||EVGA e-GeForce 8800 GT Akimbo SC Review
April 13, 2008 Chris Crazipper Angelini
Summary: EVGA’s e-GeForce 8800 GT Akimbo takes one part value GPU and one part aftermarket cooling to create a powerful DirectX 10 board that delivers overclocked performance for less than $300 bucks.
| Introduction||Page:: ( 1 / 12 )|
Unless you’re religious about following graphics card launches, there’s a good chance that the current GPU landscape is more than a little confusing. It’s littered with model numbers, model number suffixes, and “special” configurations. You have AMD and NVIDIA trying to create value at every price point. Then there are the board partners making slight changes to further differentiate from everybody else selling the same GPUs.
As a result, there’s a lot of overlap. “Should I buy the super-duper overclocked 8800 GT or go with the stock GTS with 16 extra shader processors at the same price?” Tough question. EVGA’s e-GeForce 8800 GT Akimbo bets you’ll see the value in NVIDIA’s compelling G92 core with 112 stream processors.
Before we break into specially-tuned e-GeForce 8800 GT Akimbo card, let’s spend a quick second to set NVIDIA’s base lineup straight.
|GPU Comparison Chart|
|NVIDIA's Mid- to High-End GPUs|
|Core Clock||Shader Clock||Memory Clock||Memory||Memory Interface||Stream Processors|
|GeForce 9800 GTX (G92)||675 MHz||1688 MHz||1100 MHz||512MB||256-bit||128|
|GeForce 9600 GT (G94)||650 MHz||1625 MHz||900 MHz||512MB||256-bit||64|
|GeForce 8800 GTX (G80)||575 MHz||1350 MHz||900 MHz||768MB||384-bit||128|
|GeForce GTS (G92)||500 MHz||1200 MHz||800 MHz||640/320 MB||320-bit||128|
|GeForce 8800 GTS 512 (G92)||650 MHz||1625 MHz||970 MHz||512MB||256-bit||128|
|GeForce 8800 GT (G92)||600 MHz||1500 MHz||900 MHz||512MB||256-bit||112|
|GeForce 8800 GS (G92)||550 MHz||1375 MHz||800 MHz||384MB||192-bit||96|
Holy market segmentation, Batman. Those seven graphics processors are but a sample from the middle of NVIDIA’s complete product portfolio. You have a few others that are faster and several more GPUs tailored to the mainstream side of things.
I never thought I’d see the day when I’d miss having one or two high-end cards, a couple of mid-range boards, and a handful of entry-level solutions from which to choose. And this is just the official lineup-from NVIDIA. From here, each board partner is able to tweak the core and memory frequencies. They can change the standard cooling solutions, and they can adjust their bundles to attract more attention.
Choice is good, of course. But now, more than ever, gamers need to be on their toes if they want the best possible buy. Ready to hack through a twisted jungle of similar performance and $20 price differences in the interest of pegging the right card for your gaming rig?
8800 GT, An Instant Classic
Prior to NVIDIA’s introduction of the 8800 GT late in 2007, mainstream gaming was a muck of mediocrity. Neither AMD’s 2600-series Radeons nor NVIDIA’s 8600-series GeForces had the fortitude to push through the latest DirectX 10 titles at high resolutions. Both companies needed offerings more similar to their high-end designs at palatable price points.
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The GeForce 8800 GT delivered a much-anticipated injection of DX10 steroids to enthusiasts on a budget. Based on the brand new G92 graphics core with 112 stream processors, the 8800 GT offered significantly more parallelism than the 8600-series cards and their 32 stream processors. How’d NVIDIA manage to cram so much horsepower onto a mainstream board? It moved G92 over to a 65nm node, cutting costs even as it made room for a more balanced gaming architecture. Finally, there was something worth buying between the 8600s and NVIDIA’s pricier GeForce 8800 GTS (which incidentally, the GT generally outperforms).
The card we’re looking at today is no reference board trying to duck in under $200, though. That much should be evident just by looking at it. EVGA’s e-GeForce 8800 GT Akimbo is a specially-designed model for mainstream folks on a spendy kick. Or maybe it’s better suited for hardcore enthusiasts pinching pennies. Either way, the e-GeForce 8800 GT Akimbo treads right over the 8800 GTS and into the territory of NVIDIA’s higher-end offerings.
| Meet Mr. Akimbo||Page:: ( 2 / 12 )|
More Power, Scotty
The dictionary would have us believe akimbo is a reference to a human body position. Wikipedia suggests that the word, more recently evolved, refers to dual-wielding two weapons.
