When NVIDIA introduced the GeForce 8 series, many gamers complained of the huge performance gap between the top-end GeForce 8600 GTS and the lowest-speed GeForce 8800 GTS. Price was also a concern, and although the GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB was a step in the right direction, there was still work to be done. That was completed with the release of the GeForce 8800 GT, and we were greeted with a steady stream of GeForce 8800 GT reference cards, with only a vendor sticker to differentiate most.
Gigabyte felt that the NVIDIA reference design could use a little tweaking, and has shown some real initiative with their latest GeForce 8800 GT. While similar to the basic models, Gigabyte has offered up their own take on the card, complete with custom cooling, GPU voltage control, and overclocked speeds right out of the box.
The GeForce 8800 GT (G92-200) core is built on a 65nm process, and is very similar to the G92-400 core featured on the GeForce 8800 GTS. This is a PCI Express 2.0 part, complete with a unified shader architecture, 112 Stream processors (compared to 128 Stream processors on the GeForce 8800 GTS (G92)/GTX/Ultra), and a 256-bit bus to 256MB/512MB of onboard GDDR3 memory. Basic card features include support for DirectX 10/SM4.0, PureVideo HD technology, HDCP, and NVIDIA SLI, among others.
This smaller 65nm die size allows a default clock speed of 600 MHz, and provides a fillrate of 33.6 GT/second. The 112 Stream processors run at a clock speed of 1.5 GHz, while the 256-bit GDDR3 memory is clocked at 1.8 GHz, and provides a memory bandwidth of 57.6 GB/second. All of these specifications nicely separate the GeForce 8800 GT from its more powerful GeForce 8800 GTS (G92) sibling, but keep in mind that the Gigabyte version is not your typical reference design.
The higher clock speeds of the Gigabyte GeForce 8800 GT 512MB translate to 700 MHz core, 1.7 GHz shader and 1.84 GHz memory. Both the core and shader speeds are a significant jump upwards, offering just less than 40 GT/sec. of fillrate, and not far back from the GeForce 8800 GTS (G92). The memory is just a slight bump, and doesn't add much to the overall performance. The Gigabyte GeForce 8800 GT 512MB offers an Ultra Durable 2 design, using Ferrite Core Chokes, Low RDS (on) MOSFET and Lower ESR Solid Capacitors, and is a "TurboForce" edition, ensuring full stability at the higher-than-normal clock speeds.
Gigabyte offers a few innovations compared to the standard reference design, with the most noticeable being its custom Zalman VF830 cooler. This is a light, powerful heatsink-fan unit that combines copper heatpipes with aluminum fins, all cooled by an 18.5dBA fan. The cooler works as advertised, but it does not feature variable fan speeds and has no coverage of the memory chips. Its extra height also means that the Gigabyte GeForce 8800 GT 512MB is essentially a dual-slot card where peripheral cards are concerned, although the secondary slot can still be used for brackets.
The physical design of the Gigabyte card sticks to the basics, and provides a PCI-E 2.0 x16 format with dual integrated 400MHz RAMDACs. The card's backplate features two dual-link DVI outputs (supporting up to dual 2560x1600 displays) and a TV-out port (for use with the bundled breakout cable). It's also shorter than the reference design, and very light, checking in at just over 300 grams, as compared to 600 grams or more for a high-end GeForce 8800 GTS/GTX/Ultra. Although the Gigabyte board is effectively a dual-slot card, the bracket is only a single and there is no exhaust port or other attachment.
Gigabyte can always be counted on to deliver with a retail bundle, and there is a nice selection of hardware and software included with their GeForce 8800 GTS 512MB card. Along with the graphics card, the retail box contains a quick installation pamphlet, a full hardcopy User's Guide, a Driver/Applications CD, two DVI-to-VGA dongles, a HDTV/S-Video breakout box, and a Y adapter power cable. Gigabyte also rounds out the package with a game, bundling a full version of NeverWinter Nights 2, complete with user manual.
To help make use of the features of the GeForce 8800 GT "TurboForce" edition, Gigabyte has included a Gamer HUD software utility. This not only features temperature and usage monitoring, but also lets users change the default core, memory and shader clock speeds, and adjust the card's voltage.
In the case of the Gigabyte GeForce 8800 GT "TurboForce" model, GPU voltage can be raised from its 1.1V default, to either 1.5V or 2.0V. This helps with overclocking (which we'll get to later), which is also supplied through GPU, Shader and Memory slider bars. For those that don't want to overclock, Gigabyte offers a "2D/3D Optimized" setting, which lowers the voltage and clock speeds while in 2D mode.
As the DirectX 10 graphics cards offer a new type of architecture, it's very difficult to compare the latest products in terms of "pipelines" and other common terms of the previous GPU generations. Instead, we have assembled a set of specifications and performance metrics that should illustrate exactly where the Gigabyte GeForce 8800 GT 512MB fits in:
GeForce 8800 GT
GeForce 8800 GT
GeForce 7950 GT
Radeon HD 3850
Radeon HD 3870
GeForce 8800 GT
Radeon HD 2900
Of course, the best performance metric is real-world testing, and to that end, we've assembled a wide range of game benchmarks.