eVGA 7950GX2 - Power And Then Some

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Product: eVGA 7950GX2 1GB Graphics Card
Provided By: MemoryExpress
Price: $639.95CDN - MemoryExpress

 

Introduction:

I remember purchasing my first video card.  It was an ATi Rage 128 that had a whopping 32MB of SDRAM.  Shortly after, I swapped it out for a Voodoo 3 with 16MB of memory, but it had OpenGL and Glide support that promised a better gaming experience.  My next upgrade was a GeForce 2 MX and then with a jump to the GeForce 4 Ti 4200.  I'm not that old, but I remember when nVidia was proudly touting its "Gigapixel" GTS card that was screaming fast - for its day.

Progress demands that things constantly move forward with improvements in performance.  This is most apparent when it comes to electronics.  Wireless phones get smaller with more features every product cycle and when it comes to graphics cards, things get even more interesting.  Both nVidia and ATi hit a bottleneck a while back as far as how much performance you can squeeze out of a single piece of silicon.  Instead of making things faster, hotter and better, they doubled up and SLI once again hit the mainstream.  ATi has tried to follow suite with their Crossfire platform, but with very limited success until recently.  The downfall of both of these setups is that you must purchase two individual graphics cards and put them into a motherboard that supports such a configuration.  This is fairly expensive and involves a degree of computer know how that many consumers do not have.

nVidia has made a simpler solution - pack two GPU's onto a single (actually double) PCB and make it render SLI through internal hardware.  Thus the 7950GX2 was born.  This card consists of two 7900 series GPU's that are fed by 512MB of GDDR3 each and are bolted together to perform SLI on a single PCIe slot.  This card works in virtually any recent AM2 or 775 motherboard with a BIOS flash and doesn't require two PCIe 16x slots.

Today we are taking a look at this monster and testing it out in a few games to see how it compares in performance with an older single GPU graphics card.  We will also take a look at image quality and see just how good BF2 with 16x AA really looks.  It's a good time and a heck uv'a performer so keep reading.

The Card - Specs & Features:

The card we are looking at today is from eVGA and from what I've seen around the web, every 7950GX2 follows the nVidia reference design to the letter - at least in terms of layout and construction.  Some companies have overclocked versions of this card which would truly be a sight to behold, but we will take some time and see if we can clock this card up a little past its stock clocked speed.  More on that on the following pages however.

This card is currently the fastest single graphics card available today, although with nVidia's looming launch of the 8800 series, it may be outclassed very soon.  The upcoming launch should actually drop the price on this card and make it more affordable.  Take a look below and see what kind of power and features we are looking at today.

 

Features

  • Dual Geforce 7950 GPUs on one board
  • 1GB of GDDR3 memory
  • Full Microsoft® DirectX® 9.0 Shader Model 3.0 Support
  • Built for Microsoft® Windows Vista™
  • NVIDIA® CineFX™ 4.0 Engine
  • Full-Speed 128-Bit Studio-Precision Computation
  • Transparency Antialiasing
  • NVIDIA® Intellisample™ 4.0 Technology
  • True High Dynamic-Range (HDR) Rendering Support
  • HDCP Support
  • 90nm Process Technology
  • High-Speed 512-Bit wide GDDR3 Memory Interface
  • NVIDIA® PureVideo™ Technology

Specifications

  • Chipset: Dual Nvidia Geforce 7950 GX
  • Core Clock Speed: 500MHz
  • Pixel Pipelines: 48
  • Vertex Units: 16
  • Memory: 1024 MB, 512 bit DDR3
  • Memory Clock Speed: 1200MHz
  • Memory Bandwidth: 76.8GB/sec
  • Fill Rate: 24,000 MTexels/s
  • Interface: PCI-Express x16
  • Max Refresh Rate: 240 Hz
  • Max Resolution, Analog: 2048 x 1536 x 32bit x85Hz
  • Max Resolution, Digital: 2560 x 1600 @ 60Hz
  • Connectors: Dual DVI-I
  • Dual Dual Link TMDS DVI Connector
  • VGA: Yes, with Adapter
  • Video-Out: HDTV
  • Video-In: N/A
  • SLI Capable: Yes (SLI support for the e-GeForce 7950 GX2 requires NVIDIA ForceWare driver release 91.45 and above.)

As you can see this is a pretty stacked card.  Take a look at it on the next page.


The Card - First Look:

eVGA isn't known for a bunch of fanfare or fancy packaging, unless you are looking at their Signature Series.  The rest of their products ship in almost the same box and don't offer a lot of eyecandy or curb appeal.  Enthusiasts know that eVGA gives you a no-nonsense card at a good price.  They don't include a lot of crap with their products, but the give you what you need to get up and running in a hurry.

