EVGA e-GeForce 8600 GTS
Nvidia's newest graphics chip, reviewed here by way of the EVGA e-GeForce 8600 GTS, will set you back roughly $200. This 256MB card is supposed to deliver decent-enough 3D gaming performance as well as superior HD video playback. We found it delivers on the video quality, but we're disappointed in its value as a gaming card compared with other cards still on the market. ATI's looming next-generation Radeon cards could also present an enticing alternative for both gaming and video quality when they come out this May (assuming they hit that date; they've already been delayed more than once). ATI's pending release aside, we'd suggest that anyone interested in gaming look for a faster Windows XP-based card, which you can get for less, or wait to see how ATI's next batch stacks up against Nvidia's GeForce 8800 GTS. That card is much faster (and only slightly more expensive) than this new one. If you're more interested in watching HD video via your PC, the 8600 GTS' output quality might be enough to sway you, but again, those new Radeons are right around the corner.
Similar to the GeForce 8800 family released at the end of 2006, the GeForce 8600 GTS is a next-generation 3D card designed to support DirectX 10 graphics, the forthcoming game design specification that's exclusive to Windows Vista. Like most cards under $300 or so, the GeForce 8600 GTS has 256MB of onboard DDR3 memory, in this case clocked to 1,000MHz, with the chip core itself set to 675MHz. That's actually a faster core than the higher-end GeForce 8800 GTS, but the memory on this card is much slower. There's also a significant drop in the number of processing pipelines to the 8600 GTS from the 8800 GTS. The higher-end card has 96 independent pipelines, but the 8600 has only 32. It shows in the performance, as you'll see shortly.
In addition, like most 3D cards in this price range, the GeForce 8600 GTS is a single-slot PCI Express card, meaning that it only takes up the space of a single expansion slot, not two like the higher-end, double-wide models. But unlike similar cards from the previous generation, the GeForce 8600 GTS is one of the first to require a direct connection to your PC's power supply unit (PSU). Nvidia recommends a common-enough 350-watt PSU for a single card, and a 450-watt unit for pairing two together in SLI mode. If you're comfortable enough to add a graphics card to your PC, it's not that significant a technical leap to connect the card to your PSU. Most of Nvidia's board partners, EVGA among them, even include adapter cables for PCs that don't have the requisite internal power inputs.
With no DirectX 10 games out to test at the moment, we can only comment on the 8600 GTS' performance with current titles. For that testing we used Windows XP, as it's proven a faster platform than Windows Vista. Until a blockbuster DirectX 10 game comes out, we suspect most PC gamers still stick to the older operating system.
The game performance results, generated by our colleague Sarju Shah at GameSpot, paint a pretty dismal picture of the 8600 GTS. On three of our four real-world game tests, the 8600 GTS fell behind the older Radeon 1950 Pro and the GeForce 7900 GS, both of which you can find at retail outlets for as much if not less than the price of the 8600 GTS. Of course, you don't get DirectX 10 performance or the advanced PureVideo HD decoding on those other cards, but for pure, current-day 3D horsepower, the 8600 GTS fails to deliver on value. If you're a gamer looking for next-generation hardware, you'd be much better off spending roughly $75 dollars more on a 320MB GeForce 8800 GTS card, which, as you can see from our charts, delivers nearly twice the overall 3D performance.
(Longer bars indicate better performance)