector.  We found this particularly interesting since the card does not need a supplimental power source.  On the entertainment side of the equation, GIGABYTE included a full version of THQ's Supreme Commander on DVD.  This is an excellent, current game that outclasses some of the older games that can be commonly found with other hardware.

small_022.JPG  small_026.JPG

Both the MSI NX8600GT and NX8500GT had virtually identical retail packages, so we'll combine the two rather than duplicating our efforts.  Each bundle included a brief Quick Installation guide along with a complementary drivers CD.  The CD not only included drivers, but MSI also loaded it up with a number of various software titles, such as:

• MSI Live Update Series ( Live VGA BIOS & Live VGA Driver)
• StarOSD NEW!  
• Dual Core Center NEW! 
• GoodMen 
• LockBox 
• WMIinfor 
• MSI VIVID NEW! 
• MSI Live NEW! 
• MSI Secure DOC

• E-Color
• MediaRing
• ShowShift
• ThinSoft Be Twin 
• Adobe Acrobat Reader
• Norton Internet Security 2005 
• Microsoft® DirectX 9.0c
 

The NX8500GT sported a single DVI-to-VGA adapter whereas the NX8600GT sported two as it was a dual DVI card.  Rather than using a video block like GIGABYTE, MSI provides Y, Pb, Pr and S-Video using a flexable wire adapter to help facilitate the use of each card's external video options.  A separate S-Video cable was included with each package as well.  Notably missing was any kind of gaming software.  With both of MSI's budget class video cards, they've opted not to include any gaming titles whatsoever.  

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The Gigabyte GeForce 8600 GTS with Silent Pipe 3

Gigabyte GeForce 8600 GTS with Silent Pipe 3
Specifications
Model
GV-NX86S256H

Graphics Engine
NVIDIA GeForce 8600 GTS

Video Memory
256MB DDR3

Engine Clock
675MHz

Memory Clock
1.008GHz 

Memory Interface
128-bit

Max Resolution
2560 X 1600

Bus Standard
PCI Express X 16

DVI Output
Dual DVI-I

Adapter/Cable Bundled
Two DVI to VGA adapter
One HTDV/Video Out
Power Cable

Software Bundled
3D Game: Supreme Commander
Driver CD

Features
Powered by GeForce 8600 GTS GPU
Supports PCI Express
Microsoft DirectX 10 and OpenGL 2.0 support
Integrated with the industry's best 256MB GDDR3 memory and 128-bit memory interface
Supports SLI and PureVideo technology
Features dual DVI-I / D-sub (by adapter) / HDTV
Supports Dual Dual-link @ high resolution up to dual 2560x1600
Silent-pipe III passive cooling

The GIGABYTE GV-NX86S256H is built around a NVIDIA GeForce 8600 GTS GPU.  GIGABYTE keeps their version of the GeForce 8600 GTS clocked at reference specifications, running the GPU at 675MHz and the memory clock at 1.008GHz.  The card comes with 256MB of DDR3 memory with a 128-bit interface that delivers a maximum bandwidth of 32GB/s.  The GV-NX86S256H is a Dual DVI-I solution that supports a peak resolution of 2560x1600. There is also a connection that marries up to the included HTDV/Video Out block to deliver Y, Pb, Pr and S-Video outputs to accommodate various TV-Out environments.  Upon closer inspection, you may have also noticed that this card was designed with no supplemental power requirements even though a power adapter was provided in the retail package.  During normal testing, we encountered no issues with the GV-NX86S256H drawing all of its power from the PCI Express slot, however, when we dropped it into an ASUS M2N32 WS Pro motherboard along side a primary GeForce 8800GTX card, the system would not POST and the power alarm of the 8800GTX was triggered.  We're confident our Tagan 1000w power supply was having no issues powering the system, so we suspect a power drain across the two PCI Express slots was causing the issue.  We encountered no issues when we installed either MSI card nor a GeForce 7600GT, so we have to wonder if it would have been best for the GB 8600GTS to come with a supplemental power option.

small_007.JPG  small_015.JPG small_008.JPG

As a noiseless graphics solution, GIGABYTE had to equip the card with an adequate sink that will keep the components running within normal thermal limits.  In this case, they utilized their Silent-Pipe III which combines heat-pipe technology into a hefty heat-sink assembly that appears up to the task.  Essentially, the dual-slot solution ports itself outside the rear of the case, utilizing flat fingers to wick cooler air into the case and along the cooler's surface.  Using a unique pattern of notches and bends, the design encourages the airflow to be stirred up or become more turbulent, which is supposed to increase circulation across the surface area. For maximum cooling potential, the Silent-Pipe 3 was designed so 90% of the surface area is connected with the heat-pipe.

