by Alexey Stepin , Yaroslav Lyssenko
03/03/2008 | 04:57 PM
We used to review graphics cards from Albatron in the past and praise them for original accessories, an attractive exterior, and a clever design of the cooling system, but the last device from this brand was tested in our labs as far back as 2004 when the PCI Express standard was only emerging and when the Nvidia GeForce FX architecture was about to leave the scene.
Now, four years later, we’ve finally got a new opportunity to check out a product from Albatron. It is the fastest graphics card from this brand today, Albatron 8800GTS-512X. Easy to guess, it is a version of Nvidia GeForce 8800 GTS 512MB, the new top-performance single-chip graphics card that replaced Nvidia’s previous flagship GeForce 8800 GTX. We already know that the new card can deliver comparable performance at a much lower price: $229-349 as opposed to $549 and more for the senior G80-based products. It is indeed a real gift for everyone who plays modern PC games.
Practice suggests that the G92 graphics core has a high overclocking potential. If cooled properly, it often overclocks to a main frequency of 750-760MHz. The shader domain frequency can be as high as 1900MHz at that. However, the overall performance growth may be limited by the rather narrow 256-bit memory bus and Qimonda memory that has a rated frequency of 1000 (2000) MHz and a poor overclocking potential. After all, it is the memory bandwidth that largely determines the graphics card’s performance at high display resolutions. In this case, Nvidia’s ex-flagship with its 768MB of onboard memory accessed across a 384-bit bus stays superior. In this review we are going to see if we can overclock our Albatron 8800GTS-512X as much as to beat the Nvidia GeForce 8800 GTX completely.
Will we be successful overclocking the memory this time? You’ll see it soon. Right now let’s check out the package and accessories of the card. Perhaps it can surprise us just like Albatron’s Gigi GeForce FX5900PV did once.
Vertically oriented boxes are getting more popular among graphics card makers. We’ve seen products from Gigabyte and PowerColor packaged like that, and now Albatron follows the suit.
The box looks modern and nice although the overall impression is somewhat spoiled by the trivial picture. Being rather compact, the box can easily fit into a standard plastic bag, so the lack of a handle is not a problem. The product name printed in large letters doesn’t have the “512MB” ending. To avoid confusion, you should remember that old, G80-based, models of Albatron 8800 GTS were shipped in a flat box painted light colors.
Besides the graphics card proper, the box contains:
The accessories bundle looks somewhat archaic in 2008 due to the S-Video and Composite RCA cables that are hardly necessary in the era of LCD and plasma TV-sets equipped with DVI, HDMI or at least an YPbPr interface. On the other hand, the box contains everything you need to use the card. There is no additional software, which is somewhat disappointing. A good game and a modern media player would be appropriate. On the other hand, not all people appreciate such “free” accessories.
The packaging of the Albatron 8800GTS-512X is good overall, but we can recall more original products from the same brand like the above-mentioned Gigi GeForce FX5900 PV that was sold in a knapsack. As for the accessories, they might be more numerous and more modern to appeal more to the customer.
At the times of Nvidia GeForce FX 5900 Albatron would please its customer not only with the product packaging but also with the original Wise Fan cooler with a triple back-up system in case of a failure of one of the fans. Alas, the 8800GTS-512X cannot boast such originality as it is just a precise replica of Nvidia’s reference card.
There is no difference except for the stickers with an Albatron logo on the cooler’s casing. Well, the cooler that Nvidia developed for the GeForce 8800 GTS 512MB is effective and quiet, so there is no special reason to replace it with something non-standard.
As we already wrote in our reviews, Nvidia’s GeForce 8800 GT and GeForce 8800 GTS 512MB feature the same PCB design, but the GPU power circuit is reinforced on the latter card by means of an additional phase. The power supply is managed by a Primarion PX3544 and an Intersil ISL6549CBZ controller. The latter is responsible for the memory chips. The card is equipped with a 6-pin PCI Express 1.0 connector with a load capacity of 75W. G92-based devices do not need anything else due to the rather low power consumption of that chip, even with an unlocked eight block of shader processors.
Like all versions of Nvidia GeForce 8800 GTS 512MB we have tested so far, the Albatron 8800GTS-512X is equipped with eight Qimonda HYB18H512321BF-10 chips of GDDR3 memory. These chips have a rated frequency of 1000 (2000) MHz and a voltage of 2.0V. The memory frequency of the Albatron card is 970 (1940) MHz like that of the reference GeForce 8800 GTS 512MB. With a 256-bit memory bus, the card’s peak memory bandwidth is 62GB/s. Gaming tests suggest that it is not an obstacle to competing with the Nvidia GeForce 8800 GTX.
