The Fantastic Six: Nvidia GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB Graphics Cards Roundup

GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB graphics accelerator is a very popular solution these days as it combined all features of the new-generation video card with relatively low price. Today we are going to take a look at six solutions based on this GPU from different Nvidia partners including Asus, EVGA, Foxconn, Gainward, Gigabyte and XFX, and will try to find out all highs and low of each solution.

by Alexey Stepin , Yaroslav Lyssenko, Anton Shilov
05/09/2007 | 10:09 AM

Nvidia GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB graphics adapter launched officially on February 12 2007 turned out the first discrete DirectX 10 solution priced around $299. The only difference between the newcomer and the GeForce 8800 GTS selling for $449 announced together with the flagship product of the new Nvidia family – GeForce 8800 GTX – was the amount of onboard graphics memory reduced to half the size. No wonder that the combination of relatively inexpensive price and GeForce 8800 GTS features made the newcomer pretty popular among computer enthusiasts who do not have sufficient financial means to go for the top-of-the-line GeForce 8 solutions.

 

According to our detailed study described in the article called Fast and Faster: MSI GeForce 8800 GTS 640MB vs. GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB, GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB often outperforms the previous-generation favorites – AMD Radeon X1950 XTX and Nvidia GeForce 7950 GX2. However, this graphics cards features some peculiarities in its behavior that are typical of the entire GeForce 8800 family as well as of the GTS 320MB model in particular. If you are reading our articles regularly, you should be already familiar with the former that result from ForceWare driver imperfection. However, the latter are typical solely of GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB and are connected with the video memory distribution algorithms. While the lag behind regular GeForce 8800 GTS in high resolutions with enabled anti-aliasing is quite logical and not at all surprising, then we cannot say the same is true for such games as Gothic 3, Neverwinver Nights 2 or F.E.A.R.: Extraction Point, where GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB loses to its elder brother right from the start. However, since the comparative testing of two GeForce 7950 GT solutions equipped with 256MB and 512MB of memory that has been discussed in detail in our article called GeForce 7950 GT: 256MB or 512MB? Foxconn and Gigabyte Graphics Cards Review, hasn’t revealed any performance differences like that, we dare conclude that this situation isn’t directly connected with the amount of onboard graphics memory.

Despite the above mentioned drawbacks, GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB remains the highest performing discrete graphics solution in the Performance-Mainstream category that is so popular among gaming fans who are not eager to spend $500-$600 on a graphics card, but are still willing to enjoy all the latest gaming titles.

Just like in case of more expensive graphics cards, all GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB are manufactured by large contractors, such as Foxconn and Flextronics and are shipped to Nvidia partners. Therefore, there are not that many real differences between the solutions from different vendors.

Today we are going to introduce to you six GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB based graphics cards offered by the following manufacturers:

For the reasons mentioned above it doesn’t make much sense to dwell on their PCB layout and design peculiarities in great detail, because it has already been done in GeForce 8800 GTX review called Directly Unified: Nvidia GeForce 8800 Architecture Review and GeForce 8800 GTS review called Fast and Faster: MSI GeForce 8800 GTS 640MB vs. GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB.

Since our article is devoted to six GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB models, we are going to tell you about the peculiarities of each individual product in comparison with the others, such as clock frequencies, type of memory chips, PCB color, cooling system design, differences from the reference design, etc. We will also try to find out what advantages and drawbacks each of these products have and will evaluate their originality and attractiveness for the potential buyer.

Let’s start in alphabetical order.

ASUS Computer EN8800GTS/HTDP/320M

Package and Accessories

The ASUS card comes in the same package as the EN8800GTX we have reviewed earlier. The picture on the box has not changed even. The only difference is the product name printed in yellow letters. This box seems to be shared by the models with 320MB and 640MB of graphics memory because its amount is indicated by a sticker under the product name. Here, it says “320MB DDR3” which is not quite correct technically since GDDR3 memory that is installed on a majority of modern graphics cards is a variation of DDR2 and has no direct relation to DDR3. Besides the memory amount, the sticker announces the product’s compatibility with Windows Vista and support of GamerOSD technology, and mentions bonuses supplied with the card.

The box contents are neatly laid out into the compartments. The graphics card itself is wrapped into an antistatic pack and lies on a soft tray that protects it from damage during transportation and storage. The box is very large, but the handle makes it easy to carry it around. The EN8800GTS/HTDP/320M comes with the following accessories:

Although there are no S-Video and RCA cables in the box, and no second DVI-I → D-Sub adapter, this is not a serious drawback nowadays. Besides two good games and 3DMark06, you get a handy pouch for your optical discs.

The documentation is all right, too. The brief SpeedSetup manual will help you install the card into your system. For details missing in it you can refer to the full version of the manual you will find on the included CD.

So, the ASUS EN8800GTS/HTDP/320M card comes with everything you may want to use the product as well as with nice bonuses like a CD case, two good games, and a full version of the popular benchmarking suite Futuremark 3DMark06. The box design might be different, though. The current design with a trooper from Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter must have already become somewhat boring to the potential customer. Moreover, it is used for several products from ASUS and you can’t differentiate them at once glance.

PCB Design and Cooling System

The graphics card has a green PCB and is equipped with a reference cooling system. The only things that distinguish it from other such cards are the picture on the cooler casing and the holographic ASUS logo on the fan motor.