However EVGA settled on the nomenclature, there’s no denying this 8800 GT is bigger and badder than any other we’ve seen.
Architecturally, everything about the e-GeForce 8800 GT Akimbo is identical to what you’ve already seen. It sports a G92 GPU on the 65nm process. That GPU supports PCI Express 2.0, wields 112 stream processors, and communicates with GDDR3 memory over a 256-bit bus. The factory specs for an 8800 GT include a 600 MHz core clock, 1500 MHz shader clock, and 900 MHz memory clock.
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Of course, everyone knows there is headroom built-in there. And everyone seems to want to milk a little extra performance from those factory specs.
EVGA’s e-GeForce 8800 GT Akimbo ratchets the NVIDIA recommend numbers up to 720 MHz on the core clock and 1000 MHz on the memory clock. Quite the substantial increase. In fact, we’ve even got an EVGA e-GeForce 8800 GT Superclocked Edition on hand for comparison. The good ol’ Superclocked card itself bumps those standard frequencies up to 650 MHz and 950 MHz, respectively.
But whereas the 8800 GT Superclocked maintains the ordinary NVIDIA cooling configuration—that is, a single-slot aluminum heatsink with a copper base—EVGA’s Akimbo card incorporates a chunky dual-slot cooler. A thicker array of aluminum fins and another copper base help draw more heat away from the quicker core and tweaked memory modules. A blower-type fan pulls air in and keeps it moving across the cooling surface. And instead of a bare back-end, EVGA straps a heatpipe-equipped aluminum block to cut back on hot spots that’d potentially limit overclocking headroom.
Keep an eye on where you’re going to be installing the 8800 GT Akimbo, though. On our ASUS Striker II Formula, the extra metal protruding off the back sticks out just far enough to keep the board’s included audio card from fitting in its slot. Unfortunately, it isn’t recognized in the only other available PCIe slot (since the dual-slot Akimbo covers up ASUS’s second x1 connector). Be aware that you’re going to eat up as many as three slots with this card, depending on what you have installed.
Unlike some of NVIDIA’s higher-end boards, the 8800 GT requires only a single six-pin auxiliary power connector. This Akimbo card is no exception, despite its accelerated clocks. Purportedly the board tops out at 105W, well under the upper ceiling of what the slot and external connector are able to deliver.
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In addition to providing better cooling to the G92 GPU, EVGA’s non-standard heatsink/blower combination also seems to help keep noise to a minimum. We manually adjusted the speed of a single-slot 8800 GT and this dual (triple?)-slot card up and down the spectrum. When the single-slot board is blowing at full blast, it creates quite the din. Not so much on the e-GeForce 8800 GT Akimbo, though.
The 8800 GT Akimbo’s rear I/O panel sports two dual-link DVI outputs and one video out. Plug either the bundled component or S-video cable into that connector if you’re gaming on an analog television.
| Power and System Setup||Page:: ( 3 / 12 )|
Bear in mind that standard GeForce 8800 GT cards are supposed to be clocked at 600 MHz core and 900 MHz memory. EVGA’s single-slot 8800 GT Superclocked Edition ups those numbers to 650 and 950, respectively. Then, the 8800 GT Akimbo lumbers in running 720 MHz and 1000 MHz clocks. So, out of the gate, this is already a significantly overclocked video card.
Nevertheless, we installed NVIDIA’s nTune application and started playing with the clocks in a bid for even more speed. After independently tweaking the core and then tweaking the memory, we eventually settled on a 775 MHz core and 1010 MHz memory configuration. We didn’t encounter any stability issues at those speeds, whereas even slightly higher settings would cause graphics corruption.
For more on overclocked performance, check out our benchmark results. We’ve added the tweaked settings to each chart so you can see how the beefed up Akimbo compares to the even more beefed up Akimbo card.
As mentioned, NVIDIA says its 8800 GT maxes out around 105W of power consumption. To get a better idea of how the Akimbo card compares to a lower-clocked 8800 GT board (and AMD’s current top offerings), we fired up the good ol’ Extech power analyzer and ran idle and load numbers.
Intel Core 2 Duo E8500 (3.16 GHz)
ASUS Striker II Formula (780i SLI)
2GB OCZ Technology DDR2-1066 CAS5 Memory (2x1GB) EPP 1.0
EVGA e-GeForce 8800 GT Akimbo Edition
EVGA e-GeForce 8800 GT Superclocked Edition
AMD Radeon HD 3870 512MB
AMD Radeon HD 3850 256MB
Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 1TB SATA 3 Gbps Hard Drive
Windows Vista x32 Service Pack 1, current as of April 12th, 2008 with Windows Update
Desktop resolution 1600x1200, 32-bit color, 85Hz refresh
We disable Vista’s UAC and generate an image using Norton Ghost 11 to create the same basic benchmark platform for each test bed. The image is frozen with the latest Windows Updates and deployed to each system. The appropriate drivers are then loaded to the machines.
