NVIDIA GeForce 7800 GTX: Monstrous Gaming Performance Unleashed

In our previous article we were investigating the architectural features of the GeForce 7800 GTX, a new graphics card from NVIDIA. And now it’s time to see how the creation of the Californian GPU-maker performs in actual games.

by Alexey Stepin
06/23/2005 | 04:11 PM

Before showing you the results of the card in 17 games and benchmarks, we would want to summarize the things we saw in the theoretical tests:

 

Thus, the NVIDIA GeForce 7800 GTX seems to have a lot of promising architectural advantages. Let’s see how they show up in real life.

Testbed and Methods

The testbed was configured like follows:

Graphics cards:

We also tested SLI configurations based on GeForce 7800 GTX and GeForce 6800 Ultra.

Drivers:

We installed ForceWare 77.62, NVIDIA’s new-generation driver of the so-called ForceWare Release 75, to test the GeForce 7800 GTX. This is the first version of ForceWare to support the new graphics processor from NVIDIA. It differs from the older official driver (version 71.89) in improved HDTV support, added game profiles, full OpenGL 2.0 support, and the option for selecting a SLI mode.

The graphics quality settings were selected the same as in the theoretical tests of the GeForce 7800 GTX. We chose the Catalyst A.I Standard mode in ATI Catalyst 5.6 and set the Mipmap Detail Level to “Quality”. The VSync option was disabled in both drivers. We also enabled gamma-correct antialiasing for the GeForce 7800 GTX as well as the ATI RADEON X850 XT PE. The GeForce 6800 GT doesn’t support this option. As you will see shortly, gamma-correct antialiasing affects the performance of the graphics card more than ordinary antialiasing does.

The following games and applications were our benchmarks:

First-Person 3D Shooters

Third-Person 3D Shooters

Simulators

Real-time Strategic Games

Semi-Synthetic Benchmarks

Synthetic Benchmarks

First-Person 3D Shooters

Doom 3

The speed of the GeForce 7800 GTX is so high in Doom 3 that the SLI configuration based two such cards hits against the 100fps frame limiter this game imposes on single-player maps. In higher resolutions, however, we can see that the new graphics card is ahead of its predecessor, probably due to higher frequencies.

The GeForce 6800 Ultra SLI configuration is faster than the single GeForce 7800 GTX just because it has more texture-mapping units.

There are no changes in the ranks after we enable anisotropic filtering and full-screen antialiasing: graphics configurations with more ROP units and with a higher memory bandwidth look better in this test.

Even though deathmatch maps for Doom 3 don’t have any frame-rate limiter, the fastest graphics solutions seem to be limited by the performance of the system at large in 1024x768. The multi-GPU configurations are leaders in both “pure speed” and “eye candy” modes, but the GeForce 7800 GTX is always ahead of the GeForce 6800 Ultra.

Far Cry

The Pier demo was recorded on an open map and its speed is limited by the performance of the system at large, too. As a result, there’s no big difference between the graphics cards until we enable full-screen antialiasing and anisotropic filtering.

The results we have with enabled full-screen antialiasing and anisotropic filtering are expectable: both SLI configurations are leaders and both are restrained by the CPU’s capabilities. The RADEON X850 XT Platinum Edition tried to compete with them in 1024x768, but fell back in higher resolutions. As for the single GeForce 7800 GTX, it is even slower than the RADEON X800 XL in this test, despite having 24 pixel processors. This catastrophic performance of the new-generation graphics card may be due to some imperfections in the new ForceWare driver.

The demo on the Research map is different from the previous one, with action going on in a closed cave. There’s complex per-pixel lighting on this map, which gives a certain advantage to Shader Model 3.0-supporting graphics cards. Well, modern top-end cards are so fast that they feel the limiting influence of the system’s central processor in low resolutions. As for higher resolutions, the SLI configurations are on top in them. The GeForce 7800 GTX performs well, too, easily overcoming the 100fps mark even in 1600x1200.

