Summary: In this article we've rounded up 8 of the hottest GeForce 8800 GT boards on the market right now. All of the cards are factory OC'ed and some of them even ship with coolers from Arctic Cooling and Zalman. This article weighs in over 6,000 words, so strap in as we take a look at the best of the best GeForce 8800 cards!
The GeForce 8800 GT didn’t just establish new levels of performance at the $250-$300 price point, it completely redefined what gamers expect out of a $300 graphics card: a factory overclocked GeForce 8800 GT card can give the GeForce 8800 GTX a run for its money at 1600x1200, all while costing hundreds of dollars less.
The fact that it accomplishes all this while running quietly with lower power consumption and requiring just one graphics slot is icing on the cake!
Because of its outstanding price/performance ratio, the GeForce 8800 GT was the card of choice in our $500 Gaming PC Upgrade article. In the article we directly challenged the notion that you need to spend thousands of dollars to build a nice PC for gaming. In fact, we proved that $500 is all you need to upgrade an existing computer to deliver performance and graphics that were better than any game console from Sony, Nintendo, or Microsoft. This is all due in large part thanks to the GeForce 8800 GT.
So in that article we told you to pick up a GeForce 8800 GT as the centerpiece of your system followed by solid components like the Gigabyte motherboard, Athlon 64 X2 4000+ and OCZ RAM playing a supporting role, but we didn’t tell you which GeForce 8800 GT to buy.
In today’s article we’re going to take a look at eight of the best GeForce 8800 GT cards on the market right now.
We’ve rounded up cards from ASUS, ECS, EVGA, Gigabyte, Leadtek, MSI, Palit, and XFX. Each card has its fair share of unique features going for it. For instance, some of the cards ship with aftermarket or custom cooling for better thermal performance, while all of them are factory overclocked. The following chart summarizes the key features found in the boards we’re evaluating today (all of the prices come from Newegg or TigerDirect):
The first card we’re looking at is ASUS’ EN8800GT TOP. ASUS is well known for their high-end motherboards and video cards. Their “TOP” line of cards are catered towards enthusiasts looking for more performance than your typical GeForce or Radeon graphics card which runs at the stock clock frequencies outlined by AMD and NVIDIA. ASUS accomplishes this by running the GPU and memory at speeds that are higher than the stock GPU specifications. In the case of the EN8800GT TOP for instance the GPU runs at 700MHz – that’s 100MHz higher than the stock GeForce 8800 GT’s reference speed of 600MHz – while the board’s memory runs at 1.0GHz (2.0GHz effective). In comparison, NVIDIA’s reference specifications for the GeForce 8800 GT call for a memory speed of 900MHz.
One additional feature ASUS has re-integrated into their latest TOP cards is their Smart Doctor software. With ASUS Smart Doctor, you can overclock the TOP card for even more performance. In fact, one new feature ASUS has added to Smart Doctor is the ability to adjust not only the GPU and memory speeds, but also the clock speed of the GPU’s stream processors. If you recall, this was a feature that NVIDIA promised they would add to their own nTune software over a year ago but it’s still MIA to this day.
Smart Doctor can also be used to monitor critical aspects of the GPU such as the board’s fan speed, temperature, and voltages. Smart Doctor also includes ASUS HyperDrive, which can be used to automatically overclock the card, while SmartCooling dynamically adjusts the fan’s RPMs based on temperature or workload (keep in mind that dynamic fan speed is a feature present on all 8800 GT cards).
Besides Smart Doctor, ASUS continues to bundle their cards with their GamerOSD and Video Security Online programs. Like FRAPS, GamerOSD provides real-time frames per second monitoring, video capture, and screenshot capability. GamerOSD can also be used to overclock the GPU while you’re gaming.
Physically, the EN8800GT TOP card itself is an exact copy of NVIDIA’s reference board design for the GeForce 8800 GT. ASUS has made no changes to the board’s components; everything is stock including the power circuitry and the card’s fan.
On the fan you can’t miss the large Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts sticker. Company of Heroes was one of the top games of 2006 and the Opposing Fronts expansion was launched late last year. The game supports DirectX 10 graphics and currently sells for $30-$40 online, so the fact that ASUS includes this game for free with the card makes it a great value if you were planning on picking up Opposing Fronts, or you just want to see why this RTS is so widely acclaimed. Besides the copy of Opposing Fronts, ASUS bundles the card with one DVI adapter, a power cable, and a component video cable. The card also comes with a leather CD wallet.
