The Fast and The Quiet: ASUS 7800GT Top Silent /2HDTV Review

Today we are going to introduce to you a graphics card from ASUS based on Nvidia GeForce 7800 GT and equipped with their own patented passive cooling system aka SilentCool. Let’s try to find out if they managed to create a truly high-end and silent graphics solution. Read our review for details!

by Alexey Stepin , Zahhar Kirillov
05/21/2006 | 10:24 PM

The word Top in the model name indicates an unusual graphics card. Following an established tradition, ASUS puts this name on “advanced” versions of ordinary cards that work at increased frequencies, come with gorgeous accessories and often incorporate original technical solutions.

 

We can recall EAX1800XT Top and Extreme N7800GTX Top models as Top series cards from ASUS that we had a chance to test in our labs. Both those models got our praises for their excellent performance and impressive contents of the box, yet the Top series has always had either of two drawbacks – high power consumption or a large cooler. What do we have this time around?

This time ASUS has come up with something different and made its patent-pending passive cooling solution SilentCool the main feature of the new graphics card. For the user it means that the graphics card is absolutely noiseless and you can also be sure that it will never be damaged due to a fan failure. PC enthusiasts whose computers are working all day long are sure to appreciate SilentCool since silence is important for such operation mode (and it is this category of users that the ASUS GeForce 7800GT Top is mainly intended for as the manufacturer clearly states in the product specs).

Otherwise this graphics card is a typical pre-overclocked GeForce 7800 GT. It is based on the 0.11-micron G70 chip that has 7 vertex and 20 pixel processors and carries 256 megabytes of GDDR3 memory on board. The Top model has higher core and memory frequencies than the ordinary version (420MHz against 400MHz core and 1.28GHz against 1GHz memory) and has a higher memory access time (1.6ns against 2.0ns). You are going to see shortly how well these characteristics mix with passive cooling.

Package and Accessories

Just like any other Top series product, this card comes in a huge colorful box with a handle. It’s not that the box contains too much stuff, but the manufacturer just needed enough space to present all the ads for the exclusive technologies employed. The handle is today a typical thing for any top-end graphics card from any leading manufacturer because it’s just unhandy to carry boxes of that size in your hands or under your arm.

The box sports labels of the following technologies the card supports:

Besides the card and user manual, the box contains the following:

You can check the performance of the graphics card right away on any of the seven included games:

Besides the games, there are a few more CD-disks with the following tools:

After we had taken all this stuff out of the box, we found the box empty, although we had expected to find something real cool and useful among the accessories like a web-camera or a set of quality cables – this is a Top product after all! Unfortunately, ASUS doesn’t indulge the user this time around. The good news is that there are seven games included, including the rather recent title Peter Jackson’s King Kong, the official game of the movie.

Well, our realm is hardware so we just pushed everything aside to have a good view at the card before plugging it into the PCI Express slot of our testbed.

PCB Design

ASUS is among the few companies who receive a do-it-yourself kit from Nvidia rather than a ready-made GeForce 7900 GT. The kit includes a PCB, graphics processor and memory and it is up to the manufacturer to install everything right. And here we can blame ASUS for the traces of rosin on the blue-lacquered textolite – they hadn’t washed the card well enough after soldering. This has no effect on the operation of the device, but it looks somewhat untidy. We hope it’s only a problem of our sample or the particular batch and other samples of the card will please your eyes with their very appearance.

 

Other than that, there is nothing particularly interesting on the PCB. The wiring is standard; all the important components of the card are placed on one side of the PCB under a massive heatsink. The reverse side carries electronic components that support the card’s VIVO and HDTV functionality and a plastic fastener for the cooler. A metal bar goes along the top edge of the PCB to add it robustness and prevent it from bending during install/uninstall operations or just when it is in the slot with all that weight of the cooler on it.

So, the ASUS GeForce 7800GT Top graphics card is a workhorse designed well enough to serve its term and offering the user some nice features like good accessories.

Cooling System

ASUS’s exclusive SilentCool technology deals with the heat generated by the graphics processor and memory. This technology has been implemented in some earlier graphics card models from ASUS to animated applause as well as to deserved criticism. Our tests are going to show how the passive cooling handles a Top-class graphics card and how it differs from the previous versions of the technology. The cooling system works like this:

The SilentCool is a heatsink with a large ribbing area that covers the GPU and memory chips. It also has additional heat-spreading plates fastened on a moving joint. To minimize weight, the heatsink is made of aluminum and the heat-spreader is made of copper; the components are connected via a heat pipe. For better heat transfer, you should turn the joint in such a way that the CPU fan blew at it. It means that the CPU fan cannot be over 11cm tall. If you’ve got a taller one, you may need to provide additional air cooling for the card to prevent overheat.

