Of course, your quest for the best graphics card won't end there; you also have to choose between GTS and GTX flavors of the GeForce 8800. And you're still not done, because GeForce 8800 GTS and GTX cards are available from a wide variety of manufacturers, each of which tries to bring something unique to the table, be it through bundled extras, tweaked clock speeds, or exotic cooling.
As daunting as the selection of GeForce 8800 series graphics cards may be, choice is a good thing. To help you wade through the options, we've rounded up a collection of GeForce 8800 series cards from BFG Tech, EVGA, Foxconn, MSI, OCZ, PNY, and XFX to see how they stack up. Read on to see which cards rise to the top and which get lost in the reference card shuffle.
GT to the S... or X
Before diving into card-specific attributes, it's worth taking a moment to highlight some of the key differences between GTS and GTX flavors of the GeForce 8800. If you haven't already, I'd strongly suggest reading our initial coverage of the GeForce 8800, which explores the intricate details of the G80 architecture and why it's such a radical departure from current GPU designs. We'll stick to the basics here, starting with a breakdown of what Nvidia has lopped off the GeForce 8800 GTX to make the GTS.
|Stream processors||ROPs||Core clock||Memory bus width||Memory clock|
|GeForce 8800 GTS||96||5||500MHz||320-bit||1.6GHz|
|GeForce 8800 GTX||128||6||575MHz||384-bit||1.8GHz|
The GeForce 8800 GTS only retains 96 of the GTX's 128 stream processors, cutting the chip's shader power by 25%. Nvidia further handicaps the GTS by trimming the number of ROPs from six to five, and by reducing the memory bus width from 384 to 320 bits.
Not content to rely solely on microsurgery to separate the GTS from the GTX, Nvidia also uses clock speeds to differentiate the two. The GTX's 575MHz core clock is reduced to just 500MHz for the GTS, and effective memory speeds drop from 1.8GHz to 1.6GHz. Those clock speeds aren't cut in stone, though. The first wave of GeForce 8800 series cards may have stuck with stock speeds, but several of the cards we'll be looking at today offer higher out-of-the-box frequencies.
We should note that there are now two versions of the GeForce 8800 GTS: the original with 640MB of memory, and a new model with 320MB. The 320MB card can be had for around $300, which is about $90 cheaper than the most affordable 640MB card. However, we've found that the GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB's reduced memory size can be a liability with newer games at higher resolutions. All the GTS cards we'll be looking at today are 640MB models.
Referencing seven designs
GeForce 8800 series graphics cards revolve around the same Nvidia reference designs, and apart from the unique heatsink stickers offered by each manufacturer, you'd be hard-pressed to tell one card from another. Board vendors can't be blamed for sticking to the reference designs, though. Instead of supplying its add-in board partners with graphics chips, Nvidia has GeForce 8800 series cards built by a contract manufacturer. Those cards are then sold to Nvidia's board partners, effectively eliminating custom or tweaked board designs.
Nvidia says that add-in-card partners are free to offer their own customization, but that customization is effectively limited to coolers, clock speeds, and bundles. Interestingly, though, Nvidia won't confirm whether it sells factory overclocked cards directly to board vendors or the vendors are doing the overclocking on their own. Nvidia apparently doesn't release that much detail regarding its arrangements with add-in board partners.
So board partners may not have much freedom when it comes to card-specific features, but there's still a little room for differentiation. Exhibit one:
|GT?||Core clock||Memory clock||Memory size||Sticker||Warranty length||Street price|
|BFG GeForce 8800 GTS||GTS||513MHz||1.58GHz||640MB||Brooding Mr. Clean||Lifetime|
|EVGA GeForce 8800 GTX ACS³||GTX||626MHz||2.0GHz||768MB||NA||Lifetime*|
|Foxconn FV-N88SMBD2-ONOC||GTS||575MHz||1.8GHz||640MB||3D space scene||2 years|
|MSI NX8800GTX||GTX||576MHz||1.8GHz||768MB||Fairy princess||3 years parts, 2 years labor|
|OCZ GeForce 8800 GTX||GTX||576MHz||1.8GHz||768MB||Sports car||Lifetime|
|PNY XLR8 GeForce 8800 GTS||GTS||513MHz||1.58GHz||640MB||XLR8 logo||5 years*|
|XFX GeForce 8800 GTX||GTX||576MHz||1.8GHz||768MB||Armored wolfman||"Double lifetime"|
Today's contestants are split between three GTS cards and four GTXs, most of which are running at stock speeds (513MHz appears to be the actual stock clock speed for the 8800 GTS). There are a couple of exceptions, though. EVGA's GeForce 8800 GTX ACS³ pushes the GTX's clocks to 626MHz core and an effective 2.0GHz memory, while Foxconn's FV-N88SMBD2-ONOC cranks the GTS up to GTX speeds.
Fortunately, so-called factory "overclocking" doesn't affect warranty coverage—all cards are covered at their shipping clock speeds, regardless of whether those are higher than Nvidia's default clocks for the GTS and GTX. There's plenty of variety when it comes to warranties, too; some manufacturers only offer a few years of coverage, while others pledge lifetime support.
As one might expect, prices vary from card to card, as well. Higher-clocked models tend to be more expensive, but that's not always the case. Bundled extras also alter the value proposition, and we'll be detailing all the extra goodies you get in the box in a moment. We'll also be taking a closer look at those always-exciting heatsink stickers.