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Test notes
This was kind of a tough call, but because XFX shipped its 7800 GT to us—a real retail product as of today—with a 450MHz GPU clock and 525MHz memory clock, I decided to test the 7800 GT at that speed. Boards running at NVIDIA's stock reference frequencies will be slightly slower than the XFX card we're testing, but our results should be directly representative of a 7800 GT card you can buy right now. Had we received these cards and their drivers sooner than this past Friday, I would have been able to test the 7800 GT at stock reference speeds, as well. Unfortunately, we just received them too late.

This decision will no doubt incite controversy because I did not include scores from an "overclocked in the box" GeForce 7800 GTX. If anyone has a coronary as a result, my apologies. You can see how an overclocked 7800 GTX performs in our multi-card roundup. The scores are more or less directly comparable to the ones in the following pages, save for the Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory numbers and a minor driver revision difference.

Speaking of which, you will notice in the test config tables below that we used NVIDIA's 77.77 drivers for the GeForce 7800 GT and GTX cards, in both single-card and SLI setups. This represents a total refresh of the GTX test results from our GeForce 7800 GTX review and other recent graphics articles. However, the results for the GeForce 6800 Ultra were obtained using NVIDIA's older 77.62 drivers. Between some serious time constraints and the fact that performance barely changed at all on the 7800 GTX when moving from 77.62 to 77.77, I elected not to retest the GeForce 6800 Ultra with the 77.77 drivers. If the driver revision difference of 0.015 offends your sensibilities, just pretend the 6800 Ultra results aren't there.

Similarly, I've included results from the Radeon X850 XT Platinum Edition using older Catalyst 5.6 drivers. Make of them what you will.

Also, note that I've included scores for a Radeon X800 XL 512MB card from Abit. Radeon X800 XL cards from other vendors are currently selling for between $359 and $400, or just below the likely price range of the 7800 GT. That makes the X800 XL competition, though not 100% direct competition. The X850 XT Platinum Edition might be the most direct competition for the 7800 GT in terms of price. I decided to include the X800 XL in part because I wanted to see how it performs at very high resolutions like 2048x1536. Perhaps the 512MB of video memory will be a help.

That said, remember that resolutions above three megapixels are something of a special case where the GeForce 7800s have architectural advantages over older GPUs.

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 system was configured like so:

Processor Athlon 64 4000+ 2.4GHz
System bus1GHz HyperTransport
MotherboardAsus A8N-SLI Deluxe
BIOS revision1011
North bridgenForce4 SLI
South bridge
Chipset driversSMBus driver 4.45
IDE driver 5.18
Memory size1GB (2 DIMMs)
Memory typeOCZ EL PC3200 DDR SDRAM at 400MHz
CAS latency (CL)2
RAS to CAS delay (tRCD)2
RAS precharge (tRP)2
Cycle time (tRAS)5
Hard driveMaxtor DiamondMax 10 250GB SATA 150
AudioIntegrated nForce4/ALC850
with NVIDIA 4.60 drivers
Graphics GeForce 6800 Ultra 256MB PCI-E with ForceWare 77.62 drivers Dual GeForce 6800 Ultra 256MB PCI-E with ForceWare 77.62 driversXFX GeForce 7800 GT 256MB with ForceWare 77.77 driversDual XFX GeForce 7800 GT 256MB with ForceWare 77.77 drivers MSI GeForce 7800 GTX 256MB PCI-E with ForceWare 77.77 driversDual MSI GeForce 7800 GTX 256MB PCI-E with ForceWare 77.77 driversAbit Fatal1ty X800XL 512MB PCI-E with Catalyst 5.7 driversRadeon X850 XT Platinum Edition PCI-E  with Catalyst 5.6 drivers
OSWindows XP Professional (32-bit)
OS updatesService Pack 2

Thanks to OCZ for providing us with memory for our testing. If you're looking to tweak out your system to the max and maybe overclock it a little, OCZ's RAM is definitely worth considering.

Unless otherwise specified, the image quality settings for both ATI and NVIDIA graphics cards were left at the control panel defaults.

The test systems' Windows desktops were set at 1280x1024 in 32-bit color at an 85Hz screen refresh rate. Vertical refresh sync (vsync) was disabled for all tests.

We used the following versions of our test applications:

All the tests and methods we employed are publicly available and reproducible. If you have questions about our methods, hit our forums to talk with us about them.