Gainward Bliss 7900 GTX SLI Page: 1
Introduction

Gainward are well known for making nVidia cards and for making them well. After reviewing a single 7900GTX I wanted to see what they could do in SLI configuration, and whether SLI has matured into a platform that really is worth shouting about.

nVidia have worked hard at making SLI something that its customers and major AIB's really want to push...but do you really get enough performance out of the two cards to make it worth the extra cost? Read on...

Packaging

Gainward used the same packing as seen in their 7900GT 512mb (reviewed here). This features their new branding with a female CGI character and a car. Aside from the branding, Gainward include some good product information and list of features as well as box contents.

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I would prefer to have a view of the actual card (something like a window) but I suppose this brings the cost up.

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Inside is extremely well wrapped up and protected and I would say that there is no way that this expensive card will get damaged in transit

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and all wrapped up sinside the boxes too...

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There was no way that these cards were going to be harmed and even the most careless of retailers cannot do damage to them.


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The Card

I've said it before and I will say it again: there is no reason for nVidia's AIB's to change the cooling on the 7900GTX card. The reference cooler is excellent. I was very happy, then, when I saw that Gainward had decided to stick with the gorgeous, quiet heatpipe cooler that I have seen on the rest of the 7900GTX's.

Gainward 7900gtx sli

As you can see the cards draw the air in over these fins

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And the heatpipes take the heat away

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Not forgetting the contact of course

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And of course blown out of the back of the case here. We also notice the Dual DVI (as there should be on a top-end card like this) as well as the s-video out that covers pretty much any other connecter you could possibly wish for.

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Quick features

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nVidia Specification

NVIDIA® GeForce® 7 Series Specifications

NVIDIA® CineFX® 4.0 Shading Architecture

 

* Vertex Shaders
o Support for Microsoft DirectX 9.0 Vertex Shader 3.0
o Displacement mapping
o Geometry instancing
o Infinite length vertex programs
* Pixel Shaders
o Support for DirectX 9.0 Pixel Shader 3.0
o Full pixel branching support
o Support for Multiple Render Targets (MRTs)
o Infinite length pixel programs
* Next-Generation Texture Engine
o Accelerated texture access
o Up to 16 textures per rendering pass
o Support for 16-bit floating point format and 32-bit floating point format
o Support for non-power of two textures
o Support for sRGB texture format for gamma textures
o DirectX and S3TC texture compression
* Full 128-bit studio-quality floating point precision through the entire rendering pipeline with native hardware support for 32bpp, 64bpp, and 128bpp rendering modes

64-Bit Texture Filtering and Blending

* Delivers true high dynamic-range (HDR) lighting support
* Full floating point support throughout entire pipeline
* Floating point filtering improves the quality of images in motion
* Floating point texturing drives new levels of clarity and image detail
* Floating point frame buffer blending gives detail to special effects like motion blur and explosions

 

NVIDIA® IntellisampleTM 4.0 Technology

* Advanced 16x anisotropic filtering (with up to 128 taps)
* Blistering-fast antialiasing and compression performance
* Gamma-adjusted rotated-grid antialiasing removes jagged edges for incredible image quality
* Transparent multisampling and transparent supersampling modes boost antialiasing quality to new levels
* Support for normal map compression
* Support for advanced lossless compression algorithms for color, texture, and z-data at even higher resolutions and frame rates
* Fast z-clear

 

NVIDIA® UltraShadowTM II Technology

* Designed to enhance the performance of shadow-intensive games

 

NVIDIA® SLITM Technology1

* Patented hardware and software technology allows two GeForce-based graphics cards to run in parallel to scale performance and enhance image quality on today's top titles.
* Quad SLI technology enabled through select System Builders delivers SLI support for four GPUs, providing mind-blowing performance and image quality at extreme resolutions. SLI support for the GeForce 7950 GX2 will be provided through a future NVIDIA ForceWare driver release. See www.slizone.com for details

 

NVIDIA® PureVideoTM Technology

* Dedicated on-chip video processor
* High-definition H.264, MPEG2 and WMV9 decode acceleration
* Advanced spatial-temporal de-interlacing
* Inverse telecine (2:2 and 3:2 pull-down correction)
* High-quality video scaling
* Video color correction
* Microsoft® Video Mixing Renderer (VMR) supports multiple video windows with full video quality and features in each window

 

