Previous generations of Nvidia GPUs (AMD’s, too) presented buyers with a difficult choice: You could get great 3D performance for gaming or you could offload high-definition video decoding from the host CPU, but you couldn’t have both. Nvidia’s 8800 GT not only changes that situation, it does so at a competitive price.
The 8800 GT delivers stronger 3D performance than the industry’s previous sweet spot (the 8800 GTS with a 320MB frame buffer), it delivers more memory than that board, and it clubs AMD’s far-more expensive Radeon HD 2900 XT over the head for good measure (although AMD has responded with the Radeon HD 3870, see page 80). Nvidia managed to cram 754 million transistors into this beast thanks to a die shrink and a 65nm fabrication process (previous 8800-series GPUs were manufactured using a 90nm process).
The new part packs 112 stream processors, 512MB of GDDR3 memory, and a 256-bit memory interface into a GPU that requires a single-slot cooler (the fan howls like a banshee on startup but goes whisper-quiet as soon as Windows launches). Reference-design boards will run their cores at 600MHz and their memory at 900MHz; EVGA pumps these numbers to 700MHz and a cool 1GHz, respectively. The company also commands a premium price for the speed boost: While the average price for more typical boards was running around $270, this SSC Edition was fetching $330 at press time.
As mentioned above, the new GPU is capable of offloading the entire HD decode process from the host CPU, and it also provides HDCP decryption on both DVI links. This latter feature renders the chip capable of displaying Blu-ray and HD DVD movies at the native resolution of a 30-inch LCD. It’s also compliant with PCI Express 2.0 (see the White Paper on page 72 for more details). We didn’t test this card in that type of motherboard—no one’s shipping one in an SLI configuration just yet—but the new architecture offers double the bandwidth of PCI Express 1.1 (8GB/s in each direction).
AMD moved to GDDR4 memory several iterations back, but Nvidia continues to stick with GDDR3—and the decision doesn’t seem to be costing its cards anything in terms of performance. Interestingly, AMD has retreated from its 512-bit memory interface, building a 256-bit interface into the 3870 (same as the 8800 GT). But there are still two other features that could hold the 8800 GT back when it comes to competing with AMD’s Radeon 3870: First, these cards have only one SLI connector. Nvidia’s other cards, from the 8800 GTS on up, have two SLI connectors, even though only one of them is used in dual-card mode. Why worry about it? Nvidia will inevitably debut an SLI version that enables you to run more than two GPUs on one motherboard (remember quad SLI?), and that’s why the other cards have two SLI connectors. You’ll never be able to run more than two 8800 GTs in one box.
The other advantage AMD will soon offer is the ability to run more than one monitor in CrossFire mode, although that will likely require AMD’s new RD790 chipset (which hasn’t been released). Nvidia’s SLI system shuts off the second monitor when running in SLI mode (as does the current version of CrossFire).
While we’re looking at the future, we should also consider the fact that, unlike the Radeon HD 3870, the 8800 GT does not support Microsoft’s Direct3D 10.1 and Shader Model 4.1. Given the tepid response that most developers have given Windows Vista, and Microsoft’s continued insistence on tying DX10’s fortunes to its new OS, we don’t think this shortcoming matters much at all.
It’s been a long time since we’ve been able to unabashedly recommend a videocard priced this low. We just couldn’t get excited about the anemic 8800 GTS; and until now, AMD has had nothing meaty to offer. But the 8800 GT is an absolutely fantastic value, delivering great gaming performance and features that can’t be found in Nvidia’s higher-end boards. If you can swing the price, you’ll get a better gaming experience from a GeForce 8800 GTX or an Ultra (although we don’t think the latter is worth its premium); but if you’re rolling with a lower budget, the 8800 GT is a slam-dunk winner.
Scorching gaming performance; complete solution for HD-video decoding; fabulous price.
Only one SLI connector; no support for DX10.1.
|Windows XP (DirectX 9) |
|EVGA E-GeForce 8800 GT SSC ||ASUS EAH3870 |
(Radeon HD 3870)
|EVGA E-GeForce 8800 GT SSC in SLI |
|3DMark06 Game 1 (FPS)||30.0||24.6||47.3|
|3DMark06 Game 2 (FPS)||22.9||21.3||37.2|
|World in Conflict (FPS)||32.0||22.0||38.0|
|Lost Planet (FPS)||34.3||23.4||48.8|
|Windows Vista (DirectX 10) |
|EVGA E-GeForce 8800 GT SSC||ASUS EAH3870 |
(Radeon HD 3870)
|EVGA E-GeForce 8800 GT SSC in SLI|
|3DMark06 Game 1 (FPS)||28.0||24.0||46.9|
|3DMark06 Game 2 (FPS)||22.3||21.3||37.7|
|World in Conflict (FPS)||20.0||23.0||23.0|
|Lost Planet (FPS)||22.0||24.2||35.3|
|Best single-GPU score bolded. AMD-based cards tested with an Intel D975BX2 motherboard; Nvidia-based cards tested with an EVGA 680i SLI motherboard. Intel 2.93GHz Core 2 Extreme X6800 CPUs and 2GB of Corsair DDR RAM used in both scenarios. Benchmarks performed at 1920x1200 resolution on ViewSonic VP2330wb monitors.|
|Stock GeForce 8800 GT ||EVGA E-GeForce 8800 GT SSC||Stock Radeon HD 3870|
|Stream Processors ||112||112||320 |
|Frame Buffer||512MB GDDR3||512MB GDDR3||512MB GDDR4|
|Core Clock Speed||600MHz||700MHz||775MHz |
|Memory Clock Speed||900MHz||1GHz||1.125GHz |
|Memory Interface||256-bit||256-bit ||256-bit |