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Test notes
Before getting started we should probably take a moment to frame the issue at hand. Today we're looking for two things: whether memory size has a tangible impact on in-game performance, and if it does, whether that impact comes at resolutions and detail levels that offer playable frame rates. We're not interested comparing the performance of one slideshow to another.

With the obvious exception of Crysis, we were actually able to get decent frame rates in all of our games with their highest in-game detail levels, and with antialiasing and anisotropic filtering to boot. That makes resolution the most obvious candidate for scaling. I should apologize in advance for not having one of those swanky 30" monitors that goes up to 2560x1600—a fact that pains me on an almost daily basis. The best my test systems can do is 1920x1440 on an old-school CRT, which is still a higher pixel count than common 24" displays with a 1920x1200 display resolution. If you can afford a 30" display, chances are you can do better than a GeForce 8800 GT, anyway.

We've tested single-card GeForce 8800 GT configurations with 256MB, 512MB, and 1GB of memory. The 512MB and 1GB cards were also tested in SLI. Since some of the cards we used are "factory overclocked," we used nTune to normalize core, shader, and memory clocks to the GeForce 8800 GT's reference speeds of 600MHz, 1.5GHz, and an effective 1.8GHz, respectively.

Our testing methods
All tests were run three times, and their results were averaged.

Processor Core 2 Duo E6750 2.66GHz
System bus 1333MHz (333MHz quad-pumped)
Motherboard XFX MB-N780-ISH9
Bios revision 2.053.B0
North bridge nForce 780i SLI SPP
South bridge nForce 780i SLI MCP
Chipset drivers ForceWare 9.46
Memory size 2GB (2 DIMMs)
Memory type Corsair TWIN2X2048-8500C5 DDR2 SDRAM at 800MHz
CAS latency (CL) 4
RAS to CAS delay (tRCD) 4
RAS precharge (tRP) 4
Cycle time (tRAS) 12
Audio codec Integrated nForce 780i SLI/ALC888S with Realtek 1.86 drivers
Graphics cards XFX GeForce 8800 GT Alpha Dog 256MB
Gigabyte GV-NX88T512HP 512MB
Palit 8800GT Super+ 1GB
Graphics drivers ForceWare 169.25
Hard drive Western Digital Caviar RE2 400GB SATA
OS Windows Vista Ultimate x86
OS updates KB936710, KB938194, KB938979, KB940105

We used the following versions of our test applications:

The test systems' Windows desktop was set at 1280x1024 in 32-bit color at a 60Hz screen refresh rate. Vertical refresh sync (vsync) was disabled for all tests.

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.