Closer Look At The Board & Bundled Software
We knew it would only be a matter of time before NVIDIA Graphics board partners started coming out with designs that were above and beyond conventional GeForce 780GTX reference boards. ASUS clearly is ahead of the pack with the Extreme N7800GTX Top, not only in terms of overall clock speeds but more importantly with its board design, as well.
The ASUS Extreme N7800GTX employs a dual-slot cooling solution courtesy of the folks at Arctic Cooling. It's actually the Artic Cooling NV Silencer 5, to be exact, and its design allows heated air to exhaust outside of the case through one of the slots on its back-plate.
The PCB itself is a standard reference design layout but without question, the addition of this cooler really helps the board shine. In fact, as we'll show you later, it was actually able to significantly lower the temperature in one of the test systems we tried it in, not just the graphics card but the entire chassis. The large fan on this cooler spins at a very low RPM even at full load, so it's exceptionally quiet as well, noticeably quieter than a stock GeForce 7800GTX fan at idle or full load. The heatsink portion of the assembly is a hybrid aluminum-finned cooler with a thick and solid copper slab base. It also comes in contact with the RAM on the front side of the card but the backside RAM is only cooled by the retention brackets that hold the main cooler in place.
Without question this exhaust-style cooling solution is also ideal for SLI configurations, where thermals can get pretty nasty with two powerhouse GeForce 7800GTX cards plugged in. These cards are large and long, however, and although they didn't encroach on the MCP heatsink of our test system's A8N SLI Premium motherboard, they do overlap the HSF that is on an A8N SLI Deluxe motherboard. There is also one major-league caveat you'll need to consider if you are in the market for a pair of Extreme N7800GTX Top cards. PCI Express slot spacing on the motherboard needs to be able to accommodate both of these cards comfortably. As a general rule of thumb, we would say the space between each X16 PCI Express Graphics slot needs to be at least two additional PCIe slot widths apart.
That said, thus far we've only seen ASUS motherboards come in this configuration. Of course the A8N SLI Premium and Deluxe both have the required spacing, as does ASUS' P5ND2 SLI nForce 4 Intel Edition board. However, as you can see in the shot on the far right above, many current nForce 4 SLI boards from MSI, Gigabyte, and DFI do not have adequate spacing (MSI's K8N Neo4/SLI is the board with the crooked SLI setup). The bottom line here is that to ensure compatibility, you basically need to be running an ASUS nForce 4 SLI motherboard. This will certainly limit ASUS' audience for this card somewhat, but it also might make sense that future board layouts with the available spacing from other manufacturers could begin to appear in the market in the future.
Article Update - 8/25/05
One of our faithful readers pointed something out to us relative to the example shot taken above of the pair of Asus Extreme N7800GTX Top boards installed in the MSI board, illustrating the mis-alignment due to improper PCIe slot spacing. We were asked why we didn't use the MSI PCI Express bridge board that MSI bundles in with the K8N Neo4/SLI that we used in our example setup. The fact of the matter is, the MSI bridge board actually doesn't reach, so you can't use it. Also, if you force the boards closer together, the blades on one of the fans would be bound up rubbing against the other board. Bottom line either way, it's a no-go with either MSI's or Asus' bridge board in the K8N Neo4/SLI, as we suspect it would be for any other than an Asus motherboard as well. The Asus bridge in the shot above actually works a bit better but not enough to be feasible. Great question Ed, thank you!
To add to this small bit of a conundrum would be that if you look closely at the ASUS-based setups above, you'll also note how close the second card is to the adjacent available PCI slot. In short, you can only accommodate a half-length PCI card in the first available slot and a full-length card in the second. So for example, you'll get a real short TV Tuner and full-length sound card in there, but that's it.
Finally, on a different subject before we move on to the software bundle, the Asus Extreme N7800GTX Top also comes with a break-out dongle similar to what we've seen in previous bundles from BFG, MSI etc. This cable assembly gives you the ability, among other things, to a run component output connection to an HD capable TV. This is a feature we've seen available on many ATi based cards in the past and it's a more than welcome addition to the NVIDIA GeForce line-up as well. Gaming on the big screen with HD output is something you need to see to believe. We'll be looking at this area more closely in follow-up articles as well.
ASUS provides quite an assortment of software and utilities to go along with the Extreme N7800GTX Top. Included are Virtual Drive 9, which is a pretty handy utility for allowing you to play a game title without the need to have a play disc in the CD-ROM drive. Also bundled in are ASUS DVD XP, Power Director 3, Media Show, an ASUS driver and utilities disc, along with an assortment of what we would call "light-weight" game titles. Snowblind, Second Site, Power Drome, Chaos League and Xpand Ralley are among the list in this unobtrusive game bundle, which frankly pales in comparison to what others are packing in these days, when you consider three of the GeForce 7800GTXs we've looked at thus far are offering titles like Chronicles of Riddick, Far Cry, and X2.
Regardless, we snapped a few shots off of Xpand Ralley and Snowblind, just so you could have a look at the game play being offered here.
ASUS tossed in a fairly elegant leather CD case with the Extreme N7800GTX Top, but it doesn't make up for the lackluster game title offering that you can put in its sleeves. Above are shots from XPand Rally and Snowblind, both of which are probably more than playable at max settings on graphics cards from two generations prior to the GeForce 7800GTX. Both do have their moments of fun factor, but as you can see in the shots above, especially in the Snowblind shots, they have somewhat dated game engines. Xpand Rally looks a bit more impressive with some decent lighting effects and relatively modern water shaders, but look at those nasty blob shadows around the car. You might say we're turning into pixel snobs around here at HH, but these games don't hold a candle to the likes of Far Cry or Riddick, obviously.