We made sure the stock cooling system of this card did its job well. The GPU temperature wasn’t higher than 51°C in idle mode and not higher than 72°C under 3DMark05’s load.

Noise, Overclocking and 2D Quality

Lacking a fan, the card is completely noiseless. As for overclocking, the card already comes pre-overclocked and further increase of its frequencies will certainly call for additional cooling, negating the card’s main advantage over its competitors.

Expectably from a device of this class, it provides an immaculate-quality 2D image. At least we could see nothing wrong in 1800x1440@75Hz display mode.

Testbed and Methods

Our testbeds were based on the following mainboards:

We rest of the testbed components were the following:

We used the following drivers:

We selected the highest graphics quality settings in each game, identical for graphics cards from ATI and Nvidia, except for the Pacific Fighters flight simulator that requires vertex texturing for its Shader Model 3.0 rendering mode. Radeon X1000 doesn’t support this feature therefore we ran the game in Shader Model 2.0 in this case. We did not edit the configuration files of the games. To measure the performance we either used the integrated tools of the games we tested in, or if there were none available, resorted to FRAPS utility. If it was possible, we measured minimal performance as well.

To load the video subsystem to the full extent and to minimize the influence of the CPU speed on the performance results we didn’t test the systems in the “pure speed” mode. We only ran the tests in “eye candy” mode with full-screen anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering. Besides the standard eye candy mode (FSAA 4x + AF 16x) we also used a few resource-hungry modes such as Super AA/SLI AA 8x + AF 16x and Super AA 14x/SLI AA 16x + AF 16x. We enabled FSAA 4x + AF 16x from the game if possible. Otherwise we forced the necessary mode from the ATI Catalyst and Nvidia ForceWare graphics card driver.

We set up the ATI and Nvidia drivers in the same way as always:

ATI Catalyst:

Nvidia ForceWare:

Besides ASUS EN7800 GT Top Silent, we have also included the following graphics cards:

These games and applications were used as benchmarks:

First-Person 3D Shooters

Third-Person 3D Shooters

Simulators

Strategies

Synthetic benchmarks

Performance in First-Person 3D Shooters

Battlefield 2

The EN7800 GT Top Silent can only provide a really big advantage over the standard GeForce 7800 GT in 1600x1200 where it is 10% faster thanks to its higher graphics memory clock rate (620MGz against 500MHz). This is also the single mode where the ASUS beats the Radeon X1800XL which obviously feels the lack of graphics memory bandwidth even though is equipped with a ring-bus memory controller.

Note that all the cards deliver a comfortable average frame rate in this game with full-screen antialiasing enabled. The numbers should be regarded cautiously, however. The game doesn’t offer in-built benchmarking options while testing with the Fraps utility always gives way to some inaccuracy.

The Chronicles of Riddick

The ASUS is less than 10% behind the GeForce 7900 GT even though the latter has more pixel processors (24 against 20) which also work at a higher frequency (450MHz against 420MHz). The EN7800GT Top seems to have enough computational capacity to handle the special effects employed in this game; it also seems to have a sufficiently high fill rate.

This game using OpenGL and dynamic stencil shadows, the EN7800GT TOP Silent manages to keep the same tempo with the technologically more advanced ATI Radeon X1800 XT. The resolution of 1280x1024 with FSAA is available with any participating graphics card, except for the Radeon X1800 XL.

Call of Duty 2

Call of Duty produces a different picture of performance than the one we’ve seen in Battlefield 2. The EN7800 GT Top Silent is better than the reference card in resolutions lower than 1600x1200. This is rather strange since the memory frequency should have had a very small effect on the overall performance then. Anyway, the resolution of 1024x768 is the only one in which you can play at a comfortable speed and with enabled FSAA on the tested cards, except for the Radeon X1800 XT which delivers 50fps in 1280x1024, too.

Doom 3

The EN7800GT Top Silent falls the father behind the GeForce 7900 GT as the display resolution grows, which is normal considering the better specs of the latter. Like in Call of Duty, the performance of the ASUS and of the standard GeForce 7800 GT coincides in 1600x1200 despite the hefty advantage in memory frequency the ASUS has.

Despite the game’s OpenGL-based engine and some GeForce 6/7-oriented rendering techniques, the Radeon X1800 XT is always in the lead in the standard resolutions, although the GeForce 7900 GT follows it closely in 1600x1200. The resolution of 1280x1024 seems to be the highest comfortably playable on any card, except the Radeon X1800 XL.