While ECS is best known for their inexpensive AMD and Intel-based motherboards, they also make other products such as notebooks and graphics cards.
We’ve got to be honest here – while we’ve reviewed ECS motherboards in the past, we’ve never taken a look at one of their graphics cards before. But after one glance at the ECS N8800GT-512MX DT it’s hard not to be impressed, and we immediately wanted to check it out.
As you may or may not know, some enthusiasts have complained about the thermal performance of the stock NVIDIA cooling unit. While it gets the job done decently enough of keeping the GeForce 8800 GT’s G92 graphics core cool, it does so while doing a less effective job than some enthusiasts would like. GPU temps in the 90 degree range aren’t unheard of.
While we haven’t run into any stability issues with any of the GeForce 8800 GT cards we’ve tested, nor have we seen any artifacts in our testing (including overclocking), these operating temps are higher than some enthusiasts would like and thus they’ve turned to aftermarket VGA cooling solutions made by companies like Arctic Cooling, Thermaltake, and Zalman to help keep the GPU cool. While these coolers are more effective than the stock NVIDIA cooler, the downside is you’ll usually void your card’s warranty (only EVGA and XFX warranties allow you to swap coolers), and of course, there’s the added cost of having to buy the aftermarket fan, which can range in price from $15 to as high as $50 depending on which fan you buy.
Recognizing this problem, ECS has partnered with Artic Cooling to deliver aftermarket cooling to their GeForce 8800 GT board. The N8800GT-512MX DT comes standard with an Artic Cooling Accelero S1 cooler and the optional Arctic Cooling Turbo Module you can attach to the Accelero’s heatsink for even greater cooling performance. If you were to buy this cooler at an online retailer such as Newegg, the Accelero and Turbo Module would set you back about $25.
At the heart of the Accelero S1 are four copper heatpipes. The heatpipes rest directly on top of the GPU and then run across the top of the entire graphics card. In fact, the heat pipes are so long, they extend beyond the graphics card.
The heatpipes draw heat off the GPU, this heat is then transferred to the air via a massive aluminum heatsink which consists of 32 fins. The beauty of this system is it does an excellent job of keeping the GPU cool while generating no noise: the cooler is 100% silent in stock form. This makes the ECS card perfect if you plan on building a silent or near silent PC.
For even better cooling performance, the stock Accelero S1 cooler can be enhanced with Artic Cooling’s Turbo Module, which consists of two 80x80x15mm fans. According to Arctic Cooling, the fans spin at just 1500 RPMs, so they don’t generate a lot of noise, but combined they supply up to 42 CFM of airflow to the S1 cooler. This helps to keep temperatures down even further. Installation of the Turbo Module is simple, all you have to do is snap the fans into place on the S1 heatsink, then you’ll need to supply the fans with power via a fan header on your motherboard, or you can use the included Molex adapter to draw power from your system power supply.
Keep in mind that the Turbo Module is completely optional: you don’t have to install the fans in order for the card to operate. The Accelero S1 cooler is more than capable of keeping the GPU cool on its own. But if you’re the type who wants maximum cooling, you’ll appreciate the fact that ECS includes the Turbo Module inside the box with their N8800GT-512MX DT board.
To finish the system off, the S1 cooler even includes RAMsinks for the board’s memory modules as well as additional aluminum heatsinks for the VRM circuitry.
Like the other board manufacturers in this roundup, ECS overclocks their N8800GT-512MX DT board for greater performance. The graphics core runs at 650MHz, while the board’s memory is clocked at 950MHz.
Besides the Turbo cooling module, other hardware accessories bundled with the card include one DVI adapter, a component video cable, and power cable. No software bundle is included other than the driver CD.
