Summary: NVIDIA's fall refresh continues with the GeForce 7950 GT. The card features 24 pixel shaders and 8 vertex shaders, as well as 512MB of memory. The best news of all though is its price: at $300 it's priced to move. But how does this new board compare to the GeForce 7900 GTX and 7900 GT, as well as ATI's latest and greatest? Find out as we explore the performance of the stock 7950 GT as well as factory OC'ed cards from BFG, EVGA, and XFX in our usual assortment of games as well as one new addition: Dark Messiah!
The GeForce 7950 GT is actually the second part of NVIDIA’s plans to spoil ATI’s party this fall. Last week we took a look at NVIDIA’s first effort, the GeForce 7900 GS, which has been architected to do battle with ATI’s Radeon X1800 GTO and X1900 GT at the $200 price point. The 7900 GS faired pretty favorably against the Radeon X1800 GTO, delivering better performance than the GTO overall, but against the newer X1900 GT it was a much closer battle, with the victor varying depending on the particular game being tested. The GeForce 7950 GT occupies the bracket just above the GeForce 7900 GS, priced at an MSRP of $300 and equipped with 512MB of GDDR3 memory. All GeForce 7950 GT cards are also equipped with the crypto-ROM chip necessary to support HDCP.
Although it sports the “GeForce 7950” number designation, the GeForce 7950 GT will not outperform the GeForce 7900 GTX, in fact the 7950 GT’s roots are closer to the 7900 GT rather than the 7950 GX2. We’d actually call it a supercharged GeForce 7900 GT rather than a souped-up GeForce 7900 GTX or GX2 as it’s built on the same board design as the 7900 GT, but more on that later.
The DNA among the 7900 GT/GTX and 7950 GT GPUs are the same, they all are based around NVIDIA’s G71 graphics processor and therefore have the same key technological features, the only subtle differences lie in how the board’s are configured.
The GeForce 7950 GT, like the GeForce 7900 GTX, ships with 512MB of GDDR3 memory, whereas the GeForce 7900 GT is typically limited to just 256MB (although in more recent months, some board partners have been equipping their 7900 GT boards with 512MB of memory, BFG being one example). The memory on the GeForce 7950 GT runs at 700MHz (1.4GHz effective), that’s 100MHz shy of the GeForce 7900 GTX and just 40MHz faster than the 7900 GT, while the 7950 GT’s graphics core runs at 550MHz, sitting right in between the 7900 GT and 7900 GTX, which are clocked at 450MHz and 650MHz respectively. The GeForce 7950 GT has 24 pixel shaders and 8 vertex shaders, just like the GeForce 7900 GTX and 7900 GT.
Looking at the GeForce 7950 GT reference board’s cooling, we see that NVIDIA uses the same single-slot heatsink/fan unit first integrated on the GeForce 7900 GT reference board. The heatsink itself is made completely from copper and does a good job of keeping the graphics core cool, and is accompanied with a small fan. We should note that physically this is the exact same fan used on the 7900 GT reference board, only now it has been tweaked to run at variable fan speeds based on the GPU’s temperature. The GeForce 7900 GT was not equipped with a variable speed fan, running at full speed at all times. This change allows the GeForce 7950 GT to run a little quieter than the 7900 GT.
Because the 7900 GT and 7950 GT board designs are so similar, NVIDIA’s board partners shouldn’t have a difficult time transitioning from the GeForce 7900 GT to the 7950 GT. From their perspective, the GeForce 7950 GT is basically a drop-in replacement for the GeForce 7900 GT. This should make the conversion even easier for NVIDIA’s board partners. In fact, already we’ve received boards from BFG, EVGA, and XFX. Let’s take a look at a few of the first GeForce 7950 GT cards that will be hitting store shelves today.
BFG GeForce 7950 GT OC
BFG’s got one SKU planned for the GeForce 7950 GT, their GeForce 7950 GT OC graphics card. The 7950 GT OC boasts all the features BFG’s cards are famous for, as its “OC” name implies, the card is overclocked from the factory, running 15MHz higher than the stock GeForce 7950 GT on both the graphics core and memory. This equates to 565MHz on the graphics core, 715MHz (1.43GHz effective) on the memory, which should provide a nice boost over the stock 7950 GT.
