Let's first of all take a top-of-the-line GPU...say the 8800 Ultra from nVidia. Next add some spice in the form of one of nVidia's top AIB's - Gainward. What we have is a recipe for something nice, or so I hope.
We take Gainward's "Bliss" 8800 Ultra for a spin, rack up some 3DMark scores and have a play with some pretty tight games. How does it fair? Read on...
In their recent style Gainward have used their usual female CGI character on the box. The packaging is pretty attractive although I would not be sure how much it would stand out on shelves next to the likes of BFG and XFX.
The inside of the box protects the card very well as is usual with Gainwards excellent packaging system.
No worries about damage during transit here then.
The package that comes with the 8800 Ultra is Gainwards standard well thought-out package including:
* Install Manual * CyberLink PowerDVD * CyberLink DVD Solution * Driver Disk * 2 x Dual molex to PCI-e 6 PIN power connectors * 2 x DVI to VGA converter * 1 x S-Video to Composite/Component cable
That's a pretty decent looking lot of hardware to go with this top-end card. However, on the games front I feel it's pretty severely lacking, especially after the excellent bundle that Sapphire and ATI managed to put together on the HD2900XT.
From Gainwards site:
Product Name: BP8800ULTRA-768-DD Barcode: 471846200-8576 GPU: NVIDIA GeForce 8800 Ultra GPU Clockspeed: 612 MHz Memory: 768MB 0,8ns DDR3 Memory Clockspeed: 2160 MHz Pixels per clock (peak) : Bandwidth: Ramdac: 400 MHz Bus: PCI-Express Cooling: Fan (Two-slot) Video-Features: Component, S-Video & Composite Out Connectivity: Dvi + Dvi + Video-Out
And some more detailed specs:
NVIDIA® Unified Architecture
* Unified shader architecture * GigaThread™ technology * Full support for Microsoft® DirectX® 10 o Geometry shaders o Geometry instancing o Streamed output o Shader Model 4.0 * Full 128-bit floating point precision through the entire rendering pipeline
NVIDIA Lumenex™ Engine
* 16x full screen anti-aliasing * Transparent multisampling and transparent supersampling * 16x angle independent anisotropic filtering * 128-bit floating point high dynamic-range (HDR) lighting with anti-aliasing o 32-bit per component floating point texture filtering and blending * Advanced lossless compression algorithms for color, texture, and z-data * Support for normal map compression * Z-cull * Early-Z
NVIDIA Quantum Effects™ Technology
* Advanced shader processors architected for physics computation * Simulate and render physics effects on the graphics processor
NVIDIA SLI™ 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.
NVIDIA PureVideo™ HD Technology2
* Dedicated on-chip video processor * High-definition H.264, VC-1, MPEG2 and WMV9 decode acceleration * Advanced spatial-temporal de-interlacing * HDCP capable3 * Spatial-Temporal De-Interlacing * Noise Reduction * Edge Enhancement * Bad Edit Correction * Inverse telecine (2:2 and 3:2 pull-down correction) * High-quality scaling * Video color correction * Microsoft® Video Mixing Renderer (VMR) support
Advanced Display Functionality
* Two dual-link DVI outputs for digital flat panel display resolutions up to 2560x1600 * Dual integrated 400MHz RAMDACs for analog display resolutions up to and including 2048x1536 at 85Hz * Integrated HDTV encoder provides analog TV-output (Component/Composite/S-Video) up to 1080i resolution * NVIDIA nView® multi-display technology capability * 10-bit display processing
Built for Microsoft® Windows Vista™
* Full DirectX 10 support * Dedicated graphics processor powers the new Windows Vista Aero 3D user interface * VMR-based video architecture
High Speed Interfaces
* Designed for PCI Express® x16 * Designed for high-speed GDDR3 memory
* Windows Vista /Windows Vista 64 * Windows XP/Windows XP 64 * Linux
* Complete DirectX support, including Microsoft DirectX 10 Shader Model 4.0 * Full OpenGL® support, including OpenGL 2.0
1 - NVIDIA SLI certified versions of GeForce PCI Express GPUs only. 2 - Feature requires supported video software. Features may vary by product. 3 - Requires other compatible components that are also HDCP capable.
