While ASUS is probably best known for their expertise in manufacturing motherboards, they’ve also established quite a reputation for producing solid graphics cards as well. Over the years they’ve produced a number of graphics cards that were quite unique -- with its ability to monitor board/GPU temps, dynamic clock speed adjustment based on load/temperature, and overclocking, ASUS’ Smart Doctor software was a godsend for enthusiasts, and was available years ahead of NVIDIA’s nTune or ATI’s Catalyst Control Center/Overdrive software. Back in the GeForce FX era, ASUS was one of the only manufacturers to integrate a single-slot cooling solution on the GPU, and of course we can’t forget, it was the introduction of ASUS’ Radeon 9800 XT card that got ATI and their board partners to finally integrate features like VIVO onto their graphics cards. Back then this feature was exclusive to just the All-In-Wonder line.
For the GeForce 8600 GTS, ASUS offers multiple SKUs. For enthusiasts who crave the absolute best performance, we were hoping to see a factory-overclocked TOP model similar to the prerelease board we tested back in April
, but unfortunately this card hasn’t hit the production line at ASUS, instead ASUS has opted to provide tamer cards – none of ASUS GeForce 8600 GTS cards are overclocked from the factory – yet with cooling units that are more elaborate than the reference NVIDIA heatsink/fan found on the prototype TOP card we tested a few months ago.
The cooler ASUS has implemented is larger than it initially looks, and reminds us in some ways of Zalman’s VF700 line of coolers. Like the VF700, the cooler on the ASUS EN8600GTS/HTDP/256M is dual-slot, so you will have to ensure that the expansion slot next to your PCIe graphics slot is empty in order for the ASUS card to fit. At the center of the cooler is a large 11-blade fan. This cooling fan generates very little noise, even under load with the card overclocked, and also does a very effective job of keeping the GPU cool.
We were quite impressed with the cooling unit ASUS has devised but it does have one small shortcoming – the memory modules aren’t a part of the package. Fortunately this isn’t a huge deal as the Samsung memory modules used on the card are designed to operate without cooling, but we still think it would have been nice if the ASUS board shipped with RAMsinks, especially since the stock NVIDIA 8600 GTS reference cooling does perform this function.
Because the ASUS cooler works so well, we were surprised by ASUS’ decision to stick with the stock GeForce 8600 GTS clock speeds of 675MHz on the graphics core, 1.0GHz memory (2.0GHz effective) and 1.45GHz for the stream processors. As we mentioned earlier, their prototype GeForce 8600 GTS TOP card put up very good performance numbers in our GeForce 8600 GTS preview article from April and it was outfitted with the stock NVIDIA cooling unit; now that they’ve developed their own custom cooler you’d think they’d be even more aggressive with the clock speeds but apparently they decided otherwise.
The rest of the EN8600GTS/HTDP/256M is pretty similar to the reference GeForce 8600 GTS board design from NVIDIA. ASUS uses different capacitors than the other manufacturers, but everything else is basically unchanged. Like all GeForce 8600 GTS cards, the board is equipped with dual-link DVI connectors and supports HDCP.
Software and accessories
It’s in this regard where you’ve got to play close attention with ASUS’ GeForce 8600 GTS cards. This is because ASUS offers the EN8600GTS with and without a game bundle. The standard EN8600GTS/HTDP/256M card we’re reviewing today ships with a DVI adapter, component video cable, and a leather CD wallet. This card ships without a game bundle and without a PCIe power adapter. However, ASUS provides a second GeForce 8600 GTS SKU, the EN8600GTS/G/HTDP/256M. The “G” in the card’s designation is important, as this card ships with a copy of the game STALKER on DVD-ROM. Unfortunately though, this SKU still only ships with one DVI adapter and also lacks the PCIe power cable.
One software program ASUS provides with all their graphics cards is their suite of Game applications. This includes Game Face Messenger (instant messaging client for live in game chatting) Game LiveShow, (allows you to stream your gaming sessions on the internet) Gamer OSD (overclocking utility) and Game Replay, which allows you to record gameplay into MPEG4 files you can play back later. This feature helps differentiate ASUS’ cards from the rest of the pack, although to be honest many gamers probably already have third-party apps that perform many of the same functions.