The GeForce 8 Series has been a very popular one for gamers, but there had always been a noticeable gap between the mainstream GeForce 8600 GTS and the higher-end GeForce 8800 GTS. This got worse when ATI introduced the Radeon HD 3850 and 3870 512MB tandem, which filled in nicely, and forced NVIDIA to make a move. The transition to a 65nm process allowed the debut of the GeForce 8800 GT reference cards, and these had an immediate impact.
But even a great gaming card can be made better, and companies like ASUS and Gigabyte have worked hard to differentiate their products from the rest of the pack, where only a sticker might separate one from the other. Some custom models offer enhanced features, such as voltage control, enhanced cooling or out-of-the-box overclocking, while others like the ASUS EN8800GT TOP 512MB card, offer a combination of these.
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 1500 MHz, while the 256-bit GDDR3 memory is clocked at 1800 MHz, and supplies 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 don't forget that the ASUS GeForce 8800 GT is pre-overclocked.
The main difference between the ASUS EN8800GT TOP 512MB and a standard GeForce 8800 GT card is the overclocked settings. ASUS has cranked these up to 700 MHz core, 1750 MHz shader and 2020 MHz memory speeds, making this model potentially the fastest GeForce 8800 GT on the market. We've seen similar GPU clock speeds, but the GDDR3 memory is a different story. At over 2 GHz, this provides greater memory bandwidth than a GeForce 8800 GTS 512MB or 640MB. This is a significant change, and it may allow the ASUS EN8800GT TOP 512MB to challenge these higher-priced cards in overall performance.
The addition of the Glaciator heatsink-fan is another obvious enhancement, and we feel that this is one of the top default GeForce 8800 GT coolers. The ASUS Glaciator is a large, oval design that can transfer heat away from the GPU while remaining cool to the touch. The fan is powerful, but incredibly silent for such a high performance card and it features a fan cover that centralizes the airflow. We were amazed at how low the ambient noise actually is, and it is by far the most silent of any GeForce 8800 GT card we've tested and heard. All of this is complimented with an eye-pleasing gold finish, and there is even a power IC heatsink, which cools the IC controller.
The only negative to this design is that the ASUS EN8800GT TOP's Glaciator effectively takes up two slots, although the lower bracket can still be used. It is a PCI-E 2.0 x16 card with dual integrated 400MHz RAMDACs supporting up to dual 2560x1600 displays. The card's backplate features two color-coded, dual-link DVI outputs and a TV-out port (for use with the bundled breakout cable). As with all GeForce 8800 GT cards, the ASUS EN8800GT TOP 512MB requires external power through a 6-pin PCIe connector. It is a full-length card, measuring 9-inches, but is still very light at less than 350 grams. For a comparison, dual-slot Radeon HD 3870 512MB or GeForce 8800 GTS/GTX/Ultra cards weigh over 600 grams.
ASUS is usually pretty good on the retail bundle side of the things, and the EN8800GT TOP 512MB will not disappoint. Along with the graphics card, the retail box contains a SpeedSetup installation pamphlet, a Driver/Applications CD, a multi-language Manual CD, a DVI-to-VGA dongle, a HDTV/S-Video breakout cable, a PCI Express power Y-adapter, and a CD/DVD wallet. Best of all, ASUS rounds out the retail box with a full DVD-ROM version of Company of Heroes: Opposing Forces. The card also offers features like ASUS Smart Doctor, Gamer OSD, Video Security Online, and Splendid.
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 ASUS EN8800GT TOP 512MB fits in:
ASUS EN8800GT TOP
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.