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The MSI NX8500GT TD256E

The MSI NX8500GT TD256E
Specifications
GeForce 8500GT Chipset Features 
   
NVIDIA CineFX 5.0 Shading Architecture 
  • Microsoft Vista Features
- Next-generation Instancing
- Geometry Shaders
- Steamed Output
- 8 MRTs
- 32 bpp HDR Formats
- Shadow Maps
• Vertex shaders
- Support for Microsoft DirectX 10.0 Vertex Shader 4.0
- Encompass' Transform and Lighting
- Displacement mapping
- Geometry instancing
• Pixel shades
- Support for DirectX 10.0 Pixel Shader 4.0
- Support for full pixel branching
- Support for Multiple Render Targets (MRTs)
- Infinite-length pixel programs
• Next-generation texture engine
• Full 128-bit studio-quality floating point precision through the entire rendering pipeline,with native hardware support for 32 bpp,64 bpp,and 128 bpp rendering modes. 
   
64-Bit Texture Filtering and Blending 
  • Full floating point is supported throughout entire pipeline
• Floating point filtering improves the quality of images in motion
• Floating point texturing drivers 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 (up to 128 taps)
• Rotated-grid antialiasing for removing jagged edges for incredible edge quality
• Support for advanced lossless compression algorithms for color, texture,and z-data at higher resolutions and frame retes
• Fast z-clear
• Support for normal map compression
• New transparent supersampling and transparent multisampling antialiasing modes. 
    
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
• Support for NVIDIA nView multi-display for scalable performance across two displays.

NVIDIA UltraShadow II Technology
  • Designed to enhance the performance of shadow-intensive games,like id Software's Doom 3 

NVIDIA PureVideo Technology
  • Patented hardware and software technology allows two GPUs to run in parallel to scale performance
• Three dedicated video engines
• MPEG-2 HD and WMV HD video playback up to 1920 X1080p resolution
• H 264 hardware decode acceleration
• Decryption supported for all standard HD Video formats-AES-128 CTR mode,AES-128 CBC mode,and AES-128 ECB mode.
• Industry's most advanced video algorithms
• Overlay color temperature correction
• Microsoft Video Mixing Renderer (VMR) support for multiple video windows with full video quality and features in each window
• Integrated HDTV output.
   
Advanced Display Functionality
  • Dual integrated 400MHz RAMDACs for display resolutions up to and including 2048 X 1536 at 85 Hz
• Dual MIO 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 and GDDR4 memory
• Cooling as low as 24 dB delivered by adcanced thermal managemenet and thermal monitoring
   
NVIDIA Digital Vibrance Control (DVC) 3.0 Technology 
• DVC color controls
• DVC image sharpening controls
   
API Support
  • Complete DirectX support,including the latest version of Microsoft DirectX 10.0 Shader Model 3.0
• Full OpenGL support,including OpenGL 2.0
   
Preformances 
• Graphics Bus Technology: PCI Express 
• Memory: 256MB 
• Memory Interface: 128-bit 
• Memory Bandwidth (GB/sec): 12.8 
• Fill Rate (Billion pixels/sec): 3.6 
• RAMDACs (MHz): 400

The MSI NX8500GT TD256E is a budget class GeForce 8 series card with a GeForce 8500GT GPU at its core.  MSI sticks close to the reference model, clocking the GPU at an expected 450MHz and the 256MB of DDR2 at 400MHz (800MHz DDR).  The card comes with a small circular cooler and sports no additional ramsinks.  The card is equipped with a single DVI-I port and a VGA port.  The card requires no supplemental power, drawing all of its power from the PCI Express x16 slot.

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With a 128-bit interface, the NX8500GT TD256E provides a maximum bandwidth of 12.8GB/s, while the GPU sports a fill rate of 3.6 billion pixels/s.  The NX8500GT TD256E fully supports DirectX 10, however, bridged SLI is not an option.  Teaming two of these budget cards together requires scene data to be sent over the PCI Express interface. This model supports a maximum resolution of 2048x1536 over its VGA connection or 2560x1600 on DVI.

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The MSI NX8600GT T2D256E

The MSI NX8600GT T2D256E
Specifications
GeForce 8600GT Chipset Features 
   
NVIDIA CineFX 5.0 Shading Architecture 
  • Microsoft Vista Features
Vertex shaders
- Support for Microsoft DirectX 10.0 Vertex Shader 4.0
- Encompass' Transform and Lighting
- Displacement mapping
- Geometry instancing
• Pixel shades
- Support for DirectX 10.0 Pixel Shader 4.0
- Support for full pixel branching
- Support for Multiple Render Targets (MRTs)
- Infinite-length pixel programs
• Next-generation texture engine
• Full 128-bit studio-quality floating point precision through the entire rendering pipeline,with native hardware support for 32 bpp,64 bpp,and 128 bpp rendering modes. 
   
