Original Link: http://www.anandtech.com/show/1889

NVIDIA 7800 GT Mini-Roundup

by Josh Venning on December 8, 2005 12:05 AM EST


Introduction

The NVIDIA GeForce 7800 series has been around for a while now and there's no denying that these are among the most powerful cards available right now. Only recently has ATI released a graphics card that could compete with the mighty 7800 GTX, and though the X1800 XT does compete, current prices still favor NVIDIA over ATI parts in terms of value. This is especially significant given the time of year, as sales, obviously, will be high for both companies, but it's value that will ultimately determine which parts the average consumer will buy.

As many already know, the 7800 GT was released by NVIDIA shortly after the 7800 GTX as a more cost-friendly version of the 7800, and while it's not as fast as the GTX, it's still a very powerful high-end card. We've enjoyed testing and playing a variety of games with this part, and we have a high regard for its capabilities. For those with monitors that are only able to display resolutions up to 1600x1200, the 7800 GT is more than enough to play just about any game at the highest settings possible with smooth results. For those with monitors that can handle higher resolutions, the 7800 GTX or ATI's X1800 XT might be needed to run certain games smoothly at those high settings, but that kind of elite performance is far from cheap.

We've seen some good quality mid-range parts from ATI and NVIDIA lately, like the X800 GTO and the 6800 GS, both of which offer good performance for around or under $200. The X800 GTO in particular at about $170 is an excellent graphics solution from ATI, especially given its overclocking potential. As Christmas gets closer, we will no doubt be seeing deals on other graphics cards as well, and we know many will be hoping for an upgrade under the tree this year.

NVIDIA's 7800 GT is a graphics card that stands out above the majority as being a top performer with competitive prices as well. Today, we'll be looking at three variations of this card: the ASUS Extreme N7800 GT, the XFX GeForce 7800 GT Overclocked, and the EVGA e-GeForce 7800 GT CO. Each of these companies have a reputation for quality, and we'll be comparing them to see how they rate to each other in different areas, such as performance and price. We will also be testing power loads and user-overclocking for each of these cards. The first of these 7800 GTs that we'll be looking at is the ASUS Extreme N7800 GT.



ASUS Extreme N7800 GT

ASUS is a company that is fairly well known for making quality parts, and their 7800 GT is no exception. There are, apparently, two versions of the ASUS Extreme N7800 GT and they are exactly the same except that the blue LED edition sports a different look than its competitors in this review. It's the only 7800 GT that we've looked at that has unique LED lighting in the heat sink, making the card glow a soft blue color. The heat sink itself is modified from the reference design by replacing parts of the sink with raised pins and ribs on the edges. This might mean more efficient heat dissipation for user- overclocking, and we were, in fact, able to get a high clock speed on this card when testing it, which we will talk about later in our review.

The box that the ASUS EN7800 GT came in was much larger than the boxes for the other two 7800 GTs, and we can't help but think that this is a bit wasteful. At any rate, the box, like the card, is impressive-looking, with a colorful image of a CG character's face wearing an intense expression above the card name (the “EXTREME” in the name adds to this effect).

The ASUS Extreme N7800 GT is factory clocked at reference clock speeds, with a core clock speed of 400MHz, and memory clock of 1.0GHz. This means that it won't be quite as fast as our other two cards, but as our performance tests will show, the card is anything but slow. The only thing extra bundled with the card aside from standard drivers and software was Project Snowblind, an older game whose graphics wouldn't even begin to tax the 7800 GT.



XFX GeForce 7800 GT Overclocked

XFX is another well known company that makes quality graphics cards, and their version of the 7800 GT comes with a factory overclock. The core clock is set at 450MHz and the memory clock at 1.05GHz, which should give it a slight increase in performance over the ASUS 7800 GT, and we will see by exactly how much a little later in the review.

As you can see, the XFX GeForce 7800 GT OC looks exactly the same as NVIDIA's reference 7800 GT with the standard gray cut-out over the HSF. The only difference is a tiny XFX logo in the head of the fan that's easy to miss if you aren't looking closely.

The box is the standard X-shaped box in which most XFX parts are shipped; smaller than the ASUS box, but just as frustrating (if not more) because of how difficult it is to get to the card inside without ripping it to pieces. The art on the box is interesting and the green is signature XFX color. Also, the card comes bundled with a few games: FarCry, X2 The Threat, and Moto GP2. We aren't sure about the other two games, but FarCry is still a decent game with graphics that the 7800 GT will run easily at the highest possible settings.



EVGA e-GeForce 7800 GT CO

The last card that we have in this 7800 GT mini-roundup is by EVGA, a company who we've consistently had good experiences in regard to their quality of hardware coupled with their low prices. We've talked before about their lifetime warranty in past articles and we still consider it to be one of, if not the best warranty policies for a VGA card right now. They are also well known along with XFX for their impressive factory overclocks, and the e- GeForce 7800 GT comes with a factory overclock of 470MHz core and 1.1GHz memory clock speeds.