EVGA is well known for their history of providing some of the best warranty and tech support in the business. EVGA’s lifetime warranty is one of the most comprehensive warranty programs in the industry. Not only are EVGA’s cards covered for as long as you own the card, the warranty even covers you if you mod your card. Say for instance you want to swap out the stock graphics card cooler for a more powerful unit from another manufacturer. Under most warranty programs you void your warranty the minute you remove the stock cooling unit, but EVGA’s lifetime warranty isn’t voided: as long as you don’t physically damage the card in the process of modding it, you’re covered by the EVGA warranty. One important aspect of EVGA’s warranty though is that you must register your card with EVGA before the lifetime warranty kicks in. If your card is never registered, the EVGA warranty is limited to just one year.
EVGA’s tech support is also outstanding. Besides providing 24/7 toll-free tech support for North American card owners, EVGA also provides very good support on their message boards at evga.com. Their forums are monitored actively by EVGA support employees, where you’ll find them answering end users support questions on a daily basis.
Because of their excellent service/support and warranty, EVGA has earned a loyal following of enthusiasts, but another feature that sets them apart from others is their Step Up upgrade program. With Step Up, you can trade in your existing EVGA graphics card for a faster EVGA model, provided the upgrade occurs within 90 days of the original card purchase. Say for instance you pick up a GeForce 8800 GT SSC today, and a month from now your tax rebate check comes in and you decide you want to upgrade to a GeForce 8800 Ultra. With EVGA’s Step Up program, you’ll get the full value of your original GT card, so if you paid $300 for your old card and you want to upgrade to a $500 card, you merely pay the difference of $200.
The only downside to Step Up is that you can only use it once, so you’ll have to choose when to use Step Up wisely.
EVGA has also developed a reputation for delivering excellent game bundles with their cards. Last year EVGA bundled many of their GeForce 8800 GT and GeForce 8800 GTS 512MB cards with newly released games like Enemy Territory: Quake Wars and Crysis.
The e-GeForce 8800 GTS SSC is the flagship of EVGA’s GeForce 8800 GT lineup. The card is clocked at 700MHz on the graphics core, and 1.0GHz on the memory. These are the same speeds as the ASUS EN8800 GT TOP, placing both of these cards at the extreme high-end of the GeForce 8800 GT market when it comes to performance. In fact, both of these cards can outperform a stock GeForce 8800 GTS 512MB in some cases.
The board design of the e-GeForce 8800 GTS SSC follows NVIDIA’s reference design to the letter. No deviations are made on the board itself or its cooling. Other than the supercharged clock speeds, the SSC Edition card is identical to other GeForce 8800 GT boards EVGA offers in their lineup. If you’d like to save a little money, EVGA offers three additional GeForce 8800 GT SKUs, the e-GeForce 8800 GT KO, which runs at 675MHz core/975MHz memory, the e-GeForce 8800 GT Superclocked (650/950), and finally the e-GeForce 8800 GT, which runs at the standard GeForce 8800 GT clock speeds.
While Gigabyte is probably better known among enthusiasts for their high-end motherboards rather than their video cards, Gigabyte has made some standout cards in the past. Arguably one of the most talked about video cards in Gigabyte’s history is the 3D1. The Gigabyte 3D1 was the first of a wave of GeForce boards to combine two GPUs onto one PCB, delivering SLI performance from one card rather than two.
In the case of the 3D1, two GeForce 6600 GT GPUs were mated together with 256MB of memory. The card delivered performance that was comparable to two GeForce 6600 GT’s combined for SLI, but since the GeForce 6600 GT relied on a 128-bit memory interface, the 3D1 card couldn’t quite match the performance of a GeForce 6800 GT, although there were a handful of cases where it came close. Ultimately the Gigabyte 3D1 was really more of a technology demonstration showcasing the prowess of Gigabyte’s engineers more than anything else – the tech predated NVIDIA’s own dual GPU GeForce 7900 GX2 card by a little over a year.
Now Gigabyte is working on integrating many features found on their high-end motherboards into their graphics cards. Improvements such as better power and cooling are the focus of Gigabyte’s efforts. As you can see, the GV-NX88T512HP is one such board.
Gigabyte’s GV-NX88T512HP is the newest board to arrive in our labs. Unlike Gigabyte’s first GeForce 8800 GT card which was based on NVIDIA’s reference board design, Gigabyte has developed their own custom board design for the GV-NX88T512HP.
For starters the PCB on the GV-NX88T512HP is shorter than other GeForce 8800 GT cards, measuring just over 7.5” rather than the 9” PCB used by other manufacturers. This should help the card fit in smaller cases.
