by Alexey Stepin
05/15/2006 | 05:55 PM
The graphics processor G71 announced by Nvidia some time ago proved to be good in terms of core area (it incorporates fewer transistors than the G70) and frequency potential. Although its technical characteristics are the same as the G70’s, the G71 can readily work at frequencies of 650MHz and higher as it actually does in some pre-overclocked versions of GeForce 7900 GTX.
But as we wrote in our article called Quadtet: Nvidia GeForce 7900 Quad SLI Performance Unveiled, there are but very few PC enthusiasts who purchase expensive top-end graphics hardware. Most of them seek for their graphics card in a price range of $299-399. This money can buy you the performance necessary to play modern games if you don’t turn on extreme full-screen antialiasing modes or display resolutions higher than 1600x1200. From this point of view, GeForce 7900 GT, the junior model in the GeForce 7900 series, looks more interesting than the flagship GeForce 7900 GTX because it comes at an official price of only $299. What’s curious, it has better parameters than the GeForce 7800 GTX which came at an impressive $599 at the time of its last-year release!
The standard GeForce 7900 GT is equipped with 256 megabytes of graphics memory clocked at 660 (1320) MHz and its graphics core is clocked at 450MHz (470MHz for the vertex processors). Although this card is made out of chips that hadn’t passed a frequency check to be installed on GeForce 7900 GTX, it can often work at much higher clock rates than the mentioned 450/470MHz. That’s why a release of pre-overclocked versions of GeForce 7900 GT was inevitable. This method of distinguishing a product from the competitors’ solutions is as popular among the graphics card manufacturers today as installing an original cooling system. Well, these are actually the only opportunities for creativity when it comes to top-end graphics cards. Developing an original PCB design is too difficult and costly a business and is actually not permitted by ATI and Nvidia (the latter sometimes leaves its closest partners, like ASUS, the choice of the color of the card’s PCB, too).
So, the first pre-overclocked GeForce 7900 GT that we could get into our hands is e-GeForce 7900 GT SO SuperClocked from EVGA. The frequencies of this card are much higher than the standard ones at 550MHz GPU and 790 (1580) MHz memory. It looks like a promise of a nice performance boost to us. You’ll see how the card performs in gaming tests shortly. Right now let’s have a closer look at its package and design.
The graphics card EVGA e-GeForce 7900 GT CO SuperClocked came to us in its retail package so we could compare it with the package of the e-GeForce 7800 GTX (for details see our article called EVGA e-GeForce 7800 GTX Graphics Card Review). With rare exceptions, EVGA doesn’t take any risky experiments with the size, shape or color scheme of the box for its products. This is true for the box of the e-GeForce 7900 GT CO SuperClocked, too.
It is a standard size and is free from any decoration in design: there’s only a picture of the card itself and its name in large print on the box. The colors are somewhat different from the box of the e-GeForce 7800 GTX: deep blue is mixed with black rather then light green. A pattern made up of EVGA logotypes is set against the black background. Since the entire e-GeForce 7900 GT series, except the exclusive Signature model, uses the same package, a sticker with the appropriate text and clock rates (550/1580MHz) indicates that this card belongs to the CO SuperClocked series.
There is another sticker in the bottom left corner that informs you about the EVGA Giveaway campaign. Its point is that you can have your money back if you’re lucky enough. Information about a step-up program that allows you to save on upgrading your graphics subsystem is given on the side of the box. You need to register on the EVGA website to take part in either of the programs.
You can read some technical information about the e-GeForce 7900 GT family on the back of the box. There’s a reminder about the lifetime warranty EVGA provides and a sticker with the serial number there. Above this sticker there is a window through which you can see another such sticker on the graphics card that lies in there in a special plastic box. So the buyer can compare the serial numbers before purchase and make sure he buys an original EVGA product.