The card carries a G92 chip revision A2. Its characteristics are standard. The main domain is clocked at 650MHz while the shader domain, at 1620MHz. The eight blocks of unified shader processors (there’s a total of 128 such processors in the core) are all active, and all of the 32 TMUs are active, too. There are 16 raster operators (ROPs). In other words, the Albatron 8800GTS-512X specifications are exactly like those of the reference card from Nvidia without any difference.
The card has two dual-link DVI-I ports, one 7-pin mini-DIN port for analog video output, and a MIO connector for SLI technology. The audio-over-HDMI feature is not implemented, but the card has seats for all the elements necessary to implement it.
We described the reference cooler installed on the GeForce 8800 GTS 512MB in our review of the Leadtek WinFast OX8800 GTS 512MB card, so we only want to remind you that it is based on the cooler from Nvidia’s GeForce 8800 GTX/GTS 640/320MB. The large aluminum heatsink is connected with the copper sole, which takes heat off the GPU die, by means of heat pipes. The heatsink is cooled with a Delta BFB1012L blower. The hot air is exhausted out of the system case through the slits in the graphics card’s mounting bracket. The fan speed is usually not higher than 800rpm, making the cooler virtually silent.
Traditional dark-gray thermal grease is used as a thermal interface between the cooler and the GPU. The memory chips and the load-bearing transistors of the power circuit contact with the cooler’s sole through fabric pads soaked in white thermal grease. This cooling system is overall good and doesn’t call for replacement unless you plan on switching to liquid cooling.
Our attempt to overclock the Albatron 8800GTS-512X proved to be quite successful. The graphics core was stable at frequencies of 760MHz (main domain) and 1875MHz (shader domain). The first number is the same frequency as we achieved when overclocking such cards as XFX GeForce 8800 GTS 512MB XXX Alpha Dog Edition and Leadtek WinFast PX8800 GTS 512MB, but the shader domain frequency is somewhat lower. We don’t think it is going to have a serious effect on the card’s performance, though.
The GPU temperature remained at 43-58°C in 2D mode and reached 85°C under 3D load. These are normal values for a GeForce 8800 GTS 512MB although a small increase in the fan speed would be appropriate. It would help reduce the peak temperature without increasing the noise much.
The memory chips overclocked better than on the cards we had tested earlier. It worked at 1120 (2240) MHz but we reduced the frequency to 1100 (2200) MHz to achieve full stability. The memory frequency growth is considerable, so we will test the card at the overclocked frequencies to see if the GeForce 8800 GTX has any chance against an overclocked GeForce 8800 GTS 512MB.
Like all other versions of Nvidia GeForce 8800 GTS 512MB we had tested before, the Albatron 8800GTS-512X started up on every PCI Express 1.0a mainboard we tried it with, so it seems to be free from the compatibility issues peculiar to early batches of Nvidia GeForce 8800 GT 512MB.
To test the performance of Albatron 8800GTS-512X in games we assembled the following standard test platform:
According to our testing methodology, the drivers were set up to provide the highest possible quality of texture filtering and to minimize the effect of software optimizations used by default by both: AMD/ATI and Nvidia. Also, to ensure maximum image quality, we enabled transparent texture filtering - Adaptive Anti-Aliasing/Multi-sampling for ATI Catalyst and Antialiasing – Transparency: Multisampling for Nvidia ForceWare. As a result, our ATI and Nvidia driver settings looked as follows:
For our tests we used the following games and benchmarks:
First-Person 3D Shooters
Third-Person 3D Shooters
We selected the highest possible level of detail in each game using standard tools provided by the game itself from the gaming menu. The games configuration files weren’t modified in any way. The only exception was Enemy Territory: Quake Wars game where we disabled the built-in fps rate limitation locked at 30fps.
