Original Link: http://www.anandtech.com/show/2189

Factory Overclocked 8800 Roundup

by Derek Wilson on March 12, 2007 12:05 AM EST


Shortly after the launch of the GeForce 8 Series by NVIDIA, we released our first roundup of retail 8800 cards. At launch, none of these cards shipped with clock speeds that differed from the NVIDIA recommended base line. As a result, we were left with user overclocking, price, power, heat, and noise as the basis on which to recommend a card. With the high variability inherent in user overclocking, price is a major factor in similarly clocked hardware.

We recently explored the impact of user overclocking at a deeper level in our article on OCZ's entry into the high end graphics market. As readers have pointed out, the story isn't finished there either, as investigating the requested and actual clock speed with Riva Tuner shows some interesting links between core and shader clock speed. The focus of today will be on factory overclocked hardware with their core, shader and memory clock speeds set in the BIOS and guaranteed by the vendor.

The major advantage of factory overclocked parts is that they guarantee higher performance than the stock hardware. The advantage to the end user is that there is no tweaking necessary and there is no possibility that the card won't run at the advertised speed -- if instabilities do occur, you can send a card back for a replacement. Of course, manufacturers can take advantage of this and charge a premium for factory overclocked hardware. Among the questions we would like to answer today are: who makes the fastest 8800 available, and who provides the most value per dollar in overclocked 8800 series hardware?

Our roundup features four different manufacturers that currently provide factory overclocked parts. While we sent out requests for cards to various manufacturers, only four responded and two of these provided both GTX and 640MB GTS hardware. Overclocked 320MB GTS cards have also come out, but we are planning a separate roundup for these (both factory overclocked and stock) in the near future.

BFG GeForce 8800 GTX and GTS OC

BFG this week announced that they will be launching new line of overclocked 8800 cards, OC2, which reach beyond the speeds we tested with the OC models. While we would have loved to include these faster models, the impending launch of newer hardware has inspired us to tie up loose ends on currently available products in a timely fashion.

BFG provided us with overclocked models of both their GTX and GTS hardware. While not the most aggressively clocked parts on the market, we will still get higher than stock performance. Combine this with the fact that the BFG cards have stock cooling and we will have to rely on price to recommend these over other overclocked 8800 cards.

With either of these two options, customers will be treated to a BFG shirt as well. The GTX comes in at about $580, which is only slightly higher in price than stock 8800 GTX hardware. With the GTS, we can expect to pay about $410 which is also very nearly stock price.

Sparkle Calibre P880+ OC Edition

This card is a revised version of the one we tested originally. Sparkle has pumped up the clock speeds and again includes a thermoelectric cooler by MACS Technology to assist in providing quiet and efficient cooling. This version of the card also includes a heat spreader that covers the NVIO flipchip and RAM modules.

We recently looked a TEC CPU cooler and explained a bit about how these type of devices work. The basic idea is that electricity can be used to move heat from one material to another creating a cooler with a hot side and a cold side. The cold side is placed on the component to be cooled while some mechanism to dissipate heat (usually a heatsink and fan) is applied to the hot side.

This card has an aggressive core clock and maintains good temperatures while running with little noise even when the fans spin up. On the downside we see higher power consumption from this card due to the TEC device. A separate 4-pin Molex power connector is required to run the added cooling, and while this does keep the chip cool and quiet, power is already a concern with the 8800 GTX.

As for price, this is a difficult card to find. We've seen listings putting it between $700 and $800 USD at online retailers around the world, though we have yet to find it anywhere in North America.

EVGA e-GeForce 8800 GTX and GTS ACS3

EVGA's offerings are the most aggressively clocked cards we have with high core, shader and memory speeds. Increasing each of these clocks help universally boost performance and the end results is that EVGA offers the fastest factory clocked 8 Series graphics cards currently available.

While the fan is the same as stock, the heatsink is EVGA's ACS3 design. Potential cooling performance is nowhere near what Sparkle has to offer through its Calibre P880+ OC Edition, but at least it does perform better than the stock 8 Series HSF.