For their GeForce 7950 GT OC BFG uses their now familiar blue PCB which they’ve used on other cards in the past. Other than this change, BFG’s GeForce 7950 GT OC deviates little physically from NVIDIA’s 7950 GT reference board. The card uses NVIDIA’s stock single-slot cooler for the 7950 GT and of course, it’s offered with BFG’s lifetime warranty.
The card is shipping to retailers now and carries an MSRP of $349, although some online vendors may carry the board closer to $300.
EVGA e-GeForce 7950 GT KO
EVGA’s got two SKUs currently planned for the GeForce 7950 GT, their e-GeForce 7950 GT 512MB w/EVGA fan is their stock GeForce 7950 GT board, while the e-GeForce 7950 GT KO is their higher-end card. This is the card we’re looking at today.
For enthusiasts looking for a little more performance, EVGA offers the e-GeForce 7950 GT KO. The e-GeForce 7950 GT KO ships with the same heatsink/fan unit for cooling, but also runs at higher clock speeds than the regular e-GeForce 7950 GT: 560MHz graphics core/725MHz (1.45GHz effective) memory.
Like BFG and EVGA, Gigabyte’s targeting enthusiasts with their GV-NX795T512H-RH graphics card. Gigabyte has partnered with Zalman to provide cooling for the card; in particular it’s outfitted with Zalman’s venerable VF700Al-Cu VGA cooler.
The VF700Al-Cu has been on the market for awhile now, and proven popular with enthusiasts looking to enhance the cooling of their graphics card. The cooler has also been used by card manufacturers like Sapphire, who used an all-aluminum derivative of the VF700 for their X800 XL Ultimate card. The VF700’s unusual shape gives it more surface area while still taking up less space on the graphics board, although it is a dual-slot cooler.
Based on photos provided by Gigabyte, their GV-NX795T512H-RH board won’t ship with the RAMsinks that normally accompany the VF700, but with the cooler’s reputation for generating very little noise, it should be a very interesting card for anyone looking to build a near-silent system around the GeForce 7950 GT. Gigabyte sticks to NVIDIA’s reference specifications for the rest of the board, including the graphics core and memory, while Gigabyte expects the first boards to ship in late September.
Leadtek WinFast PX7950 GT TDH/Extreme
Leadtek is another NVIDIA board partner that plans to spice up their GeForce 7950 GT board a little bit over stock. Rather than relying on NVIDIA’s stock heatsink/fan cooling unit, Leadtek has come up with a solution of their own that they also use on their GeForce 7900 GS board.
What really sets Leadtek apart though is the clock speeds they’ve announced for the PX7950 GT TDH Extreme. Leadtek’s shooting for 600MHz on the graphics core for the Extreme card, while the board’s memory runs at 715MHz (1.43GHz effective). With such high clock speeds, this could be the board to beat when it comes to performance, but we’ll have to wait and see when the board actually ships.
For more budget-minded consumers, Leadtek will also be offering the PX7950 GT TDH. This board sports the same cooling as the Extreme card, only it sticks with the stock NVIDIA clock speeds of 550MHz core/700MHz memory. Both cards also ship with a copy of Serious Sam II and Spell Force 2: Shadow Wars and should be available later this month.
XFX GeForce 7950 GT 570M Extreme
Without a doubt, the award for the most unique GeForce 7950 GT card on the market goes to XFX so far. Unlike the other manufacturers, XFX’s GeForce 7950 GT cards run completely silent, relying on heat pipe cooling to keep the graphics core and its memory cool. XFX’s cooler is single-slot, so those of you with small cases shouldn’t have a problem getting the 570M Extreme to fit inside your case. When you combine this with the card’s silent operation, this makes XFX’s 570M Extreme ideal for home theater PC applications. In fact we’re so impressed with this card so far that Alan’s going to be featuring this card in his next HTPC build article. XFX’s heat pipe does a very good job of dissipating heat off the graphics core and memory, the fact that they were able to pull it off without the use of copper or a dual-slot heatsink is even more impressive.
Besides the massive heat pipe on the top of the card, you’ll also notice that like previous Extreme cards from XFX, the 570M Extreme sports a black PCB with neon green DVI connectors. It’s a sharp-looking board in our opinion.