NVIDIA’s single cards are less successful in the “eye candy” mode, and here’s a nice paradox to you: the GeForce 7800 GTX is slightly slower than the GeForce 6800 Ultra. It’s the same thing with the two SLI configurations: the two GeForce 6800 Ultra are a little faster than the two GeForce 7800 GTX. This is probably again the new driver’s fault – version 77.62 seems to call for certain improvements. We should wait for new ForceWare releases and hope that the GeForce 7800 GTX will spread its wings for real with them – the potential of this solution is evidently enormous.

We also carried out some additional tests in Far Cry to see how high the performance of the new solution with high-dynamic-range color. Is this mode now playable in resolutions above 1024x768? Since full-screen antialiasing works incorrectly in Far Cry’s HDR mode, producing various image artifacts, we offer you the “pure speed” numbers only.

The GeForce 7800 GTX is really much faster than the older card in Far Cry’s HDR mode. Even the single 7800 GTX easily maintains a 60+fps frame rate in 1280x1024 and 45+fps in 1600x1200. The results of the GeForce 6800 Ultra are 40+ and 25+ frames per second, respectively. Note also that the frame rate never bottoms out below 30fps with G70-based solutions.

The same is true for the Research map: the GeForce 7800 GTX makes even 1600x1200 resolution playable in HDR, yet we think 1280x1024 would be preferable, just to have some performance reserve.

So, you can now enjoy HDR effects without reducing the image resolution and, accordingly, the overall image quality. A strange fact is that SLI technology doesn’t bring any great gains in the HDR mode.

F.E.A.R. Multiplayer Beta

This is one of the hardest tests in this review, and even top-end graphics card models deliver a barely playable frame rate in it. Having installed the new beta version of F.E.A.R. we found that 1024x768 was the maximum available resolution. So we tested the new card in it, and the single GeForce 7800 GTX proved to be faster than the SLI pair of two GeForce 6800 Ultra, while the SLI system with two GeForce 7800 GTX overcame the 100fps barrier, ignoring all the complexity of this graphics engine.

Unfortunately, the new beta version of the game has some lighting problems if full-screen antialiasing is enabled, so the results of the “eye candy” mode are of a purely theoretical interest. Here, the GeForce 7800 GTX (and the SLI configuration of two such cards) is not so far ahead of the previous-generation solutions as in “pure speed”.

Half-Life 2

Once again we have the speed of the game suppressed by system components other than the graphics card: the results are almost identical here. The scene recorded on this level is generally similar to the one we made on the Pier level of Far Cry or on UT2004’s Torlan, so we shouldn’t be surprised to have a speed ceiling here.

The improved architecture of the G70 chip shows its full glory in this test: the single GeForce 7800 GTX performs on the same level with the SLI kit of two GeForce 6800 Ultra. The SLI configuration of two new cards from NVIDIA hits against the performance ceiling set by the system’s central processor.

The demo recorded on the d3_c17_02 map relies rather too heavily on the CPU performance, being a street fighting scene. The limiting factors here are the geometry-processing speed of the graphics processor and – even more important – the speed of the central processor.

We can make comparisons only for high resolutions of the “eye candy” mode. The GeForce 7800 GTX is in the lead, but is closely followed by the technologically less advanced RADEON X850 XT Platinum Edition. This demo doesn’t seem to reveal the advantages of the new graphics architecture.

Painkiller: Battle out of Hell

We can’t see anything interesting in this game, either. Those 180 frames per second seem to be the maximum speed we can get on our testbed. The only exception is the 1600x1200 resolution of the “eye candy” mode where the GeForce 6800 Ultra and the RADEON X850 XT Platinum Edition don’t reach the speed ceiling. We could have seen bigger gapes between the cards in resolutions above 1600x1200, but monitors that support them are very scarce, and such tests wouldn’t be of any practical use.

Unreal Tournament 2004

Unreal Tournament 2004 isn’t a good benchmark anymore: top-end graphics cards are limited by the CPU performance even with enabled anisotropic filtering and full-screen antialiasing.

