/> ED I T O R S C H O I C E IN N O V A T IO N A W A R D
X

CNET editors pick the products and services we write about. When you buy through our links, we may get a commission.

Nvidia GeForce 7800 GTX (256MB) review: Nvidia GeForce 7800 GTX (256MB)

Rich_Brown.jpg

At $600, the card sits among the most expensive graphics cards on the market, but the good news is that, as always, the price will drop and the capabilities will eventually wind up on more moderately priced hardware. Some gamers will of course scoop up this card as soon as it hits the shelves, but the rest of us should consider the GeForce 7800 GTX a preview of the exciting new 3D technologies to come.

7.8

Nvidia GeForce 7800 GTX (256MB)

Pricing Not Available

The Good

Occupies only a single PCI Express slot; has lower power requirements than its predecessor; blazing Half-Life 2 and Doom 3 performance; support for impressive new rendering techniques, such as High Dynamic Range lighting; SLI ready; supports two digital LCDs.

The Bad

Expensive; Far Cry scores lacking; only a few current games support the new features.

The Bottom Line

If you're looking for the fastest, most cutting-edge 3D card on the market, look no further. For now, Nvidia's GeForce 7800 GTX is it.
Nvidia GeForce 7800 GTX
Editor's note: We reviewed an Nvidia reference card that is not available for purchase. Please click here for a list of retail cards using the same graphics chip. (6/24/05)
The Nvidia GeForce 7800 GTX graphics card impresses with its efficient design and big performance, but what's really exciting is the 3D-gaming future the card foretells. Yes, it's faster than its predecessor, the GeForce 6800 Ultra. And yes, it's faster (for the most part) than ATI's performance leader the Radeon X850 XT Platinum Edition. It's more than a mere frame-rate booster, however: the GeForce 7800 GTX showcases new rendering techniques that not only make prettier 3D pictures, but also enhance the gameplay experience as a whole.

The smooth moonlight blooming through the hole in the cave wall showcases the GeForce 7800 GTX's High Dynamic Range lighting capabilities.

The Nvidia GeForce 7800 GTX takes up a single PCI Express slot, making it a more compact piece of hardware than the dual-slot GeForce 6800 Ultra. It also uses less power. Nvidia recommends a 330-watt power supply (500 watts if you double up to an SLI configuration), a lower requirement than the 6800 Ultra's 350-watt specification.

Because it's more efficient, you can install the GeForce 7800 GTX in a wider variety of systems than its predecessor (small-form-factor PCs, for example), and you won't need to upgrade your power supply to do it. You still need to connect the card directly to your power supply, though, so if you have a number of components already drawing power, you might have to make a sacrifice. ATI has already been doing a great job of keeping its card designs both lean and mean, but we must give Nvidia credit for catching up.

The GeForce 7800 GTX uses 256MB of 600MHz DDR3 SDRAM; we may see a 512MB version eventually, but 256MB is plenty for current texture sizes. The core clock runs at a default 430MHz, and Nvidia also includes the CoolBits overclocking application (which you need to access via a registry tweak), so you also get the ability to eke out a few more frames. As for its default performance, the GeForce 7800 GTX dominates on most tests, but we can't say that it's the fastest card across the board.

On CNET Labs' Half-Life 2 benchmark--a test where ATI's Radeon cards traditionally dominate Nvidia's--the GeForce 7800 GTX posted a score of 81.4 frames per second at the highest resolution (1,600x1,200 pixels), an astonishing 54 percent leap over the ATI Radeon X850 XT Platinum Edition and its 52.8fps. Same goes for Doom 3 at the same resolution: the GeForce 7800 GTX outpaced the ATI card by 43 percent. Far Cry, however, was a different story.

On CNET Labs' Far Cry benchmark at 1,024x768 resolution, the GeForce 7800 GTX achieved a virtual tie with the Radeon X850 XT Platinum Edition, but as the resolution went up, ATI pulled ahead. That the GeForce 7800 GTX threatens the ATI card on the lower resolution test is admirable; the previous-generation GeForce 6800 Ultra consistently lost to ATI on that test. Despite its claims to the contrary, however, Nvidia still fails to dominate on the DirectX 9-based Far Cry, a game which the company uses to showcase its new graphics capabilities. Among other reasons, we suspect that the beta driver software has something to do with the GeForce 7800 GTX's mediocre Far Cry scores, and we look forward to retesting with an updated release.