Standard eVGA Box
 Standard eVGA Box

Standard eVGA Bundle
 Standard eVGA Bundle

eVGA includes a pair of DVI-D to D-Sub adapters a "Y" Molex to PCIe Power adapter, Component Video and S-Video cables as well as a brief manual and a driver CD.  Nothing spectacular here, but they didn't waste a bunch of money including software and games that you don't need.  This equates to a lower priced product that is built to be used.

The GeForce 7950GX2 is about 1cm longer than a 7800GT - and is one of the longest and largest video cards that I've ever seen.  This thing is a monster, and if you haven't seen one up close and personal yet, you are missing out on one of life's little adventures.  Of course the thrill factor rates right along with double sugar in a coffee - so you're not missing out on a huge thing - unless you're a hardware junkie like myself.  I actually took this card to town and showed it off to a few people before I started testing.  Man, that sounds really sad when you stop and think back . . .

non-Standard Graphics Card
non-Standard Graphics Card

This card obviously takes up two slots because of its dual PCB design.  I find it remarkable that the small coolers can keep this card cool enough to be stable after hours of gameplay.  We'll see how that plays out in a few minutes.  First, some more pictures for your viewing pleasure.  Click any of the thumbnails below for larger images.

From The Top Rear
 From The Top Rear

From The Top Front
 From The Top Front

Dual DVI Goodness
 Dual DVI Goodness

The PCI bracket appears to be vented to air in exhausting hot air from the case, but the fan design negates this possibility.  The vent will allow passive or even perhaps a small amount of active air to pass through, but there is not real design feature on the cooler to take advantage of this vent.  It's a shame really.

We'll take a closer look at this card on the next page.


Closer Look:

The 7950GX2 is unlike any card made in the past.  It uses a PCB for each GPU and memory and is hardware SLI'd through the use of a connector.  This card will be recognized as a single Display Adapter by Windows, and as such you can add two of these monsters to your rig for Quad SLI.  We only have one card to play with today, and it is by far the coolest piece of hardware we've seen around the shop for a while.

We use the term "cool" rather loosely as this card kicks off a whole bunch of heat.  If you live is a cold building, I recommend that you leave the side of your case off so that you can use this card as an auxiliary heater.  It get's darn hot and you can see why below.

Breathing Room - Skinny
Breathing Room - Skinny

There is not a lot of room between the cooling fan of the primary card and the PCB of the secondary card.  In you want to get out a caliper and measure; you'll find that there is only 0.150" between the two.  I immediately wondered how loud these two coolers would be to effectively remove the heat from the GPU and memory and surprisingly, they are virtually silent when running 2D apps, and spin up according to heat load.  There never made that much noise at all during testing - even after hours of gaming and 3DMark loops.  When the GPU is idle we recorded temps around 55C and when running full load we did top out at 81C.  That's a little too hot for my liking, but thankfully the card remained quiet.

Check out the next few pictures as we've taken apart the card to show how it lays out.  The pictures below also show the connector that links the two cards together.

Pulled Apart
 Pulled Apart

Internal Bridge
 Internal Connector

Internal Bridge
 Internal Bridge

Before we jump into testing we'll take a quick look at the test setup and some testing information.

 

Test Setup:

The tests were done using the system below.

  • Intel Core 2 Duo E6600 CPU
  • MSI 965P Neo-F Motherboard - MemoryExpress
  • 2GB 2x1GB Crucial Ballistix PC8000 (DDR2-1000) - Crucial
  • Plextor PX-750A DVDRW - Plextor
  • Seagate 250GB 7200.10 SATA HDD
  • eVGA 7800GT CO 256MB
  • eVGA 7950GX2 1024MB
  • Windows XP Professional with all available updates
  • Intel 8.0.1.1002 chipset drivers
  • ForceWare 91.47 drivers

For the comparison tests on the following page we simply swapped out the graphics cards - performed a reinstall of the drivers (which were the latest official drivers during testing) and re-ran the tests with the new card.  Below is a chart of resolutions and quality settings we used in our tests.

Keep in mind that the benchmarks reflect real world gaming as our Minimum, Average and Maximum numbers were all gathered by using FRAPS and performing repeated runs through levels to gain consistent accurate results.

Overclocking:

The eVGA 7950GX2 comes clocked in at 500MHz on the core and a nice toasty 1200MHz on the memory.  Using Coolbits and the "autodetect" option, the card was boosted to 550MHz/1400MHz.  We managed to push things a bit farther and finally settled on a rock solid 590MHz/1500MHz.  The core came up 18% and the memory managed to run 25% above stock.  These aren't the best results around the web, but this is a full retail card and reflects more accurately what you can expect with a card you pick up at your local computer store.