NVIDIA® TurboCacheTM Technology2

* Combines the capacity and bandwidth of dedicated video memory with dynamically allocated system memory to dramatically turbocharge performance

 

Built for Microsoft® Windows VistaTM

* Third-generation GPU architecture built for Windows Vista
* Delivers best possible experience when running Windows Vista 3D graphical user interface
* New OS supported by renowned NVIDIA® Unified Driver Architecture (UDA) for maximum stability and reliability
* NVIDIA® PureVideoTM technology delivers high-quality VMR pipeline for best-in-class video for Windows Vista

 

Advanced Display Functionality

* Dual integrated 400MHz RAMDACs for analog display resolutions up to and including 2048x1536 at 85Hz
* Dual-link DVI capability to drive the industry's largest and highest resolution digital flat panel displays up to 2560x16001
* Integrated HDTV encoder provides analog TV-output (Component/Composite/S-Video) up to 1080i resolution
* Full NVIDIA® nView® multi-display technology capability

 

High Speed Interfaces

* Designed for PCI Express x16
* Designed for high-speed GDDR3 memory1

 

NVIDIA® Digital Vibrance Control® (DVC) 3.0 Technology

* DVC color controls
* DVC image sharpening controls

Operating Systems

* Windows XP/Windows XP 64
* Built for Microsoft Windows Vista
* Windows 2000
* Linux
* Macintosh OS X

API Support

* Complete DirectX support, including the latest version of Microsoft DirectX 9.0 Shader Model 3.0
* Full OpenGL support, including OpenGL 2.0

1 Feature available on select GeForce 7 Series GPUs only.
2 Feature available on GeForce 7300 GS and LE GPUs only.


Package

Gainward do a very decent bindle with their higher-end cards and I really do like their "Free to choose" included software title.

In the box:

Quick Start Guide
Driver CD
Expertool overclocking facility
User Manual (PDF on CD)Gainward Muvee auto producer Personal video application
Power DVD 5 Premier
Gainward "Free to Choose" Game voucher x 1 game
Gainward "Muvee" multimedia program
2 x DVI-VGA Adaptors
1 x Dual Molex to PCI-E Power Connector
1 x Video out connector with s-video, composite and component video out

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With the price of top-end cards I think an AAA title would be nice in the bundle, but at least Gainward don't force one old game on their customers with a decent choice of games in "Free to Choose".

The Cooler

I cannot be more full of praise for the cooler on the Gainward 7900GTX card. This cooler is quiet and keeps the card incredible cool even when heavily overclocked. I have never seen this go over 65°C even under heavy load, overclocked and in SLI configuration so I cannot give anything but praise for the cards cooling. If you want a very powerful card with an incredibly efficient, quiet cooler that performs very well even in SLI mode then look no further.

In place:

gainward 7900gtx sli


Gainward Bliss 7900 GTX SLI Page: 3
How we tested

With the pure speed of cards out on the market at the moment I tend to focus on gameplay in my reviews. I will play each of the test suite games on as high settings as I could possibly play them at while maintaining a frame rate that is enjoyable to play at. If the quality of the gaming looks the same at different settings then I will choose the setting with the best FPS. This differs from game to game and person to person but I play a lot of games and have played with a lot of graphics cards so I hope that I can impart a decent opinion.

To offset this angle I also run a test suite of 3dMark03, 05 and 06. These will give you some numbers on what the cards perform like at stock speeds, for comparison. I also ran 3dMark06 after overclocking the cards - to see how much of an effect the overclocking will make. Overclocking was performed using the coolbits registry hack and done as in This Thread from the OC3D forums as well as using the "Overdrive" facility in ATI's drivers.

Test Setup

For these high-end cards I am using an overclocked Dual Core Opteron 175. Running at speeds exceeding an FX-60 at 2.8GHz, this will hopefully allow the cards to perform up to their fastest.

AMD Opteron 175 @ 2.8GHz (watercooled)
DFI LANPARTY UT Sli-D motherboard
Mushkin Redline PC4000 running at 255 x 11 1:1 3-3-2-5
HDD: OS - 160gb Hitachi Deskstar SATA II
HDD: Gaming - 2 x 40gb Hitachi Deskstars in RAID 0
Sound: SoundBlaster Audigy 2 ZS
Power: PCP&C 510 SLi
Case: Coolermaster stacker with a lot of additional cooling

For installation I have installed the card as usual with the normal PCI-E power dongle. I have enabled SLI on the motherboard and am using the DFI SLI dongle. Checked that the card is seated correctly and powered on. I am using a clean install of Windows XP Professional SP2 with all the latest patches.

