It's easy to dismiss the EN7600GT as a dull mid-range graphics card, but it stands out as the first we've seen that has an HDMI port with HDCP (high-bandwidth digital content protection). As a result it will let you watch copy-protected Blu-ray or HD DVD movies, plus it's fully compatible with the forthcoming Windows Vista operating system.
Physically, the card looks unremarkable. Asus sticker notwithstanding it uses the standard Nvidia heatsink and fan, and only stands out because of some curious additions to its rear connection plate. There's an optical SPDIF port at the top of the plate and an HDMI port sitting between the more traditional DVI and S-Video ports.
The card's graphics processing unit (GPU) runs at a clock speed of 400MHz and has 256MB of DDR3 memory running at an effective speed of 1,400MHz. Asus has chosen to play it safe by not overclocking the GPU or memory as standard, but like all Nvidia cards it can be overclocked by the end user with the aid of the accompanying driver and software. Not that there's a particular need to go overboard with overclocking, the EN7600GT should serve the needs of the vast majority of users. It has 12 pixel shader pipelines, five vertex shaders and a memory bandwidth of 22.4GBps, all of which allows ample, if hardly mind-blowing, performance.
This is proven by the card's performance figures in our benchmark tests. The EN7600GT ran Doom 3 at 95fps at a resolution of 1,280x1,024 pixels and dropped to 73fps when running at 1,600x1,200 pixels. With 4x anti-aliasing (AA) and 8x anisotropic filtering (AF) enabled, the card scored 46.8fps and 35fps respectively at the above resolutions. These results indicate the card is perfectly adequate if you aren't too bothered by image quality enhancements, but struggles slightly if AA and AF are switched on.
The EN7600GT ran Half-Life 2 at 63fps at a resolution of 1,280x1,024 pixels, and at 60.9fps at 1,600x1,200 pixels. With 4x AA and 8x AF enabled it scored 58fps and 49fps respectively at the same resolutions.
In 3DMark 2006, our synthetic benchmark test, the EN7600GT scored 3,360, which is better than the 2,532 our reference ATI Radeon X1600 XT achieved.
The Asus EN7600GT is quite a noisy card as it uses the standard Nvidia cooling fan. There's a version of the card with a passive (fanless) cooler, so if noisy computers annoy you, you should consider getting that instead.
The aforementioned SPDIF port is also a contentious issue. HDMI ports are capable of transferring sound and video simultaneously over a single cable, however in a PC graphics card it is only possible to send audio and video over an HDMI cable if you connect the graphics card to the sound card via a second external cable. This is hardly an elegant solution.
Our final gripe with the EN7600 is its limited 128-bit memory interface. This is small in comparison to the 256-bit interface used on most high-end cards, and the gap could be telling when running games that display lots of large, complicated textures. Either way, you may have to prepare yourself for a few occasional dips in frame rate.
We're very happy with the EN7600GT. It delivers better all-round performance than the equally priced ATI card, and it comes with the added bonus of an HDCP-equipped HDMI port. If you're after a mid-range graphics card with some future-proofing you should look no further.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Kate Macefield