BCCHardware Testing Information
   
Video Cards:

eVGA 7800GT CO
Stock Clock - 470MHz/1100MHz

eVGA 7950GX2
Stock Clock - 500MHz/1200MHz
OverClock - 590MHz/1500MHz

   
3DMark Series:

3DMark 2003 - Default Resolution of 1024x768 No AA or AF
3DMark 2005 - Default Resolution of 1024x768 No AA or AF
3DMark 2006 - Default Resolution of 1280x1024 No AA or AF

   
Battlefield 2142: Low Detail - 1024x768 - Low Quality Texture - No AA or AF
Med. Detail - 1280x960 - Med Quality Texture - 2x AA, 8x AF
High Quality - 1600x1200 - High Quality Texture - 4x AA, 16x AF
   
F.E.A.R. Low Detail - 1024x768 - Low Quality Texture - No AA or AF
Med. Detail - 1280x960 - Med Quality Texture - 2x AA, 8x AF
High Quality - 1600x1200 - High Quality Texture - 4x AA, 16x AF
   
G.R.A.W.
(no soft shadows)
Low Detail - 1024x768 - Low Quality Texture - No AA or AF
Med. Detail - 1280x960 - Med Quality Texture - 8x AF
High Quality - 1600x1200 - High Quality Texture - 16x AF
   
Oblivion: Low Detail - 1024x768 - HDR, Distant All - No AA or AF
Med. Detail - 1280x960 - HDR, Distant All - No AA, 8x AF
   
Prey: Low Detail - 1024x768 - Low Quality Texture - No AA or AF
Med. Detail - 1280x1200 - Med Quality Texture - 2x AA, 8x AF
High Quality - 1600x1200 - High Quality Texture - 4x AA, 16x AF

With that being said, let's take a look at some benchmarks on the next page.


Benchmarks:

I won't go into a bunch of details on the benchmarks below as they are pretty self-explanatory.  The game benchmarks display minimum, average and maximum FPS.  The 7950GX2 really bares its teeth when running at higher resolutions with AA and AF enabled.  At 1024x768 the 7800GT can hold it's own in a few tests - which is impressive for an older card.

Click for full-sized image.
Click for full-sized image.

The performance of the 7950GX2 in this benchmark just blows me away.  Granted, it's a synthetic benchmark, but it's still interesting for those who want bragging rights as far as 3DMarks go. At stock speed it fell short of 8000 in 3DMark06, but when overclocked it pulled just over 9K.  I remember when I broke 4,000 in 3DMark 2003: that was a great day.  This card destroys the benchmark with a stock score of over 31,000 and an overclocked score of over 36,000.  Very impressive.  Below we'll look at some real world games.

Click for full-sized image.
Click for full-sized image.

At 1024x768 the 7800GT manages as average FPS of 92.5 which is very impressive as this game is capped at 100ish FPS.  As the resolution and eyecandy increase it falls farther and father behind and is almost unplayable at 1600x1200 with 4x AA and 16x AF.  The aging 7800GT drops down below 30FPS and is a little laggy during intense sequences.  Even at max resolution on our monitor with all the details turned up the 7950GX2 keeps above 30FPS and averages almost 51FPS.  When overclocked we keep above 40FPS and average 64.1.  It looks beautiful at such high resolution.

Click for full-sized image.
Click for full-sized image.

F.E.A.R. is perhaps one the best looking DX9 titles to date.  It relies heavily on bump maps, pixel shaders, and lighting effects along with a very freaky story to make this game so incredible.  For our testing we left "Soft Shadows" off, but turned up everything else to max.  The 7800GT manages somewhat playable framerates at 1280x1024, but is a virtual slideshow at 1600x1200 with 4x AA.  The 7950GX2 still manages an incredible 78.4FPS average at stock speed!

We'll continue with a few more games on the next page.


Benchmarks (continued):

Click for full-sized image.
Click for full-sized image.

Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter is not the most beautiful looking game around, but it is a system killer.  Once again the 7800GT cannot maintain playable framerates at 1600x1200 even with no AA enabled.  The 7950GX2 from eVGA still runs strong.

Click for full-sized image.
Click for full-sized image.

Oblivion is perhaps the most demanding game on the market right now.  The visuals are stunning and the environment is spectacular.  Because of the slower pace of this game we managed to complete benchmarks at high resolution on the 7800GT at 1280x1024, but as you can see with distant grass, trees and landscape it doesn't perform very well.  At stock speed the 7950GX2 performs 94% faster than the 7800GT and becomes a worthy upgrade if you enjoy Oblivion.

Click for full-sized image.
Click for full-sized image.

