7950GX2 vs 8800 Series Showdown

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Products: eVGA 7950GX2, XFX 8800GTS, eVGA 8800GTX
Provided By: MemoryExpress
Price: $549.95CDN - 8800GTS, $719.95CDN - 8800GTX

Introduction:

In the second quarter of 2006, nVidia released the 7950GX2 video card in order to stay ahead of ATI in terms of "single card" performance.  What this dual GPU card offered was hardware SLI on one board and the ability to link two of these cards together in an additional SLI link for a Quad SLI configuration.  While the sound of this excited many people, real world performance numbers didn't show much improvement over SLI and in some cases performance was worse.  This was a valiant attempt by nVidia to utterly destroy ATi, but it didn't work quite as well as they'd hoped.  The truth is, the 7950GX2 was the single fastest graphics card on the market until the launch of the 8800 Series of graphics cards from nVidia.

The Lineup

nVidia has done some impressive changes on this new generation of graphics cards, and while they are not clocked much higher than previous graphics cards, performance has improved significantly.  Today we are going to take a look at two different series of graphics cards from nVidia that have been released in the same calendar year and see how much more performance the 8800GTS and 8800GTX offer above and beyond the 7950GX2 Powerhouse.

We will be testing all of the cards on a fresh install of Windows XP Pro 32-bit under DirectX 9.  The 8800 Series offers DX10 functionality, but we don't have a final DX10 Operating system as of yet, nor do we have drivers for the 8800 Series that work under Vista.  Perhaps in the future we will be able to revisit this review and run DirectX 10 performance on the cards.

MemX Add

8800 Series Features:

Below is a list of features and technology that the 8800 Series offers.

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 graphics 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 with ultra-fast frame rates:

  • 16X Anti-aliasing Technology:
    Lightning fast, high-quality anti-aliasing at up to 16x sample rates obliterates jagged edges.
  • 128-bit Floating Point High Dynamic-Range (HDR) Lighting:
    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 the 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 for every user 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, included in the upcoming operating system (OS) from Microsoft.

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 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, 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 cadence. PureVideo 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.
  • Noise Reduction:
    Improves movie image quality by removing unwanted artifacts.
  • Edge Enhancement:
    Sharpens movie images by providing higher contrast around lines and objects.

On the next page we'll take a look at the cards and get this showdown rolling.


The Cards:

eVGA 7950GX2:

We looked at the eVGA 7950GX2 back in early November and if you want to get more information on this card, please refer to our previous review.

XFX 8800GTS:

The XFX 8800GTS is the first unit we were able to play with.  This card is priced in the mid-high range and has great performance for the price.  It is priced about the same as previous generation high-end cards and offers DX10 support, better performance and is HDCP compatible.

XFX 8800GTS - Full
XFX 8800GTS - Full

This card comes with 640MB of GDDR3 memory and has a two-slot cooler that runs very quiet throughout testing.  The card has a single PCIe power connector as well as a single SLI Connector.  It is a large unit that actually is the same length as the 7950GX2.  All of the 8800 Series cards we've seen up to this point are nVidia reference cards, and XFX has applied their own very shiny sticker.  Other than that, it is identical to every other 8800GTS that we've seen.

Below is a list of specifications for the 8800GTS.

    • Chipset: Nvidia Geforce 8800 GTS
    • Core Clock: 500MHz
    • Shader Clock: 1200MHz
    • Stream Processors: 96
    • Memory: 640MB 320-bit GDDR3
    • Memory Clock: 1600MHz
    • Memory Bandwidth: 64GB/sec
    • Fill Rate: 24 billion vertices/sec.
    • Interface: PCI-Express x16

XFX 8800GTS - Top
XFX 8800GTS

Heatsink Removed
Heatsink Removed

The 8800 Series looks very different than previous generations of nVidia cards once you remove the heat sink.  The card is cooled by a large aluminum cooler that utilizes a copper plate, a heat pipe and a large centrifugal fan.  The actual GPU core is covered by a large heat spreader and there is a large metal shim-like frame around the core.  This design allows for greater pressure to be applied to the GPU core without damaging the core or flexing the card.  You will notice that there are a couple of "blank" memory spots where more memory could be applied to bring the total up to 768MB.

