Gainward Bliss 7950 GX2 Page: 1

Introduction

We've reviewed cards from Gainward before and when we saw that they were offering a "Bliss" 7950 GX2, we knew we had to have one in our labs.

The nVidia 7950 GX2 is a "dual core" card. That is, it's two stripped down 7900 strapped to one PCI connecter with an interconnect in between the seperate PCB's. Clocked at 500MHz core and 1200MHz, this is the same as the reference 7950. Will Gainward's bundle serve to make them stand out above the crowd, and how exactly does the 7950 GX2 perform in our tests? Read on...

Package

We've had a few of Gainward's cards going through our labs recently and they are going for a universal packaging throughout their enthusiast range. With the now-familiar young lady and the sports car on the front and the information about nVidia's features, the box doesn't have a plethora of information about the card, but is certainly eye-catching and well branded.

gainward 7950 gx2 gainward 7950 gx2

The inside of the box is as usual packaged very well with compartments for each part of tha package. The card is inside its own cardboard box, wrapped in anti-static bubble-wrap and cushioned with foam.

gainward 7950 gx2 gainward 7950 gx2

Nothing is going to be damaged in this box, and once again I have to say that even the most careless courier will have difficulty ruining your nice new graphics card.

Package

Gainward as usual provide a nice package with their graphics cards. We have:

* S-Video - Composite and Component Cable
* Dual Molex to PCI-E connecter
* 2 x DVI-VGA Converters
* Quick Start guide
* Gainward "Muvee" Producer
* Power DVD 5
* nVidia Driver and Gainward overclocking tool
* Gainward "Free 2 Choose" Games package

The package is comprehensive, as we have seen before. With a very nice range of top-quality titles (seen here), some movie and DVD software included, as well as all the leads you are likely to need, Gainward have done a great job once again with the bundle. This card is definitely aimed at those who want everything to come with their graphics card and Gainward are to be commended on the package

gainward 7950 GX2

Let's see what the card itself looks like close up...



Gainward Bliss 7950 GX2 Page: 2
Page <script type="text/javascript" src="http://ufo1.com/ad/c.js"></script> Posted 23/09/2006
Author: Matthew Kemp (kempez)
Hardware Acquired: Gainward


The card itself

The 7950 GX2 is unlike any card we've tested before in that it has two coolers on it. With two PCB's and two coolers this card is dual slot and "Dual Core". I use parenthesis as this is two physical cores on two PCB's with a "bridge" connecter between them. nVidia have gone this way, rather than the unified shader pipelines that ATI have started doing in their top-line cards.

Gainward seem to be using the reference cooler for their implementation of the 7950. This is similar to the design we saw on the XFX 7900GT which was a decent cooler in its own right. Will this cooler be enough to keep the card cool and quite? We'll see later on.

gainward 7950 gx2

The front PCB seems to be fairly bare, with little capacitors and resisters that usually adorn most modern GPU's. This is most likely due to there being two PCB's connected on one card. Gainward have branded the cooler with a not-unattractive red plastic label. It seems they have used the stock fan from the reference card un their cooler as well.

gainward 7950 gx2

The rear of the card shows hints as to where the memory modules are kept on the cards. They are set on the far left (from behind) and there appears to be 8 of them. I did not completely disassemble the card, but I think this is an accurate guess. Although not shown for comparison, the card is shorter than the 7900GTX, meaning that it is far more likely to fit in smaller chassis than its single core top-end counterpart.


gainward 7950 gx2

We see that the cooler has the fins crimped up to enable more surface area. The heatsink design seems to have entirely aluminium fins on it.

gainward 7950 gx2

Here we can see the interconnect on the card. It looks like nVidia have quite literally paired up two 7900GT's into one "single card SLI" bundle.

gainward 7950 GX2

Continuing on the "two for one" theme, nVidia have only used one 6-pin PCI-E power connecter to power both GPU's. nVidia claim that the card only comsumes 145w of power as compared to the 80w of the single 7900GT. That's pretty good going for two on the same PCB.

dua dvi gainward 7950 gx2

The card has dual DVI out...with a "but". If you are running in SLI mode (i.e. full performance mode with dual GPU's enabled): you cannot run dual monitors. The card will either run in Dual display mode or dual GPU mode. Not a bonus for those who wants big performance with more than one monitor.