The HSF, aside from some cooling benefit, adds a nice hefty feel to the card. The solid feeling really adds to the impression of physical value, which is a nice comfort when spending so much on a single component. At the same time it is worth mentioning this isn't a card you want to forget to screw down tightly when installing.

The GTX version of the ACS3 is about $650, whereas the GTS comes in at $450. The price premium on the GTX version is very large, while the additional cost for the GTS is more manageable.

XFX GeForce 8800 GTX XXX

While XFX also makes a XXX version of their GTS, they only sent us their overclocked GTX card. This is another entry with stock cooling like BFG's cards, but unlike BFG the clock speeds on the XFX card are quite competitive with EVGA.

Because of the high clock speeds combined with the stock cooling solution, we will want to make sure that stability isn't an issue. Overall this is a very fast card in an inconspicuous package, which is nice if you don't care about paying extra for a flashy package. While not as expensive as the EVGA GTX, the XFX is still pricy at about $620.

Clock Speeds and Test Setup

While none of these cards come clocked at the speeds we were able to achieve on our own, we do see a fairly good range of settings. Here's a comparison of core, shader and memory clock speeds for our GTX parts.

GeForce 8800 GTX Specifications
  Core clock Shader Clock Memory clock Price (USD)
Stock NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GTX 575 1350 1800 550
BFG GeForce 8800 GTX OC 600 1400 1800 580
EVGA e-GeForce 8800 GTX KO ACS3 626 1450 2000 650
Sparkle Calibre P880+ OC Edition 630 1350 1960 ~700+
XFX GeForce 8800 GTX XXX 630 1350 2000 620

The EVGA card has the clear advantage, while BFG has a much more modest speed bump. Certainly BFG's recently announced OC2 cards will compete more directly with the ACS3 line, but we won't really know what to expect there until we get hardware. As for our GTS parts, here's the lineup.

GeForce 8800 GTS Specifications
  Core clock Shader Clock Memory clock Price (USD)
Stock NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GTS 500 1200 1600 400
BFG GeForce 8800 GTS OC 550 1300 1600 410
EVGA e-GeForce 8800 GTS KO ACS3 580 1400 1700 450

We see a similar picture here that we did with our GTX cards. Here are the details of the rest of the hardware in our test system.

System Test Configuration
CPU: Intel Core 2 Extreme X6800 (2.93GHz/4MB)
Motherboard: EVGA nForce 680i SLI
Chipset: NVIDIA nForce 680i SLI
Chipset Drivers: NVIDIA nForce 9.35
Hard Disk: Seagate 7200.7 160GB SATA
Memory: Corsair XMS2 DDR2-800 4-4-4-12 (1GB x 2)
Video Card: Various
Video Drivers: ATI Catalyst 7.1
NVIDIA ForceWare 97.92 (G80)
Desktop Resolution: 2560 x 1600 - 32-bit @ 60Hz
OS: Windows XP Professional SP2

Our tests will include a comparison of six different games running under each of these cards out of the box. Rather than looking at user overclocking, which can vary quite a bit from card to card event when looking at only one manufacturer, we are focusing on testing value inherent in purchasing one of these cards: the factory set clock speeds.

Battlefield 2 Performance

With Battlefield 2, with or without AA enabled, we don't get any added value from our overclocked 8800 GTX parts. In-game framerate is locked at 100 fps, and we don't see a significant difference in frame rate between any of our GTX cards at any resolution under 2560x1600 with 4xAA enabled.

As for the GTS, the BFG and EVGA overclocked cards were able to provide a little more benefit, especially at higher resolutions. The power of the 8800 series of cards is already plenty for this game, and without AA enabled even the GTS cards performed nearly as well as the GTX cards up to 1920x1200.

