New toys arrive in the Lab as frequently as political scandals erupt in Washington, D.C., a phenomenon that renders the Maximum PC staff a fickle, jaded bunch. But in the absence of any competition from AT—er, AMD—we remain intrigued by videocards based on Nvidia’s 8800 series GPUs. And so this month, we take a close look at EVGA’s e-GeForce 8800 GTS.
The 8800 GTS is the less powerful of the two DirectX 10 GPUs that Nvidia introduced last November, but we need to put the phrase “less powerful” in context because both parts are based on the same G80 chip. In other words, the 8800 GTS is basically a hobbled 8800 GTX: It offers 96 shader processors (floating-point units that Nvidia refers to as “stream processors”), compared to the GTX’s 128; 640MB of memory, compared to the GTX’s 768MB frame buffer; a 320-bit memory interface, compared to the GTX’s 384-bit interface; and 20 rasterizers, compared to 24 on the GTX.
The 8800 GTS also runs at slower clock speeds than its pricier sibling: The GPU on the card EVGA sent us was clocked at 513MHz, compared to 500MHz stock, but the memory was ever-so-slightly underclocked at 792MHz, compared to 800MHz stock. Compare these specs to the GTX’s 575MHz core and 800MHz memory. And if you’re interested in dropping an HD-DVD or Blu-ray drive into your rig, EVGA’s implementation includes the HDCP CryptoROM that Nvidia’s NVIO chip needs to display Hollywood movies at their full resolution.
The upside to the 8800 GTS’s downsized speeds and feeds is a significantly lower price tag compared to cards based on the 8800 GTX. At press time, the e-GeForce 8800 GTS was selling for $440 before taking a mail-in rebate into account. The least-expensive 8800 GTX board we could find, meanwhile, was fetching a princely $610. But if you want a videocard that’s capable of delivering DirectX 10 and Shader Model 4.0, there’s currently nothing cheaper than 8800 GTS-based products.
If you’re willing to stick with DirectX 9 games—and who’s to argue, since currently there aren’t any DX10 games—the dual-GPU 7950 GX2 is significantly faster. But it looks as though these cards are not long for this Earth: We found only three SKUs in stock at New Egg as we were going to press—and all three were priced higher than cards based on the 8800 GTS. And, as with all of Nvidia’s 7 series GPUs, the 7950 GX2 is incapable of performing antialiasing and high-dynamic-range lighting at the same time.
If you are willing to limit yourself to DX9, on the other hand, boards based on AT—, ahem, AMD’s ATI Radeon X1950 XTX—also outperform the 8800 GTS. These cards can do AA and HDR at the same time, and some vendors are selling them for less than 8800 GTS cards. But it bears repeating that the X1950 XTX is incompatible with DX10 and Shader Model 4.0, and then there’s the whole PITA factor of CrossFire and its external dongle to consider, should you decide to build a dual-GPU rig.
Returning to the matter at hand, the e-GeForce 8800 GTS is no slouch: It delivered Quake 4 scores of 65.5fps at 1920x1200 resolution, with 4x antialiasing and 16x anisotropic filtering enabled. While that’s nearly 33fps slower than the tonier 8800 GTX-based Asus card we reviewed in January, running two of EVGA’s cards in SLI boosted our Quake 4 benchmark to 111fps—12.6fps faster than a single GTX. We obtained similar results with our 3DMark06, Company of Heroes, and FEAR benchmarks. The 8800 GTS is a helluva GPU, but its DirectX 10 performance—to paraphrase former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld—remains an unknowable unknown.
+ STALAG 17: Cheapest DX10 videocard on the market; plus, AA and HDR—at the same time!
- ABU GHRAIB: Expensive, and in the absence of DX10, no one really knows how fast it will actually be.