G80 is clearly the most anticipated GPU update for nVidia for quite some time now and unless you have been living under a rock, you would know why. Previous generation cards like the GeForce 7800 and 7900 series have been more of a speed increase then anything else. While we have seen implementation of new graphics technology built into them they are nothing near as major as what the new GeForce 8800 series brings with it today. DirectX 10 is going to be the platform for gaming over the next few years.
There are two sides of arguments to the 8800 series - both of which make a very good point. Those who felt that buying the previous generation top cards wasn't a waste of money, because while the 8800 line up was coming out with DX10 support (which of course is such a major leap), how long was it going to be until we actually see DX10 technology implemented into games? While the other side felt that the 8800 was not only going to bring increased DX9 performance but also support for DX10.
This very moment we will be looking at what the GeForce 8800GTS has to offer. While this is clearly going to be the most popular card out of the batch, it really is going to be the GTX that sets the trend for what is hot for the rest of 2006 and beginning of 2007. It is clear what's the fastest performing card will overall help sales of the mid-range line up. While ATI clearly had some capable cards to battle the 6600GT a few years ago with the 6800 series from nVidia being such a dominating force, it was clear that people simply wanted an nVidia card.
As with any launch product we will go into detail of more then just what the box says and what is inside of it - we will be explaining some of the new technology that is implemented into the GeForce 8800 series. We will of course be having a look what MSI have on offer though with the 8800GTS (and tomorrow we'll take a look at the GTS and GTX from XFX) since it is a full retail version of the card which will be available almost instantly, which is great news.
No doubt you probably haven't got this far and have already jumped to the benchmarks or at least the pictures of the card so let's move on and have a look at some of the new technology that the 8800 series implements and find out what it does for our gaming experience.
While I was sitting here with a writers block wondering how to start this off, I thought something along the lines of, "with all new cards, come new technology...". It quickly dawned on me though that this isn't true. For quite a while now, we haven't really seen anything more then consistent bumps in speed with the new cards. nVidia have been increasing their pipe lines so more bandwidth can be transferred and of course increased clock and memory speeds, while ATI have done similar but also implemented faster GDDR-4 memory into their latest cards.
Fortunately the GeForce 8800 series is more then just an increase in core and memory speeds - it comes with the basis of all that is going to be great for gaming over the next few years, as DX10 and Windows Vista take us to the next level of PC gaming.
DX10 as you may have already figured is of course the most major leap we have with us. The main benefits DX10 brings to the 8800 series are Geometry Shaders, Steam output, Next-generation geometry instancing and Significantly reduced CPU overhead during CPU-to-GPU transactions.
What are all these new technologies? Well, in a nutshell, technologies that will help make our gaming experience not only look better but run smoother. While that might be a good enough explanation for some, if it's not for you, let's have a little more detailed look.
- Stream Output
The stream output allows data to be directly passed through either the vertex or geometry shader which then in turn passes the information straight to the frame buffer memory as opposed to the rendering pipeline, where it would go in the past. This new technology allows for new advanced shader effects like particle systems and physics, which is something that people are talking about more and more.
- Geometry Shaders
Geometry Shaders like Stream Output is a technology that allows for more technology to be implemented into games. With the introduction of this technology new features like displacement mapping and GPU generated shadow volumes give us the ability to get a next generation gaming experience or as nVidia are saying, a "true-to-life" gaming experience - sounds good to us!
- Lumenex engine
The Lumenex engine is nVidia's own technology which is implemented directly onto the GPU of the 8800 series. This engine offers you all the high quality settings like 16x full scene anti aliasing, 128-bit floating point HDR and support for 2560 x 1600 at quote, "amazing frame rates." The engine pretty much makes sure you have the best looking image quality on the planet.
- Quantum Effects
This like the Lumnex engine is another nVidia technology. The Quantum Effects technology in a nutshell is the physics side of things for nVidia. By removing physics calculations off the processor it can do more important tasks like control the AI which is going to increase our gaming experience yet again.
- Those weird memory amounts
640MB on the 8800GTS and 768MB on the 8800GTX - Why? nVidia and ATI both have been implementing a 256-bit memory bus for quite some time now. Moving to a 384-bit memory bus allows nVidia to extract more performance out of the same memory modules. The only real problem with this is that 12 RAM chips are needed instead of 8, so we end up first with a slightly different number when it comes to the amount of memory.
Due to the increased amount of chips on the card, the PCB has to be longer. Hence we end up with these huge cards that have become known to us as the 8800GTS and 8800GTX.