As we said, though, the Nvidia GeForce 7800 GTX is about more than just frame rates. Even with the GeForce 6800 Ultra card, Nvidia highlighted its support for Pixel Shader 3.0 (PS 3.0), a rendering technique that enhances 3D surfaces to accurately reflect light and portray texture. The GeForce 7800 GTX maintains PS 3.0 support and also introduces High Dynamic Range (HDR) lighting, a significant advance in graphics rendering. In short, HDR lighting makes white light shine extra white and shadows appear extra dark, without losing the texture detail underneath.

Only three games on the market currently support HDR lighting and PS 3.0: Far Cry; Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory; and the Painkiller expansion, Battle Out of Hell. The effect of HDR lighting in Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory is especially dramatic, considering that the focus of the gameplay involves moving in and out of shadows. Nvidia has also highlighted demo clips from the Unreal Engine 3 currently in development at Epic Software to showcase the effects of PS 3.0, HDR lighting, and other tricks (14X antialiasing, for example). If those images represent the next generation in 3D graphics, Hollywood is in more trouble than ever in terms of giving consumers the most convincing make-believe.



This preview image from Epic's Unreal Engine 3 software shows what the future has in store for 3D graphics. And yup, that's an in-engine shot, not a prerender.

If you find that a single GeForce 7800 GTX card doesn't give you enough performance, you can always buy two. The standard card comes SLI capable, although the same rules apply: you must connect cards of the identical make and model. The GeForce 7800 GTX is also dual-DVI capable, so you can output to two LCD monitors. The card can also aid in displaying HD video content up to 1080i.

The Nvidia GeForce 7800 GTX still has a few kinks to work out. In order to streamline game settings, the driver software includes settings profiles for a number of games. Problem is, on the two different test PCs using Intel 900-series chipsets, half of the profiles didn't show up. They appeared fine on our AMD 939-chipset test machine, but it seems that Nvidia's driver software still has a bug or two. To the card's credit, it performed well despite the beta drivers.

News.com has reported that Nvidia will announce GT and Standard versions of 7800-series chip, and we anticipate that midrange and budget versions are imminent as well. Further, ATI is also set to debut its new graphics chip, code-named R520, reportedly at the end of July. It might not hurt to wait and see what ATI has to offer, but if you have to have the highest-end graphics right away, at this point we can make no other recommendation than the Nvidia GeForce 7800 GTX.

Doom 3 custom demo (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,600x1,200 with 4X antialiasing and 8X anisotropic filtering  
1,280x1,024 with 4X antialiasing and 8X anisotropic filtering  
1,024x768 with 4X antialiasing and 8X anisotropic filtering  
Nvidia GeForce 7800 GTX
50.1 
68.4 
99.3 

Far Cry custom demo (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,600x1,200 with 4X antialiasing and 8X anisotropic filtering  
1,280x1,024 with 4X antialiasing and 8X anisotropic filtering  
1,024x768 with 4X antialiasing and 8X anisotropic filtering  
Nvidia GeForce 7800 GTX
59 
77.2 
106.5 

Half-Life 2 custom demo (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,600x1,200 with 4X antialiasing and 8X anisotropic filtering  
1,280x1,024 with 4X antialiasing and 8X anisotropic filtering  
1,024x768 with 4X antialiasing and 8X anisotropic filtering  
Nvidia GeForce 7800 GTX
81.9 
101.5 
121.4 

ATI driver: Catalyst 5.6 (WHQL)

Nvidia driver: ForceWare 77.62 (beta)

Find out more about how we test graphics cards.

Graphics test bed configuration:
2.6GHz AMD Athlon 64 FX-55 CPU; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM running at 400MHz; Asus A8N SLI Deluxe motherboard; Nvidia Nforce 4 Ultra-SLI chipset; Western Digital 74GB WDC WD740GD-00FLX0 SATA hard drive; Microsoft Windows XP Professional SP2
7.8

Nvidia GeForce 7800 GTX (256MB)

Pricing Not Available

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 7