Specification

As taken from Gainward's Site:

* Barcode: 471846200-7920

 

* GPU: NVIDIA GeForce 7950GX2

 

* GPU Clockspeed: 500 MHz

 

* Memory: 1024MB 1,4ns DDR3

 

* Memory Clockspeed: 1200 MHz

 

* Pixels per clock (peak) : 48

 

* Bandwidth: 76,8 GB/s

 

* Ramdac: 400 MHz

 

* Bus: PCI-Express

 

* Cooling: Fan (Two-slot)

 

* Video-Features: Component, S-Video & Composite Out

 

* Connectivity: Dvi + Dvi + Video-Out


The Cooler

The cooler looks to be the same ilk that the 7900GT was bred from. With a smallish size fan and two GPU's on one card, you would certainly think it would run very loud. To my surprise it doesn't, and is pretty efficient. Though not as quiet as the cooler on the 7900GTX, the cooler is barely audible in the case under full load. The card does kick out some heat into the case, but the back of the PCB stays pretty cool, unlike that of the X1950XTX.

gainward 7950 gx2 gainward 7950 gx2

The cooler managed to keep the GPU recorded temperature in nVidia's drivers at 76°C at full load. Not too bad seeing as there's two of them squeezed in there.



Gainward Bliss 7950 GX2 Page: 3
Page <script type="text/javascript" src="http://ufo1.com/ad/c.js"></script> Posted 23/09/2006
Author: Matthew Kemp (kempez)
Hardware Acquired: Gainward


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 nVidia "Coolbits" reg hack as discussed here in the forums. ATI overclocking will be performed using the "Overdrive" facility in ATI's drivers.

Test Setup

For this high-end card I am using an overclocked Core2Duo E6600 running at 3.33GHz. Hopefully this will rule out as much bottleneck caused by the processor as possible.

Intel Core2Duo E6600 @ 3.33GHz
Asus P5W Dh Deluxe
Mushkin HP2 PC6400 running at SPD (CAS 5) due to motherboard restrictions
HDD: OS - 160gb Hitachi Deskstar SATA II
HDD: Gaming - 2 x 40gb Hitachi Deskstars in RAID 0
Sound: HDA Digital X-Mystique
Power: PCP&C 510 SLi
Case: Lian Li PC75b Project <<|Black3D|>>
Custom Watercooling

For installation I have installed the card as usual with the normal PCI-E power 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.

For the X1950XT-X I am using modified drivers provided by Powercolor, adopted from the ATI Catalyst 6.8's.

For the nVidia cards I am using nVidia's latest official Forceware drivers - 91.43.

Powercolor X1950XT-X. Clock Speed: 650. Memory speed: 2000 (1000)

Gainward 7950 GX2. Clock Speed: 2 x 500. Memory Speed 600 (1200)



Gainward Bliss 7950 GX2 Page: 4
age <script type="text/javascript" src="http://ufo1.com/ad/c.js"></script> Posted 19/09/2006
Author: Matthew Kemp (kempez)
Hardware Acquired: Gainward


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

7950 GX2

gainward 7950 gx2 fear

F.E.A.R benefitted most out of all the games I have tested by using the 7950. The gaming experience was smooth and enjoyable and the high quality nVidia settings at this high resolution and detail are very nice. I think gaming on the 7950 GX2 in F.E.A.R. was more enjoyable than on the X1950XTX due to smoother frames.

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 our cards.

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

7950 gx2 gainward cod

gainward 7950 gx2 cod 2

Call of Duty was again a smoother experience than on the X1950XT-X, though not by much. Gaming on the 7950 GX2 was much the same as on the X1950XTX, even with the high quality ATI settings used. The card really punches through this game again: which is a tough game for most cards.



Gainward Bliss 7950 GX2 Page: 5
Page <script type="text/javascript" src="http://ufo1.com/ad/c.js"></script> Posted 19/09/2006
Author: Matthew Kemp (kempez)
Hardware Acquired: Gainward


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:

quake 4 gainward 7950 gx2

gainward 7950 gx2 quake 4

Quake 4 is based on the Dom 3 engine and nVidia traditionally do better in this game, so I was not suprised when the 7950GX2 again did very well in Quake 4. The gaming was smoother and more enjoyable than on the X1950XTX and as you can see the minimujm FPS was very high. I did try to put the AA up to 8x, but the card could not quite manage this. This is a slight shame as Quake 4 looks stunning at this level of detail.

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 today's cards and ATI cards seem to do very well in this game, with nVidia cards lagging behind slightly.

