Jumping into the enthusiast-level of the video card market can be a very expensive proposition, especially as NVIDIA currently owns that piece of the overall pie, and seems very reluctant to lower prices. The GeForce 8800 GTS 640MB and GeForce 8800 GTX/Ultra 768MB are extremely powerful graphics cards, but their respective price tags certainly aren't conducive to most buyers. Obviously, a more powerful video card does require a larger investment, but there are definite sweet spots when it comes to high-end graphics.
One of these emerged when NVIDIA decided to provide an entry-level product for their high-end line, and the GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB was born. Armed with less onboard memory, this allowed a lower price point, but without sacrificing GPU power or feature set. Over the past few years, PNY has made significant strides in the graphics market, and the company is now one of the leading brands for NVIDIA-based cards. We've had nothing but good things to say about their GeForce 7 Series, and the PNY GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB confirms this sentiment.
The GeForce 8800 line of GPUs, code named G80, includes the GeForce 8800 GTS, GTX and Ultra. These differ in terms of clock speed, number of Stream processors and memory interface/speed/capacity, but remain consistent in terms of base features. The G80 is a 90nm part that offers a unified shader architecture and is designed to support the latest DirectX 10/Shader Model 4.0 feature set. This means that instead of the dedicated pixel and vertex shaders of the GeForce 7 Series, the GeForce 8800 provides a more flexible solution by letting each processor handle multiple tasks. This architecture should lead to serious performance and image quality gains with upcoming DirectX 10 games, while still pumping out the framerates on current DirectX 9 software.
The main component of the G80 are its stream processors, which take a more simplistic view of processing, while making up for the lower performance using sheer numbers and a higher clock speed. The GeForce 8800 GTX and Ultra include 128 stream processors, while the GeForce 8800 GTS drops the number to 96. The stream processors also run at a different speed than the rest of the chip, which in the case of the GeForce 8800 GTS, is 500 MHz for the core and 1.2 GHz on the stream processors. The core architecture also includes 24 texture address units, 48 texture filtering units, and 20 ROPs. The memory architecture offers a 320-bit memory interface to 320MB of GDDR3 running at 1.6 GHz. These are exactly the same specifications as the 640MB version of the GeForce 8800 GTS, but with half the onboard memory.
The PNY version of the GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB sticks to the basics and runs at the standard NVIDIA clock speeds of 500 MHz core, 1.2 GHz shader and 1.6 GHz memory. Like other GeForce 8800 GTS models, the card itself is a dual-slot design and requires an external PCI power connector. The card also features a PNY branded heatsink-fan with a blue, faux neon motif. Its backplate offers two dual-link DVI ports that support resolutions of up to 2560x1600, and a single HDTV/S-video out port. On top of that is the air exhaust grill, which helps push hot air out of the case and away from the GPU. The PNY GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB is HDCP capable and supports SLI technology right out of the box.
PNY bundles a few hardware and software extras with their GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB card, including two DVI-to-VGA dongles, a Molex-to-PCI Express power cord, an S-Video cable, and an HDTV break-out box. The software end is rather sparse, and only includes the driver CD and a few coupons and notices, such as a special deal on System Mechanic. We do like to see at least one game included so that potential buyers can at least fire up the card, but with the dearth of DirectX 10 titles, the lack of a bundled game is not surprising. PNY offers a 3-year warranty on the card, plus an additional 2 years if you complete a registration form on their website.
As this is a new architecture, it's very difficult to compare the GeForce 8 Series in terms of "pipelines" and other common terms of the previous GPU generations. Instead, we've assembled a set of specifications and performance metrics that should illustrate exactly where the PNY GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB fits in:
GeForce 7900 GS
GeForce 7900 GT
GeForce 7950 GT
Radeon X1900 XT
Radeon X1950 XT
Of course, the best performance metric is real-world testing, and to that end, we've assembled a wide range of game benchmarks in the next section.