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Nvidia GeForce 7950 GX2 review: Nvidia GeForce 7950 GX2

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Previously, when you wanted two 3D cards inside your PC (for the purposes of fast, high-resolution, high-detail gaming), you needed to buy two cards from ATI or Nvidia, plug each card into your PC's power supply, and join them together via either Nvidia's internal SLI connector or ATI's external CrossFire dongle. Through that process, you limit your expansion options--the bulky cards block adjacent slots--and increase the likelihood of requiring a massive power supply. Thanks to its all-in-one dual-3D-chip package, the GeForce 7950 GX2 solves all of those problems. A single GeForce 7950 GX2 still takes up two expansion slots' worth of space, but instead of losing two adjacent slots, now you lose only one. And because it requires but a single connection to your PC's power supply, you don't need the 600-watt, 750-watt, or 1-kilowatt power supplies that have become far too common. Instead, Nvidia recommends only a 400-watt power supply to power a single GeForce 7950 GX2, a marked improvement.

8.0

Nvidia GeForce 7950 GX2

The Good

Compact design; comparatively affordable; fast; simple Quad SLI design; reasonable power-supply demands.

The Bad

Impending DirectX 10 cards will make this card obsolete in short order; ATI is still the current leader with 3D image quality.

The Bottom Line

Nvidia's GeForce 7950 GX2 should have been an Editors' Choice contender. It brings two graphics processors to a single slot, costs half as much as similarly fast setups, and lays the groundwork for do-it-yourself Quad SLI. But the gap between this chip generation and the next is too close, so we recommend you pass on the 7950 GX2.
Nvidia's GeForce 7950 GX2 graphics card should be a PC gamer's dream. For a suggested price of between $600 and $650, the card gives you the same 3D gaming performance as you would get from two cards at half the cost. And because Nvidia crammed two graphics processors onto a single card, you lose only half as much interior desktop real estate. But the problem is that the GeForce 7950 will be an entire generation behind in roughly six months. We can deal with the iterative updates that happen within a generation of 3D chips, but the forthcoming shift from DirectX 9 hardware--such as the GeForce 7950--to DirectX 10-based gear later this year presents too monumental a change to justify spending $600 on the card now. It's too bad, because there's a lot to like here.

Nvidia GeForce 7950 GX2
The GeForce 7950 GX2 is much more compact than Nvidia's first dual-3D-chip card, the GeForce 7900 GX2, which was available only from system vendors.

So it's neither the design of the card nor its requirements that hold us back, but rather the 3D chips themselves. The GeForce 7000 series has been a solid performer for Nvidia. It helped usher in the dual-card SLI era, and even though ATI's Radeon X1000's can jump through a few more hoops, I think most gamers would argue that this current generation of 3D chips has served the gaming public well. If that sounds like an epitaph, you're not far off. The problem is Windows Vista, or more specifically, Vista's updated multimedia programming interface, DirectX 10.

DirectX is Microsoft's Rosetta stone for combining hardware and software. As long as software programmers and hardware developers design their products to cue into DirectX, compatibility should be guaranteed. The current version for Windows XP is DirectX 9.0c. Microsoft has stated that Vista will support DirectX 9 software and hardware but that the OS will ship with DirectX 10. The GeForce 7950 GX2 (along with the rest of the GeForce 7000 series), however, is a DirectX 9 part. This means that while it will work with Vista, it won't support the latest and greatest 3D features, so your $600 investment will be out-of-date only six months after you buy it, assuming Microsoft hits its targeted January Vista release date. While Nvidia (or ATI) has yet to announce a DirectX 10 chip, you can bet that such cards will be out or will be very near release by the time Vista launches.

All of which is too bad, because the GeForce 7950 GX2 really is a fast 3D card. Its core specs aren't as fast as Nvidia's single-card flagship, the GeForce 7900 GTX. That card has a 650MHz clock speed for the GPU and 800MHz for the memory, whereas the GeForce 7950 GX2 has a 600MHz GPU clock and only 500MHz for each chip's 512MB of DDR3 RAM. We're not surprised by the clock speed reductions given the heat and power issues inherent to running two fast GPUs in a single-slot package, but we were surprised by the performance results. (Props to Sarju Shah, GameSpot's illustrious associate hardware editor, for sharing his benchmark scores with us).

3DMark 2005
(Higher scores indicate better performance)
1,280x1,024  

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,600x1,200 (max. quality, no AA, no AF)  

On most of the charts, the GeForce 7950 GX2 hangs so close to a pair of GeForce 7900 GTX cards that the performance is basically the same. That's especially impressive given that two 7900 GTX cards will run you about $1,000. ATI's Radeon X1900 XT running in CrossFire mode wins by 500 points or so on 3DMark, but that too is an expensive setup, going for roughly $950. ATI still wins for 3D image quality, since on some games you can turn on more image quality features at the same time. But from a sheer dollars-per-frame-rate point of view, if Nvidia had released the $600 GeForce 7950 GX2 even three months ago, we might have called it the best deal we'd ever seen.

Half-Life 2: Lost Coast demo, 4X antialiasing, 16X anisotropic filtering (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,920x1,440 (4X antialiasing, 16X anisotropic filtering)  

Quake 4 Timedemo 5, High Quality mode (4X antialiasing, 8X anisotropic filtering) (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
High Quality mode, 4X antialiasing, 8X anisotropic filtering  

If you're wondering about whether you can build your own GeForce Quad SLI PC now that the 7950 GX2 seemingly makes it look easy, the answer is not yet. The 7950 GX2 is Quad-capable, but like the first generation GeForce 7900 GX2 boards, Nvidia will keep Quad SLI system-builder only for now. From what we understand, Nvidia is waiting to get the drivers ready and is making sure the retail motherboards are all up to snuff. Along with the press review material, Nvidia sent us a list of motherboards and the BIOS updates we'd need to make for each of them to get Quad SLI to work. We imagine that Nvidia wants to wait for the motherboard compatibility issues to work themselves out before flipping the DIY switch.

We should add that with the GeForce 7950 GX2, Nvidia has put its ForceWare Release 90 drivers up for download on its Web site. With that driver set, you get Nvidia's new Control Panel, which gives you a more user-friendly interface for managing your display and 3D settings, similar to ATI's Catalyst Control Center software, released last year. Nvidia also claims its new software improves various video image-quality tweaks. Our resident home-theater PC guru, Dan Ackerman, is going to tackle that next week. Since the video improvements apply to all of Nvidia's 3D cards, and we don't expect many people will buy a GeForce 7950 GX2 for home theater needs, we will discuss the video improvements in their own article.

ATI test bed (ATI Catalyst 6.5 drivers)
AMD Athlon 64 FX-60 CPU, Asus A8R32-MVP Deluxe motherboard, 2GB (1GB x 2) Corsair XMS Memory, 160GB Seagate 7200.7 Serial ATA hard drive, Windows XP Professional SP2.

Nvidia test bed (ForceWare version 84.21 driver, ForceWare 91.29 driver for 7950 GX2):
AMD Athlon 64 FX-60 CPU, Asus A8N32 SLI Deluxe motherboard, 2GB (1GB x 2) Corsair XMS Memory, 160GB Seagate 7200.7 Serial ATA hard drive, Windows XP Professional SP2.

8.0

Nvidia GeForce 7950 GX2

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 7Performance 9Support 0