64-Bit Texture Filtering and Blending 
  • Full floating point is supported throughout entire pipeline
• Floating point filtering improves the quality of images in motion
• Floating point texturing drivers 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 (up to 128 taps)
• Rotated-grid antialiasing for removing jagged edges for incredible edge quality
• Support for advanced lossless compression algorithms for color, texture,and z-data at higher resolutions and frame retes
• Fast z-clear
• Support for normal map compression
• New transparent supersampling and transparent multisampling antialiasing modes. 
    
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
• Support for NVIDIA nView multi-display for scalable performance across two displays.

NVIDIA UltraShadow II Technology
  • Designed to enhance the performance of shadow-intensive games,like id Software's Doom 3 

NVIDIA PureVideo Technology
  • Patented hardware and software technology allows two GPUs to run in parallel to scale performance
• Three dedicated video engines
• MPEG-2 HD and WMV HD video playback up to 1920 X1080p resolution
• H 264 hardware decode acceleration
• Decryption supported for all standard HD Video formats-AES-128 CTR mode,AES-128 CBC mode,and AES-128 ECB mode.
• Industry's most advanced video algorithms
• Overlay color temperature correction
• Microsoft Video Mixing Renderer (VMR) support for multiple video windows with full video quality and features in each window
• Integrated HDTV output.
   
Advanced Display Functionality
  • Dual integrated 400MHz RAMDACs for display resolutions up to and including 2048 X 1536 at 85 Hz
• Dual MIO 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 and GDDR4 memory
• Cooling as low as 24 dB delivered by adcanced thermal managemenet and thermal monitoring
   
NVIDIA Digital Vibrance Control (DVC) 3.0 Technology
  • DVC color controls
• DVC image sharpening controls
   
API Support
  • Complete DirectX support,including the latest version of Microsoft DirectX 10.0 Shader Model 3.0
• Full OpenGL support,including OpenGL 2.0
   
Preformances
  • Graphics Bus Technology: PCI Express 
• Memory: 256MB 
• Memory Interface: 128-bit 
• Memory Bandwidth (GB/sec): 25.6 
• Fill Rate (Billion pixels/sec): 8.6 
• RAMDACs (MHz): 400

The MSI NX8600GT T2D256E is a major step up from the NX8500GT TD256E, adding an overclocked GeForce 8600GT GPU to the mix as well as 256MB of GDDR3 memory.  The GPU is clocked 40MHz higher than the reference design, running at 580MHz while the memory runs 200MHz higher at 1.6GHz (DDR).  This gives the NX8600GT T2D256E a peak fill rate of 8.6 Billion pixels/s and a memory bandwidth of 25.6GB/s, both of which are a significant increase compared to the 8500GT.

small_029.JPG  small_031.JPG small_033.JPG

This model is a Dual-Link DVI solution that utilizes adapters to convert to VGA if needed.  The card also sports TV-Out functionality for HDTV and Analog connections.  The cooler is not beefy, but it does cover the RAM as well as the GPU, unlike the cooler provided on the NX8500GT TD256E.  This model also supports DirectX 10 and SLI, for those looking to tag team two 8600GTs for added performance.

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Performance Comparisons with 3DMark06 v1.1.0

The HotHardware Test Systems
AMD Athlon 64 X2 Powered

Hardware Used:
AMD Athlon 64 X2 5200+
(2.6GHz)


ASUS M2A-VM HDMI
(AMD 690G)

2GB PC24200 DDR2
(2x1GB)


GIGABYTE GV-NX86S256H
MSI NX8600GT-T2D256H
MSI NX8500GT-TD256H
ATI Radeon X1950 Pro

GeForce 7600 GT2

On-board Ethernet
On-board Audio

WD 74GB "Raptor" DD
10,000 RPM SATA

Relevant Software:
Windows XP Professional SP2
DirectX 9.0c (August Redist.)
nForce Drivers v9.35

NVIDIA Forceware v93.71/158.22
ATI Catalyst v7.4

Benchmarks Used:

DirectX
3DMark06 v1.1.0
F.E.A.R. v1.08
Half Life 2: Lost Coast
 

OpenGL
Quake 4 v1.3
Prey

Performance Comparisons with 3DMark06 v1.1.0
Details: http://www.futuremark.com/products/3dmark06/

3DMark06
3DMark06 is the latest addition to the 3DMark franchise. This version differs from 3Dmark05 in a number of ways, and now includes not only Shader Model 2.0 tests, but 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.