Unreal Tournament III
Lost Planet: Extreme Condition
Half-Life 2: Episode 2
Company of Heroes
Call of Duty 4
| 3DMark06||Page:: ( 4 / 12 )|
It comes as no surprise that the overclocked 8800 GT Akimbo takes a first place finish in the 3DMark overall score. Nor is it any surprise that the standard Akimbo card beats out EVGA’s own Superclocked Edition board based on the same hardware, but running slower on both the core and memory clocks. AMD’s Radeon 3870 with 512MB of memory follows, and the 3850 pulls a last place finish.
Pay no mind to the CPU scores. They’re just showing that nothing changed platform-wise between any of these runs.
| Unreal Tournament III||Page:: ( 5 / 12 )|
Unreal Tournament III
We used the botmatch technique for benchmarking Unreal Tournament, populating our map with 24 characters, 12 to a side. In our talks with Epic’s Tim Sweeny, this is the most accurate way to benchmark the popular game because it factors AI into the test. As a side-effect, every run is different though, so there’s more variability.
For the most part, our scores here reflect what Futuremark’s synthetic benchmark just showed us. We can see that margin of error at 1280x800 and 1920x1080, where the stock 8800 GT Akimbo is able to best the overclocked version of the card. At each resolution, the other cards fall right where we’d expect them to be.
| Crysis||Page:: ( 6 / 12 )|
Interesting results in Crysis where, dissimilar to Unreal Tournament III, benchmarking disables game AI. In all three resolutions, we enabled anti-aliasing to add stress. Clearly, at 1280x1024 and 1680x1050, that’s enough to render all of these mainstream boards unplayable. At 1024x768, the overclocked Akimbo card is able to break the 30 fps barrier, but is still significantly slower than the magic 60fps mark most gamers seek.
Crysis defaulted our test machine to Very High settings. If you’re looking to push the graphic intensity and only buying one card, expect to run this juggernaut without anti-aliasing. Of particular note, the halved memory driving AMD’s Radeon HD 3850 really hampers performance in Crysis. If you want to turn on the extra features, you’ll at least want 512MB of memory.
| Lost Planet||Page:: ( 7 / 12 )|
Lost Planet: Extreme Condition
This is another DirectX 10 title that can clearly benefit from the scalability of NVIDIA’s SLI or AMD’s CrossFire. With just one board installed, EVGA’s e-GeForce 8800 GT Akimbo rules the benchmarks, serving up playable performance at 1280x800 (even with anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering turned on).
The scores at 1680x1050 are a little less compelling, especially from the AMD cards. You’re still getting 30+ frames at 1920x1080 from an overclocked 8800 GT Akimbo board. However, if you’re looking at a strong big-screen gaming experience on an HDTV, it’s going to be worth adding another card.
| Half-Life 2||Page:: ( 8 / 12 )|
Half-Life 2: Episode 2
Half-Life 2 is no spring chicken any more. Even at the highest of resolutions with the eye candy thoroughly cranked up you get plenty of performance from these mainstream-ish offerings.
EVGA’s Akimbo board rules the roost all the way across. And as it turns out, overclocking buys a decent bit of speed here, too. The AMD cards trail considerably, making NVIDIA’s 8800 GT a slightly more expensive, but worthwhile upgrade.
| Company of Heroes||Page:: ( 9 / 12 )|
Company of Heroes
The latest version of Company of Heroes automatically imposes a v-sync limitation on game play. Naturally, a large LCD running at 60Hz is going to hold our benchmarks back. So, we nuked the automatic v-sync by launching the app with a –novsync switch in our shortcut.
Not that it mattered much. EVGA’s e-GeForce 8800 GT Akimbo was the only card to break past 60 frames per second at 1280x800 with anti-aliasing enabled. The rest of the contenders fell in underneath, with the AMD cards again pulling last place finishes.