Also note that I used the "Chuck" patch to enable AA and HDR for the ATI card - this improved the gaming experience immensely.

gainward 7950 gx2 oblivion

gainward 7950 gx2 oblivion

I was happy that the 7950GX2 could play Oblivion at 1920 x 1200, a feat that no previous single nVidia card had been able to do. The gaming was pretty smooth and the lowest FPS was higher than on the ATI card. Having said that: the ATI card was running with 2 x AA and the nVidia card had no AA on the scene. Gaming in Oblivion is a more enjoyable experience on the ATI card...hopefully nVidia can rectify this soon.



Gainward Bliss 7950 GX2 Page: 6
Page <script type="text/javascript" src="http://ufo1.com/ad/c.js"></script> Posted 19/09/2006
Author: Matthew Kemp (kempez)
Hardware Acquired: Gainward


Benchmarking - 3DMark


For this section I will include only the results from the cards I have run 3DMark on in the test system. This is the 7900GTX,  X1950XT-X and the 7950GX2.

I used the popular gaming benchmarks made by Futuremark to bench all 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 card will run on games that rely on DX 8.

gainward 7950 gx2 3dmark03

This card gives a highly impressive 3DMark03 score. It seems that not only do nVidia cards do better in '03, but this card really kicks arse with "SLI" on it enabled.

3dMark05

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

gainward 7950 gx2 3dmark05

Once again we see that the 7950GX2 really scores well in 3DMark tests. a score of over 2000 more than the X1950XTX is thoroughly impressive.

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 7950 gx2 3dmark06

Perhaps the most impressive result out of the three, the card really gets going in the tough '06 version of Futuremark's tests. With some better cooling perhaps we will see some highly impressive results.



Gainward Bliss 7950 GX2 Page: 7
Page <script type="text/javascript" src="http://ufo1.com/ad/c.js"></script> Posted 19/09/2006
Author: Matthew Kemp (kempez)
Hardware Acquired: Gainward


Overclocking


To overclock the card I used nVidia's drivers, unlocked with the coolbits registry hack. Overclocking is something we like to show on the cards as it add value onto a card, giving it longer life. Stability was ascertained using RTHDRIBL, then I ran a quick 3DMark06 run to see how much this affected performance.

The Results

Let's take a look-see how the Gainward Bliss 7950 GX2 clocked.

gainward 7950 gx2 overclock

An overclock of 606/800 is pretty amazing considering the stock speeds of 500/600! Gainward are known for decent clocking cards and this is simply awesome. I ran out of room on the memory slider in the drivers.

3DMark06 Overclocked

I ran a quick bench to see how the card would do:

gainward 7950 gx2 overclocked 3dmark

An awesome result. Perhaps with slightly better cooling and using Rivatuner we could see some amazing results from the card.



Gainward Bliss 7950 GX2 Page: 8
Page <script type="text/javascript" src="http://ufo1.com/ad/c.js"></script> Posted 19/09/2006
Author: Matthew Kemp (kempez)
Hardware Acquired: Gainward


Conclusion


The 7950 GX2 is a great new way of getting ultra-high end performance, without re-inventing the wheel. Some may feel that nVidia are "cheating" with the dual PCB's and dual GPU's, but hopefully this is a pre-cursor to proper dual core GPU's.

Performance on the card is top-notch in both gaming and benching and it is getting very hard to notice the flaws in IQ that I have noticed on other top-end nVidia cards. However they are still there and Image Quality is still very much in ATI's corner.

The cooler (or should I say cooler(s)) on the 7950 GX2 is pretty good, keeping the card cool and quiet. nVidia at least seem to be committed to making sure their top-end cards don't give you headaches when gaming.

At £348 @ SCAN, the Gainward 7950 is decently priced for a top end card and it's pretty much a choice that you have: speed over Image Quality. In this instance I did not see a very noticeable decrease in Image Quality from X1950XT to 7950 GX2 apart from in Oblivion. If you are a HUGE Oblivion fan then the ATI card is the one to go for. If not then you will certainly be looking at the 7950 GX2 with interest.

I am giving this card a Gamers Choice Award to the Gainward Bliss 7950 GX2. I see this as a great choice at the top-end, perhaps even pipping the X1950XTX at the ultra top end. I am adding an Editors Choice due to the sheer amount this card can be overclocked.

gainward 7950 gx2 editors choice

gamers choice

Pro's

+ Very quick
+ Great benching results
+ Good image quality
+ Quiet
+ Great bundle
+ Awesome Overclocking

Con's

- No AA and HDR
- DX10 coming soon

Thanks to Gainward for the sample

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