It is only in 1600x1200 resolution in the “eye candy” mode that the GeForce 7800 GTX enjoys a serious advantage over its opponents. It means this card does full-screen antialiasing more efficiently than its predecessor.

Unreal Tournament 2004’s Metallurgy map is still rather difficult for modern graphics chips due to the huge number of polygons in the frame. Well, the best graphics solutions of the current day – the single GeForce 7800 GTX and the multi-GPU configurations – don’t find this test very difficult. Note a weird phenomenon here: the results of the SLI configurations become better in higher resolutions.

The NVIDIA GeForce 7800 GTX leaves its opponents far behind in the most complex graphics modes, but the absolute frame rates are so high in UT 2004 that the difference doesn’t matter much for real play.

Third-Person 3D Shooters

Prince of Persia: Warrior Within

We wouldn’t say that Price of Persia: Warrior Within is a resource-consuming application, but the game is not limited by the performance of the central processor, at least in high resolutions. This is one more case when the single GeForce 7800 GTX is comparable to or even better than the expensive SLI configuration of two GeForce 6800 Ultra which also consumes much more power and generates more heat. The SLI duo of two GeForce 7800 GTX is simply beyond competition.

Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory

This sequel to the famous Splinter Cell series supports Shader Model 3.0, but the GeForce 6800 Ultra is anyway slower than the RADEON X850 XT Platinum Edition. Don’t forget, however, that all ATI’s graphics cards can run SC: Chaos Theory using version 1.1 pixel shaders only. In other words, NVIDIA’s modern cards are greatly handicapped in this test in terms of speed, but they do provide a much nicer-looking image: the lighting and relief look much more realistic in the Shader Model 3.0 mode.

The GeForce 7800 GTX feels at its ease in this game, following closely behind the SLI pair of GeForce 6800 Ultra. Of course, the multi-GPU configuration consisting of two GeForce 7800 GTX leaves the other participants far behind.

We couldn’t test the game with enabled full-screen antialiasing and aniso-filtering. For some mysterious reason antialiasing wouldn’t work on NVIDIA’s cards in the Shader Model 3.0 mode. Each time we tried to turn FSAA on, we got the same results as without antialiasing. The problem might be somewhere in the current version of the game or in the ForceWare 77.62 driver. We will be trying to pinpoint and solve the problem before our next review.

Simulators

Colin McRae Rally 2005

Smoke, dust from under the wheels, sun flares on the polished sides of rally cars – that’s Colin McRae Rally 2005 and its pixel-shader-heavy game engine. We already know that math1ematical computations involved in execution of pixel shaders are a strong point of the GeForce 7800 GTX. And as you can see, this graphics card just has no rivals in resolutions above 1280x1024. Even the GeForce 6800 Ultra SLI configuration is nowhere near the leader.

The memory load is much higher in FSAA + aniso-filtering modes, and we witness one of the rare defeats of the GeForce 7800 GTX: the RADEON X850 XT Platinum Edition with its highly efficient memory controller strikes back! We also admire the astonishing efficiency of the GeForce 7800 GTX SLI configuration: the performance gain is almost 100%! On the other hand, the SLI configuration of two GeForce 6800 Ultra doesn’t bring any tangible speed gain over the single card.

IL-2 Sturmovik: Aces in the Sky

This review’s subject matter wins the IL-2 tests, too, but we found a curious problem in this game: the performance of the SLI configuration of two GeForce 7800 GTX is the same as that of the single card. And the performance of the GeForce 6800 Ultra SLI configuration is almost two times lower than the performance of the single GeForce 6800 Ultra. We rechecked these results, but with the same outcome. This problem must have been brought to us by ForceWare 77.62. Let’s wait for NVIDIA to release a next version of the driver.

The cards line up in the same order as before, but the above-described problem doesn’t vanish. Anyway, even the mysterious results we have suggest that the GeForce 7800 GTX has an excellent performance. It is quite comfortable to play the game even in 1600x1200.