I am using nvidia's latest official forceware drivers - 91.31.

The Sapphire card was tested using the Catalyst Drivers 6.3's
The Powercolor card was tested using the Catalyst Drivers 6.5's

Club3d 7900GTX 512mb. Clock Speed: 650. Memory Speed: 1600 (800)

Sapphire X1900XTX 512mb. Clock Speed: 650. Memory Speed: 1550 (775).

Powercolor X1900XT 512mb. Clock Speed: 621. Memory Speed: 1550 (720).

Gainward 7900GTX 512mb. Clock Speed: 650. Memory Speed: 1600 (800)


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F.E.A.R.

F.E.A.R. is a game based on an engine that uses many features of DirectX 9.0c.

It has volumetric lighting, soft shadows, parallax mapping and particle effects, with a slow-motion mode that really taxes today's top of the line GPU's. I fully patched version the game with the latest patch. I played three two-minute runs on a taxing part of the game with plenty of action, using slow-motion for the full time whilst firing at enemy soldiers and using grenades that produce a cool "blast" contortion effect when blown up.

Here are the settings that were found to be optimal for F.E.A.R. on a Dell 2405FPW display

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And the FPS at these settings:

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F.E.A.R. on 7900GTX SLI looked great, performed great and was by far the smoothest out of all of the listed card setups. We had to stick at 1920 x 1200 due to display restrictions but playing with all high detail at this resolution with the SLI setup was an awesome experience. Putting on the high-end high quality features on the SLI'd nVidia cards definitely makes the experience better looking and still keeps that framerate very high.

Call of Duty 2

Call of Duty 2 is a fairly recent game that uses a lot of DirectX 9.0c features, including real time shadows, amazing smoke effects and some nice looking HDR effects. This makes the game very taxing at these high resolutions. I played a fully patched up version of the game. Once again I played through the game with a two minute gaming session including explosions, smoke and also lots of snow. This should tax all our cards.

Here are the settings that were found to be optimal for Call of Duty on a Dell 2405FPW display:

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And the FPS:

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As you can see the GTX SLI played Call of Duty 2 at much higher average FPS than the other card setups. This experience was again smoother and better to play than the other cards. There was not even a hint of lag at any point in the game and the game once again looks awesome at this resolution and settings.




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Quake 4

Quake 4 is a game built on the Doom 3 engine. This uses many DX 9.0c features and is a game that has not always ran so well on ATI hardware, being an OpenGL game. Once again I did three two minute runs on Quake 4 on each card and took the average of all my readings from these. I played a fast and furious part of the game that required both internal and external scenes.

Here are the settings that were found to be optimal for Quake 4 on a Dell 2405FPW display:

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And the FPS:

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I did try to run the SLI setup at 8 x AA. This was almost playable at this high resolution. I would suspect a bit of overclocking would make this playable. Once again the nVidia cards in SLI performed very well although Quake 4 sets 63FPS as its upper limit. Playing Quake 4 was an incredibly smooth experience and the card played most of the game as fast as it is possible.

Oblivion

Oblivion is an awesome RPG with a simply huge immersive environment, great graphics and incredibly realistic scenery. This game is currently one of the most testing games that you can buy and it is certainly a test of the high-end nVidia cards here. I chose to do a run-through of the Arena part of the game. I spoke to a character, did some magic whilst in a fight and fought in the arena that is pretty huge. Also as well as doing this test I took a wander around to make sure that the benchmark resembled the general gameplay with each card. This benchmark really tests todays cards and nVidia has not come out of this so well in previous reviews.

Here are the settings that were found to be optimal for Oblivion on a Dell 2405FPW display:

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And the FPS whewn playing Oblivion:

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Here also are the in-game settings used. These are incredibly tweakable:

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As you can clearly see the GTX SLI setup plays Oblivion at superior settings to all of the card setups that we have reviewed. The Game was also smoother and easier to play on the GTX SLI setup. I managed to put up the in-game details compared to the other card setups and this made the detail and enjoyment of playing Oblivion far superior on the SLI setup. Do note, however, that ATI cards can play Oblivion with AA enabled as well as HDR and as of yet nVidia have not managed to do this. However: the game looks stunning even without AA and to play at this resolution with AA would mean owning an X1900XTX crossfire setup.


