Thanks to its G80 graphics processor Nvidia was not only the leader in the sector of top-performance desktop graphics solutions but actually the single supplier of truly modern and fast graphics cards until the recent release of the ATI Radeon HD 2900 XT. The G80-based GeForce 8800 series covered price ranges from $299-349 (GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB) to $599-$649 (GeForce 8800 GTX). The May 2 announcement of the GeForce 8800 Ultra extended this coverage further up to over $800.
Yes, the GeForce 8800 series brought the user extremely high performance as was confirmed by our tests but Nvidia didn’t have anything to fight ATI’s inexpensive solutions with in the lower market segments. Nvidia’s products on the previous-generation G71 processor had good performance but were inferior to AMD/ATI’s solutions in capabilities and image quality. Particularly, the GeForce 7 series could not support FP HDR and full-screen antialiasing simultaneously and provided a much lower quality of anisotropic filtering in comparison with graphics cards from the Radeon X1950 and X1650 families.
And so Nvidia wanted a new chip that would become the core of a new graphics card family targeted at the $150-229 price range because this segment accounts for some 75% of total sales of discrete graphics solutions. The new chip had to be not only fast but also technically advanced considering the imminent arrival of new Radeons. And this chip, or rather a family of two chips, a faster G84 and a slower G86, was introduced on the 17th of April.
A variety of cost-reducing measures was taken, of course, and the G84 came out inexpensive but lacking a lot of the G80’s features, being equipped with only 32 unified shader processors, 16 texture-mapping units, and 8 raster operators. Thanks to its relative simplicity (289 million transistors as opposed to the G80’s 681 million) and the use of 80nm tech process the main core frequency could be increased to 675MHz and the shader processor frequency to 1.45GHz which made up for the performance loss ensuing from the reduction in the amount of the chip’s functional. However, our tests in real-life applications showed that even the fastest model of the series, GeForce 8600 GTS, could only compete with the GeForce 7900 GS, not the 7950 GT, and was overall slower and, accordingly, a less appealing buy than the ATI Radeon X1950 Pro.
Thus, the long-established tradition that new-generation graphics solutions priced at $199 deliver performance of one-year-old flagship products was broken. The GeForce 8600 series had every chance to follow the fate of the GeForce FX 5600 which had never taken off due to its low performance and had been quickly replaced with the faster GeForce FX 5700. Perhaps we’ll indeed see a successor to GeForce 8600 in the third or fourth quarter this year, but a number of manufacturers was known to offer pre-overclocked GeForce 8600 GTS even at the time of the announcement of the new series. Such cards are faster and more appealing in the potential buyer’s eyes.
Today we will show you one such card, produced by MSI, and will see what performance you can expect from it in modern games.