This card is currently nVidia's most popular choice when it comes to DX10 rendering and Vista compatible graphics.  As we carry on we'll see how it compares to the 7950GX2 and the high-end 8800GTX.



eVGA 8800GTX:

The biggest and baddest graphics card on the market right now is the nVidia GeForce 8800GTX.  We received the eVGA 8800GTX to play with and compare against the other two cards.  This card is the fastest card available and packs a price tag to match.  This card will set you back $714.95CDN right now, but should become more affordable once the 8900 series launches in 1Q 2007.

eVGA 8800GTX - Full
eVGA 8800GTX - Full

The 8800GTS uses a total of 96 Stream Processors while the 8800GTX uses 128 Stream Processors.  The extra stream processors run faster and when combined with an extra 128MB of faster memory and a faster GPU core, this card is unmatched in performance at this point.

Below is a short list of specs of the 8800GTX.

    • Chipset: Nvidia Geforce 8800 GTX
    • Core Clock: 575MHz
    • Shader Clock: 1350MHz
    • Stream Processors: 128
    • Memory: 768MB 384-bit GDDR3
    • Memory Clock: 1800MHz
    • Memory Bandwidth: 86.4GB/sec
    • Fill Rate: 36.8 billion vertices/sec.
    • Interface: PCI-Express x16

It seems just unbelievable to me to see specs like this on a single GPU card the same year that the 7950GX2 was released.  The 8800 Series is a huge leap forward in technology and to thing that it was released in the same year as its predecessor is in fact a little scary.  With a leap forward like this we can expect software developers to be playing catch-up for a little while.

Unfortunately, the tendency of having very powerful hardware at your disposal is that you don't optimize games as they could be.  In the end, super powerful graphics cards and quad core computers will result in programmers not streamlining their code and will push the general user to upgrade hardware to play a medium-detailed game.

eVGA 8800GTX - Top
eVGA 8800GTX - Top

As you can see in the picture above, the PCB of the 8800GTX extends over an inch past the end of the cooler.  You will also notice that the card requires two PCIe power connectors and two SLI Bridge connectors to optimize bandwidth allocation.  Unfortunately, we only have one of each of these cards and can't run any SLI numbers at this point.

For more information regarding the technology behind the new 8800 Series, please head on over and read this excellent article at Beyond3D.


Side By Side:

We've included a few pictures of some interesting components on the 8800 Series graphics cards that vary from the 8800GTS to the 8800GTX models.  Below are a couple pictures of the NVIO from the 8800GTS and the 8800GTX as well as pictures of the GPU Core/Heat spreader.

GTS Chip
GTS Chip

GTX Chip
GTX Chip

GTS Core
GTS Core

GTX Core
GTX Core

You will notice that both the NVIO processors and the GPU have distinctly different numbers than each other.  With that being said, we'll take one last look at the GPU lineup before we head on over, take a look at the test system and start the benchmarking.

The Lineup
The Lineup


 

Test Setup & Info:

It's no big secret that the 8800 Series needs a fast system in order to perform.  We used an overclocked Core 2 Duo system to feed these cards so that it would eliminate the system bottleneck.  I'm sure that down the road, a Quad Core QX6700 or better will do a better job, but for now we'll use an E6600 clocked up from 2.4GHz to 3.2GHz.  Below is a chart that outlines the system and the settings at which we ran our benchmarks.

Intel Core 2 Duo E6600 CPU
MSI 975X Platinum v.2 PowerUp Edition

2GB kit (2x1GB) Crucial Ballistix PC2-8000 - Crucial
Plextor PX-750A DVDRW - Plextor
Seagate 250GB 7200.10 SATA HDD
eVGA 7950GX2 1024MB Graphics Card - MemoryExpress
Windows XP Pro. with SP2
ForceWare 93.71 - GeForce 7
ForceWare 97.44 - GeForce 8

BCCHardware Testing Information
   
CPU: Intel E6600 Core 2 Duo @ 3.2GHz
   
Motherboard:

