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Nvidia GeForce 7950 GT review: Nvidia GeForce 7950 GT

It can't hang with ATI's faster (and wider) Radeon X1900 XT in performance, but if you're building a small PC or you're concerned about noise levels, the GeForce 7950 distinguishes itself as the only single-slot 3D card in its price range. If efficiency is more important than speed, Nvidia makes it easy.

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Rich was the editorial lead for CNET's Home and Wellness sections, based in Louisville, Kentucky. Before moving to Louisville in 2013, Rich ran CNET's desktop computer review section for 10 years in New York City. He has worked as a tech journalist since 1994, covering everything from 3D printing to Z-Wave smart locks.
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We considered Nvidia's GeForce 7900 GT the 3D card price-performance leader when we reviewed it back in the spring of this year. It was fast enough to do justice to most games on the market, and its $300 price tag didn't break the bank. We're less enthused about its fall update, the GeForce 7950 GT. This card also costs around $300 (you can find the 7900 GT for about $250 now), and it has twice the memory of its predecessor, with 512MB. Nvidia designed the GeForce 7950 GT to wear the price-performance crown, but compared to the similar ATI Radeon X1900 XT, the Nvidia card can't keep up to speed.

By the numbers, the GeForce 7950 GT looks strong but not as strong as the competition. Nvidia has a pixel pipeline advantage, dedicating 24 pipes to rendering dots on the screen compared to the Radeon X1900 XT's 16. But its clock speeds come in at 550MHz for the chip and 1.4GHz for the DDR3 memory. The Radeon 1900XT has a faster 625MHz core and a slight memory speed advantage at 1.44GHz. That translates to an overall performance win for ATI, even when we compare its newly released 256MB Radeon X1900 XT against the 512MB GeForce 7950 GT.


Nvidia GeForce 7950 GT

The Good

Updates the older GeForce 7900 GT; takes up less space and is more power efficient than ATI's competing Radeon X1900 XT.

The Bad

Not as fast as the ATI competition; next-gen cards coming out soon could limit the lifespan.

The Bottom Line

It can't hang with ATI's faster (and wider) Radeon X1900 XT in performance, but if you're building a small PC or you're concerned about noise levels, the GeForce 7950 distinguishes itself as the only single-slot 3D card in its price range. If efficiency is more important than speed, Nvidia makes it easy.

The only test the GeForce 7950 GT took from ATI was Futuremark's synthetic (that is, not representative of real-world gameplay) 3DMark06. On that benchmark, the GeForce 7950 GT landed right in the middle of the 256MB and 512MB versions of the Radeon X1900 XT. But on every test using an actual game, at least at 1,600x1,200, the GeForce 7950 GT fell behind. We're most surprised by its loss on Quake 4, which Nvidia used to dominate. At the more complex 1,920x1,440 resolution, the GeForce 7950 GT fared better on Half-Life 2: The Lost Coast, which indicated to us that if you use Nvidia's SLI technology to pair two GeForce 7950 GT cards together, you might get better performance at higher resolutions than you would applying ATI's competing CrossFire dual-card mode. We've long favored SLI for its price advantages and its more elegant all-internal implementation over CrossFire's external dongle anyway.

Quake 4
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
High Quality, 2,048x1,536, 4 X AA/16X AF  
High Quality, 1,600x1,200, 4X AA/16X AF  

Half-Life 2: The Lost Coast
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,920x1,440, Max Quality 4X AA/16X AF  
1,600x1,200, Max Quality 4X AA/16X AF  

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,920x1,440, Max/Shadows on grass off/Self shadows off  
1,600x1,200, Max/Shadows on grass off/Self shadows off  

Where Nvidia does get the win is with setup. For one, the 7950 GT is a single-slot card; the Radeon needs only one PCI Express slot, but its double-wide design takes up the space of two slots. Both cards require direct power-supply connections, but Nvidia recommends a 400-watt power supply, while ATI recommends 450 watts. It's a minor distinction, but if you're trying to make a small-form-factor PC or if you're concerned about heat and, in turn, fan noise, the GeForce 7950 GT is less demanding than the Radeon X1900 XT in terms of power consumption.

We should add that Nvidia's next-generation cards, code-named G80, are due out before the end of the year. We imagine that if you're looking for solid performance and aren't too concerned with setting frames-per-second records, the GeForce 7950 GT will serve you well for at least another year or so. If you really want to get the most from your gaming hardware, however, and you don't mind waiting a few months, you might be able to get a more futureproof 3D card for a similar price. Still, priced at a reasonable $300, the GeForce 7950 GT shouldn't leave you with a case of buyer's remorse when the new cards hit (unlike Nvidia's fast-but-pricey $600 GeForce 7950 GX2).

Finally, we must thank GameSpot's Sarju Shah and James Yu, who provided us with the test results for this review, as they have for the last couple 3D cards we've covered. They've now completed a comprehensive roundup of the current state of the graphics card picture, covering four different market segments. If you're totally overwhelmed with the prospect of buying a new 3D card, that's the first place to look.

Test bed
AMD Athlon 64 FX-62; Asus A8RMVP-Deluxe motherboard; 1GB Corsair XMS 3200XL DDR SDRAM; 160GB Seagate 7,200rpm hard drive; ATI Catalyst beta version 6.8_8.282.1 graphics driver software; Nvidia ForceWare 91.31 graphics driver software


Nvidia GeForce 7950 GT

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 7Performance 0Support 6