- Some other technology
The latest version of Shader Model 4.0 is included in the 8800 series, both models will also offer full support for HDCP or High Definition Content Protection as most people expected.
Each 8800 comes with 681 million transistors and is based on 90nm technology being manufactured at TSMC. nVidia say that while the 8800GTX comes in at 10.5 inches long, based on a survey, it will fit in a vast majority of enthusiast cases. The power connectors on the 8800GTX have also been changed and sit on top of the card to help make sure no more room length wise is needed.
As far as power requirements go, the GeForce 8800GTS will require a minimum 400 watt power supply (with 12V current rating of 26A). The GeForce 8800GTX will require a minimum 450 watt power supply (with 12V current rating of 30A) and you can double those numbers when you start talking about SLI.
- The Current Lineup from nVidia (USD)
GeForce 8800 GTX - $599
GeForce 8800 GTS - $449
GeForce 7950 GT - $299
GeForce 7900 GS - $199
GeForce 7600 GT - $159
GeForce 7600 GS - $129
GeForce 7300 GPUs - <$99
As you can see the 7900GT, GTX and 7950GX2 are all now discontinued products.
Retail 8800GTS from MSI
MSI GeForce 8800GTX
The good news is that we are using the exact same kind of card you're going to be able to buy come launch day. This is a fantastic trend from nVidia with the constant release of products and stock on the date, as promised. When they first started doing it we were skeptical whether or not we were going to see this continue but over the past few major releases from nVidia, sure enough we see their partners have stock immediately.
Starting with the box we have all our normal little features listed including a funky little handle at the top. We can see the weird 640MB of DDR-3 included along with Dual Link DVI, PCI Express, the fact that it comes with Serious Sam 2 and the glorious model number across the bottom.
Turning the back over we have some more information about some of the features but nothing of any real detail of exactly what the 8800GTS is capable - which is a bit of a let down considering it has a huge amount of great features.
Moving to the cables there isn't a whole lot, with the card not supporting VIVO we have the HDTV component out cables, S-Video cable and a pair of DVI to VGA connectors.
Paper wise there isn't a whole lot with only a quick user guide and a quick install guide.
Software wise there also isn't' much to get excited with some Cyberlink software being included along with a copy of Serious Sam 2.
Package wise for something that is the price of the 8800GTS is a bit lacking but it's not the end of the world. The chances are most companies really wanted to just simply get their cards out there as soon as possible.
Retail 8800GTS from MSI Continued
MSI 8800GTX Continued
With the box out of the way let's get onto what we are all here for, the card!
We have a new cooler design, which while might look loud, really isn't at all - it will take up two slots though, so keep that in mind. Each card is currently made by one person so apart from the sticker on the front, there isn't much difference.
Size wise you can see the GTS compared to the ATI Radeon X1950XTX is exactly the same unlike the new big brother the GTX that comes in a fair whack larger.
A closer look at the fan sees that it isn't our normal fins from the center design. We can also see to the right the single PCI express power connector for the card.
Moving to the back it is all very standard. But we can see the absolute bucket load of screws that are holding the large heatsink in place.
Quick peak at the top of the card lets us find the SLI connector that is hidden behind the big cooler.
Finally moving to the side of it we can see two DVI ports which both offer HDCP support and Dual Link DVI.
Overall the card looks are pretty standard; it doesn't offer some extraordinary size, multi-power connectors, three slots or anything like that. The massive heatsink fan practically covers the entire card and is very effective when it comes not only to noise but temperature as well. Good job nVidia - no dust buster here!
Benchmarks - Test System Setup and 3DMark05
Test System Setup
Processor(s): Intel Core 2 Duo E6600 @ 3150MHz (350MHz FSB with 1:1 memory)
Motherboard(s): ASUS P5B Deluxe (Supplied by ASUS)
Memory: 2 X 1GB G.Skill HZ PC8000 @ 350MHz 4-4-4-12 (Supplied by Bronet)
Hard Disk(s): Hitachi 80GB 7200RPM SATA 2
Operating System: Windows XP Professional SP2
Drivers: nVidia ForceWare 96.97 (Testing Driver) and ATI Catalyst 6.10
We tested 3DMark05 using 1024 x 768 (default), 1600 x 1200 and 1920 x 1200. 3DMark06 was tested with 1280 x 1024 (default), 1600 x 1200 and 1920 x 1200. Games that natively support 1920 x 1200 (which is everything but F.E.A.R.) were tested at 1280 x 1024, 1600 x 1200 and 1920 x 1200. F.E.A.R. which is the only game not supporting it natively was tested at 1280 x 1024 and 1600 x 1200.