3dmk1.PNG

3dmk2.PNG

3dmk3.PNG

In all three segments of 3DMark06 testing, each card scaled similarly.  The Gigabyte GeForce 8600GTS was the front runner, with the ATI Radeon X1950 Pro a close second in the Default and SM 3.0/HDR test.  With SM 2.0 testing, the MSI NX8600GT took the second spot behind the 8600GTS, with the Radeon X1950 Pro easily topping the 8500GT and 7600GT.

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Performance Comparisons with Half Life 2: Lost Coast

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

Half-Life 2:
Lost Coast
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. In this test we benchmarked the add-on 'Lost Coast' at 1280x1024 and 1600x1200 with 4X Anti-aliasing and 16X Anisotropic Filtering enabled, using the built-in video stress test.

hl2lc.PNG

With the built-in Half-Life 2:  Lost Coast test, the Radeon X1950 Pro took the rest of the cards to task, with the Gigabyte GeForce 8600GTS taking a distant second spot.  When comparing all of the NVIDIA based models, each card's performance scaled as we would have expected, with the NX8500GT being the slowest of the bunch, even behind the 7600GT.

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Performance Comparisons with F.E.A.R
Performance Comparisons with F.E.A.R
More Info: 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 game's 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 in the Radeon 9000 or GeForce4 Ti-classes or better, to adequately run the game. Using the full retail release of the game patched to v1.07, we put the graphics cards in this article through their paces to see how they fared with a popular title. Here, all graphics settings within the game were set to their maximum values, but with soft shadows disabled (Soft shadows and anti-aliasing do not work together currently). Benchmark runs were then completed at resolutions of 1,280x960 and 1,600x1,200, with 4x anti-aliasing and 16x anisotropic filtering enabled.

fear.PNG

With F.E.A.R.'s integrated test, the Radeon X1950 Pro continued to return the best results, topping the GIGABYTE GeForce 8600GTS by 10 FPS at 1280x960 and 7 FPS at 1600x1200.  The MSI NX8600GT managed to top the GeForce 7600GT by an average of 4 FPS while the 7600GT topped the MSI NX8500GT by an average of 16 FPS.

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Performance Comparisons with Prey
Performance Comparisons w ith 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 upon 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 Doom3, Prey features a fare 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 1,280 x 1,024 and 1,600 x 1,200 with 4X AA and 16X anisotropic filtering enabled simultaneously.

prey.PNG

With Prey, we continued to see the ATI Radeon X1950 Pro return the best results, this time topping the GIGABYTE GeForce 8600GTS by 10 FPS on average.  The MSI NX8500GT and the GeForce 7600GT struggled the most, with the 7600GT nearly doubling the NX8500GT's results.

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Performance Comparisons with Quake 4
Performance Comparisons w ith 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 this these Quake 4 benchmarks using a custom demo with the game set to its "High-Quality" mode, at resolutions of 1,280 x 1,024 and 1,600 x 1,200 without anti-aliasing enabled and then again with 4X AA and 16X aniso enabled simultaneously.

 

q4.PNG

With Quake 4 testing, the GIGABYTE GeForce 8600GTS managed to narrow the Radeon X1950 Pro's lead, but it couldn't quite make the top spot.  This time the 8600GTS trailed the Radeon by roughly 4 FPS.  Additionally, the GeForce 7600GT and MSI NX8600GT kept things close, with the NX8600GT averaging a 3 FPS lead.  Predictably, the NX8500GT was the slowest of the group, barely breaking 20 FPS at 1280x1024.

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Overclocking
Overclocking
(Fast 3D Video Cards) + Overclocking = Even Faster Cards

Rounding out our testing, we tried our hand at some overclocking to see how each of these cards faired.  Once the optimal settings were found, we ran our Quake 4 test once again to show what performance gains could be uncovered.

oc.PNG

The GIGABYTE GeForce 8600GTS overclocked fairly well, managing to add 85MHz to the GPU clock and 84MHz to the memory.  With a 12% gain in GPU speed and 8% gain in memory speed, we recorded performance increases of 10-11% at both resolutions.  This brought the Gigabyte 8600GTS to the same performance level as the ATI Radeon X1950 Pro.  The MSI NX8600GT also posted decent results, tacking on 70MHz to the GPU speed and 50MHz to the memory speed.  This resulted in a 12% boost in GPU clock speed and closer to 6% in memory speed.  Overall performance improvements equalled 9%, adding 3-4 FPS to each resolution tested, falling just shy of the GeForce 8600GTS' stock scores.  Finally, we wrapped things up with the MSI NX8500GT adding a whopping 242MHz to the GPU clockspeed and 13MHz to the memory speed.  In the end, this resulted in performance gains of 2-4 FPS, which equalled 17% at 1280x1024 and 14% at 1600x1200.