The Gainward 8800 Ultra follows the stock nVidia design for the 8800 Ultra with a black plastic cooler shielding the cooling system below it. The cooling system for the 8800 Ultra is interesting in that the fan actually extends beyond the top level of the cooler, and is not flush with the cooler. After opening up the card and taking a look at the cooler I am not sure exactly why they went with this as it doesn't seem to particularly affect the cooling properties of the cooler that I could see.
Having just said that, the cooler on the 8800 Ultra is quite a lot "cooler" than that of the 8800 GTX. It also does not allow as much branding as the cooler on the 8800 GTX which means the only thing telling you this is a Gainward card is the "G" emblazoned on the middle of the fan.
Again the same as on the GTX is the chip itself. With an IHS and a shim it's pretected pretty well from being crushed by the cooler but it is one hot mother of a GPU so one wonders if this inhibits cooling a little.
The cooler is a heatpipe affair very similar to the one on the 8800 GTX and is aluminium with a copper base. There seems to be aluminium added to the Ultra cooler which should dissapate the heat a little more, but with the core running at these blazing speeds...well you can see the results below.
Power is supplied as on the 8800 GTX by two 6 PIN PCI-e power plus connectors. Gainward have considerately included 2 x dual molex to 6 PIN PCI-e power connectors so as long as your PC has a decent PSU and a few spare molex's then you'll be ok as far as power goes.
Two dual-link, HDCP enabled DVI connectors and an S-Video out provide the card with just about every output you will need, although unlike ATI's HD2900XT you won't see an HDMI connector in the box. Still, with the S-Video to Composite and Component connector Gainward have included in the bundle, along with dual DVI out you should be able to hook up pretty much anything to the card.
All in all nVidia and Gainward have done a solid job of outfitting their latest addition to the troup.
The cooler is, as I have said, a dual heatpipe aluminium constructed beasty with a copper base. It's pretty solid although I don't quite know why it has that little "hump" on the top of it.
As usual, there's a whole load of TIM on the GPU itself and as usual it's probably too much. Thermal pads are also used on the memory, Samsung 0.8ns GDDR3 arranged around the GPU in a ring.
Although the card does have a slight "hump" in it, it didn't interfere during installation in my Silverstone TJ09S. Although, you have to be aware that the size of the cooler means that SATA ports may be hard to get to (and in fact were obstructed on my XFX 650i Ultra.
The fan on the 8800 Ultra is of a similar ilk to that on the 8800 GTX in that it's silent and kicks out a fair amount of air. Even when you spin it up onto full it doesn't howl at you like the Sapphire HD2900XT did.
Temperatures were pretty normal for the steaming hot G80 GPu, coming in at 60°C idle and 79°C load (22°C ambient). This beat out the 8800 GTX that came in 62°C idle and 80°C load - but this isn't exactly a whole lot.
Now we've taken a close look at the card, let's get onto testing...
I will also add the figures from my previous review on the Sapphire HD 2900 XT, for comparison.
Call of Duty 2 F.E.A.R. Oblivion Quake 4 Command and Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars
I am using a manual run-through of the games listed, exactly the same as in previous reviews, but doing it slightly differently to get some consistant numbers. Notice that for all games I ran through with 4 x AA and 8 x AF @ 1920 x 1200. For all of the 3Dmark benchmarks I did two runs. One run was with the stock settings that the free version of the benchmark comes with and one was with 4 x AA @ 1920 x 1200.
For installation I have installed the card as usual with the normal PCI-E power dongle and 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.
Both nVidia cards are using the nVidia 152.24 Forceware drivers.
The ATI card was installed with the Catalyst Control Center 7.6's.
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.
Let's see how the Ultra-fast 8800 Ultra fared here:
Call of Duty 2 shows the Ultra pushing ahead followed by the second in line 8800 GTX. Remember though, that the HD 2900 XT is a lower priced card and is being used for comparison only.
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 used a fully patched version the game with the latest patch applied. 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.