In addition to the silent cooling, XFX also overclocks the board out-of-the-box, with the GPU running at 570MHz while its memory runs at 1.46GHz, making it a pretty spry performer as well.
XFX offers two SKUs for the GeForce 7950 GT, both feature XFX’s silent cooling. There’s the overclocked 570M Extreme that we’re testing today which carries an MSRP of $329.99 (Part Number PV-T71J-YHE9), and the regular XFX GeForce 7950 GT (Part Number PV-T71J-YHF9), which sells for $299.99. Both cards are available for purchase today, and both ship with a copy of Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter inside the box.
Half-Life 2 Lost Coast
We're continuing to test the NVIDIA cards in "high quality" rather than the default image quality mode which is "quality". As we've discussed previously, we've gotten lots of positive feedback as a result of this change, so we see no reason to change now. NVIDIA enthusiasts should note though that while enabling the high quality mode does cut down on texture shimmering, it does come with a performance hit.
3DMark 06 – Direct3D
Half-Life 2: Lost Coast – Direct3D
Battlefield 2 – Direct3D
Quake 4 – OpenGL
Dark Messiah: Might and Magic Demo – Direct3D
Utilizing Valve’s Source engine, Dark Messiah appears primed to give Oblivion some major competition when its released later this year. For our testing we run manual walkthroughs with FRAPS in the opening area of the game demo.
Lock On: Modern Air Combat – Direct3D
F.E.A.R. – Direct3D
Oblivion – Direct3D
Oblivion – Direct3D
Call of Duty 2 – Direct3D
Far Cry – Direct3D
NVIDIA has incorporated several new improvements to the base design, such as adding temperature-based fan control to the board’s cooling system, making HDCP support mandatory among all 7950 GT cards, and the 512MB frame buffer requirement, and of course the board also runs at higher clock speeds. As you saw in the benchmarks, the new clocks gave the 7950 GT a nice boost in performance over its predecessor. In F.E.A.R. for example, performance was up over 15% in comparison to the 7900 GT at 1600x1200 while the 7950 GT enjoyed a performance advantage of 16% in Quake 4 at the same resolution. Thanks to its extra memory, the GeForce 7950 GT should pull even further away once the next generation of shader model 3.0 games ships early next year such as Unreal Tournament 2007 and Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway, which are both powered by Unreal Engine 3.
You’ll never confuse a GeForce 7950 GT for a GeForce 7900 GTX, NVIDIA has improved the board’s core clock frequency pretty dramatically but its memory speed is only up 40MHz over the stock GeForce 7900 GT, in fact we wouldn’t be surprised if some of the voltmodded 7900 GT boards enthusiasts are currently gaming on, as well as some of the factory overclocked 7900 GT boards with higher OCs (such as EVGA’s 7900 GT Signature Series) are capable of outrunning a stock 7950 GT. Therefore those of you with any of those cards shouldn’t regret your purchase. What NVIDIA’s basically done with the GeForce 7950 GT is bring that higher level of performance to a lower price point, as well as dropping in a few extras such as HDCP.
How does the board compare against its new competitor, the Radeon X1900 XT 256MB? Overall we’d have to give the performance advantage to the ATI card; the X1900 XT 256MB not only performed better in the benchmarks ATI cards traditionally do well in (Call of Duty 2, Battlefield 2, Oblivion), the X1900 XT 256MB also outperformed the stock GeForce 7950 GT in titles we normally see GeForce cards come out ahead, such as Quake 4. The X1900 XT 256MB also put up a strong showing in F.E.A.R., outrunning the GeForce 7950 GT by 15% at 1600x1200.
With that being said, that doesn’t mean that the GeForce 7950 GT is a failure. The GeForce 7950 GT has many strengths going for it that you won’t see in a traditional performance benchmark.
For starters there’s SLI. While ATI’s driver team is working hard on getting CrossFire caught up to SLI, NVIDIA’s still got the more mature setup. Not only are more games supported by SLI, NVIDIA also provides features such as SLI profiles, so even if your favorite game doesn’t have native SLI support, you can add it by hand manually (although ATI’s improving in this regard with their last two Catalyst driver releases supporting the ability to force AFR via Catalyst A.I.).
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