 

The EN8800GTS/HTDP/320M uses Hynix HY5RS573225AFP-11 memory. The voltage of these 256Mb chips depends on the access time index; it is 2.2V for AFP-11. Chips with this access time are rated to work at a frequency of 900 (1800) MHz, so we can expect some overclocking reserve from the chips on this graphics card, which are clocked at 800 (1600) MHz exactly as is written in the official GeForce 8800 GTS specification. The total amount of memory is 320MB accessed across a 320-bit memory bus. The card carries 10 chips. Two seats for memory chips are left empty, like on any other GeForce 8800 GTS. It is possible that other batches of the card may come with different memory, e.g. Samsung K4J55323QC/QI or Hynix chips with a higher access time and a voltage of 1.8V.

The graphics core has a standard configuration with 96 shader processors, 24 TMUs and 20 ROPs. The main core frequency is 513MHz while the shader processor domain is clocked at 1188MHz. Thus, the frequencies of the ASUS EN8800GTS 320MB comply precisely with the official specification from Nvidia.

The card has the same connectors as the GeForce 8800 GTX: two universal DVI-I outputs that can be used for a digital connection in single- or dual-link mode or for an analog connection using an appropriate adapter, and a 7-pin mini-DIN you can attach an YPbPr/RCA splitter or an S-Video cable to. Like any other GeForce 8800, the card supports DHCP and can normally work with protected HD video content.

EVGA e-GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB KO ACS3

Package and Accessories

This card comes in a standard-sized and reservedly designed box that is painted an ascetic mix of black, white and green. The box shows the model name as well as some basic technical info such as the type and amount of graphics memory, type of the interface, and the support of HDCP. The box design is identical for the entire GeForce 8800 series from EVGA, so the model name and the graphics memory amount are indicated by stickers and the picture shows a GeForce 8800 GTX rather than a GTS.

There is a window in the reverse side of the box you can read the serial number of this sample of e-GeForce through. The contents are laid out neatly in the box compartments while the graphics card itself is firmly fixed in place with special struts. Besides it, we found the following in the box:

The manual, stickers and discs are in EVGA’s traditional paper envelope. The company didn’t economize on cables and adapters, but included only one game. Dark Messiah of Might and Magic is a lucky mix of RPG and 3D shooter genres supported with advanced visuals and a realistic physics model. It surely makes a nice addition to the graphics card.

Thus, the EVGA e-GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB KO ACS3 gets our praises for its packaging and accessories. The discreet package design without an excessive use of color leaves an impression of a professional product, and its moderate size won’t poise any problem as you are carrying the purchased product home. Besides, this product has an interesting feature of another kind which we’ll tell you about in the next section.

PCB Design and Cooling System

The EVGA product looks unusual for a GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB due to its modified cooling system that is indicated in the product name with the abbreviation ACS3. It spells out as Advanced Cooling System 3.

 

The card does look unique at first sight, but is it really such? Does the patent on ASC3, mentioned on the cooler casing, denote an original invention? We’ll discuss this shortly. Right now let’s browse through the EVGA card’s specification.

Like the Asus EN8800GTS 320MB, the EVGA e-GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB KO ACS3 graphics card is equipped with Hynix HY5RS573225AFP-11 memory that has an access time of 1.1 nanoseconds and is capable of working at a frequency of 900 (1800) MHz. But the use of fast memory is more justifiable here than on the ASUS card because the EVGA product comes with increased default clock rates. Its memory is clocked at 920 (1840) MHz which is somewhat higher than the rated frequency of the chips even. This frequency growth ensures a considerable bandwidth growth, from the reference card’s 64GB/s to 73.6GB/s. This is going to have a positive effect on the EVGA card’s performance in high resolutions and with enabled full-screen antialiasing.

The graphics core is configured in the standard way with 96 streamed processors, 24 TMUs and 20 ROPs, but works at a higher frequency than on the reference card, just like the memory chips. The manufacturer declares a core frequency of 588MHz for this graphics card, but the real core frequency is 594MHz due to the peculiarities of the GeForce 8800 clock generator. The frequency of the shader processor domain is 1450MHz. Such characteristics are going to give this version of GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB an edge over the standard one in gaming applications.

The modification of the cooling system attempted by EVGA needs a special mention. This is indeed a modification rather than an original solution as you may think at first. The rectangular casing conceals the familiar design we described in our earlier reviews of GeForce 8800 series cards:

Nvidia’s reference cooler is designed well, and the replacement of the casing is a purely cosmetic change that has little bearing on its functioning. The electrolytic capacitors hardly need cooling while all the elements of the GeForce 8800 GTS that really require cooling have it originally. The EVGA ACS3 system has another peculiarity, though: there is an additional heatsink that takes heat off the reverse side of the PCB in the GPU area.

That area indeed gets very hot at work, so this solution seems logical. However, there are a lot of small elements on that part of the PCB and the heatsink contacts it through a rather thick elastic thermal pad. Such pads don’t have good thermal conductivity, especially when thick, so this heatsink may prove to be not only useless but even harmful, creating a so-called heat bag and preventing the reverse side of the PCB from being cooled by the air flow from the fan installed on the back panel of the system case. But if the thermal pad conducts heat well enough, the additional heatsink may be useful and have a positive effect on the card’s overclockability. We’ll check this supposition out later on.

So, the EVGA ACS3 cooling system installed on this graphics card is a version of the reference cooler with a differently shaped casing that is complemented with a heatsink that takes heat away from the reverse side of the PCB. This solution makes the product original, but can hardly affect its operation much.

Foxconn FV-N88SMCD2-ONOC

Package and Accessories

Foxconn uses unified packaging, too. The FV-N88SMCD2-ONOC comes in exactly the same package as the FV-N88XMAD2-ON we described in our review of four models of GeForce 8800 GTX. The holographic “Over-Clocking Edition” sticker is the only difference. The box is rather large but lacks a handle, so you may find it troublesome to carry the purchased product home.