F.E.A.R. looks awesome on all of the cards tested so let's see what the scores are:
Here the results are somewhat strange with the GTX getting higher FPS at minimum. This a bit of an anomoly and did not come across in the gameplay in any of the three runs per card.
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 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. Settings used are below:
I enforced 4 x AA onto the game (via drivers) on all cards, leaving HDR on as an option in-game.
The HD 2900 XT stands up very well in the Oblivion benchmark, but the higher priced 8800 Ultra beats the GTX and the 2900 XT hands down here.
Overall gaming was the very best single-card gaming experience with smooth frame rates at Ultra-High resolutions.
Gainward Bliss 8800 Ultra Page: 5 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 nVidia traditionally did well on 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. Long known as a place nVidia cards thrive, let's see how the 2900 gets on with the Doom 3 engine.
Quake 4 loves nVidia cards so this should be a walk-over for the Ultra here:
The Ultra provided a smooth and even play on Quake 4 and beat out our other two top-end cards easily. The difference between the 8800 GTX and the 8800 Ultra was that you felt the Ultra could easily do a lot more whereas the GTX could maybe step up a little bit, but not to the same extent.
Command and Conquer 3
C&C3 is the much awaited RTS from EA. Hugely popular and with some pretty nice visuals almost every modern PC should be able to play it. I tested a skirmish right at the end when I had a screen full of mechs to defeat the enemy. AA was set to the highest level it could be in-game. I'll be removing this benchmark soon as it's not particlarly hard, so suggestions to our Forums!
Command and Conquer literally just shows that the two nVidia cards can handle the game at it's highest. Interestingly the HD 2900 XT dropped a few FPS in the minimum category.
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 as well as at 1920 x 1200 (4 x AA).
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.
As expected the 8800 Ultra takes the lead by a margin in the 3DMark03 test. Notice that the HD 2900 XT drops off the two top-end nVidia cards at 1920 x 1200.
I ran 3dMark05. This benchmark requires some more features of DirectX 9 and gets slightly more taxing on the cards.
Here the 8800 Ultra gets slightly embarrassed by the HD 2900 XT, but things revert back to normal at 1920 x 1200, 4 x AA.
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. This is the latest Futuremark benchmark and so carries a bit more weight for modern games than the previous two.
Again in 3DMark06 the 8800 Ultra pulls away from both of the competition, especially at high resolutions.
Overclocking on the nVidia cards was performed using Rivatuner Release 2. Overclocking on the HD 2900 XT was performed using the AMD GPU Overclocking Tool. Again note that I am only using 2 x 6 PIN PCI-e power dongles and not a 6 PIN and an 8 PIN PCI-e power dongle as advised by AMD/ATI.
A test run of 3DMark06 was performed after the overclock to verify stability and also if the OC was worth the time.
Note that no hard or soft mods were performed on the card apart from setting the higher clocks.
Here's how the cards stacked up as far as overclocking was concerned:
The Ultra did not seem to quite have the "give" in it that the GTX did and I started getting tearing, glitches and freeze-ups when I pushed any further.
Still, an OC of 680/2300 for the 8800 Ultra wasn't too shabby.
I ran a quick 3DMark06 to see how the overclock went and what the advantages were.
A healthy increase of 400 3DMarks or so shows that a small OC goes a decent way.
The 8800 Ultra is a top-of-the-line, top dollar graphics card and you get what you pay for. If you want blistering performance and bleeding edge graphics and have the screen resolution to take advantage of that then the 8800 Ultra is your card.
At £402 from SpecialTech, the 8800 Ultra isn't priced too badly, although an 8800 GTX can set you back £70 less. It's basically a matter of deciding if your budget can afford the faster clocked card or not.
The 8800 Ultra is a card that takes the top end and really takes it further, something nVidia didn't actually have to do. With this in mind I have to give the Gainward 8800 Ultra a "Editors Choice" and "Recommended" Award, albeit with a price-tag.
+ Blistering performance + Great looking + Quiet
- Expensive - Bundle could be better
Thanks to Gainward for providing the review sample