Lock On: Modern Air Combat

We’ve repeatedly complained about the capriciousness of this game which sometimes produces almost absurd results. The speed of this flight simulator doesn’t exceed 30fps at the maximum graphics quality settings, and the given case is no exception. Note that the GeForce 7800 GTX is the only card to reach the speed barrier in 1600x1200, both as a single and as a pair. The same goes for the FSAA mode: the new card cannot show its full speed potential, being limited by the game itself.

Real-time Strategic Games

Perimeter

It’s hard to determine the leader in Perimeter. None of the top-end graphics cards, including the SLI configurations, could achieve an indisputable advantage in the “pure speed” mode.

With FSAA enabled, the results coincide with the order of the cards in the diagrams: that is, the GeForce 7800 GTX and the GeForce 7800 GTX SLI gain victory. Yet this is hardly an indisputable victory as the GeForce 6 is only 1-2fps behind. The RADEON X800 XL falls out of the main group, being much slower than the rest of the participants.

Warhammer 40.000: Dawn of War

Warhammer 40K: Dawn of War is an interesting case since the CPU’s limiting influence is felt only in low resolutions. In higher resolutions the GeForce 7800 GTX is unrivalled. Its single performance equals that of the two SLI-linked GeForce 6800 Ultra. Its dual, or SLI, performance can’t be estimated because of the max speed limiter.

It’s all roughly the same in the “eye candy” mode, but the GeForce 7800 GTX can’t compete with the GeForce 6800 SLI system in resolutions above 1280x1024.

Semi-Synthetic Benchmarks

Aquamark3

The GeForce 7800 GTX’s eight vertex processors win this test for NVIDIA. The SLI configuration of GeForce 7800 GTX reveals its potential fuller in the “eye candy” mode, but the speed gain is still less than twofold.

Final Fantasy XI Official Benchmark 3

The graphics card has to deal with big amounts of textures and rather complex geometry, but there are almost no pixel shaders at all here. As a consequence, the best results come from the GeForce 7800 GTX (8 vertex processors and 1200MHz memory frequency) and from the RADEON X850 XT Platinum Edition (6 vertex processors clocked at 540MHz).

Synthetic Benchmarks

Futuremark 3DMark03 build 360

The GeForce 7800 GTX sets two new records in 3DMark03: over 15,000 points for the single card and over 25,000 points for the SLI config! Without any overclocking and expensive liquid-cooling systems!

NVIDIA’s new architecture shows its supremacy in the first test already, even though this test uses only fixed-function T&L: the GeForce 7800 GTX is almost as fast as the GeForce 6800 Ultra SLI! The new card is even more impressive in the “eye candy” mode: the GeForce 7800 GTX is 40-50% ahead of the GeForce 6800 Ultra!

The second test uses normal maps and dynamic stencil shadows; the textural and geometrical load is rather low. The efficiency of the GeForce 7800 GTX with its 8 vertex processors and ability to process up to 32 Z values per cycle is extremely high in this test. This device is beyond competition as a single card as well as a SLI duo, the performance gain of SLI technology being almost twofold here.

The third test is similar to the second one in many respects, but the geometrical load is higher here. There’s a girl in the scene whose haircut is modeled with a very high level of detail. Each strand of hair is rendered independently, using a real physical model. This scene also uses anisotropic lighting. The results are very close to what we have seen in the second test: the new GeForce 7 architecture beats its opponents in all the modes and resolutions.

The fourth test is the most complex one from the math1ematical standpoint. For example, the leaves on the trees are created with the help of version 2.0 vertex shaders, and the realistic surface of the lake is due to 2.0 pixel shaders. Besides that, the employed “over-bright” lighting effect allows to make such objects as the sun more realistic. The GeForce 7800 GTX is competitor-less in this test, too, even though the RADEON X850 XT Platinum Edition comes close to it in the “pure speed” mode thanks to high operational frequencies.