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Benchmarking

I used the popular gaming benchmarks made by Futuremark to bench all four of the cards. I used 3dMark 03, 05 and 06. All benches were performed at stock speeds for this section. I ran all benchmarks from the stock settings just like the free versions to give you a good comparison of scores.

The Results were as follows:

3dMark 03

First we start with 3dMark03. This is a benchmark that relies heavily on DirectX 8 features. This will give an indication of how the cards will run on games that rely on DX 8. None of the cards in the review had any problems running this benchmark.

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As you can see the SLI setup really kicks in these benchmarks. SLI has broken a lot of records and benchmarks love SLI.


3dMark05

I ran 3dMark05. This benchmark requires some more features of directX 9 and gets slightly more taxing on the cards.

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Although the SLI setup didn't make quite the difference as it did in 03, this certainly is a lot higher in 3DMark05.

3dMark06

3dMark06 is the latest in the benchmarking tests from Futuremark. It has a lot of DirectX 9.0c features such as HDR and use of Shader model 3.0. This benchmark is very taxing for the cards and also includes quite a harsh CPU benchmark. Seeing as this was run with the exact same CPU this was not an issue.

gainward 7900gtx sli

A very nice 3DMark06 Score to finish off the run of our benchmarking tests. On water, LN² or phase SLI would be one hell of a benchmarking setup!

I haven't analysed these results as much as usual as I feel that SLI is really on another level when it comes to benchmarking. Very nice.


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Overclocking

As stated before all of the overclocking was done inside coolbits for the nvidia cards. For the XTX I used the ATI overdrive overclocking facility. Please note that all overclocks were done with stock voltages and were what I call "Quick overclocks". That is: I overclocked, ascertained stability, then benchmarked. Any unstable overclocks will be talked about below.

The Results

As this is an SLI review I overclocked the cards when in SLI mode. This would not lead to the best overclocking results, and as such you should take this with a pinch of salt.

gawainrd 7900gtx sli OC

The memory overlocked to an amazing 890 (1780). This is far far above stock and is very impressive. I attained a decent OC of 675 on the core but I suspect that this is due to the SLI configuration. The cards on their own individually are highly overclockable and I have to give Gainward a big thumbs up for producing such clockable cards.

Overclocked 3DMark06 Score

gainward 7900gtx sli 3dmark06 oc'd

The score is an improvement of 243 over stock and is pretty impressive. I think the way to realy get the best out of these cards would be to find the maximum overclock in non-SLI mode, then alter both card BIOS's so that they run at that at stock.

All in all an impressive overclocking performance for two cards in SLI - not that they need to be overclocked: but it's always nice you can do so.


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Image Quality

I have to put in a note to do with image quality in this review. nVidia have had an issue for quite some time now with shimmering textures in games. This is due to poor implementation of anisotropic filtering by nVidia. On all of the game tests I performed I used the high Quality settings as well as Super Sampling on Transparency Aliasing. This much improves the image quality of the cards and does go some way to solve the shimmering textures issue. However: ATI cards do have the slight edge on image quality and this is worth taking into consideration when looking at top-end cards.

Conclusion

I am a big fan of the high-end cards from nVidia and these Gainward 7900GTX are very impressive. With a cooling solution that performs very well and is almost silent this could be part of the ultimate Gaming machine or even an HTPC or Media PC.

Gainward have put in an impressive bundle with these cards and there is nothing lacking with the hardware bundle at all. I am very impressed with this very top-end card setup and am now seriously considering SLI in my own gaming rig.

I have to take into consideration the price of this setup, however. With spending an extra £311(from SCAN on Today Only) on the cards this is a very expensive gaming system.

Is it worth it?

If you want the very fastest gaming system then yes.

If you are on a budget then no.

It is worth considering the 7950GX2 when thinking about buying this setup but if you already have a 7900GTX then you cannot go wrong. SLI doesn't quite give an extra 100% performance per card but it gives enough of a boost to definitely be worth it.

I will however ask that our readers take a look at our article on DX10 when considering buying any graphics cards.

I have to give this the Gamers Choice and Editors Choice Award as the fastest setup I have tested so far.

gainward 7900gtx sli



Pro's

+ Very Fast
+ Awesome FPS
+ Very quiet

Con's

- Expensive
-Approach of DX10

Our thanks to Gainward for providing the cards for review.

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