The card is protected against damage during transportation and storage by means of a blister wrap. Besides it, there are the following accessories inside:

This is the same set of accessories as was included with the FV-N88XMAD2-ON, except for only one power adapter since the GeForce 8800 GTS has one 6-pin PCI Express connector.

This set is practical. Every gamer is going to put to good use the included gamepad as well as the software for managing disc images and for system recovery. A good game would make a nice addition to this, yet this set of accessories is good anyway. Foxconn estimates the included stuff at $180 and an additional game might have considerably increased the retail price of the card which is an important factor for this product class.

The included documentation offers all the information you need to install the card into your system and begin to use it. We guess the accessories to the Foxconn card are indeed superb but the package design might be more original.

PCB Design and Cooling System

This graphics card uses a PCB with a green solder mask and is equipped with the reference cooler. By the way, GeForce 8800 GTS, especially with 320MB of memory, mostly come with green than with black PCBs which is probably related to their place of manufacture.

 

The Foxconn product differs from other companies’ GeForce 8800 GTS with the sticker on the cooler casing. The picture on the sticker is a copy of the picture on the box. There is a sticker with a Foxconn logo on the fan motor.

The card comes with Hynix HY5RS573225AFP-11 memory. Just like on the EVGA card, the memory chips are pre-overclocked by the manufacturer and work at their rated frequency of 900 (1800) MHz. Formally speaking, there is no reserve for further overclocking, but our experience suggests that 1.1ns chips can often be overclocked successfully to a frequency of 1000 (2000) MHz and even higher.

The GPU configuration is standard with 96 streamed processors, 24 TMUs, and 20 ROPs. Its frequency formula is different to the cards from ASUS and EVGA. The main frequency is 576MHz but the shader domain frequency equals the reference one of 1188MHz. The frequency delta equals approximately 2 here as opposed to the standard ~2.3. You should take this into account if you are going to overclock this card.

The Foxconn FV-N88SMCD2-ONOC doesn’t differ from the reference card otherwise. It’s got two DVI-I connectors with support of dual-link mode, a universal video output, and a connector for a second card in SLI mode.

Gainward Bliss 8800GTS 320MB GS

Package and Accessories

We don’t often review products from this brand, but we’ve managed to get Gainward’s version of GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB for this test. The Bliss 8800GTS 320MB is parceled into a standard-size box that is embellished with a picture of a girl with streaming hair against a background of ancient ruins.

The meaning of the picture is obscure, yet it looks appealing due to the use of mild color tones. The Golden Sample sticker informs the potential buyer that this is not an ordinary, but pre-overclocked version of Bliss 8800GTS 320MB. Besides the graphics card, the box contains the following:

Not much stuff here, although this is a Golden Sample. There is everything you want to have to use the graphics card normally, but without any special “freebies”. The included software for DVD editing will only be useful for people who work a lot with video content editing and make their own DVDs.

It’s all right with the documentation. While many graphics card vendors put just a brief installation guide into the box, Gainward (and ASUS, too) includes a full version of the user manual, in electronic format. Anyway, the accessories of the Gainward BLISS 8800GTS 320MB are just average, although sufficient for people who don’t care about bonus items. The package design is good, too, yet might be more interesting, just like with the Foxconn card.

PCB Design and Cooling System

This graphics card uses a PCB with a green solder mask and a reference cooler developed by Nvidia.

 

The card differs visually from others of its kind with the bright red sticker on the cooler casing. Nvidia’s logo is on the fan motor – Gainward decided one sticker would be quite enough.

The card carries Hynix HY5RS573225AFP-11 memory. Being a Golden Sample product, the Bliss 8800GTS clocks its memory at a frequency of 880 (1760) MHz, higher than the reference clock rate. This is not as high as the memory frequency of the Foxconn and EVGA cards, yet ensures a considerable increase in memory bandwidth, from 64GB/s to 70.4GB/s. This should have a positive effect on the card’s performance in some situations.

The GPU is configured in the standard way: 96 shader processors, 24 TMUs, and 20 ROPs. The GPU frequency is officially declared to be 550MHz, but this number is not divisible by 9, 18 or 27, so the real frequency of the GPU’s main domain is 540MHz, i.e. lower than that of the EVGA and Foxconn cards. The shader domain frequency is 1188MHz, which equals the frequency of the reference GeForce 8800 GTS. So, the Gainward BLISS 8800GTS 320MB GS is going to be noticeably slower than the EVGA e-GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB KO ACS3 and a little slower than the Foxconn FV-N88SMCD2-ONOC, but is going to be faster than the cards with standard GPU frequencies, especially in applications for which fast processing of textures is important.

The Gainward card has ordinary connector layout: two universal dual-link DVI-I connectors, a 7-pin mini-DIN that allows plugging an S-Video cable directly in, and a MIO interface connector.

Gigabyte Technology GV-NX88S320H-B-RH

Package and Accessories

The package of the Gigabyte card differs from the boxes of the other products in this review, yet it is traditional for the company. This rather large and vertically oriented box has a glossy surface that shimmers in various colors. The design looks restrained thanks to mild violet colors and an eye-pleasing picture:

There is a white cardboard box insider the colorful wrapping. It has compartments for the graphics card and its accessories. The card is wrapped in an antistatic bag and is firmly fixed in its tray. Here are the accessories to the GV-NX88S320H:

Unlike with the other models of GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB in this review, the YPbPr splitter of the Gigabyte product is designed like a square I/O unit. You can fasten this unit on your system case with dual-sided scotch to make it easier to connect your TV-set.