Prey is capped at 60FPS and all cards run equally well when running low quality with no AA or AF at 1024x768.  Once you start to turn up the AA - even to 2x the 7800GT starts to play a little laggy at 1280x1024.  At maximum resolution with everything turned to the max the 7950GX2 provide a very solid and really perfect gaming experience in Prey.  Everything looks stunning and runs without hitch or glitch.

On the next page we'll take a look at Image Quality before we wrap things up.


Image Quality:

We've talked about high resolutions and lots of AA in this review, but there is more.  Because the 7950GX2 is essentially an SLI configuration in a single slot - it also supports 16x AA.  We've included a few high resolution screenshots of games with different levels of AA enabled.

Battlefield 2142 -

The pictures below will open in a new window as you click them.  They are large weighing in at over 1MB each.  If you want to download them for later viewing you can grab the BF2142 IQ pictures in this *.zip file.

IQ - BF2142 - No AA
IQ - BF2142 - No AA

IQ - BF2142 - 4x AA
IQ - BF2142 - 4x AA

   

IQ - BF2142 - 8xS AA
 IQ - BF2142 - 8xS AA

IQ - BF2142 - 16xS AA
IQ - BF2142 - 16xS AA

You can see a few differences between 4x AA and 8xS AA, but anything above that is lost in this game.

F.E.A.R. -

We fired up F.E.A.R. as the environment is beautiful and AA really makes a difference in this game.  Click on each of the thumbs below for a large 1600x1200 image.  You can also download a *.zip file containing all of the F.E.A.R. images right here.

IQ - FEAR - No AA
 IQ - FEAR - No AA

IQ - FEAR - 4x AA
 IQ - FEAR - 4x AA

   

IQ - FEAR - 8xS AA
 IQ - FEAR - 8xS AA

IQ - FEAR - 16xS AA
 IQ - FEAR - 16xS AA

F.E.A.R. was actually quite playable at 8xS AA, but when running through levels, I couldn't tell that things looked any different that at 4x AA.  You can see some very slight improvements on the pics and the fan grill though - even at 16xS AA.

 

Oblivion -

Oblivion has made many headlines in the eyecandy and visuals department.  This game supports HDR or AA, but not both on nVidia cards.  ATi has included the "chuck patch" with their drivers that allow HDR and AA to be used at the same time.  With this card from nVidia we have to choose between the two.  You can click on each of the screenshots below for a large 1280x1024 image or you can download the *.zip file here for viewing at your leisure.

IQ - Oblivion - HDR No AA
 IQ - Oblivion - HDR No AA

IQ - Oblivion - 2x AA
 IQ - Oblivion - 2x AA

IQ - Oblivion - 4x AA
 IQ - Oblivion - 4x AA

Oblivion runs virtually the same whether you choose 4x AA or HDR.  Take you pick to see which you like better.  HDR sure adds a different look and feel to the game.  At times when playing HDR is kind of a pain, but when you take it off the game feels much more flat and bland.

Conclusion:

The eVGA 7950GX2 powerhouse is not for everyone.  It isn't for HTPC owners with small cases and poor airflow.  It isn't for the gamer on a budget or for the person who has a hard time coughing up for SuperSized fries.  This card is built for the enthusiast and the gamer who want to have the fastest card around no matter what the cost.  That being said, the cost of the 7950GX2 is quite reasonable considering what you're getting, but at over $600CDN, it is still worth a months rent.  nVidia wanted to stay the speed king back when the X1900XTX was introduced so they pulled off the GX2 and it was a good move.  This card support HDCP for BlueRay and HDDVD movies on your PC (provided you have a HDCP compatible display and software), and will usher in the next generation of graphics.

It's a top-notch performer and it's quiet - which are two things that generally don't go together.  Take a look below at some Pros and Cons.

Pros:

  • Freakishly Powerful Graphics Card.
  • "SLI" that will work on almost any current motherboard.
  • Silent at idle, and quiet at full load.
  • Supports HDCP.
  • Supports Quad-SLI with the addition of another 7950GX2.

Cons:

  • Large card may not fit in some smaller cases.
  • Generates lots of heat and doesn't exhaust it outside the case.

 

BCCHardware.com Rating
Quality:
10/10
Performance:
10/10
Software Pack:
8/10
Stability:
10/10
Features:
8/10
Value:
9/10
Total Score 9.1

 

If you want the fastest card that money can buy, the eVGA 7950GX2 should be easy to find.  nVidia has excellent product availability with the 7950GX2 and you can pick one up and get gaming at 1600x1200 and above.  This card absolutely rocks and is a great choice for any gamer that demands the best.

I'd like to thank MemoryExpress for sending this card our way for a review.  It was a good time. . . a good time indeed.  Please post your thoughts, comments and questions in the forum at the Comments link below.