MSI 975X Platinum v.2 PowerUp Edition
Stock Clock - 9x 266MHz - Memory DDR2-800 @ 4-4-4-12
OverClock - 9x 356MHz = 3.20GHz - Memory DDR2-892 @ 5-5-5-15

   
Graphics Cards :

eVGA 7950GX2 - Clocked at 500MHz Core - 1200MHz Memory
XFX 8800GTS - Clocked at 500MHz Core - 1200MHz Shader - 1600MHz Memory
eVGA 8800GTX - Clocked at 575MHz Core - 1350MHz Shader - 1800MHz Memory

   
3DMark 2003:

Low Quality - Default 3DMark 2003 Benchmark - No AA or AF
Med. Quality - 1280x1024 - 4x AA - 8x AF
High Quality - 1600x1200 - 4x AA - 16x AF

   
3DMark 2005: Low Quality - Default 3DMark 2005 Benchmark - No AA or AF
Med. Quality - 1280x1024 - 4x AA - 8x AF
High Quality - 1600x1200 - 4x AA - 16x AF
   
3DMark 2006:

Low Quality - Default 3DMark 2006 Benchmark - No AA or AF
Med. Quality - 1280x1024 - 4x AA - 8x AF
High Quality - 1600x1200 - 4x AA - 16x AF**
**7950GX2 Cannot run AA with 3DMark06 HDR test

   
F.E.A.R.

Low Quality - 1024x768, No AA, Medium Settings, Trilinear Filtering, Medium Effects, No Soft Shadows.
Medium Quality - 1280x960 - 4x AA, High Settings, 8x AF, Max Effects, No Soft Shadows.
HighQuality - 1600x1200 - 8x AA, Max Settings, Max Effects, Soft Shadows

   
G.R.A.W: Low Quality - 1024x768, No AA, Low/Medium Settings, Trilinear Filtering.
Medium Quality - 1280x960 - 4x AA, Medium/High Settings, 8x AF
HighQuality - 1600x1200 - 8x AA, Max Settings.
   
Oblivion: Low Quality - 1024x768, No Screen Effects, No Distant Trees - All Medium.
Medium Quality - 1280x960 - Bloom, All Distant - All High.
HighQuality - 1600x1200 - HDR, All Distant - All Ultra.
   
NFS:Carbon: Low Quality - 1024x768, Medium Detail, Bilinear Filtering.
Medium Quality - 1280x960 - High Detail, Trilinear Filtering.
HighQuality - 1600x1200 - Max Detail, Ansiotrophic Filtering.

Due to time restrictions we weren't able to overclock the graphics cards and retest with these scores.  Once Vista launches, we may be able to revisit this article with DX10 data and we will cover overclocking performance at that time.  All results below are with stock graphics clocks and with our CPU overclocked to eliminate system bottlenecks.


3DMark Series:

We start things off with the classic 3DMark Series of benchmarks to see how 3DMark stacks up on these cards.  We don't have any DX10 benchmarks available so we thought we'd get old school and go back and start with 3DMark 2003.  It is interesting to see that the 7950GX2 actually beats the 8800 Series of graphics card at Default Settings.  We've included three graphs below that show how they perform at default settings, high quality and maximum quality.

3DMark Standard
Click Chart for Full-Sized Image

3DMark High
Click Chart for Full-Sized Image 

 

3DMark Max
Click Chart for Full-Sized Image

On the last page, we'll take a look at some actual game play results.


Real World Game play:

We installed a few of today's popular and demanding games to test out these cards and see how the performance compared.  We used the latest drivers available and had the games patched to their latest versions.  All previous data regarding the 7950GX2 was thrown out and we recorded fresh new data to make this fair - as we're using new drivers with this card.  Below are the results from F.E.A.R., G.R.A.W., Oblivion and Need For Speed: Carbon.

F.E.A.R.
Click Chart for Full-Sized Image

As you can see above, F.E.A.R. scales pretty smoothly across the cards and the 7950GX2 hangs on very well even at 1280x960.  However, once you enable Soft Shadows, the GX2 becomes unplayable at 1600x1200 while the two 8800 Series cards keep on pounding out very acceptable frame rates.  The High Quality results shown above are with 8x AA.  That is unbelievable performance to get over 60FPS with 8x AA, 16x AF with Soft Shadows enabled at 1600x1200.  The 8800 dominates high resolution F.E.A.R. for sure.