The company included a full version of a top gaming title into the box. Its engine being limited to DirectX 8, Dawn of War: Dark Crusade is not a technically advanced application, yet it is a very popular fantastic RPG and can be counted among the classics of the genre even. It may not be the best game to showcase the advantages of the GeForce 8 architecture, but instead it offers an interesting plot and an exciting gameplay. The game just must be played by everyone who’s into video games.

The user manual is blameless. It offers all the information an inexperienced user may want.

The packaging and accessories of the Gigabyte GV-NX88S320H get high marks from us, but the set of accessories is somewhat inferior to those of the ASUS and Foxconn cards and is on the same level with the EVGA product.

PCB Design and Cooling System

Like the other products in this review, the GV-NX88S320H-B-RH uses a PCB with a green solder mask.

 

The card carries a reference cooler, so the only external difference from the reference card is in the Gigabyte stickers on the cooler casing and the fan motor. In fact, you shouldn’t expect anything unique in the design of a GeForce 8800 because all such cards are made for Nvidia by contract manufacturers and the developer doesn’t even have to make sure its partners stick to the reference design – they get ready-made graphics cards anyway. Nvidia’s cooler has superb noise and thermal characteristics, so it is rarely modified, let alone replaced with a non-standard cooler.

Like the other graphics cards in this review, this one is equipped with Hynix HY5RS573225AFP-11 memory that boasts good overclockability in theory. This is especially true since the Gigabyte card is not pre-overclocked and its memory works at the reference frequency of 800 (1600) MHz. Considering its access time of 1.1 nanoseconds, we can expect the memory chips to be able to overclock to 900 (1800) MHz or even higher.

The GV-NX88S320H-B-RH has a standard GPU configuration with 96 shader processors, 24 TMUs, and 20 ROPs. Its frequencies are standard as well, i.e. 513MHz for the main domain and 1188MHz for the shader processor domain. The GPU frequency delta is ~2.3 for this card, which theoretically allows achieving a higher shader processor frequency at overclocking.

The Gigabyte GV-NX88S320H has two universal dual-link DVI-I connectors, a 7-pin mini-DIN you can directly plug an S-Video cable into, and a MIO interface connector.

Like all other GeForce 8800, this one requires external power. As opposed to the GeForce 8800 GTX, both versions of the GeForce 8800 GTS are equipped with only one 6-pin PCI Express power connector. Any modern high-quality ATX 2.0 power supply with 400W or higher wattage should suffice to power the card. Nvidia recommends using PSUs capable of providing a combined current of 26A and higher on the +12V power rail.

XFX GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB DDR3 XXX Edition

Package and Accessories

The box with the XFX card is compact, but thick due to additional protection from damage during transportation. Its design is laconic enough. Most of the box is painted white and the model name is printed on it. A fantastic creature, the XFX symbol, is pictured in the left part of the box.

The box contents are covered with a transparent plastic cap. The graphics card itself resides in a separate foam-rubber container. There is an additional sheet of foam rubber on the bottom of the box, making this packaging the most secure of all we have described in this review. The box contains the following:

There are no bonuses in the box, so this is the most frugal set of accessories in this review. Well, the only real drawback is the lack of a power adapter. Although many modern PSUs come with a 6-pin PCI Express connector, the XFX GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB DDR3 XXX Edition may be bought by a user whose power supply lacks one.

Otherwise the accessories are just enough for using the card successfully. The brief installation guide contains information about compatibility of different video cables and adapters and tips on organizing effective cooling in the system case.

So, the package of the XFX card is designed well and protects the card securely, but the accessories are too scanty, not because there are no free bonuses here (not all buyers are interested in games included by graphics card vendors), but due to the lack of a 2xMolex → 6‑pin PCI Express adapter. If your power supply doesn’t have a 6-pin power connector for the graphics card, you won’t be able to power up your newly bought device. It’s not so easy to find this adapter selling separately in shops, so we guess XFX should correct this deficiency.

PCB Design and Cooling System

This graphics card doesn’t differ in its design from the other cards described in this review. It uses a PCB with a green solder mask and comes with a reference cooler, so it is perfectly identical to the above-described products from ASUS, Foxconn, Gainward and Gigabyte.

 

The cooler casing is decorated with a sticker that is the only difference of the card from its prototype. The sticker on the fan has remained the same, showing an Nvidia logo.

The card carries ten 256Mb GDDR3 memory chips (Hynix HY5RS573225AFP-11) capable of working at 900 (1800) MHz. This gives you a total of 320 megabytes of memory accessed across a 320-bit bus. The name of the product – with the letters XXX – suggests that it is pre-overclocked by the manufacturer and this is indeed so. The memory is clocked at 900 (1800) MHz providing a bandwidth of 72GB/s as opposed to the reference GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB’s 64GB/s.

Like on the other graphics cards in this review, the GPU is configured to have 96 shader processors, 24 TMUs, and 20 ROPs. The main GPU frequency is increased from the standard 513MHz to 576MHz, but the shader domain frequency equals the reference 1188MHz. It means that the overclocking of this card may be limited by the main frequency whereas the shader domain would still have some frequency reserve. Well, ordinary users don’t often overclock their hardware while an extreme overclocker won’t think it a big problem. The frequency delta can be corrected by changing the frequency ratio in the BIOS image and then writing this image into the card. This operation is not absolutely safe and makes your warranty void, so don’t do it unless you are sure of your skills!