The front of the card has the same general features of the reference 7800 GT, with the standard glossy black sticker on the heat sink with the EVGA logo on it.

The box for this card is the least interesting of the three, but we prefer it more over the others because of its simplicity and tasteful design. It's also easy to get into and has probably the least wasteful packaging of them all. There aren't any extra games bundled with the card, but one thing worth touching on is EVGA's warranty policy. Both EVGA and XFX have lifetime warranties, but EVGA's policy is slightly different than XFX's. The way it differs from XFX's, or any other graphics card manufacturers' that we know of, is the fact that EVGA will replace the card for any reason except deliberate physical damage. That means that if you accidentally damage your card by excessive overclocking, EVGA will replace it for the cost of shipping. This is why we feel that their warranty policy stands out. You can take a look at the full terms of their policy on their site. Now, let's talk about overclocking.



Overclocking/Power Load

We've overclocked a few 7800 GTs in the past, with positive results, and we put each of these three cards to the test for this review. It is important for us to note here that overclocking any graphics card over the factory clock can be hazardous to the card, and also, the results of these tests are subjective. Many times, two cards of the exact same brand and model will have different results when overclocking, but these tests are to give us a general idea of each card's overclocking abilities.

Something that we want to touch on briefly is the issue of scaling frequencies for the 7800, which we first saw when overclocking the 7800 GTX. To recap, because of the way clock frequencies scale for the 7800 GT and GTX, increases in core clock speeds don't always represent actual increases in performance. There are "plateaus" where several consecutive clock speeds (i.e. 468, 469, 470MHz) yield nearly exactly the same performance, and then we see a sudden step up in performance between certain frequencies (i.e. 477MHz, 478MHz ) to create a "stair-like" graph when visualizing the performance scaling. You can take a look at a similar graph and some information about this from a past article here.

To give you an idea of how we overclock our cards beyond their factory speeds, we first use coolbits to detect optimal settings for each card. Then we loop some benchmarks, and lower the clock speeds if we see any graphical tearing or artifacts. A good thing about NVIDIA's overclocking tool is that it will keep the card fairly safe from damage caused by attempting to overclock it too high. We simply use trial and error, raising or lowering the core and memory clock speeds until we find settings that offer the maximum performance while running the tests completely stable.

When we overclocked the ASUS EN7800 GT, which is clocked at reference speeds (400MHz/1.0GHz), we find that it clocks up to 468MHz core and 1.2GHz memory. The XFX 7800 GT OC overclocked to 462MHz and 1.2GHz, not much higher than its own factory overclock. The EVGA e-GeForce 7800 GT had a fairly high overclock, considering that it already came factory OC'ed pretty high: 479MHz core and 1.22GHz memory clock. We ran some Splinter Cell benchmarks to see what kind of framerates would result at the different clock speeds, and here they are for your reference.

Splinter Cell Performance

Splinter Cell 4xAA Performance

Power Load

To test the power load of the card, we measure the total watt usage of our test computer at the wall outlet, recording the power usage of our system in two different states. The first state is with the card installed and the computer is idle, and the second is during intensive performance tests (looped Splinter Cell benchmarks). This way, we are able to get a general idea of how the power usage varies between cards.

Power Consumption

Power Consumption

As you can see, the ASUS 7800 GT has the lowest power consumption of the three, which (because of the fact that it's clocked lower than the other two) is understandable. The EVGA 7800 GT CO has the highest load power draw here, which also makes sense given its high factory overclock.



Test Setup/Performance Tests

We ran a number of performance tests with these cards to give us a good idea of how well they perform relative to each other. This lets us see first-hand the actual difference between a reference factory clocked and factory overclocked card. This means that we should see the ASUS numbers slightly lower than XFX's or EVGA's. We tested three games at 1600x1200 resolution with and without AA enabled. The games that we used (Battlefield 2, Quake 4, and Halflife 2: Lost Coast) were chosen because they represent a wide range of game engines. This is the test system that we used:

NVIDIA nForce 4 motherboard
AMD Athlon 64 FX-55 2.6 GHz Processor
1 GB OCZ 2:2:2:6 DDR400 RAM
Seagate 7200.7 120 GB Hard Drive
OCZ 600 W PowerStream Power Supply

Battlefield 2 Performance

Battlefield 2 Performance 4xAA

Quake 4 Performance

Quake 4 Performance 4xAA

Halflife 2: Lost Coast Performance

Halflife 2: Lost Coast Performance 4xAA

You can see that in each of these games, the tests show how there isn't a great performance difference between these three cards. We find that the XFX 7800 GT OC and the EVGA 7800 GT CO show framerates that only differ for the most part by a frame or two. This is because even though they are clocked at different speeds, they are close enough to each other to fall in the same scaling frequency "plateau" that we mentioned earlier.