Battlefield 2 Performance

Battlefield 2 Performance

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion Performance

While we didn't see much differentiation between overclocked cards under BF2, Oblivion provides us with another difficulty. Because we must use FRAPS to benchmark this game while running though a forest, we can see much larger variations in framerate between test runs than in other games. The variation in our data causes some of our overclocked cards to have overlapping results in spite of their clock speed differences.

Because of this, it isn't as easy to fully determine how these overclocked cards compare to each other. Certainly, we can expect higher clocked cards to provide higher average framerates, but we are only able to give a general range on performance of overclocked 8800 cards here.

All of our overclocked GTX cards are able to play Oblivion well even at 2560x1600. On the GTS side, the EVGA GTS does provide quite a bit of added value over the stock and BFG hardware. With something like a 10 to 15 percent advantage in the 20 to 30 fps range, the added framerate here will impact gameplay much more than in games that consistently average much higher framerates.

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion Performance

F.E.A.R. Performance

We see a larger impact on performance due to overclocking under FEAR than in BF2, and more consistent results than in Oblivion. Once again though, the fastest GTX card is only 7 to 8 percent faster than stock, while the fastest GTS is 12 to 13 percent faster than stock.

F.E.A.R. Performance

F.E.A.R. Performance

Half-Life 2: Episode One Performance

Half-Life 2 reveals more of the same, with the overclocked GTS performance improvements leading that of the GTX cards.

Half-Life 2: Episode One Performance

Half-Life 2: Episode One Performance

Prey Performance

Prey is the only OpenGL game we are testing today. There aren't any surprises here, as performance characteristics for Prey are similar to the previous titles we've explored. The EVGA 8800 GTS ACS3 provides a large boost over stock performance, narrowing the gap between the 8800 GTS and GTX by more than 50%. At the same time, while the overclocked GTX cards do provide a benefit, their impact is marginal even at high resolutions with AA enabled, and especially with already very high frame rates.

It is possible with the advent of DX10 games that we may see more benefit inherent in 8800 GTX overclocking, but there just isn't a way we can test this right now. We will certainly look at this facet of performance in the future when DX10 titles actually begin shipping.

Prey Performance

Prey Performance

Rainbow Six: Vegas Performance

Rainbow Six is similar to Oblivion in that it must be tested using FRAPS. Unlike our Oblivion test, we benchmark an in-game cut scene. This provides much better repeatability than the Oblivion test, and is therefore more reliable when performance differences are minimal. In addition, this is one of the first Unreal Engine 3 games and it makes very heavy use of pixel and vertex shaders.

We still see about 8 percent improvement between stock 8800 GTX hardware and the highest clocked card we have, the EVGA e-GeForce 8800 GTX ACS3. This is in contrast to the over 14 percent improvement the EVGA e-GeForce 8800 GTS ACS3 offers over the stock GTS. With more aggressive graphics programming than in some of our other titles, we still see the same pattern.

Rainbow Six Vegas Performance

Power, Heat and Noise

Aside from performance, the other concerns that follow along with factory overclocked hardware relate to power, heat, and noise. It is important to know if the higher clock speeds will affect any of these aspects of this already demanding technology. We know that Sparkle's Calibre P880+ OC Edition will require more power to run its thermoelectric cooler, but will we get any real benefit out of it? Is EVGA's ACS3 cooling system worth it? First let's look at power draw.

Idle Power

Load Power

As we would expect, the GTS hardware draws less power than GTX hardware. At idle, there aren't any huge differences with the exception of the Calibre card. This part draws between 20W and 30W more than the other 8800 GTX cards, which seems to be a reasonable amount for moderate thermoelectric cooling. Under load we see similar characteristics. Higher clock speeds do seem to indicate higher power draw, but the difference is not huge.

Idle Temp

Load Temp

In terms of heat, the Calibre card tops the competition both at idle and under load. This is by far the coolest card of all we tested, although the lower clock speeds likely help. While EVGA's ACS3 system does provide a slight cooling advantage, it isn't huge. The external metal shroud does seem to add a slight benefit, but it seems that the system does more to improve the cool-factor of the cards' appearance rather than physical temperature. At the same time, we are glad to see manufacturers trying new things, and providing a heatspreader on the back of the card is a good move as well.

