Our Summary and Conclusion
Performance Summary: After exhaustively testing NVIDIA's latest budget GPU, we can safely say that we are thoroughly impressed with the performance of the new GeForce 7900 GS. Furthermore, we are equally as impressed with XFX's take on this GPU. Out of the box, the factory overclocked XFX GeForce 7900 GS 480M Extreme is able to offer an appreciable performance advantage over the reference design at stock frequencies. Add to that an exceptional warranty and you have a top-end graphics card for an affordable price.
Less than a year ago, no one ever expected a $199 graphics card to offer playable framerates at high resolutions with high-levels of anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering enabled. The trend as of late is to benchmark the latest flagship GPU's at obscene resolutions that require users to have $2,000 30" LCD's to fully realize the benefits. The reality here is that the vast majority of gamers are using significantly smaller monitors running at much lower resolutions. Here, the more realistic goal is a 20" LCD which can operate as high as 1600x1200. For this mainstream crowd, the GeForce 7900 is an excellent bargain and fills in at just the right price point. Here, gamers can have fluid gameplay at either 1280x1024 or 1600x1200 in nearly any title, while also running with 4xAA and 16xAF. So long as you have a quality system, the GeForce 7900 GS will provide excellent performance in most every gaming situation. Thanks to the complete support for SLI, gamers can also opt to purchase two GeForce 7900 GS cards and still end up well below the price of a single flagship GPU while enjoying impressive framerates with plenty of eye candy.
Throughout testing, we were pleased with the card's relatively low noise levels. NVIDIA claims the card consumes a maximum of only 82W of power and judging from the lack of that all too familiar turbine whirring sound from its heatsink assembly, we believe them. As a result, we think the single-slot GeForce 7900 GS would be an excellent economical choice for a SFF PC or HTPC in the living room. Beyond the relatively strong gaming horsepower we've witnessed in the previous results and native HDTV-out support, the GeForce 7900 GS also has complete support for NVIDIA's PureVideo technology including hardware acceleration for decoding H.264, VC-1, WMV, and MPEG-2 movies. Furthermore, full support for NVIDIA's advanced PureVideo HD technology will be enabled with an updated ForceWare driver which is due this month. For those looking down the road and wondering about HDCP, the GeForce 7900 GS also supports full HDCP functionality so long as the graphics card vendor equips their product with an appropriate crypto-key for decoding. In terms of feature-set, it is hard to find fault with NVIDIA's latest $199 card.
Looking at the competition for the GeForce 7900 GS, the only immediate answer comes in the form of ATI's Radeon X1800 GTO. As we witnessed throughout each and every benchmark, the GeForce 7900 GS is currently in a class of its own. This is not to say that ATI will not have a more competitive solution to battle NVIDIA's latest GPU. However, we are still waiting for ATI's last crop of new GPU's to show up in retail so NVIDIA will surely have a fair amount of time on their hands to seed the market unchallenged. With GeForce 7900 GS cards available immediately from major retailers at the time this article is posted, the burden is certainly on ATI to provide an answer, whether it be a new product or lower prices on existing product.
NVIDIA has found a way to utilize the lower speed bin yields from their potent G71 enthusiast GPU and have passed the benefits along to the consumer. As we have seen throughout testing, those GPU's which do not qualify to be a flagship $500 GPU can still provide exceptional performance. Given the GeForce 7900 GS's $199 target MSRP and the performance we've seen, we cannot help but be excited gamers on a budget. Gone are the days of running games at 800x600 or 1024x768 with limited eye candy. For less than $200 you can be gaming at 1280x1024 or beyond with appreciable Anti-Aliasing and Anisotropic Filtering levels. In addition, XFX has taken an already stellar product and enriched it thanks to a healthy factory overclock and an excellent warranty. You can purchase the XFX GeForce 7900 GS 480M Extreme today for about $219.99 with a $20 Mail-In Rebate ($199.99 total) or opt for the standard XFX GeForce 7900 GS for $199.99 with a $20 Mail-In Rebate ($179.99 total). Based on the robust feature set, phenomenal performance, low price, immediate availability and solid warranty, we are awarding the XFX GeForce 7900 GS 480M Extreme a 9.5 on the Hot Hardware Heat Meter and giving it an Editor's Choice award.