Futuremark 3DMark05 build 120

Two new records in 3DMark05, too: more than 7,000 points as a single card and 10,000 points in the “SLI” nomination. Such numbers have only been available to inveterate overclockers until today who would use liquid or even Freon-based cooling systems for their experiments.

The first test from 3DMark05 is a typical sci-fi 3D shooter. Dynamic shadows of this test are generated using a normal map with 2048x2048 resolution. Also used are Normal Mapped Bump-mapping and per-pixel lighting. There are eight light sources in total. The test is relatively simple, so the GeForce 7800 GTX isn’t far ahead of the RADEON X850 XT Platinum Edition in the “pure speed” mode.

By the way, it is the first time we see a playable frame rate in 3DMark05 – all thanks to the GeForce 7800 GTX SLI solution. If this scene were a real shooter, you would even be able to play it with 4x FSAA – made possible by the combined power of two new-generation graphics cards from NVIDIA!

The second test mostly loads the vertex processors of the graphics card: there is rich vegetation on screen here, with dynamic shadows and various lighting effects. The GeForce 7800 GTX is much better than the RADEON X850 XT Platinum Edition. The test is more complex than the first one, so even the SLI configuration of two GeForce 7800 GTX cannot deliver even 40fps.

The third test shows a scene with a fantastic airship flying over a water surface and it is the hardest of all 3DMark05’s tests. Realistic reflections and refractions are created for the water along with the so-called depth fog effect (objects deep in water look more blurry). This alone puts a huge load on the pixel processors, but there are also the canyon walls in the scene, and it takes almost all instructions from Shader Model 2.0 to render them. The walls aren’t smooth, so there are also shadows to be rendered. The entire scene is created in six passes – no wonder it can bring any graphics card to its knees.

But the GeForce 7800 GTX has prodigious math1ematical skills. The card easily handles even this scene and leaves its opponents far behind. The efficiency of SLI technology reaches its zenith here: the total power of 48 pixel processors would make this scene comfortably playable if it were to occur in a real game.

Conclusion

So you have just had an opportunity to see the GeForce 7800 GTX in real gaming applications. Basing on the results of our tests we can definitely say that the GeForce 7800 GTX is currently the absolutely fastest gaming graphics card in this world.

The NVIDIA GeForce 7800 GTX, the first card in the new family, is architectural descendant of the GeForce 6, but with a number of innovations and a much higher performance overall. So, while not a breakthrough in terms of functionality, the GeForce 7800 GTX is a product that pushes the performance and image quality bar to a whole new level, with some nice reserve for the future.

The strongest aspect of the GeForce 7800 GTX is its pixel shader performance, like in Half-Life 2 and F.E.A.R. All games that emphasize the math1ematical capabilities of the graphics processor have shown a tremendous speed growth over the solutions of the previous generation, namely GeForce 6800 Ultra and RADEON X850 XT Platinum Edition. For example, the GeForce 7800 GTX is 50% faster than the GeForce 6800 Ultra in F.E.A.R.

NVIDIA’s new product isn’t without certain weaknesses, though. Particularly, it has only 16 ROP units and a relatively low memory frequency. The latter thing sometimes prevents the new graphics processor from revealing its full potential in full-screen antialiasing modes.

It was also a nice surprise for us that we didn’t have any serious driver-related problems. All the games and applications worked fast and without visual artifacts. In other words, the GeForce 7800 GTX comes out a stable and finished product: the buyer is unlikely to have any problems on the software level.

The power consumption of the GeForce 7800 GTX is a little higher than that of the ex-top model, but the difference of 3 watts is negligible, while the twofold performance gain over the GeForce 6800 Ultra is an achievement.

We should also note that the NVIDIA GeForce 7800 GTX is already available for purchase. This has become quite a rare thing in the graphics hardware realm – NVIDIA puts an end to the notorious practice of shipping the actual silicon months after the announcement.

So here’s our summary about the new graphics card from NVIDIA.

Highs:

Lows: