by Alexey Stepin , Yaroslav Lyssenko
03/31/2008 | 12:35 PM
As we noted in our previous reports, the era of uniform top-performance graphics cards based exclusively on the reference designs from ATI and Nvidia has come to an end. Today, graphics card vendors are not afraid to experiment even with sophisticated dual-GPU solutions. For example, PowerColor has recently announced a unique version of ATI Radeon HD 3870 X2 with support for GDDR4 memory while the GeCube Radeon HD 3870 X2 X-Turbo Dual features as many as four DVI ports! The final stronghold of the departing era was the Nvidia GeForce 8800 GTS 512MB that had come to replace the GeForce 8800 GTX.
Every version of GeForce 8800 GTS 512 we’ve seen so far was a copy of Nvidia’s reference card. The permission to develop non-standard PCB designs for Nvidia’s less advanced cards didn’t cover that model. That seemed to be a temporary thing, though. Unique versions of GeForce 8800 GTS were sure to come out. And we’ve got one such card here, in X-bit Labs.
By the way, we proved in our earlier review that 1 gigabyte of graphics memory is not a mere marketing trick anymore. This amount of memory ensured performance benefits in six out of the fifteen games we use for our tests, namely Call of Duty 4, Enemy Territory: Quake Wars, Hellgate: London, Call of Juarez, Tomb Raider: Legend and Gothic 3. In the first three games these benefits had a real practical value. Well, the game industry is constantly progressing while 3D games are getting more and more sophisticated and realistic. As a result, the requirements to the graphics subsystem and the amount of graphics memory increase, too. What seemed to be a sheer waste of money yesterday now looks like a demanded feature and may become a necessity tomorrow. At the moment of the announcement of the Radeon HD 2900 XT 1GB GDDR4 this amount of memory was redundant, but it’s going to be standard for top-end graphics cards quite soon. After that, we’ll be discussing the question if the graphics card needs more than 1GB – and we’ll perform new tests.
Getting back to the subject of this review, the first non-standard version of GeForce 8800 GTS we’ve got is Gainward’s Bliss 8800 GTS 1024MB TV DD GS GLH. As you can guess, the main distinguishing feature of this card is that it’s got 1024 megabytes of graphics memory, clocked at 2100MHz. Coupled with the increased GPU frequencies (730/1825MHz), this looks like a promise of unprecedented level of performance among single-chip solutions. According to the recently released slides, the Nvidia GeForce 9800 GTX will be clocked at 675/1688MHz for the GPU and 2200MHz for the memory, which means a lower performance than the described Gainward can offer. Let’s now take a closer look at the new card. We’ll call it Bliss 8800 GTS 1024MB for the sake of convenience.
The box with our Gainward Bliss 8800 GTS 1024MB is decorated alike to the box of the Gainward Bliss 9600 GT. The picture has remained the same:
The text on the front of the box shows basic info about the product the potential customer may like to know. Particularly, you can learn that the card belongs to Gainward’s fastest GS GLH series. The DD and TV suffixes in the product name denote two DVI ports and support for analog TV output. These functions are quite ordinary for a modern graphics card, though.
The graphics card is packed into a bubble wrap and stored in an individual box inside the main one. The side compartments contain the following accessories:
These are standard accessories of Gainward Bliss 8800 series products. The box contains all the cables and adapters you may want, including a DVI-I → HDMI adapter and an audio-over-HDMI cable, but the software bundle doesn’t have an up-to-date version of PowerDVD that supports HD content. The CyberLink DVD Solution disc included into the box contains software for video editing and DVD authoring. The program versions are rather dated, yet some users may find them useful.
Like every other product from Gainward we’ve reviewed recently, this one comes with a full version of Tomb Raider: Anniversary. The game is not new, though. Gainward should take a look at more recent titles.
We haven’t spotted a significant difference from other Gainward products we’ve reviewed, and our opinion about this card’s packaging and accessories is the same: everything is good but an up-to-date version of PowerDVD would come in handy. It’s not a serious drawback, though, as this product is meant for a dedicated gamer rather than for the use in a media PC.
The described product has the same PCB design as the Bliss 8800 GT 1024MB GS we reviewed earlier. That’s normal as these two cards only differ in their GPU configuration.
The GPU power circuit has three phases and is governed by a Richtek RT8802A controller. A Richtek RT9259A controller is responsible for the memory chips. These controllers are often used on G92-based cards with unique PCB designs.
External power is provided to the card through a standard 6-pin PCI Express 1.0 connector with a load capacity of 75W. So it is clear that even top-performance versions of G92-based graphics cards can get along with one power connector only; there is no special need for an advanced power circuit. That’s why we don’t quite understand Nvidia’s decision to equip the GeForce 9800 GTX with two such connectors especially as its GPU is clocked at less than 700MHz while the Gainward card has a GPU clock rate of 730MHz.
As opposed to the Bliss 8800 GT 512MB and Bliss 8800 GT 1024MB GS, the Bliss 8800 GTS 1024MB carries memory manufactured by Samsung. These K4J52324QE-BJ08 chips have a capacity of 512Mb (16Mbx32), a voltage of 1.9V, and a rated frequency of 1200 (2400) MHz. The card’s memory frequency is 1050 (2100) MHz, though. That leaves some room for overclocking. The card has 16 chips, 8 on each side, for a total of 1GB of local graphics memory. Such fast memory cannot be cheap while the double amount of chips makes the Bliss 8800 GTS 1024MB even more expensive to make. That’s why it is going to cost more in retail that ordinary versions of GeForce 8800 GTS 512MB.
The GPU has the maximum configuration for the G92 core. Every subunit is active: 128 unified shader processors, 32 (64) TMUs, and 16 raster operators. The main domain frequency is increased from 650 to 730MHz while the shader domain is clocked at 1825MHz. Thus, the Gainward Bliss 8800 GTS 1024MB is the fastest graphics card among all G92-based solutions, including the upcoming GeForce 9800 GTX. The Gainward card is only inferior to the latter in terms of memory frequency, but by a mere 50 (100) MHz.
Like a majority of modern graphics cards, the Gainward Bliss 8800 GTS 1024MB is equipped with two dual-link DVI-I ports with support for display resolutions up to 2560x1600 pixels, and a universal 7-pin mini-DIN port for analog video output in S-Video, Composite or YPbPr formats. Besides, the card has a MIO connector and a dual-pin S/PDIF. The latter can come in handy if you don’t want to use the analog video output to enable the audio-over-HDMI feature.
The cooling system installed on the Bliss 8800 GT 512MB GS GLH and Bliss 8800 GT 1024MB GS was good enough, but Gainward did not install it on the Bliss 8800 GTS 1024MB for some reason. Instead, the card carries the cooler we described in our review of the Gainward Bliss 9600 GT 512MB GS.
It resembles the reference cooler of the GeForce 7900 GTX. Two heat pipes connect the copper base with the heatsink consisting of thin aluminum plates. There is a depression in the center of the heatsink in which an ordinary axial fan is installed. The airflow from the fan goes to both sections of the heatsink as well as to the PCB. Some the hot air is thus exhausted out of the system case.
The copper base contacts with the GPU die only and is fastened to the PCB with four screws. The load-bearing elements of the power circuit are cooled with an individual small heatsink while the memory chips, with two metallic plates. A small figured plate takes heat off the chips on the face side of the PCB and a massive square one cools the reverse-side chips.
The cooling system is covered from above with a black plastic casing with numerous slits. It conceals the entire PCB except for the PCI Express connector. There are no colorful pictures on the cooler, only a manufacturer’s logo. As a result, the card has an ascetic and reserved appearance, resembling professional products that usually lack any kind of decorations.
According to our tests of the Gainward Bliss 9600 GT 512MB GS, this cooler is very effective, but the Bliss 8800 GTS 1024MB generates more heat. The GPU temperature is going to be higher unless Gainward has changed the settings of the fan management system to increase its speed.
The same cooler installed on the Gainward Bliss 9600 GT 512MB GS had very good results in our tests, delivering high cooling performance at little noise. We checked it out again to see if its settings are any different on the Bliss 8800 GTS 1024MB.
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. Here are the results:
The cooler of the Gainward Bliss 8800 GTS 1024MB is acoustically comfortable. The card is inaudible just like the Bliss 9600 GT 512MB GS. The CPU temperature is higher, though: 55°C in idle mode and 70°C under load. Considering the increased GPU frequencies, that’s an excellent result that confirms the high efficiency of the cooler.
We were not successful at overclocking. We managed to increase the memory frequency to 1180 (2360) MHz, i.e. almost to the rated one, but the core wouldn’t speed up above 740MHz. We decided not to benchmark the card at the overclocked frequencies.
Like every other Gainward card we’ve reviewed earlier, this one was perfectly compatible with every PCI Express 1.0a mainboard we tried it with.
To test the performance of Gainward Bliss 8800 GTS 1024MB TV DD GS GLH 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.
For the sake of more illustrative analysis we have also included the following graphics cards to participate in this 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.
The reviewed card from Gainward easily takes first place at resolutions higher than 1280x1024 but has a lead of only 8-13% over the GeForce 8800 GTS 512. This doesn’t matter from the gamer’s point of view since the average frame rates of the cards are as high as 79-85fps
BioShock doesn’t support FSAA when running in Windows Vista’s DirectX 10 environment. That’s why we benchmarked the cards without FSAA.
The performance of the Bliss 8800 GTS 1024MB is determined by the increased GPU and memory clock rates in this test. This card is 8-9% ahead of the reference GeForce 8800 GTS 512MB and we can expect the gap to be the same for the GeForce 9800 GTX. Clearly, this is not enough to compete with the ATI Radeon HD 3970 X2.
This is one of the few games that can really use up over 512MB of graphics memory, at least when you enable full-screen antialiasing. Anyway, the Gainward Bliss 8800 GTS 1024MB cannot beat the GeForce 8800 GTX, let alone GeForce 8800 Ultra, and cannot provide playable performance even at 1280x1024 with the highest graphics quality settings. It should be noted that the Radeon HD 3870 X2 is no better in this test and has a much lower minimum of speed than the G92-based products.
The reviewed card from Gainward enjoys the biggest lead over the GeForce 8800 GTS 512MB at 1280x1024 – about 20%. The gap is getting smaller towards higher resolutions, to 7-8% at 1920x1200. Both cards from Gainward with 1GB of graphics memory and the reference card from Nvidia deliver comfortable performance at every resolution. They are thus all equal in the gamer’s eyes.
The game being too hard at its Very High level of detail, we benchmarked the cards without FSAA to get a more playable speed.
Although we don’t use FSAA in Crysis, the Gainward Bliss 8800 GTS 1024MB is slower tha the Nvidia GeForce 8800 GTX at 1920x1200. As we know, the G92 is quite competitive to the G80 in memory subsystem performance despite having fewer ROPs and a narrower memory bus. So, the reason must be in the less efficient texture processor architecture of the G92 chip in comparison with the G80.
The overall performance level is too low for the Very High level of detail to be playable. Among modern single-processor graphics cards an overclocked GeForce 8800 Ultra is the only one you can try to play the game on in that mode. We don’t expect the GeForce 9800 GTX to conquer this peak, either. The ATI Radeon HD 3870 X2 couldn’t do that, so Nvidia’s GeForce 9800 GX2 and the upcoming multi-GPU solutions from AMD are the only solutions that can change anything in this game.
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 increased clock-rates of the Gainward card lift it up to top place, but the advantage over the GeForce 8800 GTS 512MB is negligible and is not worth the price difference. The reference version of the card, with 512MB of memory, isn’t any worse for playing this game.
Everything we’ve written above is true for Half-Life 2: Episode Two as well. The Gainward Bliss 8800 GTS 1024MB is in the lead, but doesn’t ensure some special benefits. Owners of ordinary versions of GeForce 8800 GTS 512MB, GeForce 8800 GTX and Radeon HD 3870 X2 are going to feel just as comfortable in this game.
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 new card has a somewhat higher minimum of speed than the GeForce 8800 GTX, but otherwise performs in the same way. It is a perfect choice for running this game just like any other version of GeForce 8800 GTS or the ATI Radeon HD 3870 X2.
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 increased frequencies of the Bliss 8800 GTS 1024MB card only show up at 1920x1200, but this advantage is very small considering that the average frame rates are as high as 80fps.
Despite its impressive specs the Bliss 8800 GTS 1024MB cannot surpass the GeForce 8800 GTX and has no real advantage over the other 1GB card from Gainward we reviewed earlier.
Like in many other tests, the Bliss 8800 GTS 1024MB is no better than the reference GeForce 8800 GTS 512MB. The speed gain is no bigger than 5%. Comparing the two cards from Gainward equipped with 1GB of memory, the senior is 11% ahead of the junior one, but this has no effect on the level of playing comfort. The average and minimum speed of both cards is high enough for this difference to be unimportant.
The additional texture and shader processors don’t give the Bliss 8800 GTS 1024MB an edge against the GT-suffixed card from Gainward except that it has a higher minimum of speed at 1280x1024. This display mode is the only one you can play the game comfortably at with 4x FSAA.
The current version of the game doesn’t support FSAA, so we performed the test with anisotropic filtering only.
Once again the Bliss 8800 GTS 1024MB is only a formal winner. You can save some money and get actually the same performance by purchasing any version of GeForce 8800 GTS 512MB or a pre-overclocked version of GeForce 8800 GT 512MB.
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.
We already know that Oblivion is quite satisfied with 512 or even 256 megabytes of graphics memory. There is no wonder then that the Bliss 8800 GTS 1024MB is 5-6% ahead of the GeForce 8800 GTS 512MB. It’s due to the increased core frequency. There is no difference between the participating graphics cards: every one of them copes with the task of delivering 60fps even in open game scenes.
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 two cards from Gainward equipped with 1GB of graphics memory have almost identical results, outperforming the GeForce 8800 GTS 512MB by 5-12% depending on display mode. This difference in average frame rate cannot be perceived with the eye. The game seems to be played at 1280x1024 with enabled FSAA, but occasional slowdowns are unavoidable if you use a G80/G92-based card.
The game having a frame rate limiter, you should consider the minimum speed of the cards in the first place.
Every card in this review belongs to the top market sector, and they cannot be compared using Command & Conquer 3 as they all reach the frame rate limit.
It’s almost the same as in Company of Heroes: the average frame rate is rather high, at least at 1280x1024, but the minimum speed is low. The advantage of the described card from Gainward over the GeForce 8800 GTS 512MB doesn’t look significant.
3DMark05 cannot use all of the capabilities of modern graphics hardware and defaults to 1024x768 resolution. This explains the results. The Bliss 8800 GTS 1024MB just cannot show its best here. First place goes to the dual-processor Radeon HD 3870 X2, which cannot reveal its full potential, either.
Notwithstanding the increased GOU and memory clock rates, high display resolutions and multisampling, the Gainward card has the same results as the reference GeForce 8800 GTS 512MB in every test. We are thinking about striking 3DMark05 out of our list as an outdated benchmark.
3DMark06 uses modern technologies such as SM3.0 and HDR and clearly shows the advantage of the Gainward Bliss 8800 GTS 1024MB over the other single-core graphics cards. The new card scores nearly 12,000 points, yet cannot overtake the Radeon HD 3870 X2 with its two RV670 cores. We expect the GeForce 9800 GTX to be no better in this test – it’s not going to set a new record.
The individual tests produce expected results. The described card from Gainward is close behind the ATI Radeon HD 3870 X2 in the SM2.0 group of tests, but has no chance in the SM3.0/HDR group despite the high clock rate of the shader processors because ATI’s solution is five times more powerful in terms of total computing capacity.
Interestingly, the ATI Radeon HD 3870 X2 is slower than the Gainward card in the first test despite the higher frequency of texture processors. This must be due to the tradeoff for the synchronization between the two GPUs and the less efficient architecture of texture processors in which there is only one filter unit per each two texture sample units.
The second test doesn’t load the texture processors much while uses the card’s computing capacity to generate dynamic vegetation. Nvidia is no match for ATI here, and ATI’s flagship wins easily.
Both SM3.0/HDR tests put a heavy load on shader processors, which leaves no chance to the Gainward Bliss 8800 GTS 1024MB against the ATI Radeon HD 3870 X2. Note that the Gainward card is superior to the reference card from Nvidia in the second test only.
After its 1GB version of GeForce 8800 GT, Gainward has introduced a 1GB GeForce 8800 GTS as well. Does it make the Bliss 8800 GTS 1024MB any more competitive? Alas, we can’t answer this question in the affirmative.
We don’t find the new card much better than the ordinary GeForce 8800 GTS 512MB. Except for a few tests like Call of Juarez and Call of Duty 4 in low resolutions, the performance gain (which varies from 8 to 14%) is only due to the factory overclocking. That’s not a new level of performance, of course.
Considering that the Gainward Bliss 8800 GTS 1024MB TV DD GS GLH not only belongs to the elite GS GLH series (Golden Sample, Goes Like Hell) but also uses fast and expensive 0.83ns memory, its retail price is incomparable with prices of standard versions of GeForce 8800 GTS 512MB. You’ll have to shell out more for this product than for a Radeon HD 3870 X2, i.e. over $400-450. ATI’s solution is not free from drawbacks typical of multi-GPU systems, but it has a bigger potential and performs better than the Gainward card, especially at high resolutions, if has support on the driver side. In other words, purchasing a Gainward Bliss 8800 GTS 1024MB will only make sense if money is not a factor for you and you want to have the fastest G92-based solution available. Otherwise, the Nvidia GeForce 8800 GTS 512MB is a more reasonable and economical choice.
On the other hand, price is the single serious drawback of the Gainward Bliss 8800 GTS 1024MB. It is indeed a superb product, one of the fastest single-chip G92-based cards available. It also features a very effective and noiseless cooler. This card may suit you fine if its price doesn’t concern you.