Games supporting DirectX 10 were tested in this particular mode. With a few exceptions, the tests were performed in the following most widely spread resolutions: 1280x1024/960, 1600x1200 and 1920x1200. If the game didn’t support 16:10 display format, we set the last resolution to 1920x1440. We used “eye candy” mode everywhere, where it was possible without disabling the HDR/Shader Model 3.0/Shader Model 4.0. Namely, we ran the tests with enabled anisotropic filtering 16x as well as MSAA 4x antialiasing. We enabled them from the game’s menu. If this was not possible, we forced them using the appropriate driver settings of ATI Catalyst and Nvidia ForceWare drivers
Performance was measured with the games’ own tools and the original demos were recorded if possible. Otherwise, the performance was measured manually with Fraps utility version 2.9.1. We measured not only the average speed, but also the minimum speed of the cards where possible.
We have also included the results for the following graphics accelerators:
This game doesn’t support display resolutions of 16:10 format, so we use a resolution of 1920x1440 pixels (4:3 format) instead of 1920x1200 for it.
The overclocking gain is only perceptible at 1920x1200 where it amounts to 8%. The minimum speed has increased somewhat as well, but this doesn’t have any practical value for this game. You just won’t notice it.
BioShock doesn’t support FSAA when running in Windows Vista’s DirectX 10 environment. That’s why we benchmarked the cards without FSAA.
The overclocked Albatron 8800GTS-512X performs faster by 11% even at 1280x1024. The overclocking gain increases steadily to 14% and then to 17% as the display resolution grows up. This has little practical worth, however, except that the extra reserve of speed may be useful at 1920x1200.
The overclocked 8800GTS-512X delivers a near-comfortable average frame rate, but the minimum speed is still too low for normal play. The game obviously needs over 512MB of graphics memory for 1280x1024 and higher resolutions.
It is at 1280x1024 that we see the biggest effect from overclocking: over 25%. The minimum speed is higher by 20%, too. The average and minimum speed grow by 12% and 18%, respectively, at 1920x1200, which should give more confidence to people who have large-screen monitors.
The game being too hard at its Very High level of detail, we benchmarked the cards without FSAA to get a more playable speed.
The overclocked Albatron delivers a considerable performance gain in Crysis, too. It is actually the leader of this test although the game is still unplayable at its Very High level of detail. Such settings may be used on top-performance multi-GPU platforms we are going to check out in an upcoming review.
The frame rate is fixed at 30fps in this game as this is the rate at which the physical model is being updated at the server. Thus, this 30fps speed is the required minimum for playing the game.
The effect from overclocking the GeForce 8800 GTS 512MB is getting smaller as the resolution grows up. Anyway, it is still as high as 12% at 1920x1200. On the other hand, there is no practical difference between 50fps and 56fps because the game has a frame rate limiter.
The Albatron card behaves like in the previous test but owners of large-screen monitors (23 inches or larger) may find overclocking very helpful if they achieve the same frequency growth as we did with our sample of the card. Working at 760MHz (GPU) and 2200MHz (memory) frequencies, this card can almost make it to 60fps, which is the average frame rate you need in order to play a first-person shooter comfortably.
The game doesn’t support FSAA when you enable the dynamic lighting model, but loses much of its visual appeal with the static model. This is the reason why we benchmarked the cards in S.T.A.L.K.E.R. using anisotropic filtering only.
The overclocked frequencies seem to give the Albatron card no edge against the Nvidia GeForce 8800 GTX, yet its minimum speed has got much higher, making the gameplay more enjoyable. Particularly, it means a higher accuracy of aiming, which is quite an important thingyou’re your survival in the harsh environment of the Chernobyl zone.
Forcing FSAA from the graphics card’s driver doesn’t produce any effect as yet. That’s why the game is tested with anisotropic filtering only.
This game having mild system requirements, there is not much sense in overclocking the GeForce 8800 GTS 512MB even though the performance gain is quite high, about 12% at 1920x1200. At the lower resolutions the card just hits against the performance ceiling set by our testbed configuration.
The overclocked Albatron 8800GTS-512X is about as fast as the GeForce 8800 GTX, yet that’s not enough even for a minimum of comfort. You have to lower the graphics quality settings to play Lost Planet on this card normally.
The overclocking gain amounts to 4% at 1280x1024 and to 8% at the higher resolutions. It has little practical value because the average frame rate is anyway high enough for a third-person shooter while the minimum speed doesn’t grow up along with the graphics card’s frequencies.
Hellgate is sensitive to the amount of graphics memory, which explains these results. When overclocked, the Albatron is close to the GeForce 8800 GTX at high resolutions but not ahead of it. For comparison, the Nvidia GeForce 8800 GT with 1GB of onboard memory delivers even higher performance in this game.
The current version of the game doesn’t support FSAA, so we performed the test with anisotropic filtering only.