Another change that Gigabyte has incorporated on the GV-NX88T512HP is its 4-phase power delivery. NVIDIA’s reference board design calls for 2-phase power. The addition of a 4-phase power subsystem ensures that the GPU is fed with a consistent flow of power. As the GPU scales to higher frequencies when overclocking, the 4-phase power present on the GV-NX88T512HP should do a better job of supplying the GPU with power than a 2-phase system would. The more robust power delivery system helps to keep overall board temps down as well. In fact, Gigabyte for instance doesn’t use heatsinks to cool the MOSFETs like the other GeForce 8800 GT manufacturers.
The other addition Gigabyte adds to their GV-NX88T512HP is known as “voltage gear overdrive”. You can spot the chip just behind the DVI adapters. This addition allows end users to adjust the GPU voltage, much like overclockers already do today when overclocking the CPU. Say for instance you just can’t get the card to run stable at 730MHz, no matter what you do the system locks up or you’re spotting artifacts. With voltage gear overdrive and Gigabyte’s GamerHUD software, you can easily crank up the GPU voltage to get that clock speed stable.
In fact, this is precisely how we were able to OC the GV-NX88T512HP further than any other card in this roundup. Running at stock voltage our GPU would only run stable up to 715MHz. We then cranked the voltage up to the max of 1.2V and were able to get the card to run with complete stability up to 740MHz.
GamerHUD even has a slider for overclocking the stream processors.
We would like to see Gigabyte include a few more voltage options though. Right now you’re currently limited to 4 voltage settings: a 1.05V setting (if you wish to undervolt the GPU), the stock 1.1V, a 1.15V setting, and the 1.2V max. It would be nice if we could push the GPU a little further than 0.1V, but obviously we can also understand Gigabyte’s reservations about providing too many voltages. Too much juice could fry your GPU after all.
The final feature that sets the GV-NX88T512HP apart from others is its Zalman VF830 heatsink/fan unit cooling the GPU. The VF830 consists of two copper heatpipes which are directly responsible for cooling the GPU, while an aluminum heatsink dissipates heat off the heatpipes. Finally, a large fan supplies fresh air to the system.
While it may be hard to see in the pictures, the GV-NX88T512HP is a dual-slot graphics card, so you will need to keep this in mind if you’re limited to a single slot.
In terms of clock speeds, the GV-NX88T512HP is clocked at 700MHz core/920MHz memory. This is an improvement of 100MHz on the GPU over the stock GeForce 8800 GT, and 20MHz on the memory.
Hardware accessories bundled with the GV-NX88T512HP include two DVI adapters, a component video cable, and power adapter. Gigabyte also throws in a copy of the game Neverwinter Nights 2. In fact, Gigabyte not only includes the game on DVD-ROM, they also include a Neverwinter Nights 2 manual inside the box as well. Hardware manufacturers rarely include a physical manual you can sit down and read with their cards, so this feature is definitely a welcome bonus and we applaud Gigabyte for including it.
Leadtek is the oldest graphics card manufacturer included in this roundup. The company has been manufacturing video cards since its founding in 1986, making them older than NVIDIA. Since their inception, Leadtek’s focus has been on 3D graphics and graphics-related products like TV tuners, videophones, and webcams, but they’ve also expanded into other areas such as motherboards and USB storage.
Leadtek has traditionally catered their graphics cards towards the enthusiast market, but they also manufacture more conventional cards that are targeted towards the price conscious consumer. The high-end cards from Leadtek we’ve reviewed over the years include multiple Bull’s Eye and Editor’s Choice Award winners. Their WinFast PX8800GT Extreme is targeted towards the gamer who is looking for performance, as the board is clocked at speeds that are higher than most of the other GeForce 8800 GT boards on the market, yet it’s not priced as high as some of the other factory OC’ed boards reviewed here.
So how fast is the WinFast PX8800GT Extreme? How does a 680MHz graphics core sound? That’s 80MHz higher than the GPU clock frequency of a stock GeForce 8800 GT, while the board’s memory runs at 1.0GHz (2.0GHz effective), a figure which is 100MHz higher than the reference GeForce 8800 GT specifications.