So, there’s a smaller plastic box inside the package with the graphics card and accompanying accessories. The card sits firmly in the box and is unlikely to get damaged as it is being transported to its potential owner.
The accessories to the EVGA e-GeForce 7900 GT CO SuperClocked include the following:
That’s not the most gorgeous set of accessories we’ve seen, especially for a games-oriented graphics card. The included multimedia software is of little use since the card doesn’t support VIVO. A DVD with demo versions of various games may be included optionally, but was missing in our case. The user manual is rather too sketchy, yet it gives you a full enough description of how to install the card into your computer.
So, the package of the EVGA e-GeForce 7900 GT CO SuperClocked is designed well, but its accessories aren’t the best possible. The good news is that you get a lifetime warranty and an opportunity to take part in the lottery or the step-up program.
The EVGA e-GeForce 7900 GT CO SuperClocked uses the standard PCB design and doesn’t differ from the reference sample of GeForce 7900 GT which we described in our article called Nvidia GeForce 7900 GT Review.
The only detail that distinguishes this product from the prototype is a sticker with the EVGA logo on the cooler. Nvidia’s logotype on the PCB indicates that this is a standard GeForce 7900 GT manufactured at Foxconn’s facilities.
The revision A2 graphics chip is dated the sixth week of the current year, i.e. the middle of February. The core is clocked at 550MHz or 100MHz higher than described in the official specs. The card carries eight K4J55323QG-BC14 memory chips from Samsung in 136-pin FBGS packaging. These chips have 8Mx32 organization, 256Mbit capacity and 1.8V voltage. The suffix BC14 means that the chips are rated to work at 700 (1400) MHz, but here they are already overclocked by the manufacturer to 790 (1580) MHz. EVGA guarantees stability of its product at the higher frequencies, but you cannot of course hope for any success at overclocking. The total amount of graphics memory is 256MB.
EVGA didn’t trouble itself with installing an original cooler, but took a reference cooler instead (we described it in our GeForce 7900 GT review). It is designed in a simple way: the ribbing is glued to the copper base and the whole is covered under an air-directing plastic casing. The cooler is equipped with a small but rather noisy blower with a diameter of 45mm and cools the GPU die only.
This is enough for cooling a standard GeForce 7900 GT because the G71 chip doesn’t generate much heat at 450MHz. But the core of the e-GeForce 7900 GT CO SuperClocked works at 550MHz, so the reference cooler may find it difficult to do its job, especially if your system case is poorly ventilated. The memory chips are not cooled at all, although its frequency is above the normal one for the access time of 1.4 nanoseconds.
The EVGA e-GeForce 7900 GT CO SuperClocked being a pre-overclocked product, we just couldn’t expect it to be any good at further overclocking. The graphics processor indeed refused to work even at 570MHz and remained stable at 560MHz only. The graphics memory could be overclocked to 800 (1600) MHz; at higher frequencies various image artifacts appeared. It’s all right for the memory since the installed GDDR3 chips are rated to work at 700 (1400) MHz. We set an additional 120mm fan to blow at the card during our overclocking experiment, but the result was a failure anyway.
Then we measured the power consumption of the graphics card using a special testbed with the following configuration:
We measured the power consumption of the card with a digital multimeter Velleman DVM850BL (0.5% measurement accuracy). To put a Peak 3D load on the card we ran the first SM 3.0 graphics test from 3DMark06 in a loop at 1600x1200 resolution and with enabled 16x anisotropic filtering. Then we created an extremely high 2D load by launching the 2D Transparent Windows test from Futuremark PCMark05. Here are the results:
The new 0.09-micron graphics processor from Nvidia again proves how little power it needs to operate. The EVGA card consumes only 8.5W more than the standard GeForce 7900 GT despite the considerable difference in their clock rates. The GeForce 7800 GT and Radeon X1800 XL have roughly the same power consumption but they have much humbler technical characteristics in comparison with the EVGA e-GeForce 7900 GT CO SuperClocked.