The XFX GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB DDR3 XXX Edition offers a standard selection of connectors that includes two universal DVI-I ports with support of dual-link mode, a universal port of analog TV output, and a connector to unite two such cards into a SLI tandem. Like any other GeForce 8800, this card supports HDCP and can normally work with HDMI-compatible display devices.

Noise and Power Consumption

The reference cooling system developed by Nvidia for the GeForce 8800 series is highly effective and rather quiet. We had already learned its noise characteristics before, yet we wanted to see how the modified cooler of the e-GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB KO ACS3 compared with the reference GeForce 8800 cooler.

Our measurements showed that there were no differences: the six graphics cards were all working quietly despite the difference in their clock rates. If you’ve got additional system fans in your gaming system and the system case is ventilated properly, there is very little chance that you ever hear the GeForce 8800 raise its voice even during a long play. Moreover, the GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB does not generate as much heat as the GeForce 8800 GTX does. With their noise characteristics these graphics cards successfully rival the Radeon X1950 XTX whose cooling system is deservedly regarded as one of the best cooling solutions.

We had already measured power consumption of the GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB, but we wanted to check out the pre-overclocked version of the card, too. So, we took the EVGA card as having the highest GPU and memory frequencies among all the six. We performed our power consumption tests on a special testbed equipped with connectors for measuring instruments.

The measurements were performed with a Velleman DVM850BL multimeter (0.5% accuracy).

We loaded the GPU by launching the first SM3.0/HDR graphics test from 3DMark06 and running it in a loop at 1600x1200 resolution with 4x full-screen antialiasing and 16x anisotropic filtering. The Peak 2D load was created by means of the 2D Transparent Windows test from Futuremark’s PCMark05 benchmarking suite. Here are the results:


Click to enlarge


Click to enlarge

Obviously, it is the 6-pin PCI Express connector that bears the biggest load, just as is the case with the GeForce 8800 GTS 640MB. However, the simple formula I=P/U gives out a current of about 5.6A for this connector, so the GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB can be easily powered up by a quality ATX 2.0 power supply with a wattage of 350W and higher provided that the remaining capacity of the PSU is enough to power the rest of the gaming system components. On our part, we can say that not only all versions of GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB, but also the much more voracious GeForce 8800 GTX worked without problems on our Cooler Master RS-450-ACLY that provides a combined current of 22A on the +12V rail (this is lower than 29A the standard 400W ATX 2.0 power supply must provide and corresponds to the standard 300W unit).

The EVGA card demands more power, yet its power draw does not reach 120W, either. The load on the external power line is increased from 5.6A to 6.2A, so the PSU requirements remain the same. The only recommendation, which is true not only for GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB but for other graphics cards as well, is that you should avoid cheap models from obscure manufacturers that may prove to have worse effective parameters than declared. Their output voltages may not be stable and their output voltage ripple may be too high for normal functioning of your system.

As for those versions of GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB that are not overclocked as heavily as the EVGA card, they should have a peak power consumption of 105-112W and there are no special PSU recommendations for them. Everything we’ve written above is true for such cards, too.

Overclocking

The G80 GPU, the heart of the GeForce 8800 series, is divided into domains that are clocked at different frequencies. The main GPU domain can change its frequency with a variable step of 9, 18 or 27MHz, but the shader processor domain can change its frequency with a step of 54MHz only. The problem is that many overclocking programs can work with the main domain frequency only. In the standard GeForce 8800 GTX the frequency ratio is 1 to ~2.31, but pre-overclocked versions of the card may have a different ratio and their frequencies are going to change in a different way at overclocking. Particularly, the frequency delta for the Foxconn and XFX cards is 2.06, for the Gainward Bliss 2.2, for the EVGA 2.44. This should be taken into account when overclocking. Fortunately, some overclocking tools, e.g. the latest version of RivaTuner, can report the real frequencies of the GPU domains to make the process of overclocking easier.

There is also a simple formula to calculate the frequency of the GeForce 8800’s shader processors during overclocking with a high enough precision:

OC shader clk = Default shader clk / Default core clk * OC core clk,

where OC shader clk is the (approximate) resulting frequency, Default shader clk is the initial shader processor frequency, Default core clk is the initial core frequency, and OC core clk is the frequency of the overclocked core.

Basing on this information and on the frequency monitoring data reported by RivaTuner, we attempted to overclock the graphics cards included into this review. Here are the results:

Surprisingly, each of the six cards could overclock its main GPU frequency to the same point, to 621MHz. A frequency range of 621-648MHz seems to be the limit for the revision A2 G80 chip. This time neither card could work at a frequency of 648MHz for more than a couple of hours.

The shader domain frequency achieved by the cards varied from a modest 1296MHz to a considerable 1533MHz. The biggest frequency growth of 270MHz was actually produced by the cards with reference frequencies, Asus EN8800GTS and Gigabyte GV-NX88S320H. The EVGA had the smallest frequency growth as it had started from a higher shader domain clock rate. The results obviously depend on the frequency delta. The smaller it is, the smaller the probability of reaching a higher shader domain frequency because the further overclocking is going to be limited by the main domain frequency which is usually not higher than 621-648MHz. You need to modify the BIOS to overclock such graphics cards more, but few users will dare do it, we guess.

The memory chips on all the cards behaved in the same manner at overclocking. Not surprising as every card in this review is equipped with Hynix HY5RS573225AFP-11 memory. We managed to reach a frequency of 1000 (2000) MHz on two cards and stopped just short of that mark in the other cases. It is also clear that the modification of the cooling system attempted by EVGA doesn’t affect the card’s overclockability much.

