Original Link: http://www.anandtech.com/show/1926



Introduction

There are a couple of interesting developments in this launch that we would like to take the time to point out first. It is well worth noting that the 7300 GS will not launch first in the USA. We recently saw an Asia first launch from ATI as well, and NVIDIA cites the Chinese New Year as their reason for shifting things around. Parts aren't slated to start showing up state-side for a couple of weeks, and while we aren't getting the same style of hard launch that we are used to seeing, we will certainly be checking to make sure that we can find parts in Asian markets.

The "hard" launch is something that we don't want to let slip into oblivion. While on this side of the world, we essentially have a paper launch, yet we are at least thankful that parts will be available somewhere (China, Korea, Hong Kong, Japan). The logical end to the push for hard launches will eventually build to the point where we will want to see global availability at launch, but managing logistics on that level is out of reach for now. Generally, with a US hard launch, we get availability where the largest demand is centered. If NVIDIA really thinks that this part will sell amazingly well in Asia, then maybe launching there first is the right thing to do. At the same time, with the US having enjoyed the benefit of NVIDIA hard launches for so long, this move leaves us scratching our heads.

At the same time, we were just notified of this launch yesterday and we don't yet have parts to test. These two factors contribute to the reason why we are bringing out this brief overview article rather than an in-depth investigation. Usually, even if a part is launching elsewhere, we will have something to test, but budget parts like this can often slide under the radar. NVIDIA attributed the fact that they opted not to seed reviewers with cards to the common lack luster reviews for extreme budget hardware. While it is true that it's easier to get really excited about the "bigger, better, faster" of the high end market, the budget segment is one of the absolute most important. For this reason, either we must be a little concerned about the lack of importance placed on this chip or we must start to worry that there are other reasons why we don't have parts and heard about the card so late.

Why are good cheap cards necessary? Because many game developers write software for the least common denominator. The worst thing for gaming out right now is the poor feature set (and huge market share) of Intel's integrated graphics. When game developers can completely leave behind older techniques and move on to completely shader driven architectures featuring full floating point content, we will truly start to see the potential of programmable hardware mature. Even now, most developers are simply pasting some "cool effects" into games written around stale fundamental graphics architectures and most current HDR lighting is a hack that works around not having HDR artwork.

Fast, feature rich, and cheap are the three ingredients necessary for ATI and NVIDIA to help get game developers excited about pushing the limits of their craft. After all, no one wants to spend time pouring their heart and soul into something if the majority of people who buy it won't get the full experience. And here's to cards like the 7300 GS continuing the trend of raising the bar for budget parts. Now all we really need is for Intel to care about putting performance and quality into their graphics hardware.

We are quite interested in getting our hands on the GeForce 7300 GS in order to put it through its paces and see how NVIDIA's newest sub $100 part fairs. We are expecting some pretty good things as the new part combines the features of the 7 series parts at a nice low price point. The major upgrade from the 6200 series is that this part supports floating point framebuffer blends (the 6200 series was the only line of 6 series parts not to support this feature). FP16 framebuffer blends are becoming increasingly attractive to game developers who want to implement HDR lighting, and the 128 to 256 MB of RAM the 7300 GS will carry on board is plenty.

Let's take a look at what else the new 7 series part will have to offer.



What's Under the Hood?

As the title of the article implies, the GeForce 7300 is NVIDIA's very first shipping 90nm part. In order to come out with the 7800 series as early as they did, NVIDIA didn't want to try anything tricky like pushing the process envelope and moving to 90nm. Sticking with the 110nm process proved to be a good decision for NVIDIA this time around. With TSMC bringing out their 80nm process and NVIDIA just now starting to manufacture 90nm parts, it will be interesting to see who takes the next step towards smaller transistors. ATI has been pretty aggressive recently, but the 80nm process should be a fairly simple transition (as far as fabrication process transitions go), so it could go either way.

Aside from transistors with 90nm gate lengths and FP16 framebuffer blending, the 7300 will also carry NVIDIA's TurboCache technology. With relatively few vertex shaders, pixel shaders, and render outputs, a little die area can afford to be spent on beefing up caches to allow for the efficient use of higher latency system memory. This allows NVIDIA to "support" games that require more RAM than is physically present on the card. With the GeForce 7300 sporting 128MB of RAM, TurboCache allows games to treat the graphics subsystem like it has 256MB of RAM. Likewise, the 256MB version of the 7300 will look like it has a 512MB framebuffer to software.

In addition to allowing programs that require more graphics memory to run efficiently, NVIDIA is also able to cut the bandwidth to graphics memory down without taking a large performance hit. The bandwidth gained through TurboCache augments the bandwidth of onboard memory and should provide some good speed advantages for low end parts. The 128MB version of the 7300 will have a 64-bit memory bus, which is actually on the high end for TurboCache parts. It is likely that the extra RAM and onboard memory bandwidth boost in this generation of TurboCache parts is there to enable the use of memory intensive HDR features (like the FP16 blend absent from 6200 parts).

The rest of the NV4x/G70 features will also come along with this new budget part without exception. This includes NVIDIA's PureVideo features for clean DVD viewing and efficient playback of HD content, and the possibility of SLI in the future. SLI is not part of the 7300 series at launch, but, if NVIDIA's track record is any indication, we can all but guarantee SLI support. Shader Model 3 is of course supported, but with fewer pipelines, the efficiency of high end features like looping and conditional rendering will not be optimal. We should also see more efficient handling of math intensive shaders due to the 7 series ability to handle more Multiply-Adds per clock than the 6 series. Here's the full breakdown of what the GeForce 7300 brings to the table.

Budget Card Features
  Radeon X1300 GeForce 6200TC GeForce 7300
Vertex Pipelines 2 3 3
Pixel Pipelines 4 4 4
Render Outputs 4 2 2
Core Clock Speed 450 350 550
Memory Clock Speed 500 350 350
Memory Size 256-512MB 16-64MB 128-256MB
Memory Bandwidth 64-128bit 32-64bit 64bit
GPU Video Decode yes yes yes
FP16 Filter no yes yes
FP16 Blend yes no yes


Clearly, the 7300 will be able to win out over the 6200 TC in any flavor, but we will need to wait until we get our hands on a part to know exactly what flavors of X1300 it will match up against. Listed in our table is our best guess match (the vanilla X1300), but we'll try to test as many flavors as we can when we are able to do a performance comparison.

For now, we can at least take comfort in the fact that a >50% increase in core clock speed, increased memory size and bandwidth, and higher level of architectural efficiency over the 6200 TC will help make the new GeForce 7300 very competitive at a <$100 price point. While it may not get everyone's blood boiling, the 7300 is not just an exciting part for the budget market, but it will help raise the bar for the minimum target that game developers will be shooting for over the next couple of years.

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