Like most of the other cards in this roundup, the WinFast PX8800GT Extreme is based on NVIDIA’s reference board design and cooling. Leadtek does step out a bit with their bundle, shipping the WinFast PX8800GT Extreme with a copy of the game Neverwinter Nights 2 from developer Obsidian Entertainment. The game launched to generally positive reviews (although it was known for being buggy at launch), and even earned Gamespot’s Best Story award for 2006. In addition to the copy of Neverwinter Nights 2, Leadtek also includes a DVI adapter, component video cable, and power cable.
If performance isn’t everything to you, or perhaps you just want better cooling than the stock GeForce 8800 GT cooler from NVIDIA provides, you may also want to consider Leadtek’s PX8800GT ZL.
The PX8800 GT ZL uses a VGA cooler sourced from Zalman, hence the “ZL” in the card’s designation. Leadtek claims with the Zalman cooler in place, the GPU runs 20 degrees Celsius cooler than the stock NVIDIA heatsink/fan unit, although we don’t have a card in our labs so we can’t corroborate these figures. Leadtek clocks the PX8800GT ZL at 650MHz core/900MHz memory.
Finally, for price conscious consumers Leadtek offers their WinFast PX8800GT, which runs at the stock NVIDIA clock speeds of 600MHz core/900MHz memory.
Looking for a less expensive alternative to some of the other factory overclocked GeForce 8800 GT boards included in this roundup? If so, you’ll definitely want to check out the NX8800GT-T2D512E OC from MSI.
If you’ve price compared the various GeForce 8800 GT cards on the market with each other you’ve no doubt noticed that the factory overclocked 8800 GT boards tend to sell for $20 or more than the conventional GeForce 8800 GT cards that rely on the standard NVIDIA reference specifications. This extra $20 buys you guaranteed clock speeds as well as the peace of mind of having the factory warranty to fall back on if the card becomes glitchy after a year or two. For some people that extra $20 is worth it, but others would rather save that money and take a chance overclocking the card on their own by hand with nTune or RivaTuner. MSI’s NX8800GT-T2D512E OC is designed to give you the factory OC out-of-the-box without having to pay a premium for it.
The card carries an MSRP of $250 from MSI. That’s right, just $250! This is the same price that your typical bone stock GeForce 8800 GT sells for.
So what does that $250 buy you? The MSI NX8800GT-T2D512E OC is clocked at 660MHz on the graphics core, an improvement of 60MHz over the stock GeForce 8800 GT specifications, and the board’s memory runs at 950MHz, a figure which is 50MHz higher than the stock GeForce 8800 GT specs. As you can see in the pictures, the NX8800GT-T2D512E OC is based on the GeForce 8800 GT reference board design developed by NVIDIA, just like most of the other boards included in this roundup.
“Why do so many board partners stick to the reference design” you ask? The answer is simple: money. The reason why it’s so common to build on NVIDIA’s reference design is cost. It takes time and money to properly develop and manufacture your own custom board design and cooling. With the GeForce 8800 GT launching right in the middle of the busiest time of the year in terms of hardware sales, it just isn’t cost effective to wait weeks or even months before a custom design can be brought to market: as enthusiasts looking to upgrade during the GeForce 8800 GT shortage last year can attest to, every day counts.
To keep costs down, MSI skips the traditional game bundle that has shipped with many of their boards in the past. Instead the card ships with one DVI adapter, power cable, component video cable, and S-Video cable.
After posting our review of the Palit GeForce 8800 GT Super+1GB we received emails from a number of users asking us who Palit is, so we’ll provide a quick synopsis here. While you may not realize it, cards from Palit Multimedia can be found around the world under many different names. The Palit brand for instance is popular in Asia, where Palit is very popular. In Europe, Palit’s most well known subsidiary among our readers is probably Gainward. Gainward’s Golden Sample cards are highly sought after among enthusiasts thanks to their higher than stock clock speeds, and they can often be found with custom cooling. Long time FiringSquad readers will no doubt remember our admiration for Golden Sample cards we reviewed many years ago.
Another subsidiary of Palit Multimedia you may or may not be familiar with is XperVision.