There’s almost no effect from overclocking the GeForce 8800 GTS 512MB in this game. We get an 8% increase in speed at best, which is too little to affect your gaming experience.
The game loses much of its visual appeal without HDR. Although some gamers argue that point, we think TES IV looks best with enabled FP HDR and test it in this mode.
As you can see, the overclocking ensures a considerable growth in the average and minimum speed of the GeForce 8800 GTS 512MB at a resolution of 1600x1200 and higher. But on the other hand, the performance is quite comfortable even at the default frequencies, so there’s no sense in overclocking the card for extra frames-per-second, increasing its power consumption and heat dissipation along the way.
The new add-on to Company of Heroes is tested in DirectX 10 mode only since it provides the highest quality of the visuals.
The overclocked Albatron 8800GTS-512X doesn’t impress here. The minimum speed is still below 25fps. The card can only match the performance of the reference GeForce 8800 GTX, yet it’s good too, considering the narrow memory bus.
The game having a frame rate limiter, you should consider the minimum speed of the cards in the first place.
The max speed being limited at 30fps, the game cannot reveal any effect from the overclocking of the Albatron card. The 1fps growth of the minimum speed is too negligible to affect the gamer’s experience.
The biggest overclocking gain can be observed at a resolution of 1280x1024 pixels. It makes the Albatron competitive against the Nvidia GeForce 8800 GTX. The higher minimum speed means a more enjoyable gameplay although 16fps is still not enough for full comfort.
The overclocked Albatron scores over 18,000 points and wins this test, outperforming the ATI Radeon HD 3870.
The individual 3DMark05 tests run at higher resolutions with 4x FSAA, so they don’t quite agree with the overall scores. The performance growth is considerable. In the first test it is only conspicuous at 1920x1200, though. That’s why the overall 3DMark score cannot be an objective measure of performance of a modern graphics card.
3DMark06 is more sensitive to the overclocked frequencies, adding 765 points to the overall score of the Albatron card. The total is over 12,000 points.
The performance growth is almost identical in the two groups of tests. Note the difference between the non-overclocked Albatron and the Nvidia GeForce 8800 GT 512MB: the SM3.0/HDR tests react eagerly to the additional 16 shader processors.
When overclocked, the Albatron performs about 12-15% faster in each of the four 3DMark06 tests. This agrees with the overall score considering the use of FSAA.
The Albatron 8800GTS-512X is a precise replica of the reference card from Nvidia, including the cooler and the GPU/memory frequencies, so it has all the pros and cons of the standard GeForce 8800 GTS 512MB.
At the current moment the Nvidia GeForce 8800 GTS 512MB is the best buy in a price range of $299-349 as it delivers the performance of an Nvidia GeForce 8800 GTX across a number of applications. It also comes with a quiet, yet affective, cooler. All of this refers to the Albatron 8800GTS-512X, which is a copy of the reference card.
Our sample of the Albatron card features a high overclocking potential. We could easily lift its GPU frequencies up to 760/1875MHz and memory frequency to 1100 (2200) MHz. The overclocked card passed a full cycle of our tests without a problem delivering an average performance gain of 15%. The highest performance gain we observed in a few applications was 20-25%.
This overclocking proved to be of little practical value, though. Where the Nvidia GeForce 8800 GTS 512MB already provides a comfortable speed, you can’t spot an increase in that speed with the naked eye whereas in such games as Call of Juarez, Crysis, Lost Planet and World in Conflict the performance did not grow up as much as to make the card’s performance comfortable for the gamer. So, overclocking a GeForce 8800 GTS 512MB provides a nice, but not really necessary, performance increase. Only people who own monitors that support a resolution of 1920x1200 can get some practical advantage in such games as Half-Life 2: Episode Two and Call of Duty 4. The overclocked Albatron left no chance to the Nvidia GeForce 8800 GTX, though, except for Call of Juarez that has too high memory requirements at resolutions above 1280x1024.
Overall, the Albatron 8800GTS-512X is a worthy representative of the GeForce 8800 GTS 512MB cohort. It is a rank-and-file soldier rather than a champion. It is not pre-overclocked by the manufacturer and cannot boast a unique cooler or rich accessories, but it does deliver high performance in modern games just like any other 8800 GTS 512MB. The few accessories and the lack of special features have a positive effect on its retail price. If you want maximum performance for minimum money, the Albatron 8800GTS-512X is just what you need.