When it comes to inclusion of cards, it was pretty clear what had to be added. First off from nVidia we couldn't add anything but the 7950GX2 which is such a menacing force.
ATI? Well, the Radeon X1950XTX. It is at the top of the ATI food chain - meaty cooler, big amounts of GDDR-4 memory and some pretty good performance. There is nothing else until R600 that is going to stand out from ATI.
Let's get this show on the road and see what type of performance nVidia is able to deliver from their latest GPU!
Version and / or Patch Used: Build 120
Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com
Product Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com/products/3dmark05/
Buy It Here
3DMark05 is now the second latest version in the popular 3DMark "Gamers Benchmark" series. It includes a complete set of DX9 benchmarks which tests Shader Model 2.0 and above.
For more information on the 3DMark05 benchmark, we recommend you read our preview here.
Our first benchmark shows us that the 8800GTS is clearly faster then the X1950XTX and is even faster then the dual core wielding 7950GX2.
Benchmarks - 3DMark06
Version and / or Patch Used: Build 102
Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com
Product Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com/products/3dmark06/
Buy It Here
3DMark06 is the very latest version of the "Gamers Benchmark" from FutureMark. The newest version of 3DMark expands on the tests in 3DMark05 by adding graphical effects using Shader Model 3.0 and HDR (High Dynamic Range lighting) which will push even the best DX9 graphics cards to the extremes.
3DMark06 also focuses on not just the GPU but the CPU using the AGEIA PhysX software physics library to effectively test single and Dual Core processors.
Moving to the more intensive 3DMark06 we have the same picture but the lead that the 8800GTS has on the top dog from ATI is now even greater.
Benchmarks - Half Life 2 (Lost Coast)
Half Life 2 (Lost Coast)
Version and / or Patch Used: Unpatched
Timedemo or Level Used: Custom Timedemo
Developer Homepage: http://www.valvesoftware.com
Product Homepage: http://www.half-life2.com
Buy It Here
By taking the suspense, challenge and visceral charge of the original, and adding startling new realism, responsiveness and new HDR technology, Half-Life 2 Lost Coast opens the door to a world where the player's presence affects everything around him, from the physical environment to the behaviors even the emotions of both friends and enemies.
We benchmark Half Life 2 Lost Coast with our own custom timedemos as to avoid possible driver optimizations using the "record demo_name" command and loading the timedemo with the "timedemo demo_name" command - For a full list of the commands, click here.
Lost Coast was never able to make use of the SLI capabilities that the 7950GX2.
Here we can see that the single core 8800GTS solution gives us massive performance with it again being ahead of the X1950XTX, which has always been quite a favorite in Half Life 2.
Benchmarks - PREY
Version and / or Patch Used: Unpatched
Timedemo or Level Used: HardwareOC Custom Benchmark
Developer Homepage: http://www.humanhead.com
Product Homepage: http://www.prey.com
Buy It Here
PREY is one of the newest games to be added to our benchmark line-up. It is based off the Doom 3 engine and offers stunning graphics passing what we've seen in Quake 4 and does put quite a lot of strain on our test systems.
We actually expected to see the opposite to what we see here with the new 8800GTS having more of a jump at the higher resolution. We can see that it is ahead clearly at the lowest resolution but at the higher one it sits practically inline with the 7950GX2.
It of course is again able to come out on top when compared to the X1950XTX though at all resolutions.
Benchmarks - F.E.A.R.
Version and / or Patch Used: Unpatched
Timedemo or Level Used: Built-in Test
Developer Homepage: http://www.vugames.com
Product Homepage: http://www.whatisfear.com/us/
Buy It Here
F.E.A.R. (First Encounter Assault Recon) is an intense combat experience with rich atmosphere and a deeply intense paranormal storyline presented entirely in first person. Be the hero in your own spine-tingling epic of action, tension, and terror...and discover the true meaning of F.E.A.R.
F.E.A.R. has always been a game that ATI have dominated in. We can see though that nVidia can finally take top spot with it offering huge gains over the 7950GX2 and some serious gains over the X1950XTX.
Benchmarks - Quake 4
Version and / or Patch Used: 1.2
Timedemo or Level Used: HardwareOC Custom Demo
Developer Homepage: http://www.idsoftware.com
Product Homepage: http://www.quake4game.com
Buy It Here
Quake 4 is one of the latest new games to be added to our benchmark suite. It is based off the popular Doom 3 engine and as a result uses many of the features seen in Doom. However, Quake 4 graphics are more intensive than Doom 3 and should put more strain on different parts of the system.