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

This game was not tested in FSAA modes since HDR support is disabled even on ATI’s graphics card in that case and the quality of graphics degenerates noticeably. It is also impossible to turn on the Bloom effect alongside with HDR. TES IV: Oblivion lacks any benchmarking options so we had to use Fraps and test manually, so the numbers may be somewhat imprecise.

The graphics card is required to process lighting and shadows in the Oblivion dungeons. More pixel processors are welcome due to numerous pixel shaders. The GeForce 7900 GT has the most pixel processors of all and this show in 1280x1024 and higher resolutions. In 1024x768 the cards are all similar, except for the slow Radeon X1800 XL.

Considering that Oblivion is not all about dungeons, we recommend using 1024x768 resolution with graphics cards of this class especially if you enable the HDR mode.

The GeForce 7900 GT enjoys a colossal advantage over the other cards in open scenes, although we can’t say it delivers a comfortable average performance. The ASUS EN7800GT Top Silent has a lower min frame rate in 1024x768 than the Radeon X1800 XL, while the GeForce 7900 GT is slower than the Radeon X1800 XT.

It means that R520-based solutions are preferable to same-class G70- or G71-based cards in Oblivion.

Far Cry

The demo recorded on the Pier map shows a flight on a hang-glider over the island. Its speed is usually limited by the CPU performance when it comes to testing top-end graphics hardware. For less advanced solutions it is pixel shader processing speed that’s important here: there’s always water on the screen and Far Cry’s implementation of water is still among the best in the industry.

The ASUS does well in this test, making all resolutions playable with enabled 4x FSAA and anisotropic filtering, but it is slower than the Radeon X1800 XL. Note that there’s practically no performance gain in comparison with the standard GeForce 7800 GT because there’s only 20MHz of difference between the GPU clock rates of this card and of the EN7800GT Top Silent.

The demo record on the Research map is different. The action goes on indoors, in catacombs. Per-pixel lighting is used here, and shader code optimizations allow rendering the lighting of the scene in one pass with SM3.0 rather than in several passes as with SM2.0. Thus, the graphics card is required to quickly render the lighting and efficiently process version 3.0 shaders to pass this test successfully.

The ASUS EN7800GT Top Silent is a good match to the Radeon X1800 XL here, being 2-3fps ahead in high resolutions thanks to faster memory. The GeForce 7900 GT looks better than on the Pier level, but its 24 pixel processors still cannot help it overtake the Radeon X1800 XT. Like in the previous case, all the cards deliver an acceptable average frame rate in all resolutions with enabled 4x FSAA.

None of the participating graphics cards can give you the required average speed in 1600x1200, but all the solutions on Nvidia’s chips can do that in 1280x1024. The Radeon X1800 XT is very close to them, but cannot yield more than 55fps due to the poor implementation of HDR support for ATI cards in the current version of Far Cry. Note that the gap between the ASUS EN7800GT Top Silent and the GeForce 7800 GT remains constant here irrespective of the resolution.

The ASUS doesn’t have any advantage over the reference card on the Research map when HDR is enabled. In this demo it is the pixel shader processing speed that’s important and the two mentioned card don’t differ much in this respect whereas the memory subsystem performance plays no big role because the scene is small and closed. Like on the Pier map, the maximum resolution available with any card (except the Radeon X1800 XL) is 1280x1024.

F.E.A.R.

This 3D horror shooter is known for its wide use of shader-based special effects. So, the game requires the graphics subsystem to be capable of processing numerous shaders at a fast rate.

The ASUS EN7800GT Top Silent delivers the same average frame rate as the Radeon X1800 XL in the “eye candy” mode, but the latter has a lower minimum speed. The first place goes to the Radeon X1800 XT, even though it is a mere 2fps ahead of the GeForce 7900 GT in 1024x768. This solution from ATI and Nvidia’s GeForce 7900 GT allow playing F.E.A.R. with comfort at 1280x1024 with enabled full-screen antialiasing. The other cards, including the EN7800GT Top Silent, cannot provide an acceptable speed in this mode.

Half-Life 2

For some unclear reason that lies somewhere in the drivers or in the Source engine employed in Half-Life 2, graphics cards on GPUs from ATI Technologies have higher results in it than Nvidia’s solutions. This is especially clear when the CPU’s influence is the highest, i.e. in low resolutions or when FSAA is disabled.