Unfortunately, this card from EVGA isn’t good in terms of noise characteristics. Being equipped with a reference cooler, it is as noisy as the ordinary GeForce 7900 GT The small fan is always working at a rather high speed making the card easily distinguishable among the other noises from a working system.
However, the fan rotation speed cannot be reduced: the card doesn’t have any fan speed management tools. But even if there was a possibility to do it, you would hardly be able to take advantage of it anyway. The reference cooler of GeForce 7900 GT has very small heat dissipation area, so slowing down the fan could have affected the cooling efficiency of the system.
Anyway, if you want to make your e-GeForce 7900 GT CO SuperClocked noiseless, consider replacing its cooler with something more efficient, like Zalman VF900-Cu or VF-700Cu/AlCu, for example.
All GeForce 7900 GT seem to be manufactured at the same fab, so the high image quality in 2D mode provided by the EVGA card is not at all surprising. The EVGA e-GeForce 7900 GT CO SuperClocked delivers a superb-quality image in all display modes supported by our Dell P1130 and P1110, including 1800x1440@75Hz.
We tested the performance of our today’s hero on the following platform:
We set up the ATI and Nvidia drivers in the same way as always:
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. It is not only about more optimal use of the graphics subsystem potential. We get much higher image quality in this mode than in case no FSAA and/or no anisotropic filtering are used.
We turned on full-screen antialiasing and anisotropic filtering from the game’s own menu if possible. Otherwise we forced the necessary mode from the ATI Catalyst and Nvidia ForceWare graphics card driver. We did not test the card in overclocked mode because the overclocking didn’t result in any significant frequency increase.
Besides EVGA e-GeForce 7900 GT CO SuperClocked, we have also included the following graphics cards:
These games and applications were used as benchmarks:
First-Person 3D Shooters
Third-Person 3D Shooters
The EVGA card is everywhere 15-20% ahead of the standard GeForce 7900 GT and is successfully competing with the Radeon X1900 XT in 1024x768. In 1600x1200 with turned-on full-screen antialiasing and anisotropic filtering the e-GeForce 7900 GT CO SuperClocked delivers a good average performance. On the other hand, even the Radeon X1800 XL, the weakest card in this review, ensures a comfortable frame rate in this mode.
The e-GeForce 7900 GT CO SuperClocked is only slower than the GeForce 7900 GTX in this OpenGL application, but the Radeon X1900 XT follows it closely in 1600x1200. The average performance of both cards is sufficiently high at 50-55fps, but there’s no reserve of speed which can bottom out to below comfortable in some especially difficult game scenes. So, the Radeon X1900 XT and the EVGA e-GeForce 7900 GT CO SuperClocked are both limited to 1280x1024 in The Chronicles of Riddick if you turn on full-screen antialiasing.
The high GPU frequency helps the EVGA card beat the Radeon X1900 XT and X1800 XT in 1024x768, but ATI’s solutions win the higher resolutions thanks to their ring-bus memory controller and a larger amount of graphics memory. You can’t use the “eye candy” settings in high resolutions here: the average performance of the e-GeForce 7900 GT CO SuperClocked and the Radeon X1900 XT/X1800 XT is too low even in 1280x1024.
Doom 3 is among those games where Nvidia’s GeForce 7 series cards enjoy an indisputable advantage over its competitors. However, the EVGA card is not much faster than the Radeon X1900 XT: by only 5-7% in resolutions above 1024x768. At the same time, the new card enjoys an impressive 20% advantage over the standard GeForce 7900 GT thus opening the resolution of 1600x1200 for the player.
Modern graphics cards of a high enough class allow running Far Cry at 1600x1200 with enabled full-screen antialiasing and anisotropic filtering. As for the GeForce 7900 GT CO SuperClocked, its high frequencies help it successfully compete with the powerful Radeon X1900 XT.