We want to warn you against perceiving the above results as a recommendation to choose the graphics card with the highest frequencies because overclocking depends on the capabilities of the particular sample of the card and a lot of other, often random, factors.

Testbed and Methods

During our comparative testing of the six GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB graphics cards we used the following hardware to build our test platforms:

Since we believe that the use of tri-linear and anisotropic filtering optimizations is not justified in this case, the graphics card drivers were set up in standard way to provide the highest possible quality of texture filtering.

ATI Catalyst:

Nvidia ForceWare:

We selected the highest possible graphics quality level in each game. We didn’t modify the games’ configuration files. Performance was measured with the games’ own tools or, if not available, manually with Fraps utility. We also measured the minimum speed of the cards where possible. We ran the tests in 1280x1024/960, 1600x1200 and 1920x1200/1440 resolutions.

Since GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB is a pretty high-end graphics solution, we used “eye candy” mode everywhere, where it was possible without disabling the HDR or Shader Model 3.0 increasing the image quality. We enabled FSAA and anisotropic filtering from the game’s menu. If this was not possible, we forced them using the appropriate driver settings of AMD Catalyst and Nvidia ForceWare.

Besides the graphics solutions discussed above we have also included the following graphics cards into our test session:

For our tests we used the following games and benchmarks:

Performance

Battlefield 2142

The game does not support widescreen resolutions without your adding special parameters into its launch icon. And even with the additional parameters the support of widescreen resolutions is implemented shabbily in Battlefield 2142. Some 2D graphics, like the HUD, may not display, for example, or display incorrectly. That is why we tested this game in 4:3 and 5:4 resolutions only, i.e. 1280x1024, 1600x1200 and 1920x1440 pixels.

Each version of GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB included into this review is sufficiently fast for you to play the game in 1600x1200 at the eye candy settings. They are not much slower than the GeForce 8800 GTS with 640 megabytes of graphics memory on board. Notwithstanding the significant difference in their clock rates, the six models do not differ much from each other until a display resolution of 1920x1440. The advantage of the EVGA card, for example, does not matter much in such a high resolution because it is the amount of graphics memory that’s important then: the six models all slow down suddenly, losing not only to the GeForce 8800 GTS 640MB, but also to the Radeon X1950 XTX and GeForce 7950 GX2.

In other words, there is no reason to search for a specific model of GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB to play Battlefield 2142. Each of them is going to ensure a comfortable performance with enabled 4x FSAA in resolutions up to 1600x1200 inclusive.

Call of Juarez

The game is too heavy on the computer’s graphics subsystem and the GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB can only run it with a comfortable speed at 1280x1024 only. Even so, the min speed bottoms out to below the critical 25fps point. There is almost no difference between the six models of GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB, but they are all somewhat faster than the GeForce 8800 GTS 640MB for some reason. The GeForce 7950 GX2 turns in the best result here, yet it cannot make a breakthrough to the next resolution, its advantage being a mere 10%. Moreover, Nvidia’s previous-generation GPUs offer a lower-quality anisotropic filtering.

The EVGA card with its highest GPU and memory clock rates among the participating products is surely superior in higher resolutions. It is 13-14% ahead of the cards with reference frequencies, yet this doesn’t mean much considering the average speed of 28-32fps. The Gainward has the smallest performance growth while the Foxconn and XFX cards are in between it and the EVGA because their shader processors are not overclocked and work at the standard frequency of 1188MHz.

So, it’s all similar to Battlefield 2142 here. The choice of a particular version of GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB must be based upon your personal preferences, price and availability rather than on performance.

Command & Conquer 3

The game has a frame rate limiter, so you should look at the min speed numbers. The accuracy of control over the war units depends on the min speed in the first place.

The considerably higher clock rates of the EVGA e-GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB KO ACS3 indeed ensure it a certain advantage in terms of minimum speed, at least at a resolution of 1280x1024 pixels. The difference between 23fps and 25fps is elusive, yet it’s good to have some reserve of speed.

Otherwise, the six versions of GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB are all doing well enough. All of them, together with the senior model and the Radeon X1950 XTX, allow playing in every resolution including 1920x1200. The GeForce 7950 GX2 is hardly suitable for playing Command & Conquer due to some problems with support of this game in SLI mode: its minimum speed is too low even in the lowest display resolution, so you cannot avoid slowdowns and jerkiness running the game on that graphics card.

Company of Heroes

The game works with problems in the eye candy mode if the Ultra level of detail is selected. Therefore we tested the cards using anisotropic filtering only.

It is the graphics memory amount that is the main performance-limiting factor for the GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB. All the six models of the card are about 35% behind the GeForce 8800 GTS 640MB at a resolution of 1280x1024. They differ but slightly between themselves, by no more than 1.4fps. And although the average frame rate of the cards is quite high, the minimum speed is not higher than 21fps. This means that you are going to have slowdowns in graphically intensive scenes.

So, the outcome is the same here as in the previous tests: the GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB all behave in a similar way notwithstanding the difference in their clock rates. Having half the amount of memory of the GeForce 8800 GTS 640MB, they don’t suit well for playing Company of Heroes. If you’ve already got a Radeon X1950 XTX or a GeForce 7950 GX2, there is no sense in replacing it with a GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB for the purpose of playing this game – you’ll just have lower performance.

Gothic 3

Working at higher frequencies the EVGA is ahead of all the other models of GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB. It is 14% faster than the cards with reference frequencies. The Foxconn and XFX cards with non-overclocked shader processors deliver a 10% performance boost. The Gainward Bliss Golden Sample provides a performance bonus of less than 5% as its GPU frequency is increased by only 27MHz above the default. All these models are considerably slower than the Radeon X1950 XTX especially in terms of minimum speed. This indicates a lack of graphics memory or ineffective memory management.

