If you look at all of the scores, you'll see that where ATI wins, it slips by with a thin margin of victory. When the 8800 GT is faster, it's faster by a lot. Add in the fact that on certain tests ATI's CrossFire (the dual-card competitior to Nvidia's SLI) is basically broken (as highlighted in our review of the Radeon HD 3850, and the GeForce 8800 GT barely ekes by with an overall win. If you play Crysis or Bioshock regularly and you're committed to a single-card experience, ATI is the way to go. Otherwise, we'd go with the Nvidia card.
While it trades wins with ATI's current generation, the reason for the 8800 GT's advantage over Nvidia's older models is its refined graphics chip design. This chip uses Nvidia's updated G92 design, a revitalization of the original G80 template behind the GeForce 8800 GTX and 8800 GTS. G92 features a 65-nanometer manufacturing process, making it more power efficient than the 90-nm design of the GTX and original GTS. This lets Nvidia cram more processing power on the chip, at less cost, and with less power consumption. That means the single-slot 8800 GT can compete and even surpass the double-slot 640BM 8800 GTS performance-wise, without requiring a massive fan and heatsink assembly to keep it operational.
|GeForce 8800 GT (G92)||GeForce 8800 GTS (G80)|
|Transistors||754 million||681 million|
|Memory speed (data rate)||900MHz (1.8GHz)||800MHz (1.6GHz)|
We should also point out that the new G92 design is PCI Express 2.0-compatible. All PCI Express 2.0 hardware (like the ATI Radeon 3000 series cards as well) will work on the PCI Express 1.0 motherboard, so you don't need to worry about an additional hardware upgrade. And no game that we know of right now will flood the PCI Express pathway with that much data anyway. AMD already has PCI Express 2.0 motherboards out, and we expect both Nvidia, Intel, and others will follow suit early next year. Eventually the software will catch up, and if you go to put this card in a new system a year from now, you'll probably notice some benefit. But at that point newer cards will likely be on the market, so we wouldn't buy the GeForce 8800 GT, or any 3D card simply because it's PCI Express 2.0-capable, at least right now.
If you've noticed that we've suggested that it might be hard to find the Asus EN8800GT or any 512MB GeForce 8800 GT-based card right now, it's because we've seen it out of stock quite a bit in the month and a half since its release. Our suspicion is that Nvidia is limiting the supply of this card, in favor of the cheaper, 256MB 8800 GT, as well as the new 512MB G92 version of the 8800 GTS, (both of which came out earlier this month). The 512MB iteration of the 8800 GTS, though, goes for $350 (and up), is even faster than the new 8800 GT reviewed here. Of course, if the $350 card is the midrange model Nvidia's really serious about, now you're looking at a significant price differential between that and the $249 Radeon HD 3870. It's not uncommon for either graphics card vendor to seed cards and chips that are effectively "reviewer" models, designed to take away buzz from a competitor's launch. We have no way to confirm that that's what's happened, but we're going to err on the side of caution here and not heap too much praise on a product that doesn't appear to be as widely available as others.
Potential supply-side shenanigans aside, Asus has taken Nvidia's chip and assembled a compelling package with its particular take on the 512MB GeForce 8800 GT. Asus includes a copy of the well-reviewed strategy game , which includes a few DirectX 10 features, to let your new 3D card flex its next-gen muscles a bit. We were also glad to see Asus' handy GamerOSD, a software tool that lets you play around with overclocking and other settings in real time.
If you're less inclined to overclock your 3D card yourself, Asus also sells a factory overclocked EN8800GT TOP, with a 700MHz core and 1,000MHz memory, for a few dollars more. You can also purchase two cards and run them in Nvidia's SLI mode if you have a supporting motherboard. You won't see double the performance, due to the slowdown inherent to added connections, and some games take better advantage of SLI than others, but generally, you can expect a nice boost in speed with two cards. The ongoing release of updated software drivers from Nvidia tends to improve performance and overall game compatibility as well.
The package also contains the basic hardware you expect from a 3D card these days. The card itself comes with two DVI-outputs, but you get a DVI-to-VGA adapter for those displays that require an analog connection. You also get a YPbPr adapter to connect to analog HDTVs, although the GeForce 8800 GT is, of course, HDCP-compatible if you want to connect to a digital HDTV. Finally, there's an adapter for older power supply connections, as well as a leather-bound disc-holder.
System Setup: Intel Core 2 X6800; Intel 975XBX2 (for ATI); eVGA 680i (for Nvidia); 2GB Corsair XMS Memory (1GBx2); 750GB Seagate 7200.10 SATA hard disk drive; Windows XP Professional SP2; Windows Vista Ultimate 32-bit; Nvidia ForceWare 169.01; ATI Catalyst 7.10.