Version 3.0 pixel shaders are employed on the Research map but the EVGA card is not worse than the leaders which are the Radeon X1900 XT and GeForce 7900 GTX, and provides a colossal reserve of speed in all resolutions including 1600x1200. It’s also clear that Far Cry doesn’t really need more than 256 megabytes of graphics memory.
We get different results after turning on the HDR mode: the GeForce 7900 GTX is getting farther away from the GeForce 7900 GT CO SuperClocked as the resolution grows. The maximum resolution for comfortable play is 1280x1024 with the EVGA card.
A smaller scene is rendered in the demo recorded on the Research map, so the performance of the cards is generally higher. Curiously enough, the gap between the GeForce 7900 GTX and the GeForce 7900 GT CO SuperClocked is much smaller in 1600x1200 than in 1280x1024.
The higher GPU and memory frequencies help the GeForce 7900 GT CO SuperClocked reach the level of the Radeon X1900 XT in this shaders-heavy game. The resolution of 1600x1200 is an exception because it’s the graphics memory performance that’s important there, so even the GeForce 7900 GTX begins to lag behind the Radeon X1900 XT that boasts a ring-bus memory controller. Anyway, none of the cards can provide an average frame rate of at least 50fps in this resolution. All of them can do that in 1280x1024, excepting the Radeon X1800 XL which is equipped with the slowest memory of all.
It’s only in 1600x1200 resolution, when the CPU’s influence is the smallest, that we can correctly evaluate the e-GeForce 7900 GT CO SuperClocked. This card is a little slower than the Radeon X1800 XT and GeForce 7900 GTX, yet it gives you a comfortable average performance of 86fps anyway.
The fill rate of the e-GeForce 7900 GT CO SuperClocked is higher because its GPU is overclocked from the standard 450MHz to 550MHz. This is why it is as fast as the Radeon X1900 XT and even faster in 1024x768 when there’s low load on the graphics memory. Alas, the lowest resolution is the only playable with any card, except for the GeForce 7900 GTX which delivers a comfortable frame rate in 1280x1024 too with its 24 TMUs clocked at 650MHz.
This game isn’t too advanced as concerns its graphical effects, so all the participating graphics cards, except for the Radeon X1800 XL, deliver high performance in all the standard resolutions with enabled full-screen antialiasing. The e-GeForce 7900 GT CO SuperClocked is less than 10% behind the GeForce 7900 GTX, delivering a min frame rate of 61fps and an average frame rate of over 80fps in the hardest test mode.
The performance of today’s top-end graphics cards is often limited by the capabilities of the computer’s CPU in Quake 4. This is illustrated by the fact that the results of the e-GeForce 7900 GT CO SuperClocked are similar to those of the GeForce 7900 GTX despite the use of full-screen antialiasing. The same goes for the Radeon X1900 XT – Radeon X1800 XT pair which differ by no more than a few fps while their average speed is over 100fps.
Serious Sam 2 needs 512 megabytes of graphics memory to run fast at the maximum graphics quality settings. This is why the increased frequencies do not practically affect the performance of the EVGA e-GeForce 7900 GT CO SuperClocked which, like the ordinary GeForce 7900 GT, loses to the Radeon X1900 XT/X1800 XT and cannot provide a minimum of comfort even in 1024x768 when full-screen antialiasing is in use. It should be noted, however, that the ATI solutions are also rather slow in this game due to its wide use of shaders with multiple texture lookups.
This game was not tested in the “eye candy” mode because its HDR support is automatically disabled even on ATI’s Radeon X1000 cards and the graphics quality without HDR is much poorer. The Bloom effect is not supported simultaneously with HDR, either.
In indoor environments such as houses, tunnels, etc. the performance of e e-GeForce 7900 GT CO SuperClocked is very close to that of GeForce 7900 GTX, especially in low resolutions. Both cards provide sufficient speed for resolutions up to 1280x1024. Despite the fact that in 1600x1200 the average performance of the above mentioned solutions is comparable to that of Radeon X1900 XT, the latter boasts much higher minimal fps rate and hence allows comfortable gameplay in this resolution.
In case of open spaces the EVGA solution yields more to GeForce 7900 GTX in average as well as minimal rates, and with the growth of screen resolution the gap between them grows bigger as well. Only Radeon X1900 XT has some performance reserves thanks to 48 pixel processors, while all other cards have no reserves whatsoever and hence their performance drops below 20fps in scenes with complex graphics.
The speed of this game directly depends on the ability of the graphics card to process math1ematics-heavy shaders. The e-GeForce 7900 GT CO SuperClocked is somewhat worse at doing the math1 than the Radeon X1900 XT or the GeForce 7900 GTX since its GPU works at a lower clock rate. Anyway, the EVGA card is as fast as the Radeon X1800 XT in this game. That’s quite enough for comfortable play in all the standard resolutions considering that you don’t need as high a frame rate for a third-person shooter as for a first-person one.
Despite the difference in their technical characteristics, all the GeForce 7900 series cards have almost the same performance in Pacific Fighters due to the design of the game engine. It’s also true for the Radeon X1900 XT and Radeon X1800 XT, but these two have a lower speed since the game is optimized for the GeForce 6/7 architecture.
This space simulator doesn’t need a high fill rate, but requires a fast processing of its multiple pixel shaders. This explains why the Radeon X1900 XT is in the lead.
The difference between the standard GeForce 7900 GT and the e-GeForce 7900 GT CO SuperClocked is 10-23% (the latter’s better of course) depending on the resolution, but the EVGA only comes close to the results of the Radeon X1800 XT in 1600x1200. Its performance is quite high for comfortable play but you may want to limit yourself to 1280x1024 with FSAA if you want to safeguard yourself again slowdowns when there are too many objects in the scene – which is characteristic of this game.
The e-GeForce 7900 GT CO SuperClocked is just a few fps behind the GeForce 7900 GTX and takes the third place in this SM3.0-using game. The card’s average performance is near 50fps in 1600x1200 and its minimum speed is never lower than 30fps. That is quite acceptable for a real-time strategy.
The difference between the EVGA card and Nvidia’s flagship product is very small in Dawn of War, too. Both these solutions deliver an excellent performance in the standard resolutions whereas the standard GeForce 7900 GT doesn’t look confident in 1600x1200. ATI’s cards offer a very small speed reserve in resolutions above 1024x768 because this game uses stencil shadows, requires a high texturing speed, yet keeps within the framework of DirectX 8.0.
The factory overclocking puts e-GeForce 7900 GT CO SuperClocked only 28 points behind Radeon X1800 XT and far ahead the regular GeForce 7900 GT working at the nominal GPU and memory frequencies.
When we enabled FSAA in Game 1 test the EVGA solution manages to get slightly ahead of Radeon X1800 XT in 1280x1024 resolution and higher. However, it still cannot catch up with the faster rival such as Radeon X1900 XT and GeForce 7900 GTX.
Game 2 test doesn’t require high texturing speed, so e-GeForce 7900 GT CO SuperClocked doesn’t outperform Radeon X1800 XT in high resolutions anymore but runs neck and neck with it, because lightning and shadows processing as well as pixel and vertex processors performance are more important here. The last parameter is especially crucial since the scene has a lot of dynamically generated vegetation.
Despite the absolutely different theme of the Game 3 test, the results we see are practically the same as those of the Game 2 test: if the EVGA graphics card is a little bit ahead of Radeon X1800 XT, the advantage is small, no higher than 1-2fps. At the same time, it is impressively ahead of the standard GeForce 7900 GT: the advantage makes the good 30%!
So, the total score of EVGA e-GeForce 7900 GT CO SuperClocked graphics accelerator is absolutely justified by the individual Game tests results, even though the FSAA was enabled. As a rule, our hero performs as fast as Radeon X1800 XT in these tests.
The situation in 3DMark06 is quite different. Here e-GeForce 7900 GT CO SuperClocked is the second best after GeForce 7900 GTX leaving behind Radeon X1800 XT as well as a newer Radeon X1900 XT, although in the latter case the performance difference makes only 271 points. Let’s take a closer look at the results of SM2.0 and SM3.0/HDR tests.
The first test requires high fillrate, which is a definite trump of our hero: it yields only to GeForce 7900 GTX. This explains a great result in this test: 2000 points.
In SM3.0/HDR tests pixel shader 3.0 processing and efficient work in HDR mode are more important for the final result. EVGA solution has to share the second prize with the Radeon X1900 XT here.
Since all GeForce 7900 GT based graphics cards are equipped with 256MB of memory, we couldn’t get any results for the 1600x1200 resolution with enabled FSAA. As we have predicted, EVGA card showed its real best in the first SM2.0 test. Thanks to the 24 TMUs and relatively high GPU clock speed it performed as fast as Radeon X1900 XT.
In the second test EVGA solution failed to repeat its success and it yielded even to Radeon X1900 XT with its 48 pixel processors and Fetch4 support. Our suppositions that e-GeForce 7900 GT CO SuperClocked owed its great results in the first SM2.0 test to the test specifics came true.
The new EVGA e-GeForce 7900 GT CO SuperClocked graphics card left twofold impression. On the one hand, this solution demonstrated high performance and low level of power consumption, but on the other hand it turned out to be quite noisy and didn’t have too many accessories with it.
In fact, e-GeForce 7900 GT CO SuperClocked is none other but a GeForce 7900 GT overclocked by the manufacturer, so its boasts all the advantages and drawbacks of the G71 based graphics solutions. Namely, it performs great in OpenGL applications as well as in tasks requiring high fillrate.
The performance of the EVGA solution is much higher than that of a reference GeForce 7900 GT and in some cases it is even as fast as a more expensive GeForce 7900 GTX, which definitely makes e-GeForce 7900 GT CO SuperClocked a very attractive purchase. However, I have to stress that e-GeForce 7900 GT CO SuperClocked features half as much memory as Nvidia’s flagship product that may affect the results in some games sensitive to the amount of onboard graphics memory, such as Serious Sam 2, for instance.
By purchasing a new e-GeForce 7900 GT CO SuperClocked from EVGA you also get enrolled into EVGA Step-Up program that will help you reduce the investments into the upcoming PC upgrades. Another great feature is a lifetime warranty that comes with this product and that becomes void only if the card gets physically damaged. This certainly scores a few extra points in EVGA’s favor.
However, nothing is ideal in this world, and EVGA e-GeForce 7900 GT CO SuperClocked also has a few drawbacks. The biggest drawback is the use of very inefficient reference cooling system from Nvidia. The cooler is not just inefficient (which can be a big issue for the pre-overclocked GPU) but is also quite noisy. The absence of memory chip heatsinks is also a questionable solution, because the 1.4ns memory chips work at higher frequency, too. If the cooling inside the system case is arranged correctly, it shouldn’t be a problem. But if there is insufficient airflow, then the user may face some serious overheating problems. Just for your reference: e-GeForce 7900 GT from the prestigious Signature series as well as e-GeForce 7900 GT KO come with a larger cooling system working not only for the GPU but for the memory chips also.
Moreover, although e-GeForce 7900 GT CO SuperClocked is designed for hardware enthusiasts, its bundle is pretty scarce. There are no games, and even some useful cables are missing 9such as RCA), and the user’s manual is not that detailed.
Nevertheless, if high performance at a low price is something you are looking for (the official price for the EVGA e-GeForce 7900 GT CO SuperClocked is $349) and if you are not planning to do any overclocking, then this solution should definitely become your hardware of choice.