Now Palit is going hardcore after the North American market. The North American market is huge, but also highly competitive. Palit’s goal is to become the #1 graphics provider in North America, and if they can pull it off it will be quite a coup for the company. In order to accomplish this, they’re focusing on delivering high quality, non-reference board designs when they can at competitive prices, in a similar fashion to the strategy Gainward currently employs in Europe. At this time, their cards can be found at online retailers like NCIX and TigerDirect; Palit is still working on landing a deal with Newegg.
They have offices in Canada as well as the west coast and mideastern USA, where they handle service/support for the North American market. The bottom line is while they aren’t a well known brand among most enthusiasts just yet, they certainly aren’t some fly by night company running out of somebody’s basement.
For their GeForce 8800 GT board Palit has developed their own custom board design and cooling, making them the only manufacturer included in this roundup to do both. So what changes has Palit made to reference GeForce 8800 GT board design developed by NVIDIA?
The most significant change to the board design is Palit’s 3-phase power circuitry. NVIDIA’s reference board design relies on 2-phase power. With its 3-phase power, the power subsystem of the Palit card can supply a steadier flow of power to the GPU. This is particularly important as you scale the GPU to higher clock speeds when overclocking. Now we’re not claiming that the Palit GeForce 8800 GT Sonic will OC further than other GeForce 8800 GT cards thanks to its more robust 3-phase power solution, as you all should know by now the biggest limitation to a successful OC is the chip itself and therefore OC’ing success can vary from card to card (if you’ve got a GPU chip that just won’t scale, the best power and cooling in the world won’t help; this is why binning is important), but in theory the cleaner power delivery should help enthusiasts when overclocking the card.
As we mentioned earlier with the Gigabyte board, these 3 and 4-phase power delivery solutions offered by Gigabyte and Palit also help to keep board temps down, this in turn helps to improve the longevity of the card as the board-level components don’t get as hot.
Besides the 3-phase power delivery, another change Palit has incorporated is their own custom cooler. The heatsink/fan unit employed by Palit is made from aluminum and is shaped like an Orb. It’s a dual-slot cooler, so you will have to leave the slot directly adjacent to the Sonic graphics card empty in order for the board to fit. Supplying the heatsink with cool air is a large fan. Don’t be concerned about its size though, it’s nice and quiet. Integrating a larger fan allows it to spin at lower RPMs, thus keeping noise down while still generating lots of airflow.
Besides the custom board design and cooling, the Palit GeForce 8800 GT Sonic is also overclocked from the factory, running at speeds of 650MHz core/950MHz memory (1.9GHz effective). While these speeds may not be as high as some of the other manufacturers, keep in mind that this can easily be remedied with a few mouse clicks in nTune or RivaTuner.
Another area where Palit distinguishes themselves from other board manufacturers is in the hardware bundle. The Palit GeForce 8800 GT Sonic is one of the few GeForce 8800 GT cards to support HDMI output out-of-the-box.
You see, rather than including two DVI adapters, Palit has chosen instead to include a DVI-to-HDMI adapter, allowing you to hook the board up an HDTV. Audio is then passed via a SPDIF cable which is also included in the card’s packaging. If your HDTV doesn’t have an HDMI input, Palit still provides a component video cable, and those of you with a VGA monitor will be pleased to hear that the card also ships with one DVI-to-VGA adapter. Palit then finishes the bundle off with a copy of Tomb Raider: Anniversary.
Besides EVGA, XFX is the only manufacturer included in this roundup to provide a lifetime warranty program on their graphics cards. In fact, XFX’s lifetime warranty program is more comprehensive than EVGA’s. This is because XFX’s lifetime warranty not only covers the person who originally purchased the card, but also the card’s second owner. XFX refers to this as their double lifetime warranty, going one step beyond the traditional lifetime warranty which only covers the original owner.
Like EVGA, the original card owner must register their card with XFX in order to activate the lifetime warranty. Once the card is registered, the original card owner is covered for as long as he owns the card. If he then decides he wants to sell it to someone else, the second card owner must simply register the card under their name with XFX in order to get the second lifetime warranty.
XFX’s lifetime warranty is quite comprehensive. Like EVGA, the XFX warranty isn’t voided if you mod your card (say for instance, you install a different cooler). In the words of XFX “for those of you who know how to push our cards to the limits, if anything goes wrong, we’ll service it free of charge. All you have to do is register the card with us online.” If the card isn’t registered, warranty coverage is limited to 1-year, so it’s critical that you register the card to receive the lifetime warranty.