Essentially, what we see in these tests is that the difference in performance between a 7800 GT clocked at reference speeds and factory overclocked to 470MHz/1.1GHz or 450MHz/1.05GHz isn't enough to affect gameplay in a significant way. It's true that you can get a few fps higher in a game with an overclock like this, but it hardly ever makes it worth paying extra money for a card that's factory overclocked, especially when you can easily clock it yourself as high as or even higher than any other card out there. Interestingly though, in the case of these three 7800 GT's, the lowest clocked card (ASUS EN7800 GT) is also the highest priced, and the highest clocked card (EVGA e-GeForce 7800 GT) is the lowest price of the three.



Final Words

We really can't say enough about the 7800 GT. It has proven itself over and over as a top performer among the ranks of 3d graphics solutions. Anyone lucky enough to own one of these cards will attest to its capability of handling any of the most demanding games out now with style. The 7800 GT is still one of the best choices available for those with monitors limited to resolutions of 1600x1200 or lower, and seeing as this is still the case for the majority of PC gamers, sales for the 7800 GT will be high this holiday season.

ATI's X1800 XL does offer comparable performance to the 7800 GT, and is probably its main competition right now in the graphics card market. Prices have been dropping lately for certain ATI products, which is a good thing, and you can find the X1800 XL for as little as $360 at the time of this writing. However, the 7800 GT can be found for as little as $300 right now, and given that the 7800 GT does in fact out-perform the X1800 XL (more or less depending on the game) , the 7800 GT is clearly the better choice. This isn't to say that the X1800 XL is not an excellent video card in its own merit, and we are pleased to see this ATI part at more reasonable prices, given the relatively brief time that it's been available for purchase.

Our performance tests have shown that each of these three 7800 GT's do very well in handling the graphical demands of a variety of games. It can be a difficult thing to sort out where different graphics cards fall performance-wise when looking for an upgrade. It makes it even harder when you have differences in clock speeds between different manufacturer versions of cards of the same type. Many times, a card that is billed as "faster" because of a factory overclock isn't really that much faster as what the manufacturer of the card would have you believe. This is especially true for NVIDIA's 7800 series, given the confusion surrounding the clock scaling frequencies that we've seen in the past.

Sorting out these little differences is enough to give anyone migraines, especially those not very familiar with gaming hardware looking for an upgrade or a gift for someone else. We can say with all confidence that all of these three 7800 GTs are good quality and would please any PC gamer with their performance. That said, these cards are not the same, so let's talk about how they differ for a moment.

Perhaps the biggest factor in distinguishing these cards is their price. The EVGA 7800 GT CO is the cheapest at $300, and the XFX GT is second at $320. The (standard) ASUS 7800 GT is about $380, which doesn't make much sense to us given that it is technically the slowest of these three cards. This fact, in addition to the fact that ASUS's warranty policy is the worst of the three companies (two years limited warranty from the date of purchase), puts the ASUS Extreme N7800 GT at the lowest on our list of 7800 GTs to recommend. The XFX and EVGA GTs are both very close to each other in terms of value, as they are nearly identical in performance and are also relatively close in price.

We would recommend either of these over the ASUS 7800 GT; however, EVGA's exceptional warranty policy, as well as the lower price, puts their e-GeForce 7800 GT slightly higher, at the top of our list. All the same, we're giving both the XFX GeForce 7800 GT Overclocked and the EVGA e-GeForce 7800 GT our editor's choice award.

To the EVGA e-GeForce 7800 GT and the XFX GeForce 7800 GT Overclocked for excellence in performance and value.

We recommend staying as far away as possible from the blue LED edition of the ASUS EN7800 GT, as the current price of $430 is much too high for a 7800 GT, especially considering that it's only clocked at reference speeds. The extra $150 apparently only gets you a slightly modified heat sink fan and some pretty blue lights on your card. The regular version of the ASUS EN7800 GT offers the same performance at $380, so if you must have an ASUS 7800 GT, for pity's sake, choose this one, but we don't see any reason to go with either of these over the XFX or EVGA 7800 GTs.

The 7800 GT is undeniably a high-end graphics solution, and the prices reflect this, so not everyone can afford it, unfortunately. But for those who can or who are lucky enough to receive one as a gift this holiday season, count your blessings and be sure to put it to good use (we recommend Call of Duty 2, Battlefield 2, Black and White 2, Quake 4, F.E.A.R, etc.). Our congratulations to EVGA and XFX, as well as NVIDIA, for providing us with this excellent card.

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