We are talking about 1280x1024 resolution because the average frame rate of the GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB is hardly higher than 25fps even then. And again, you can’t have comfortable gaming conditions with a min speed of 13-15fps whereas the Radeon X1950 XTX ensures 24fps.

Neverwinter Nights 2

Starting with version 1.04 this game allows using FSAA, so we tested it in the eye candy mode. Neverwinter Nights 2 declares support for HDR, yet this mode is not fully implemented by the developer and is not operational in the current version of the game. Perhaps this situation will change with more patches.

You want to have a frame rate of higher than 15fps for the game to respond to your commands normally. Unfortunately, none of the versions of GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB included into this review can hold above that mark, although the EVGA card is close to that with its min speed of 13fps. It’s obviously a memory management issue since the GeForce 8800 GTS 640MB easily provides a frame rate of 30fps with slowdowns to 19fps. The GeForce 7950 GX2 performs quite successfully, too, while the Radeon X1950 XTX is very close to the results of the GeForce 8800 GTS 320. Perhaps the game engine is optimized for Nvidia’s architecture, e.g. for its large number of TMUs.

The results suggest that the GeForce 8800 GTS 320, even though a technically advanced solution, is not the best choice for playing Neverwinter Nights 2. Perhaps there will be improvements with the release of new versions of ForceWare. We’ll check this out as soon as we transfer our test platforms to Windows Vista.

Splinter Cell: Double Agent

Adding the “-ll” command into the game launch icon, we successfully started it up on our GeForce 8800 cards. However, the game did not allow to use FSAA and HDR simultaneously, so we enabled the latter option for our tests as it had a bigger effect on the image quality.

At 1280x1024 the EVGA card is about 8% ahead of the GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB with reference frequencies. The XFX and Foxconn cards are 7% ahead. This does not bring the player any tangible benefits, though. The six reviewed cards all deliver high performance. Their speeds are enough for playing a third-person shooter since this game genre doesn’t have as strict requirements as first-person shooters or simulators have for which the accuracy of control is crucial.

At a resolution of 1600x1200 the advantage of the e-GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB KO ACS3 increases to 16%, but the min speed of every version of GeForce 8800 GTS, including the senior version with 640MB of onboard memory, lowers to below 25fps, so this mode is not really comfortable to play in. The owner of a Radeon X1950 XTX can use that resolution without fearing that the game speed may plummet below comfortable level.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl

The game looks best with the dynamic lighting model, so we tested it in that mode although it does not allow enabling FSAA even on those graphics cards that support FSAA together with HDR. The resolution of 1920x1200 cannot be used by owners of GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB because the game needs more graphics memory to run than such cards offer.

The EVGA e-GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB KO ACS3 is a mere 5% ahead of the ordinary versions of GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB with reference GPU/memory frequencies. All the six cards deliver similar speeds in S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Although this speed is not very high, its minimum is never lower than 26fps. You can achieve a higher frame rate by disabling the dynamic lighting, but the image quality will suffer as a consequence.

So, you can play S.T.A.L.K.E.R. successfully on a GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB, at least at a resolution of 1280x1024 pixels, but there is no sense in purchasing this card instead of a Radeon X1950 XTX, Radeon X1900 XT or GeForce 7950 GX2. But if you’ve still got a weaker card in your system, the GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB will make a good replacement. The choice of a particular model depends on your personal preferences, price and availability since even the pre-overclocked models do not ensure any tangible advantage in this game.

Supreme Commander

The EVGA card enjoys a considerable advantage over the cards with the reference frequencies, from 6% to 12-14% depending on the display resolution. The cards from Foxconn and XFX have a smaller advantage, from 4-5% to 10-12%. The Gainward card outperforms the non-overclocked versions of GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB by over 1fps at a resolution of 1920x1200 pixels only.

The difference between the average and minimum speeds is even smaller here than in Command & Conquer 3 and every version of GeForce 8800 GTS, with 320MB or 640MB of memory, ensures comfortable gaming conditions whereas the graphics cards with the traditional architecture are limited to 1600x1200 resolution. Lacking a SLI profile for this game, the dual-processor GeForce 7950 GX2 is limited to 1280x1024 even.

Like in every one case, the pre-overclocking of a graphics card by the manufacturer does not bring about a critical performance growth. If you want to have the fastest GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB, choose the EVGA e-GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB KO ACS3, yet this won’t affect your playing comfort. You can play Supreme Commander just as comfortably on any other version of GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB.

Conclusion

Just like in the previous article devoted to different GeForce 8800 GTX models called The Invincibles: GeForce 8800 GTX Roundup, our primary goal is to single out all highs and lows of the solutions participating in our today’s GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB roundup. We will sum up everything we have discussed today from different prospective and draw our conclusions in such aspects as performance, overclocking, originality and accessories bundle.

Performance

The indisputable leader in this category is EVGA e-GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB KO ACS3, because this graphics card works at the highest nominal frequencies of all our today’s testing participants. Depending on the game, its performance advantage may vary between 0 and 14-16%, however, in none of those cases this advantage is high enough to allow us to shift to higher screen resolution than what the other versions of GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB provide. Although we have to admit that there are cases when it outperforms GeForce 8800 GTS 640MB.

