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Pros and Cons of Non-Reference Design

What is the reference design of a graphics card, anyway? It is the PCB design that is optimal for mass production of the product and is developed by the GPU manufacturer. Any company that makes mass products tries to reduce the manufacturing cost, but also to ensure a stable and reliable operation of the product within the set limits. The reference design may indeed be perfect like with the PCBs for 6600 series graphics cards. Or it may not. For example, it was extremely hard and next to impossible to overclock the memory on the old entry-level ATI Radeon 9200 even to the nominal frequency of the chips, although the earlier ATI Radeon 9000, on a somewhat different PCB, was free from that problem.

If the graphics card manufacturer (not the GPU manufacturer) decides to change the PCB design, it doesn’t necessarily mean it will come up with something worse than the reference design. There are quite a lot of examples to the opposite, like about a quarter of all cards made by ASUS or Sapphire’s Ultimate and Toxic series.

I think that Palit Corporation has a very potent engineering team because a majority of products coming out under Palit’s trademarks differ from the reference design. So, they have to redesign everything, each model and each variety, before the product appears on the market ant meet the main goal, i.e. to reduce the manufacturing cost while keeping the product quality and functionality on the same level.

Redesigning a PCB boils down to the following:

  • Changing the placement of a graphics card’s units
  • Changing the power circuits of a graphics card’s main components (to reinforce them or to make them simpler)
  • Developing a cheaper (or, on the contrary, a more expensive – for certain top-end products) PCB, e.g. a six-layer instead of an eight-layer one
  • Adapting the PCB for other type of components, e.g. for GDDR2 instead of DDR3
  • Using a combination of the mentioned methods

I hope it’s clear that developing and using non-reference PCB designs for computer devices doesn’t mean “worsening” the original. It is rather a change or modification. In some cases the resulting product may even boast a higher quality of manufacture than the original.


Graphics core: Nvidia GeForce 7600 GT (G73-GT)

Default frequencies: 575/700(1400) MHz (GPU/memory)

Pixel pipelines: 12

Vertex pipelines: 5

Memory: 256MB GDDR3

Memory bus width: 128 bits

Memory chips: 1.2ns Samsung BJ-12, BGA

Interface: PCI Express 16x

Video interfaces: DVI-I, D-Sub, TV-out

RAMDAC: 2 x 400MHz

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