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Test notes
You can see all of our test configs below, but I'd like to make note of a few things. First, the GeForce 9600 GT card that we tested was "overclocked in the box" a little more fully than most (the core is 700MHz, while most cards are 650-675MHz), so its performance is a little bit higher than is typical. Similarly, we tested the GeForce 8800 GT and Radeon HD 3870 512MB at their stock speeds, which are increasingly rare in this segment. Most shipping products have higher clocks these days.

Beyond that, we're in pretty good shape. Our examples of the Radeon HD 3850 512MB and GeForce 8800 GTS 512MB are both clocked above the baseline frequencies by typical amounts, and most of the higher end cards tend to run close to their baseline clock speeds.

Our testing methods
As ever, we did our best to deliver clean benchmark numbers. Tests were run at least three times, and the results were averaged.

Our test systems were configured like so:

Processor Core 2 Extreme X6800 2.93GHz
System bus 1066MHz (266MHz quad-pumped)
Motherboard Gigabyte GA-X38-DQ6
BIOS revision F7
North bridge X38 MCH
South bridge ICH9R
Chipset drivers INF update 8.3.1.1009
Matrix Storage Manager 7.8
Memory size 4GB (4 DIMMs)
Memory type 2 x Corsair TWIN2X20488500C5D
DDR2 SDRAM
at 800MHz
CAS latency (CL) 4
RAS to CAS delay (tRCD) 4
RAS precharge (tRP) 4
Cycle time (tRAS) 18
Command rate 2T
Audio Integrated ICH9R/ALC889A
with RealTek 6.0.1.5497 drivers
Graphics Diamond Radeon HD 3850 512MB PCIe
with Catalyst 8.2 drivers
Radeon HD 3870 512MB PCIe
with Catalyst 8.2 drivers
Radeon HD 3870 X2 1GB PCIe
with Catalyst 8.2 drivers
Diamond Radeon HD 3870 1GB PCIe
with Catalyst 8.3 drivers
Palit GeForce 9600 GT 512MB PCIe
with ForceWare 174.12 drivers
GeForce 8800 GT 512MB PCIe
with ForceWare 169.28 drivers
EVGA GeForce 8800 GTS 512MB PCIe
with ForceWare 169.28 drivers
GeForce 8800 Ultra 768MB PCIe
with ForceWare 169.28 drivers
GeForce 9800 GX2 1GB PCIe
with ForceWare 174.53 drivers
GeForce 9800 GX2 1GB PCIe
with ForceWare 174.53 drivers
Hard drive WD Caviar SE16 320GB SATA
OS Windows Vista Ultimate x86 Edition
OS updates KB936710, KB938194, KB938979, KB940105, KB945149, DirectX November 2007 Update

Please note that we tested the single and dual-GPU Radeon configs with the Catalyst 8.2 drivers, simply because we didn't have enough time to re-test everything with Cat 8.3. The one exception is Crysis, where we tested single- and dual-GPU Radeons with AMD's 8.451-2-080123a drivers, which include many of the same application-specific tweaks that the final Catalyst 8.3 drivers do.

Thanks to Corsair for providing us with memory for our testing. Their quality, service, and support are easily superior to no-name DIMMs.

Most of our test systems were powered by PC Power & Cooling Silencer 750W power supply units. The Silencer 750W was a runaway Editor's Choice winner in our epic 11-way power supply roundup, so it seemed like a fitting choice for our test rigs.

Unless otherwise specified, image quality settings for the graphics cards were left at the control panel defaults. Vertical refresh sync (vsync) was disabled for all tests.

We used the following versions of our test applications:

The tests and methods we employ are generally publicly available and reproducible. If you have questions about our methods, hit our forums to talk with us about them.