Like its competitors, the EN7800GT Top Silent easily runs Half-Life 2 at a comfortable speed with enabled 4x FSAA and 16x AF. It is not much faster than the reference GeForce 7800 GT and only in 1600x1200 resolution. It is also slower than the ATI Radeon X1800 XL due to the above-explained reasons.

Half-Life 2: Lost Coast

The improved Source engine this demo is based on uses much more shader-based special effects than the original Half-Life 2 does. The results suggest that it’s good to have more pixel processors if you want to play the next-generation Half-Life: the GeForce 7900 GT is almost 10% ahead of the Radeon X1800 XT. At the same time, the ASUS card is about 15% slower than the GeForce 7900 GT.

It’s in 1024x768 that you have the biggest gain from the overclocked frequencies of the EN7800GT Top Silent – its average performance is near 60fps then. In higher resolutions the average performance of all the cards is far from comfortable level.

Project: Snowblind

This game is so simple that all the cards in this review are very fast in it; even the Radeon X1800 XL maintains a frame rate of over 40fps. The ASUS is from 5 to 12% faster than the reference card depending on the display resolution.

This game is also tested with Fraps, but we used the cut-scene available in it, so you may be assured of the accuracy and repeatability of the results.

Quake 4

Despite the turned-on full-screen antialiasing, all the graphics cards behave alike in resolutions below 1600x1200. Only the Radeon X1800 XT stands out among the rest because it has better frequency characteristics and twice more of graphics memory. It wins 1600x1200 resolution, too.

Thanks to its overclocked frequencies, the EN7800GT Top Silent is only a little slower than the Radeon X1800 XL while the reference GeForce 7800 GT is 15% slower than the ATI solution although Quake 3 runs on a modified OpenGL-based engine from Doom 3. It’s not very important, however, because every card makes the resolution of 1600x1200 playable here.

Serious Sam 2

We tested the game using a demo supplied with it; speed was measured with Fraps.

The Radeon X1800 XT is the single graphics card that can provide an average frame rate of 55fps and higher here – it’s just because it is the single card among the tested ones that has 512 megabytes of graphics memory on board. The other cards come with 256MB of memory which is not enough for Serious Sam2 at its maximum graphics quality settings.

Anyway we can see that the GeForce 7900 GT works much better than the GeForce 7800 GT or the ASUS EN7800GT Top Silent. The latter two cards have 20 TMUs whereas the G71-based card has 24 and this game makes wide use of pixel shaders with multiple texture lookups and appreciates high scene fill rate.

Performance in Third-Person 3D Shooters

Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory

The ASUS EN7800GT Top Silent isn’t much better than the ordinary GeForce 7800 GT when it comes to executing math1ematics-heavy shaders, so these two cards do not differ much in Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory which abounds in such shaders. Both the cards are about 10% slower than the GeForce 7900 GT and Radeon X1800 XL and ensure a comfortable frame rate in 1280x1024 with enabled full-screen antialiasing.

Performance in Simulators

Pacific Fighters

The CPU limits performance of the GeForce 7 cards in 1024x768. In higher resolutions the G70-based products fall behind the GeForce 7900 GT, but their speed is quite enough for comfortable play in 1600x1200 with enabled FSAA and anisotropic filtering.

ATI Technologies’ solutions are much slower because the Pacific Fighters engine is optimized for the GeForce 6/7 architecture.

X3: Reunion

The results of the GeForce 7800 GT and ASUS EN7800 GT are similar because they have similar GPU clock rates and, as a result, similar speed of processing pixel shaders. Both the cards are considerably slower than the GeForce 7900 GT and Radeon X1800 XL and do not allow playing in resolutions higher than 1024x768 when full-screen antialiasing is turned on.

Performance in Strategies

Age of Empires 3

As we could see in previous test sessions, graphics cards with more pixel processors on board have an advantage in Age of Empires 3 . For example, the Radeon X1900 XT delivers almost two times the performance of the Radeon X1800 XT (for more details see our review called EVGA e-GeForce 7900 GT CO SuperClocked Graphics Card Review). And we can see the same again now: the EN7800GT Top Silent and GeForce 7800 GT leave the Radeon X1800XT behind but are themselves slower than the GeForce 7900 GT which has 4 more execution units.

Talking about playability, you may want to limit yourself to 1280x1024 with enabled FSAA on an EN7800GT Top Silent. In this mode the card provides a comfortable frame rate as for a strategy game.