Idle Noise

Max Noise

Idle noise was taken after boot, and our max noise number is determined using nTune (or a BIOS flash) to enable the fan to run at full speed at idle. In our environment, fan speed never reached 100% as the card never got hot enough to require it. However, inside a hot case or in a warmer climate, it isn't unreasonable to expect cards to spin all the way up.

At idle, the noise level of most of the cards is within 1 dB of the rest. This means that most of us would be unable to identify an audible difference in volume. Under load, we have nearly the same result, with the clear exception of the Calibre card. With a 10 dB difference, most people would perceive this as at least half the loudness of the other cards. Considering this provides more efficient cooling as well, we are duly impressed with Sparkle's hardware (especially after the poor performance of our early P880+ sample in these areas shortly after the G80 launch).

Final Words

While all of the factory overclocked NVIDIA cards managed to offer more value than stock hardware, some will provide more use for certain users than others. For those who want the highest out-of-box performance out there EVGA's E-GeForce 8800 ACS3 is the cream of the crop. While its HSF is only slightly modified from the reference design and doesn't offer an incredible amount of extra cooling, the black metal fan shroud really does look cool. The down side is that this is one of the most expensive cards that we looked at today.

Readers interested in the card with the best cooling will have no other option but Sparkle's Calibre P880+ OC edition, which makes use of MACS Technology's thermoelectric cooler. The down side of this card is that the TEC draws 20W to 30W more power than the other 8800 GTX cards and the heatsink feels a little flimsy. In spite of the fact that this card offers the best cooling it doesn't come with the highest clock speeds, which is a bit of a disappointment especially for the most expensive card of this roundup.

To look at this practically, with stock GTX cards coming in at about $550, is it worth paying a 15-20% premium in order to attain a less than 10% performance gain? We are certain there are those out there who will say yes, and for them we heartily recommend the EVGA e-GeForce 8800 GTX ACS3.

The XFX card is a little cheaper than the EVGA and comes in at slightly lower clock speeds, and the Calibre card has even lower out-of-the-box performance for a much higher price. To be fair, the Sparkle may offer the most overclocking potential should you choose to further overclock on your own, given the lower temperatures we measured, and the noise levels are the best in this roundup. 8800 GTX cards are already expensive, however, and supply of the Sparkle cards is such that prices can range widely from $700 to as much as $800 or more. Should the card begin to appear in the North American market, however, the prices may drop to the point where it becomes more attractive.

Finally, for those out there who are choosing to decrease their food budget in order to afford the most graphics card for the buck, we've got to give the nod to the BFG GeForce 8800 GTX OC. These are not the fastest cards, but they are the least expensive and in most cases the minor differences in speed aren't particularly noticeable.

Editors' Choice Awards

The BFG GeForce 8800 GTX OC is only slightly more expensive than other stock hardware out there, and the slight bump in clock speed is at least something. On top of that, it comes with a t-shirt, and who doesn't need another one of those? The lifetime warranty is also an added bonus.

As for the GTS, the boost in clock speeds offers a much greater return on investment in general. BFG and EVGA both offer good performance boosts for not that much more money. As the performance increase matters more on the GTS side, we put more weight on the performance of our GTS cards in order to come up with a recommendation.

EVGA's e-GeForce 8800 GTS ACS3 is the performance leader here, and in this case price/performance goes up instead of down with the upgrade. While it doesn't come with a shirt, it does come with Dark Messiah of Might and Magic, which is a fair trade. Also offering a lifetime warranty, EVGA takes the cake when it comes to overclocked GTS hardware.

We are looking forward to the spring refresh hardware NVIDIA is sure to launch at some point in the near future. Anticipation is also very high for AMD's entry into the DX10 arena. Until the new hardware comes out, the 8800 cards we tested today remain the fastest graphics parts available.

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