With end users increasingly selling their old PC hardware on web forums and sites like eBay and craigslist, this double lifetime policy has proven popular with consumers.
Also like EVGA, XFX provides toll-free 24/7 tech support.
While XFX’s GeForce 8800 GT is based on NVIDIA’s reference board design, XFX has made one modification to the cooling in order to improve performance: they’ve incorporated a larger cooling fan. By integrating a larger fan on the board, the cooler can supply more cool air to the GPU and other board level components without having to spin up to higher RPMs and this generate more noise. This change addresses the one major criticism that has been levied at the stock GeForce 8800 GT – its high operating temperature.
Earlier this year we took a look at two XFX GeForce 8800 GT boards clocked similarly to one another. One card featured the new cooler with larger fan, while the second XFX card was from the initial GeForce 8800 GT launch and relied on the original GeForce 8800 GT reference cooling. In our testing the GT card with the new cooler ran seven degrees Celsius cooler at idle, and a whopping 25 degrees Celsius cooler at load!
But a revised cooling fan isn’t the only change XFX has made to the cooling subsystem of their GeForce 8800 GT card. Like many other XFX boards we’ve reviewed in the past, XFX continues to use a black aluminum plate at the top of the board for additional board cooling. This plate transfers heat from the board’s PCB directly to the air.
If faster speeds are important to you, XFX also produces a faster GeForce 8800 GT variant, the XFX GeForce 8800 GT XXX. The XXX board is built on the same reference board design and cooling as the card we’re reviewing today, only it runs at 670MHz core/975MHz memory. Moving further down the line, XFX also produces a GeForce 8800 GT XT board that runs at 640MHz core/950MHz memory. This board can also be sometimes found sold under the designation “Extreme”.
The PV-T88P-YDQ4 ships with a copy of the game Company of Heroes on two DVDs, as well as the 1.7 DX10 patch you’ll need to install if you want to play the game with full DX10 eye candy. Also included with the card is a Do Not Disturb tag you can hang on your door when gaming. Hardware accessories bundled with the card include two DVI adapters, a component video cable, power cable, and S-Video cable.
Intel Core 2 Extreme X6800
EVGA nForce 680i SLI motherboard (for GeForce cards)
2GB Corsair TWIN2X2048-6400C4
ASUS EN8800GT TOP
ECS N8800GT-512MX DT
EVGA e-GeForce 8800GT SSC
Leadtek WinFast PX8800GT Extreme
MSI NX8800GT-T2D512E OC
Palit GeForce 8800 GT Sonic
XFX GeForce 8800 GT (PV-T88P-YDQ4)
GeForce 8800 GT 512MB Reference
GeForce 8800 GTS 512MB Reference
300GB Western Digital Caviar SE
Windows Vista 64-bit w/Service Pack 1 RC Refresh
Company of Heroes 1.71
With this in mind, let’s go over the key highlights of all the boards represented here.
With its blazing clock speeds of 700MHz core/1.0GHz memory, the ASUS EN8800GT TOP ties with the EVGA e-GeForce 8800 GT SSC as the fastest GeForce 8800 GT card represented in this roundup. Let’s face it, this card is for performance junkies. ASUS also includes their Smart Doctor software, which allows you to tweak all sorts of things when it comes to clocks and fan speeds. With such high clocks though the board did run a little warmer than the other cards, but we didn’t run into any issues over the course of our testing.
ECS’ N8800GT-512MX DT card ships with an Arctic Cooling Accelero S1 mounted to the GPU, saving enthusiasts who are concerned about keeping the GeForce 8800 GT GPU cool the hassle of purchasing an aftermarket cooling unit. The card even comes with the optional Turbo module for additional cooling. With the Turbo fan in place, the N8800GT-512MX DT turned in the lowest temps of any card featured in this roundup. If you’re looking for a silent GeForce 8800 GT, this card would also be the obvious top choice.