Warhammer 40000: Dawn of War

Dawn of War is simpler in terms of graphical complexity than Age of Empires 3 and both the GeForce 7800 GT models participating in this review allow playing with comfort in any resolutions and with enabled FSAA. The GeForce 7900 GT and the Radeon X1800 XT have somewhat higher average speeds, but this is of no importance here. Note also that the performance of the Radeon X1800 XT may bottom out to below 20fps in some scenes due to the specifics of the game engine which uses stencil shadows and high-resolution textures.

Performance in Synthetic Benchmarks

Futuremark 3DMark05 build 1.2.0

Since 3DMark05 runs at 1024x768 with disabled full-screen antialiasing by default, the memory frequency doesn’t really affect the final score. As a result, EN7800GT Top Silent outperforms the reference Nvidia graphics card just by 289 points. It is not enough to defeat the Radeon X1800 XL, which is 210 points ahead of the ASUS solution.

Despite the intensity of Game 2 test and the use of FSAA 4x, ASUS EN7800GT Top Silent is only 5% faster than the regular GeForce 7900 GT and Radeon X1800 XL. As for GeForce 7900 GT and Radeon X1800 XT, no competition whatsoever is possible.

Game 2 test is totally different from the first one. It is less overwhelming than the first one but requires the graphics subsystem to work efficiently with lighting and shadows and to process vertex shaders fast enough. Since both GeForce 7800 GT modifications feature not only lower GPU frequency but also fewer vertex processors (7 against 8 by all other testing participants), they lose to Radeon X1800 XL, despite the victory in Game 1 test. Note that in 1600x1200 the solution from ASUS is considerably faster than the standard modification of the same card: its advantage makes the good 10%.

The results in Game 3 test are similar to what we have just discussed in Game 2 test, except the fact that the performance of our ASUS EN7800GT Top Silent didn’t grow up that much compared with the results of the reference graphics card on Nvidia GeForce 7800 GT. Radeon X1800 XL is slightly ahead of the ASUS solution, just like in the total score chart.

Futuremark 3DMark06 build 1.0.2

ASUS EN7800GT Top Silent is only 98 points ahead of GeForce 7800 GT working at the nominal GPU and memory frequencies of 400MHz/500(1000MHz) respectively. But this time it manages to defeat Radeon X1800 XL having left it 248 points behind. It is a relatively significant performance difference for 3DMark06. However, before we make any final conclusions let’s take a look at the SM2.0 and SM3.0/HDR results individually.

The results of the graphics SM2.0 test affect the overall score quite significantly, because this test requires high fillrate speed. This definitely explains why ASUS EN7800GT Top Silent is so far ahead Radeon X1800 XL.

In SM3.0/HDR tests our hero wins another victory over Radeon X1800 XL despite the efficient Shader Model 3.0 implementation of the latter. It is the low GPU frequency of the Radeon X1800 XL that lets this happen. For your reference, the Radeon X1800 XT graphics solution with the GPU working at 625MHz shows the best result of all the testing participants here.

In the first SM2.0 graphics test ASUS EN7800GT Top Silent outperforms GeForce 7800 GT and Radeon X1800 XL only in 1024x768. In 1280x1024 all the graphics cards participating in our today’s test session show pretty similar results differing by 0.7fps at most.

The overall picture in the second SM2.0 test is very different from the first one. Namely, ASUS EN7800GT Top Silent, Radeon X1800 XL and the reference GeForce 7800 GT perform almost equally fast. Also, GeForce 7900 GT doesn’t stand out that greatly any more, because its high fillrate remains unused.

Conclusion

ASUS EN7800GT Top Silent is one of the most powerful solutions among the quiet graphics accelerators today (or you can call it the quietest of the most powerful). It should be of interest mostly for those user’s who do not built system’s for the future but rather enjoy them today. With the performance level between the recently announced GeForce 7900 GT and the classical GeForce 7800 GT, ASUS EN7800GT Top Silent will ensure that you enjoy all the latest games.

The package contains all the necessary accessories and the included gaming titles were a very pleasant bonus: far not every graphics card maker includes so much software with their products as ASUS guys.

The silent cooling solution implemented on this card as well as VIVO and HDTV support stress that this product is positioned for home use. A number of additional technologies we have mentioned in the corresponding review section make this card ideal for a silent PC or entertainment center.

Maybe ASUS EN7800GT Top Silent is not the performance leader today, but it still offers very decent performance level in most games. Those who need more fps may build an SLI system with a pair of graphics cards like that. In this case the performance will reach up to the level of Nvidia’s flagship solutions such as GeForce 7900 GTX or even Radeon X1900 XTX.

ASUS once again offered us a high-quality product and a very interesting solution. Their EN7800GT Top Silent offers us great speed and absolutely noiseless operation.

Highs:

Lows: