by Alexey Stepin , Yaroslav Lyssenko
02/14/2008 | 11:04 AM
Some time ago there was no such thing as a top-performance graphics card with a unique design. All high-class cards were not only copies of the reference designs from Nvidia and ATI but were even manufactured for the GPU developers at contracted facilities and then shipped ready-made to their partners. Any experiments with the PCB design were absolutely forbidden. Occasionally you could see a graphics card with a non-standard cooler, but most often the replacement of the stickers with the graphics card vendor’s own was the single “modification”. A few pre-overclocked products could also be released. This approach is indeed justifiable as it ensures high quality because the PCB design and the cooling system are developed by the GPU developers themselves. On the other hand, there have been examples when this approach didn’t work right. We can recall the problem with a wrong rating of a resistor on early Nvidia GeForce 8800 GTX or the obviously bad cooler of the Nvidia GeForce 8800 GT. So, even GPU developers make mistakes sometimes.
Well, everything is changing, and the era of identical top-performance cards comes to an end, too. The ban on developing unique PCB designs was removed with the release of the Nvidia GeForce 8800 GT 512MB. One of the reasons is that G92-based cards can be much simpler than G80-based solutions that require expensive and sophisticated 12-layer PCBs. Nvidia currently allows and recommends to develop inexpensive 6-layer PCBs for G92-based cards. The single card under the restriction is the Nvidia GeForce 8800 GTS 512MB but this may change in near future, too. So far, there already exist unique models of GeForce 8800 GT, one of which, the Gainward Bliss 8800 GT 512MB GS GLH, was tested in our recent review.
Today we are going to discuss another product from Gainward. Besides a unique PCB design and an original cooling system, it also features 1 gigabyte of graphics memory. To remind you, the last graphics card with such an amount of memory was the ATI Radeon HD 2900 XT 1GB GDDR4, which did not really take off and was completely forgotten after the release of the ATI Radeon HD 3870. It was not much better than the ATI Radeon HD 2900 XT 512MB GDDR3 in our tests, indicating that 1 gigabyte of graphics memory was too excessive. The PC hardware world is changing rapidly, however, and things that used to be excessive or wasteful yesterday can prove to be a necessity today. Some questions should be asked again and again, and the question about the required amount of graphics memory is among them. There are ever more games using DirectX 10 capabilities, and such titles as Crysis, Call of Juarez DX10 Enhancement Pack and Call of Duty 4 may have brought a different answer to the question if the graphics card needs over 512MB of memory. We’ll see it soon but first let’s take a look at the unique card designed by Gainward.
The box with a Bliss 8800 GT 1024MB GS is no different from the box of Gainward’s Bliss 8800 GT 512MB GS GLH we reviewed earlier. Having a standard size, it doesn’t need a handle. It’s decorated in mild colors that can hardly catch a casual shopper’s eye.
The package is designed identically for the entire Gainward Bliss 8800 series while the technical info, which varies from model to model, is provided on a sticker. Here, you can see a red sticker telling that the card has as much as 1024 megabytes of graphics memory. This product belongs to the Golden Sample series but the lack of the GLH suffix (it stands for “Goes Like Hell”) indicates a moderate frequencies growth in comparison with Nvidia’s reference card.
The graphics card is packed into a bubble wrap and fixed in an individual carton within the main box. This protects it against any damage during transportation or storage. Besides it, we found the following in the box:
As you can see, the card comes with the same set of accessories as the Gainward Bliss 8800 GT 512MB GS GLH. There is a full selection of connectors and adapters, including a DVI-I → HDMI adapter and an external cable for the audio-over-HDMI feature. The latter is connected to the sound card’s S/PDIF connector and to the graphics card’s mini-DIN port, which is usually employed for analog video output. This simplifies the connection of the PC to your other equipment as you only need one HDMI cable to connect to your receiver or LCD/plasma panel.
A full version of Tomb Raider: Anniversary is included with the card. It is a reissue of the original 1996 title that opened the famous series of Lara Croft games. Although not using DirectX 10, the game is technically advanced and can demonstrate your graphics card’s abilities vividly. It’s somewhat disappointing to find PowerDVD 6 as a DVD player because this version is long obsolete.
The packaging and accessories are no different from those we described in our review of the Gainward Bliss 8800 GT 512MB GS GLH, and our opinion about them hasn’t changed. The accessories are very good while the box should be made more appealing to better attract the potential customer. It is especially important for Gainward’s Golden Sample/Goes Like Hell series which claim to be exclusive products.
The card’s having 1 gigabyte of memory has affected its PCB design. Its PCB resembles the PCB of the Bliss 8800 GT 512MB GS GLH, which is unique as well, but there are certain differences due to the necessity to install twice as many GDDR3 chips.
Like the PCB of the Bliss 8800 GT 512MB GS GLH this one uses a three-phase GPU power circuit governed by a Richtek RT8802A controller (the reference card from Nvidia has a Primarion PX3544 controller). A Richtek RT9259A, instead of an Intersil ISL6549 as on the reference card, is responsible for the memory chips. The load-bearing elements of the power circuit are grouped all together and can thus be cooled by a common heatsink. The PCB has one 6-pin PCI Express 1.0 power connector with a load capacity of 75W. This is more than enough considering the low power draw of G92-based solutions.
The Bliss 8800 GT 1024MB GS uses the same memory as the Bliss 8800 GT 512MB GS GLH, but carries not 8 but 16 GDDR3 chips (Qimonda HYB18H512321BF-10). Eight chips can be found in their traditional places while the other eight are located on the reverse side of the PCB and the PCB wiring has been modified appropriately. These chips work at a voltage of 2.0V and have a rated frequency of 1000 (2000) MHz. The real memory frequency of the card is somewhat lower at 950 (1900) MHz. This is lower than the memory frequency of the GLH-suffixed Bliss 8800 GT but somewhat higher than that of the reference card from Nvidia, 900 (1800) MHz. So, we shouldn’t expect a serious performance boost from this side.
The main GPU domain is pre-overclocked from the standard 600MHz to 650MHz (648MHz as reported by RivaTuner) and the shader domain frequency has increased from 1500 to 1620MHz. These are not as high frequencies as of the GLH version, yet the performance growth should be considerable anyway. The GPU has a standard configuration with 112 universal shader processors grouped into 7 execution units with 16 ALUs in each. The eighth unit present in the G92 chip is disabled here. 28 out of the chip’s 32 texture processors are active, each of them is accompanied with two address and two texture filter units. There are 16 rasterization processors in the chip. Practice suggests that the smaller number of ROPs in the G92 chip as compared with the G80 does not create a bottleneck in modern games.
Besides the standard selection of connectors (a couple of dual-link DVI-I ports plus a universal mini-DIN connector), the card carries a 2-pin S/PDIF plug for internal connection to your sound card in order to enable the audio-over-HDMI feature in case the external mini-DIN port cannot be employed for some reason. Like the GS GLH version with 512 megabytes of memory, this card supports SLI technology.
The card is equipped with the same cooler as we saw on the Gainward Bliss 8800 GT 512MB GS GLH. This dual-slot cooler is silent and far superior to the single-slot cooler of the reference card, especially in its first version, in terms of cooling performance.
The cooler has a massive aluminum heatsink with a large ribbing area. It contacts with the GPU by means of two heat pipes that carry heat from the copper sole. The fan is installed rather unusually under the heatsink. So, we’ve got the following airflows here:
This solution is questionable from an aerodynamic point of view, but this cooler proves good in practice, also because it gets some cold air through the slits in the mounting bracket. Another good point about this cooler is that is additionally cools the PCB and its components although the heatsink on the power circuit elements gets little airflow due to the row of electrolytic capacitors. The fan uses a 4-pin connection with PWM-based regulation of speed but works at a constant speed. The cooling efficiency is high because the heat pipes have good contact with the sole and heatsink using high-quality thermal grease.
The cooler’s sole that contacts with the GPU is fastened to the PCB with four screws like the heatsink’s casing. The whole thing is very rigid, so there is no risk of damaging the GPU die. The memory chips being located on both sides of the PCB, there is an additional heat-spreading plate on the reverse side of it. Elastic thermal pads ensure proper thermal contact with the chips.
The defect we noticed in the cooler of our Bliss 8800 GT 512MB GS GLH proved to be a defect of the particular sample of the card, and the cooler of the Bliss 8800 GT 1024MB GS is blameless. Although its design is questionable, it is really superior to both versions of the reference cooler from Nvidia in efficiency.
We measured the level of noise produced by the card with a digital sound-level meter Velleman DVM1326 using A-curve weighing to see if Gainward made any adjustments to the fan speed management systems. The level of ambient noise in our lab was 36dBA and the level of noise at a distance of 1 meter from the working testbed with a passively cooled graphics card inside was 43dBA.
The card is perfectly silent. According to RivaTuner, the fan speed is fixed at 29% and doesn’t change. You are unlikely to hear the card unless you’ve got a totally silent PC with no fans at all. 43.1dBA at a distance of 1 meter is an excellent result proving Gainward’s claim that the Bliss 8800 GT Golden Sample series is special.
The GPU temperature is 54-55°C when idle and no higher than 60°C under load despite the increased frequencies. This is much better even in comparison with the second, improved, version of the reference cooler from Nvidia which allows the G92 chip, clocked at the standard frequencies of 600/1500MHz, get as hot as 88°C under load. The first version of the reference cooler was even worse: the GPU temperature would be as high as 90°C which made the card unstable and even damaged it sometimes.
An attempt to overclock our Bliss 8800 GT 1024MB GS was quite successful. The graphics core was stable at 750MHz. The highest frequency for the shader processors was 1750MHz. The memory chips were overclocked above their rated frequency to 1100 (2200) MHz. Our Bliss 8800 GT 1024MB GS worked well at such clock rates. The GPU temperature grew a little but never exceeded 70°C thanks to the high-performance cooler.
We also found the Gainward Bliss 8800 GT 1024MB GS perfectly compatible with all PCI Express 1.0a mainboards we had at our disposal.
To test the performance of Gainward Bliss 8800 GT 1024MB GS 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.
Gainward Bliss 8800 GT 1024MB GS will be competing against the following graphics accelerators participating in our test session:
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.
There is no speed gain from 1 gigabyte of graphics memory. The performance growth of the Bliss 8800 GT 1204MB GS over the reference card is due to the increased frequencies. This is a predictable result because Battlefield 2142 is known to have modest memory requirements.
BioShock doesn’t support FSAA when running in Windows Vista’s DirectX 10 environment. That’s why we benchmarked the cards without FSAA.
The Gainward is slightly faster than the reference GeForce 8800 GT 512MB but that’s not the result of it having two times more memory. It is only due to the increased frequency of the graphics core. The performance remains comfortable at every resolution including 1920x1200: an average frame rate higher than 55fps and a minimum speed higher than 35fps.
That’s the first time that having more than 512MB of graphics memory is indeed useful. The Gainward Bliss 8800 GT 1024MB GS is two times as fast as the GeForce 8800 GT 512MB at a resolution of 1600x1200 and higher. Moreover, it beats the traditional leader of this test, the ATI Radeon HD 3870, and takes first place. The gap is 11-13% at resolutions above 1280x1024. The results are indicative of an old problem, though. We mean inefficient memory management by Nvidia’s driver. The Nvidia solution achieves the same result with 1GB of memory where the AMD card can do the same with only 512MB. This is almost surely a software problem. Nvidia has to improve its ForceWare driver.
Note also that even being first in this test, the Bliss 8800 GT 1024MB GS still cannot ensure a comfortable frame rate.
The positive effect from 1GB of graphics memory is even more conspicuous here. The gain is 35% at 1280x1024 and 43% at 1920x1200. The Gainward card makes it more comfortable to play at high resolutions.
The game being too hard at its Very High level of detail, we benchmarked the cards without FSAA to get a more playable speed.
Oddly enough, Crysis doesn’t seem to need more than 512MB of memory even considering the defect in the Nvidia driver. The difference between the Gainward card and the reference card from Nvidia is explained by the difference in their clock rates. Perhaps 1GB of graphics memory would be helpful if we tested the cards with enabled FSAA.
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 performance gain is high at high resolutions: 25-27% cannot be only due to the factory overclocking. Well, this is something you could expect considering the MegaTexture technology: each texture that describes a level of Quake Wars has a resolution of 32768x32768 pixels and takes about 3GB in uncompressed form. This performance gain does not affect the level of comfort much, yet it’s good to have an additional reserve of speed anyway.
Like Battlefield 2142, this game does not support resolutions of 16:10 format. So, we use 1920x1440 (4:3 format) instead of 1920x1200 in this test.
The difference between the Gainward card and the reference card from Nvidia is explained by the difference in their clock rates in this test. The performance gain is small at 8-10%.
It’s the same as in the previous test: the Gainward card is ahead of the reference one but this has nothing to do with its 1GB of memory. Anyway, the additional reserve of speed is going to be valuable, especially if you want to play at 1920x1200.
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 Gainward Bliss GT 1024MB GS is slightly faster than the Nvidia GeForce 8800 GT 512MB, but there are no signs that the double amount of graphics memory has any influence on performance. The minimum speed of both cards is too low for comfortable play at 1920x1200 but at 1600x1200 the pre-overclocked frequencies of the Gainward card provide a higher minimum speed.
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.
The pre-overclocked card from Gainward overtakes the ATI Radeon HD 3870 but the gamer can hardly feel this in practice. The Nvidia GeForce 8800 GT 512MB delivers high performance at every resolution thanks to the optimized game engine. Unreal Tournament 3 is a democratic game as it runs fast at 1920x1200 even on the humble Radeon HD 3850. This is an example of efficient use of available software and hardware resources.
Graphics cards with 256 megabytes of memory are slow in this game, but 512 megabytes if quite enough even for Nvidia’s cards that suffer from a software problem we noted in our earlier reports. 1 gigabyte of memory available on the Gainward Bliss 8800 GT 1024MB GS is unused. The game is also the opposite of Unreal Tournament 3 as it has too high system requirements at the maximum level of detail and none of the tested graphics cards can provide an average frame rate of even 25-30fps.
The game can obviously make use of over 512MB of graphics memory as we could see with the Nvidia GeForce 8800 GTX that would be far superior even to overclocked versions of Nvidia GeForce 8800 GT 512MB. The Gainward Bliss 8800 GT 1024MB GS feels even more confident than the ex-flagship of the GeForce 8 series ensuring a 35% performance growth over the reference GeForce 8800 GT 512MB at 1280x1024, for example. This performance gain is smaller at higher resolutions and has no effect on the level of your playing comfort, but the idea of installing 1GB of memory is not so useless after all.
The role-player shooter Hellgate: London is suddenly a good illustration of the potential benefits 1024MB of graphics memory can give you. We used to criticize the game for running too slowly while having just ordinary visuals, but it turns out that it just needed more graphics memory. As a result, the Gainward Bliss 8800 GT 1024MB GS is almost 50% ahead of the Nvidia GeForce 8800 GT 512MB, delivering comfortable performance for 1280x1024 and near comfortable for 1600x1200 – you could only have this with Nvidia’s GeForce 8800 GTX and Ultra before.
The current version of the game doesn’t support FSAA, so we performed the test with anisotropic filtering only.
Gothic 3 is not a new game. It doesn’t support FSAA and doesn’t use DirectX 10 capabilities, but it is sensitive to the amount of graphics memory. The Gainward Bliss 8800 GT 1024MB GS is farther ahead of the reference card than the Gainward Bliss 8800 GT 512MB GS GLH is, notwithstanding the higher GPU and memory frequencies of the latter. The playability is not improved much, though.
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.
The game runs no faster on a graphics card with over 512MB of memory. Moreover, TES IV seems to be quite satisfied with 256MB even. The memory frequency is more important than its amount even in the open scenes of the game.
The new add-on to Company of Heroes is tested in DirectX 10 mode only since it provides the highest quality of the visuals.
Against our expectations, 1 gigabyte of graphics memory brings about no advantage in this game. The unique card from Gainward does not improve performance much – the minimum speed is higher, yet not high enough for comfortable play. You can try to play at such settings but slowdowns below 25fps are unavoidable.
The game having a frame rate limiter, you should consider the minimum speed of the cards in the first place.
The game shows no difference between the Gainward Bliss 8800 GT 1024MB GS and Nvidia GeForce 8800 GT 512MB due to the frame rate limiter. Both cards deliver superb performance at every resolution with enabled FSAA.
This game is quite satisfied with 512 megabytes of graphics memory. The difference between the Gainward Bliss 8800 GT 1024MB GS and the reference Nvidia GeForce 8800 GT 512MB is only due to the difference in the GPU and memory frequencies of the two cards. The Gainward is somewhat closer to the comfortable level, but for practical purposes 22fps and 24fps are actually the same thing. The minimum speed of 13fps is uncomfortable, too.
The Gainward Bliss 8800 GT 1024MB GS behaves like any version of GeForce 8800 GT 512MB with the frequencies overclocked that high. Well, 3DMark05 is unlikely to have any benefits from large amounts of graphics memory.
The individual tests confirm our point: the Gainward is but slightly faster than the reference card due to the overclocked GPU and memory frequencies.
The Gainward card behaves just as we could expect in 3DMark06, scoring over 11,000 points and winning first place.
There is a small performance growth in both groups of tests and it has nothing to do with the double amount of memory on board the Bliss 8800 GT 1024MB GS.
The individual SM2.0 tests confirm that the graphics card gets no benefits in 3DMark06 from having over 512 megabytes of graphics memory.
It’s the same in the SM3.0/HDR tests where the Bliss 8800 GT 1024MB GS is slightly ahead of the reference card from Nvidia with 512MB of memory. So the results of the individual tests absolutely agree with the overall scores.
As we found out in our review of the Bliss 8800 GT 512MB GS GLH the problem with the cooling system was just a defect of the particular sample, and the Bliss 8800 GT 1024MB GS, described in this review, leaves only positive impressions. We could find no serious flaw in this product except for the unassuming design of its box. Otherwise, the card is very good.
Gainward’s idea to install 1 gigabyte of graphics memory on a GeForce 8800 GT proved to be not as totally useless as we had anticipated. We had thought the performance gain would be zero or provoked by the pre-overclocked frequencies only but the Bliss 8800 GT 1024MB GS has saved the manufacturer from the accusation in squandering. There was a considerable effect from the double amount of memory in such games as Call of Juarez, Call of Duty 4, Enemy Territory: Quake Wars, Tomb Raider: Legend, Hellgate: London, and Gothic 3. This is 6 out of 15 games we use for benchmarking graphics cards. That’s a serious achievement. The performance gain is really valuable in Call of Duty 4, Enemy Territory: Quake Wars and Hellgate: London as it allows playing at high resolutions and (in the latter case) at the highest graphics quality settings without investing into Nvidia GeForce 8800 GTX/Ultra. Of course, the Gainward Bliss 8800 GT 1024MB GS is going to be more expensive than an ordinary Nvidia GeForce 8800 GT 512MB, yet still considerably cheaper than the top-end G80-based products. In the other cases there was a performance growth too, but due to the increased GPU and memory frequencies. The Gainward behaved then like any other pre-overclocked GeForce 8800 GT 512MB.
Besides high performance, the card also features a near-silent and very efficient cooler and supports the audio-over-HDMI feature, which is not available on many other versions of GeForce 8800 GT. Of all versions of this graphics card we have tested so far, the Gainward Bliss 8800 GT 1024MB GS seems to be the closest to ideal. Without a doubt, it is a unique product with an appropriate price which duffers greatly from the price recommended by Nvidia. It is indeed so high than the potential buyer may think about purchasing a GeForce 8800 GTS 512MB that has more advanced specs except for the amount of graphics memory. It’s up to you to decide if the advantages provided by 1 gigabyte of graphics memory are really worth the money.