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EVGA e-GeForce 8600 GTS (PCI-e review: EVGA e-GeForce 8600 GTS (PCI-e

If you care more about HD movie watching than gaming and you need a new video card for the task today, we recommend a 3D card like this EVGA with Nvidia's newest mainstream graphics chip. Gamers can get more performance value from Nvidia's higher-end 8800 cards, but for anyone, it would be a good idea to wait to see what's new from ATI in just a few short weeks.

CNET Reviews staff
5 min read

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.

6.7

EVGA e-GeForce 8600 GTS (PCI-e

The Good

Affordable mainstream gaming performance; improved HD video play; single-card solution.

The Bad

Questionable performance compared to a higher-end card that costs just a little more; ATI's next-generation cards are right around the corner; requires a direct connection to your PC's power supply.

The Bottom Line

If you care more about HD movie watching than gaming and you need a new video card for the task today, we recommend a 3D card like this EVGA with Nvidia's newest mainstream graphics chip. Gamers can get more performance value from Nvidia's higher-end 8800 cards, but for anyone, it would be a good idea to wait to see what's new from ATI in just a few short weeks.
EVGA e-GeForce 8600 GTS

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.

3DMark 2006
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,280x1,024 default  
ATI Radeon X1900 XT (256MB)
5,802 
Nvidia GeForce 8600 GTS
5,682 
Nvidia GeForce 8600 GT
5,087 

Half Life 2: Episode One
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,600x1,200 (4xAA, 16xAF)  
ATI Radeon X1900 XT (256MB)
77 
Nvidia GeForce 8600 GTS
68 
Nvidia GeForce 8600 GT
60 

Quake 4
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,600x1,200 (4xAA, 8xAF)  
ATI Radeon X1900 XT (256MB)
65 
Nvidia GeForce 8600 GTS
42 
Nvidia GeForce 8600 GT
36 

Company of Heroes
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
2,048x1,536 (high quality)  
1,600x1,200 (high quality)  
ATI Radeon X1900 XT (256MB)
44 
63 
Nvidia GeForce 8600 GTS
23 
34 
Nvidia GeForce 8600 GT
20 
30 

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,600x1,200 (high quality)  
1,280x1,024 (high quality)  
Nvidia GeForce 8600 GTS
33 
42 
ATI Radeon X1900 XT (256MB)
32 
42 
Nvidia GeForce 8600 GT
28 
37 

What the GeForce 8600 GTS has that its higher-end cousins and those older cards don't is Nvidia's PureVideoHD 2.0 technology. Unlike our experience with Nvidia's original PureVideo HD decoding software, we were very impressed with the quality of HD video output under PureVideo 2.0. One of our main complaints with Nvidia's original version of PureVideo HD was that it would lose almost all detail in heavily shadowed areas. That wasn't the case here at all. We still think that a dedicated Blu-ray player and high-definition TV combo provides a sharper HD image, but the GeForce 8600 GTS gets it very close and should please all but the most sensitive movie watcher.

As much as we like Nvidia's HD output with this new card, ATI's new cards could very well emerge with the win in the home theater PC market. A few weeks ago we reported that ATI plans to integrate an audio chip into its forthcoming low- and midrange graphics cards. The idea is that for those cards with a built-in HDMI port, on a motherboard equipped with an HD audio chip, you'll be able to pump both audio and video from your PC out of a single output, with no extra internal or external cable clutter. This EVGA e-Geforce 8600 GTS has a two DVI outputs, so you couldn't output audio with it anyway, but we do expect that other 8600 GTS cards will have an HDMI option. With no audio chip though, you'll need to patch the signal into the card from your PC's audio chip. Connecting the cables is only a minor hassle, but that difference could be a feather in ATI's cap when its new cards hit the market.

Test bed configurations:

Intel Core 2 Extreme X6800; Intel 975XBX2 motherboard; 2GB Corsair XMX Memory (two at 1GB each); 160GB Seagate 7,200rpm hard drive; Windows XP SP2; Drivers: ATI Catalyst 7.3, Forceware 93.71, Forceware 97.94 (GeForce 8800 GTS), Forceware 158.16 (GeForce 8600 GT and 8600 GTS)

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