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Performance Summary and Conclusion

Performance Summary: With FutureMark’s synthetic 3DMark06 benchmark, the GIGABYTE GeForce 8600GTS topped all of the cards tested, with the ATI Radeon X1950 Pro finishing a close second.  However, the lead shifted to the ATI Radeon X1950 Pro exclusively with the remainder of our actual in-game tests.  The biggest deltas were with Half-Life 2: Lost Coast, where the ATI Radeon X1950 Pro won by a wide margin, with the GIGABYTE GeForce 8600GTS trailing by an average of 40 FPS.  With the rest of the benchmarks, the ATI Radeon X1950 Pro’s lead was more nominal, averaging 7-8 FPS overall.  The MSI NX8500GT and MSI NX8600GT both performed predictably compared to the GeForce 8600GTS, however, the NX8500GT could not match the performance of the elder GeForce 7600GT.

 

GIGABYTE GV-NX86S256H

Of the three GeForce 8 series cards tested, this was the highest performing, as expected.  Additionally, it is also the highest priced, weighing in at $198.99.  For that price, users get a premium gaming title in Supreme Commander, a Silent-Pipe  III cooler and a card that can support DirectX 10 and SLI.  However, with the current state of DirectX 10 gaming (ie nearly nonexistant), the ATI Radeon X1950 Pro is still an attractive option.  The X1950 Pro was the decisive winner of all of the gaming benchmarks, supports CrossFire and comes in as low as $145.99 ($159.99 for the model we tested).  Considering the added cost for a silent cooling solution and a current gaming title, some buyers may be better off with a model that follows NVIDIA’s reference design if DirectX 10 is a must, as that too will cost a bit less in the long run and users can apply that savings to a second if the need arises.

  • Good Performance
  • SLI Capable
  • Retail Package
  • Good Overclocker
  • DirectX 10
  • Supreme Commander Game
  • Two Slot Design
  • Price/Value Ratio

MSI NX8600GT T2D256E

In regards to the MSI NX8600GT T2D256H, we find the same argument we made with the GIGABYTE GeForce 8600GTS applies here, perhaps even more so.  This model was slower than the GeForce 8600GTS and often fell in slightly faster than a GeForce 7600GT.  Factor in a price point of $156.99 and the ATI Radeon X1950 Pro still looks like a viable alternative at this stage of the game.  If DirectX 10 is an absolute necessity, then both NVIDIA 8600 series models have something to offer, with the GT easily matching GeForce 8600GTS' performance when overclocked.  However, if you are more along the lines of a casual gamer that doesn’t care too much about DirectX 10, higher performing alternatives exist at an excellent price.

  • Good Performance
  • SLI Capable
  • Single-Slot
  • Decent Overclocker
  • DirectX 10
  • No Games Included

MSI NX8500GT TD256E

Clearly, the MSI NX8500GT TD256H is geared for basic gaming at lower resolutions.  In each of our tests, this model was the slowest of the bunch, and stuggled to deliver playable frame rates at 1280x1024 with anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering enabled.  This card should do nicely with medium quality settings at 1024x768, however, which raises the question whether a DirectX 10 ready video card is really an advantage at this performance level.  If users are not concerned that much about higher-levels of image quality and just want to enjoy an occasional game, DirectX 10 support probably won't factor into their buying decision at this point in time.  With that said, a mere $6 more will get you a GeForce 7600GT which will deliver higher frame rates and should enable users to run slightly higher image quality settings as well.

  • SLI Capable
  • Good Overclocker
  • DirectX 10
  • Single-Slot
  • No Games Included
  • Price/Performance Ratio

In the end, it’s pretty clear that there is a lot to consider with all three of the cards we’ve looked at here today.  It’s not a clear cut decision and price and features all need to be taken into account when deciding which card is right for you.  What’s also unproven is how all of these cards will perform with a full-blown DX10 title, which is another factor to keep in mind.  Overall, when assessing the performance, features and cost of the three GeForce 8 series cards tested, the MSI NX8600GT TD256E proved to offer the best bang for the buck, but don't forget about the ATI Radeon X1950 Pro if you're looking for better in-game performance at a similar price point.

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