G.R.A.W.
Click Chart for Full-Sized Image

We see very similar results with Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter as we did with F.E.A.R.  The 7950GX2 even manages to edge out the 8800GTS at 1280x960, but loses by is outperformed by the slowest 8800 card at Maximum detail at High Resolution.  The 8800GTS beats in by a margin of 100%.  That is nuts!  The 8800GTX shows even more power and beats the GTS by another 30% at this resolution.

Moving on to Oblivion below, we must make mention that this game is capped at our refresh rate of 75Hz.  At Low Quality, all cards remain capped most of the time, and as we increase quality, view distance, and resolution we see the gap open up.  All cards perform well, but the 8800GTS takes the cake.  I've never before seen Oblivion look so good and it was breathtaking to see the world flow by as smooth as silk at 1600x1200 with HDR enabled.

Oblivion
Click Chart for Full-Sized Image

Last up we've got EA's latest release in the Need For Speed Series.  The game on the bench is Carbon and it is a hog.  It looks okay, but is really nothing earth shattering.  On the other hand, it runs like a dog at high resolution.  Even at 1280x960 at our medium testing quality, the game was almost unplayable on the 7950GX2 - and the card is less than a year old!

NFS:Carbon
Click Chart for Full-Sized Image

 

Power Usage:

One factor that many people complain about with the new 8800 hardware is how power hungry it is.  nVidia's official requirement is actually quite low (400W for GTS, 450W for GTX), but many people claim that you need a 600W+ PSU to run these cards.  Below is a little table that shows total system power consumption with the different cards in the system.  The results below do not include monitor - only System Chassis.


   7950GX2  8800GTS  8800GTX

Idle Watt /
Temp 

216W
51C 

240W
61C 

251W
61C 

Load Watt /
Temp 

270W
68C 

318W
61C 

342W
85C 

 

Conclusion:

 

Before I got a chance to look at these cards, I'd heard both good and bad comments regarding the GeForce 8800 series of graphics card.  On the plus side, they are DX10 and HDCP ready and are the only Vista-proof graphics card on the market at the moment.  I've also heard a lot of negative comments about their power consumption and heat output.  I wondered how these factors really affected the usability and enjoyment of these cards.  The truth is, both the 8800GTS and 8800GTX are a huge leap ahead of the 7950GX2, and if you're buying a card to take you through the next year, you'd be a fool not to grab a 8800GTS at the very least.  Both of these cards fly at high resolutions, with eye-candy turned on that I never would have thought possible.  Don't be fooled into thinking that an Athlon 3500+ or Pentium D 820 can push these cards and make them perform.   You will need a hefty CPU to get the most from these cards.  The performance screams and the cooler does not.  If ATI can follow suite with their R600, nVidia may finally have something to worry about.

As I wrap up this review, I sit back and look in amazement at the performance numbers nVidia has pulled from the GeForce 8800 GPU.  The streamlined architecture, wider memory bus, and greater number of faster clocked stream processors take this card beyond what I thought I'd see in 2006.  If this rate of change holds true, we should see some pretty freakin' awesome hardware in 2007.

Pros:

  • Large frame buffer and fast memory bus.
  • Quiet cooling solution on both 8800GTS and 8800GTX.
  • Insane performance.
  • DX10 Support with HDCP.


Cons:

  • Cards don't currently work under Vista with nVidia's public drivers.
  • 8800GTX is looooong and may not fit in many cases.

We'll sum up both cards in one chart as they really score the same for their performance and price range.

 

BCCHardware.com Rating
Quality:
10/10
Performance:
10/10
Software Pack:
8/10
Stability:
10/10
Features:
9/10
Value:
9/10
Total Score 9.3

 

 

We feel that both cards earn high marks for value - because you get what you pay for.  If you want top-notch performance, you have to pay more, but the value is there if you're a gamer.  I'd like to offer special thanks to MemoryExpress in Calgary for letting us take these cards for a couple of weeks and game it up test them over the holidays. 

If you have any questions or comments regarding this review, please don't hesitate to post your thoughts in the forum at the comments link below.