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eVGA GeForce

7300 GS

 

A Big Step Up... for Some

 

by Josh Walrath

 

            Last year I reviewed the 6200 TC from Albatron, and I came away impressed by the overall performance of such a budget part.  NVIDIA designed the 6200 series to have a significant leg up on the integrated products of that time, and with the 7300 GS they have continued to improve upon the design in terms of performance and features.

An attractive yet small box.  Quite sturdy too.

            The 7300 GS is officially NVIDIA’s first discrete desktop 90 nm part based on the G7x architecture.  This means that the 7300 supports full FP16 frame buffer support (HDR) as well as the highly touted transparency anti-aliasing that the 7 series features.  This low end part is built to be budget, and no matter how one spins this release, this is a budget part.  Is this a bad thing?  Of course not.  There are many users that demand a low cost part that will outperform the basic integrated video portion included in barebones systems from both Intel and AMD.  The current integrated parts from ATI, NVIDIA, VIA, and Intel all leave a lot to be desired in terms of 3D performance.  While these parts may be adequate for desktop applications and older 3D apps, they do not do titles such as F.E.A.R., Battlefield 2, World of Warcraft or others justice.  These parts just cannot provide the necessary performance to play these games at framerates and quality settings that are desirable.

            If we were all playing titles like Quake 2, Unreal, or Unreal Tournament, then integrated graphics would be more than adequate for the job.  As it is though, developers have leveraged the technology of the higher end graphics chips to create much more realistic and immersive titles that strain the abilities of any integrated product.  Whether these products are from Intel, ATI, or NVIDIA, the burden of rendering high quality graphics far surpasses that of any integrated solution.

            There is a distinct market between the integrated (free) graphics market and the $100 mark.  These are people who demand far better performance than the integrated solutions, yet are unwilling to spend more money to get a high end or midrange branded video card.  These are people who extensively use email, internet browsing, photo editing, and occasional gameplay in their daily lives.  They do not demand an enthusiast type video product, but rather require a certain amount of competence and performance from their graphics solution.  These are the people that demand a product such as the 7300 GS.  It is a major step up from integrated graphics, yet does not sport the price tag of enthusiast class products. 

The GeForce 7300 GS Chip (aka G72- not that your mom would know)

            This is NVIDIA’s Shader Model 3.0 budget based chip designed to replace the 6200 series.  It is a 90 nm Low-K product from TSMC, and is around 80 mm square in terms of die size.  The chip is approximately 100 million transistors, which is a fairly impressive number considering previous “big” chips of the time like the GeForce 3 (60 million), GeForce 4 (68 million), or the FX 5900 (125 million).

The contents are minimal, but it provides all the basics a user could want (except perhaps a component output cable).

            The chip features a single pixel shader quad, with each shader made up of two MADD capable ALU’s.  Each shader unit also has a texturing unit, so it has 4 texture units in total.  These feed into two FP16 capable ROPs, each of which can handle two subsamples per pass, with a maximum of two passes per pixel (for a maximum of 4 subsamples per pixel).  The chip also supports NVIDIA’s Transparency AA in both Supersampling and Multisampling form.  The chip can also do 4 z-compares per pass, which is handy in applications demanding stencil shadow rendering.  There are a total of 3 vertex shaders, which is one more than the previous 6200 chip.

            The G72 has a 64 bit memory controller (2 x 32 bit crossbar) which can address up to 512 MB of memory.  Because of its 64 bit memory path, the G73 utilizes NVIDIA’s TurboCache technology to access main memory for rendering functions.  On a 256 MB card, TC can address 256 MB of main memory, giving a total framebuffer size of 512 MB.  It also essentially doubles the memory bandwidth on this budget card when used with an Intel or AMD dual memory channel processor.

            Unlike the 6200 series, NVIDIA has enabled FP16 rendering on the 7300.  High Dynamic Range lighting (HDR) adds much more realistic lighting and effects to a scene, but unfortunately it is a very processor intensive operation.  With only two ROPS and limited memory bandwidth, the G72 is not in much of a position to utilize this functionality in a playable fashion.  Programs that utilize HDR effects run fairly slow on even the fastest G72 based card.  Users should simply not expect to be able to see much more than a slideshow when enabling HDR at a decent resolution in games such as Far Cry, Splinter Cell, and others that utilize FP16 rendering.  Valve’s version of HDR does not utilize the FP16 buffer, and so results for the G72 are slightly better when using this version of HDR.  It is still very processor intensive though, but mileage will vary depending on the material being rendered and the resolution being used.

            The G72 is a budget part, and all of its design decisions are based on that.  The 64 bit memory controller, small die size, and conservative clock speed make it a very small chip in terms of packaging.  It does not pull a large amount of power, nor does it dissipate a lot of heat.  This means that inexpensive cooling solutions can be used, as well as a simplified PCB design, not to mention the circuitry needed to power this chip.  It utilizes well below the 75 watts provided by the PEG slot, and no external power connector is needed.

 

Next: The eVGA 7300 GS

 

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