The same trend continues at 1680x0150 and 1920x1080, where the Akimbo card keeps its head above the 40 frame per second mark. Meanwhile, the 3870 and 3850 boards drop under 20.
| Call of Duty 4||Page:: ( 10 / 12 )|
Call of Duty 4
Here’s a perfect example of the right card making the difference between playable and unplayable settings. At 1920x1080, with AA and AF, the 8800 GT Akimbo sticks close to 60 frames per second. Meanwhile, the AMD boards hover around 30 frames. If you’re gaming on a 22” widescreen LCD, dropping to 1680x1050 gives you a similar performance picture, with the 8800s delivering superior frame rates.
| Ballistics Report: EVGA e-GeForce 8800 GT Akimbo Edition||Page:: ( 11 / 12 )|
Performance: This one’s a gimmie. Of the cards tested here, EVGA’s e-GeForce 8800 GT Akimbo consistently cranked out the best numbers. And it did even better with a bit of overclocking thrown in. That’s not to say this is the fastest card you can buy—NVIDIA’s higher-end lineup still has the market cornered there—but it is a great performer under $300.
Value: Speaking of price, it’s worth noting that for all of its advanced DirectX 10 functionality, the e-GeForce 8800 GT Akimbo sports an MSRP of $289. That’s just $30 higher than EVGA’s single-slot Superclocked 8800 GT card. As you saw in the benchmarks, the difference between the two isn’t enormous, but for $30, the overclocking headroom, quieter cooling mechanism, and lower operating temperature are worth it. That single-slot card runs extremely hot.
Video: We didn’t really touch on this in the body of the story, but Brandon talked about it in his GeForce 8800 GT Performance Preview. The G92 core integrates the external display chip needed by G80-based boards. The VP2 processing engine is also onboard, accelerating portions of H.264 decoding in hardware. If you have an eye on Lite-On’s new BD-ROM player—sexy at under $200—and want to watch some HD content, this card will help make that possible.
Bulk: EVGA’s ambition on the cooling side of things yields a dual-slot GeForce 8800 GT with a substantial piece of metal on the back fully capable of blocking a third upgrade slot, as it did in our test bench. If you’re expecting the extra bulk from the aluminum and know it won’t be a problem, great. Just don’t let it catch you off guard.
Market Segmentation: At stock speeds, we know that the 8800 GT is faster than any single-GPU card from AMD and NVIDIA’s own 8800 GS. In most cases it’s faster than the G80-based 8800 GTS as well, but gets trumped by the G92 8800 GTS. Now factor in all of the factory overclocking going on. EVGA offers nine different GTS cards ranging from $30 to $120 more than the Akimbo card, and some of those even include Crysis. Making a call in this saturated mainstream market is not easy.
| Final Verdict||Page:: ( 12 / 12 )|
EVGA e-GeForce 8800 GT Akimbo Edition
Let’s start by explaining that Editor’s Choice award. They’re fairly rare around here, after all.
Although there’s a lot of graphics hardware to choose from in the 8800 GT’s price range, the model is deserving of some recognition. To begin, no single-chip card from AMD comes close, and the dual-GPU 3870 X2 is significantly more expensive. Two different leagues, to be sure. A step down from NVIDIA takes you to the entry-level 8800 GS. Fewer stream processors, a narrow memory bus, and a resounding “meh.” Take a step up and you’re looking at the 8800 GTS, which is going to cost a fair bit more than a GT.
So, despite the convoluted mass of “mainstream” graphics cards (we put that word in quotes because $289 is well beyond the traditional mainstream), the 8800 GT is fairly distinguished. EVGA further sets the model apart by arming it with superior cooling, aggressive standard clocks, and a simple enough bundle that keeps cost down while still addressing the basics. You get two DVI adapters, a component output, an S-video output, and a power adapter. The usual. As a result, the 8800 GT Akimbo does inch its way into GTS territory, but this isn’t exactly a case of owning the most expensive house in a rundown neighborhood. EVGA’s e-GeForce 8800 GT Akimbo is a solid buy.
That’s not to say it’s perfect. You’ll want to watch out for the dual-slot cooler and aluminum hanging off of the card’s backside. You’ll also want to keep an eye out for online sales that make other cards in the same performance range more attractive. For example, at the time of this writing, the Akimbo card (with 1GB of memory, apparently) is being accompanied by a $30 mail in rebate on NewEgg. The 8800 GTX includes a $50 rebate, bringing the two within $30 of each other. At that price, it’s a much closer race and we’d be inclined to snag the faster card at the 8800 GT Akimbo’s MSRP instead.
If you take a gander at EVGA’s own 8-series product page though, and use those prices as a compass to help navigate all of the 8800s, the Akimbo board seen here is a true champion among champions for those unable to buy bleeding edge but still looking for a strong gaming experience.