Like the ASUS EN8800GT TOP, the EVGA e-GeForce 8800 GT SSC is designed for all-out performance. Both of these cards will give a GeForce 8800 GTS 512MB a run for its money at 1600x1200. On top of that, thanks to EVGA’s lifetime warranty you’re covered if anything ever happens to go wrong with the card. This card can also be found with a cutting-edge game bundle; our particular board shipped with Enemy Territory: Quake Wars, but some cards shipped with a copy of Crysis included. And on top of that, there’s always EVGA’s Step Up program.
The Gigabyte GV-NX88T512HP is the card for the hardware enthusiast who wants to extract every ounce of performance out of his card. It’s built around a custom board design that features Gigabyte’s Ultra Durable 2 components. These include a 4-phase power design, all-solid capacitors, and ferrite core chokes. On top of that, the GV-NX88T512HP ships with Gigabyte’s GamerHUD software, which allows you to adjust the GPU voltage. Gigabyte is the first manufacturer to bundle a utility like this with one of their GeForce 8800 GT cards. All these features should help you when overclocking the board. We also found that the Zalman cooler was quite effective too.
Leadtek’s WinFast PX8800GT Extreme nearly matches the ASUS and EVGA cards in performance, running at 680MHz core/1.0GHz memory. That’s just 20MHz shy of the ASUS and EVGA boards on the GPU, while it matches them on the memory. If you can find this board for less than the ASUS or EVGA OC’ed cards it would make an excellent secondary alternative for the gamer on a budget.
MSI’s NX8800GT is designed to appeal to the price conscious consumer who wants a factory overclocked board, but doesn’t want to pay a premium price tag for it: MSI overclocks the board just enough to separate it from stock GeForce 8800 GT boards, yet it officially carries an MSRP of just $250. As a result, the NX8800GT can be found online for less than the other factory OC’ed boards in this roundup. Right now the card can be found on Newegg for less than $230 without any mail-in rebates, making it one of the cheapest OC’ed GeForce 8800 GT cards on the market.
Like Gigabyte’s card, the Palit GeForce 8800 GT Sonic has been designed from the ground up to appeal to hardware enthusiasts who want a board that’s better built. Rather than rely on the NVIDIA reference design, the Palit GeForce 8800 GT Sonic has a more robust, 3-phase power solution. This supplies the GPU with cleaner power under extreme conditions. In addition, the card is equipped with a beefier dual-slot cooler. The Palit board turned in some of the lowest temps of any card in this roundup. Finally, Palit includes a DVI-to-HDMI adapter with their Sonic board and a SPDIF adapter, so you can hook this card directly up to your 50” plasma and home theater system. This should appeal to the HTPC fans. No other card in this roundup offers this final feature.
XFX’s GeForce 8800 GT 512MB (PV-T88P-YDQ4) appeals to multiple audiences. The card mixes a combination of appealing traits including price, performance, warranty, and cooling. In terms of pricing, the PV-T88P-YDQ4 card is priced among the less expensive tier of GeForce 8800 GT boards on the market, but it isn’t quite as cheap as some of the other manufacturers, or even XFX’s own PV-T88P-YHF4 board, which runs at the stock GeForce 8800 GT speeds and sells for about $20 less than the PV-T88P-YDQ4. Opting for the PV-T88P-YDQ4 gets you slightly higher speeds (625/900 vs 600/900), making it somewhat appealing if you want better-than-factory performance, but clearly even the PV-T88P-YDQ4 isn’t in the same class as the other factory OC’ed boards in this roundup when it comes to this category – that’s what you get an XFX “Extreme” or “XXX” board for. Thanks to its larger fan the board does feature very good cooling while still remaining in a single-slot form factor, which is a trait some of the other cards in this roundup can’t claim, and of course you can’t forget XFX’s double lifetime warranty, which is the most comprehensive warranty coverage in the business at this time.
Picking the GeForce 8800 GT card that’s best for you is ultimately going to come down to which card fits what you’re looking for the best. To some people, factory OC’ing isn’t important, as it can be accomplished easily via software programs like nTune and RivaTuner, but others appreciate the peace of mind that comes from having a board that’s guaranteed to runs at certain speeds with warranty. A lot of enthusiasts would appreciate the unique characteristics found in the boards that offer non-reference board designs and/or cooling.
Fortunately we’ve got eight really strong candidates here, all with different pros and cons. Hopefully this article helped steer you in the right direction. It’s now up to you to figure out which card is best for your particular situation.
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