We see a similar picture to what we saw with PREY but at the highest resolution the 8800GTS is a clear winner.
Benchmarks - High Quality AA and AF
High Quality AA and AF
Our high quality tests let us separate the men from the boys and the ladies from the girls. If the cards weren't struggling before they will start to now.
With HDR, AA and AF all enabled we can see that the 8800GTX continues to come out ahead with more then a 10% advantage.
Lost Coast shows huge advantages for the 8800GTS - nVidia's second top card against ATI's current top model.
Finally we leave with PREY which sees all the cards actually sitting together with no real difference between them.
With all benchmarks aside, since I have had the joy of having the 8800GTS for a little while now, I really took a chance to get into it and play some games on it for an extended amount of time. I don't game nearly as much as I use to but when I do fire up something, I like to make sure that it runs at the best of its ability.
Throwing on an install of Need for Speed Carbon and Battlefield 2142, you forget just how good PC games can look when compared to something like the Xbox 360. With both games maxed out internally with settings and 8x AA on running at the native 1920 x 1200 resolution of our Dell 24" LCD, the games were just so silky smooth. All the benchmark numbers in the world can tell you that this card kicks ass but the bottom line is until you're sitting there and playing a game at these kinds of settings, you don't know what the card is really made for.
With this kind of performance you would begin to wonder why the release of the more powerful GTX variant is even available. If gaming can be so good at 1920 x 1200 on this card, why would you want any more power? For starters, nVidia now offer a maximum AA level of 16. You're not going to be playing games silky smooth with everything maxed out and 16x AA. Secondly serious gamers are going to be using big monitors like the Dell 30" LCD which offers that sexy resolution of 2560 x 1600, so they are going to want to be venturing into GTX land. Even then, with GeForce 8800 GTX, performance isn't going to be perfect with all the AA and AF options maxed out so SLI comes into the picture. People have been rambling since the word go that there is CPU limitations problems with cards this powerful. Yes, there is if you're playing older games or lower resolutions. When you start moving higher up the resolution table and even higher up in the image quality table, you can force the load to be placed on the graphics card and make sure CPU limitation isn't an issue. Is your money going to waste if you buy an 8800GTS for a 17" LCD monitor? No! Well maybe, if you are playing an older game.
Coming to the particular card we here, what can we say about the MSI 8800GTS? They did make a nice box and the sticker on the cooler isn't all that bad. If you're under the impression that every card is being made by the persons who sticker is on the cooler, you're wrong. They are all getting done at a single location, though that doesn't mean that you should just go get the cheapest card available.
Package wise the card isn't bad - we wish MSI choose to include something more intensive then Serious Sam 2 but in all honesty look at what we have thrown at the 8800GTS today - F.E.A.R, PREY and more - the 8800GTS doesn't bat an eye lid, so what is exactly "intensive" at the moment? There really isn't much bad you can say about this card - launch price on a card that is able to perform as well as this is actually very good, bundle is a bit lacking but in all honesty this is happening more and more with graphics cards. Performance? Well you can't say anything bad about it. Availability? You should be able to load up your favorite e-tailer and order one now and expect it in the next few days. Price? As mentioned as far as we are concerned for a card of this caliber, not-to-shabby at all. The card ticks all the right boxes - low noise levels, excellent performance, strong pricing, availability and bucket loads of technology available which will keep you system up-to-date for sometime.
What's going to happen to the Radeon X1950XTX? Yes, it's cheaper then the 8800GTS, but not by a lot. And how could you not hold off for that next pay packet to throw it at the 8800GTS when it offers all this extra performance and all these extra features? It's clear that ATI will have to drop the price on the X1950XTX in the coming weeks to make their card more attractive. Plus, honestly, as much as we hate to say it but "fanboys" are going to want something until ATI's upcoming R600 GPU comes out. Which of course brings us to another point - is R600 going to be faster then the 8800GTX? We would think so. Why? ATI simply cannot afford to release a product four months after their competitor with what could only be the same performance or *shock*, worse. Start paying more attention to The Inquirer for the next few weeks because it's safe to say that if the R600 isn't performing up to the level of the 8800GTX, words like "delayed" will get leaked out all over the place.
The bottom line is that nVidia's GeForce 8800GTS kicks absolute ass!! It's going to be an extremely popular graphics card, with the type of performance it can offer. While people sit back and complain about how much it costs, the people who genuinely want the best PC gaming experience around are going to be buying the GeForce 8800 series without even thinking twice.
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