The same is true for Foxconn FV-N88SMCD2-ONOC and XFX GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB DDR3 XXX Edition, that boast smaller performance advantage. Gainward Bliss 8800GTS that overclocked least of all the other testing participants this time hardly differs from the solutions running at reference GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB frequencies. And as for the performance of Asustek Computer EN8800GTS/HTDP/320M and Gigabyte Technology GV-NX88S320H-B-RH, they run exactly as fast as the reference Nvidia GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB would.

So, if you have to get all the performance possible, then the best choice for you would be the EVGA solution. However, in general, all of the solutions tested today offer more or less equal level of performance.

Overclocking

Overclocking is mostly determined by combination of random factors, and in case of GeForce 8800 it is becoming even more complicated because the GPU has two domains with different frequencies. Moreover, the ratio between these frequencies may also be different depending on the graphics adapter model offered by the selected manufacturer.

If we take a complex approach to evaluating the results of our overclocking experiments, then the winner’s laurels will go to Asustek Computer EN8800GTS/HTDP/320M. If we take each parameter and consider it independently, then EVGA e-GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB KO ACS3 will be the leader in shader processor frequency, while Foxconn and XFX solutions will boast higher memory speeds. At the same time, the latter two solutions will have the slowest shader processors, while the results demonstrated by the EVGA card are determined by the higher nominal frequencies.

So, if you are going to get down to overclocking experiments on your own, we would recommend you to go for one of the GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB solutions running at reference speeds or for EVGA e-GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB KO ACS3 graphics card. It is quite possible that you can achieve good results even with those graphics cards that feature only the main domain pre-overclocked by the manufacturer, but it may require BIOS modifications and reflashing – something you need to be comfortable with.

You shouldn’t expect the graphics memory of GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB to break any records. All models that we have tested in our lab come equipped with Hynix HY5RS573225AFP-11 chips with 900MHz (1800MHz) nominal working frequency. The final result will most likely be close to 1000MHz (2000MHz), but hardly any higher than that, unless you are lucky to find a card equipped with faster memory chips.

Originality

This time we had a highly original solution among our testing participants. Of course, I am talking about EVGA e-GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB KO ACS3. However, the unusual rectangular casing hides the very well-familiar GeForce 8800 GTS cooling system, which is very efficient and hence doesn’t need to be replaced with anything else. The main peculiarity of the EVGA solution is the additional heatsink that should cool down the reverse side of the PCB, which is often left unattended even though it heats up quite tangibly.

Other five models of GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB based graphics cards are none other but reference designs manufactured for Nvidia by their contractors and then shipped to their partners as ready solutions. They only differ from one another by the brand name stickers on the coolers. I doubt that this factor may affect the choice of a particular model, especially since the card cooler will be facing down when installed into your system anyway, so you won’t be able to see the sticker even through a transparent side panel of your case.

Accessories

As we have already said, accessories bundle is a true field for experiments when it comes to high-end solutions. In our today’s case, it is only limited by the manufacturer’s imagination when it comes to attracting the customers.

We are witnessing real rivalry here between Asustek Computer EN8800GTS/HTDP/320M and Foxconn FV-N88SMCD2-ONOC, because both solutions come accompanied with the richest bonuses. In the first case you will get two high-quality games and a licensed copy of 3DMark06 benchmarking suite, while in the second case – a convenient gamepad and useful software for emergency system recovery and work with disk images. The choice is yours in this case and depends on your preferences, but from our standpoint Foxconn’s bundle looks preferable for practical reasons.

Besides higher working frequencie sand modified cooling system, EVGA e-GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB KO ACS3 can offer you a full version of Dark Messiah of Might and Magic game, and Gigabyte GV-NX88S320H-B-RH – a licensed copy of Warhammer 40.000 Dawn of War: Dark Crusade game. Here it all depends on the user’s gaming preferences: whether you are fond of RPG or strategies. Besides, it is evident that accessories are not the primary highlight of the EVGA solution.

Gainward Bliss 8800GTS 320MB GS and XFX GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB DDR3 XXX Edition come with the most modest accessories bundle of all our today’s GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB based testing participants. The XFX solution doesn’t come even with the power converter, however since all contemporary power supply units feature the corresponding connector, this is not a problem at all. Ganwais boasts a little better set of accessories, because it comes with CyberLink software bundle, but if you don’t really need it, then you may as well go with the XFX solution.

Summary

So, let’s sum up the results in each of the above discussed nominations:

EVGA solution wins in two nominations out of four. Great job, EVGA! But all in all, each of the six Nvidia GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB based graphics cards we have discussed is a great purchase, especially if you do not care that much about rich accessories bundle. Anyway, the performance difference between these graphics cards is not high enough to affect the gaming process noticeably. If the onboard memory is not enough for some of the games, then it affects any of the GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB solutions tested today.

I have to say that buying a card like that is especially reasonable and acute for the owners of not very powerful previous generation solutions. Among them are Nvidia GeForce 7600/7900 GS/7950 GT and AMD Radeon X1600/1650 XT/1950 Pro as well as all slower graphics cards. The thing is that in some cases GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB doesn’t outperform the flagship solutions with non-unified architecture, such as AMD Radeon X1950 XTX (and even Radeon X1900 XT) or GeForce 7950 GX2. Sometimes, these guys even beat GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB significantly.

However, GeForce 7950 GX2 is anyway worth replacing because the GeForce 7 drivers for Windows XP haven’t been updated for over half a year, and the quality performance of this graphics card in SLI mode depends a lot on proper software support. But I believe the owners of graphics cards like that have much greater budget at their disposal, so they are more likely to go for more powerful new generation graphics solutions such as GeForce 8800 GTX or Radeon HD 2900 rather than GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB officially selling for $299.