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Gigabyte GeForce 8800 GTS Review

 

What Was that Name Again?

 

by Josh Walrath

 

Shiny Boxes, Cute Woman, and a Video Card that delivers.

            GV-NX88S640H-RH.  That rather catchy name is the product designation that Gigabyte has given its 640 MB GeForce 8800 GTS.  The 8800 series of processors from NVIDIA are currently the only DirectX 10 chips out in the wild, and as such they offer wildly extended features from previous generations, as well as performance to match.  Today NVIDIA and its partners launched the 320 MB version of the 8800 GTS, but the 640 MB version still deserves some love on its little brother’s release day.

            Gigabyte is a staple of the motherboard industry.  It consistently ranks in the top three motherboard manufacturers month in and month out and they continue to produce quality products for both motherboards and video cards.  Gigabyte also recently joined in a joint venture with Asus to produce motherboards and video cards, which then makes that combined company one of the most powerful in the world when it comes to delivering PC products.  At this time Gigabyte controls 51% of the company, so all products produced are Gigabyte branded.

            Some years back Gigabyte had some real quality issues with their products, but in the past two years the company has really seen a turnaround.  The issues in question were often exploding caps, cheap fans constantly burning out or becoming EXCEPTIONALLY loud, and some other basic issues that caused Gigabyte to have a slightly tarnished name in the enthusiast market.  In between changes in Gigabyte, as well as this new joint venture, it looks as though the dark days are over.  The build quality and overall designs of the new Gigabyte products seem much improved.

            Gigabyte has extensive production facilities, and as such produce most of their own cards and boards.  The 8800 GTS I have in my hands appears to be a reference design, but it could very well be a built by Gigabyte product.  Without having a reference board to compare with, I cannot match part numbers and components and give a definitive answer.  Considering that NVIDIA only provides boards for about the first month or two after a new product’s release, we can assume that Gigabyte has now taken over its own production of boards.  As such Gigabyte has specified what components it wants on its board.  From what I can see it is a quality built product. 

The 8800

            Three months ago NVIDIA launched the world’s first DX10 part.  Since then any enthusiast looking to get performance and features above that of the GeForce 79x0 and Radeon X19x0 series of cards have bought a GeForce 8800.  The acclaim this chip has received is well deserved.  Performance and features are the hallmarks of these products.

The package is well padded and designed for maximum protection.

            I covered the technology behind the 8800 here, but I will go over a few of the salient points.  When NVIDIA embarked upon the G80 architecture in 2002, they held nothing back.  The engineers working on this technology were very aggressive in their high level visualization of the product, as the amount of performance and quality features contained in the G80 series is nothing less than phenomenal.

            I take great pride in image quality.  I love it when a game looks like it should.  I really love it when I am moving around the game and I don’t see any strange texture and mipmap artifacts.  Same goes for jaggies.  These are two areas that NVIDIA has really focused on and fixed as compared to their earlier GeForce 6 and GeForce 7 products.  Both the GeForce 6 and 7 products are based on essentially the same architecture, and as such have texture filtering optimizations which are more performance enhanced than quality enhanced.  The GeForce 7 series had a nasty hardware bug that introduced a huge amount of texture sparkling in some applications when the “Quality” texture filtering option was enabled through the control panel.  A lot of this sparkling went away when High Quality was enabled, but the filtering still was not all that grand.  Add to that the anti-aliasing unit had not undergone a major modification since the GeForce 3 days.  While the later products added mixed multi-sampling and super-sampling modes as well as rotated sample patters for 4X AA, it was still a unit that could only do two fixed samples per clock, with a max of 4 samples per pixel (so to achieve 4X MSAA two samples were produced per clock over a stretch of two clocks).  ATI on the other hand was able to get upwards of 6 samples with programmable sample patterns.  Finally, though the 6 and 7 series of cards supported HDR, anti-aliasing could not be applied to HDR operations.

            Considering the amount of criticism that NVIDIA has received over the past few years about anti-aliasing and texture filtering quality, it is amazing to think that NVIDIA decided to focus on these image quality issues way back in 2002 when the initial design for the G80 was started.  They undoubtedly wanted the best looking and best performing part for when it would be introduced, and the basic decisions they made back then could not have come at a better time.  While some specifications have obviously changed throughout the years of development, it is great to see that NVIDIA has focused on outstanding image quality, all the while pushing advanced features.

 

Next: More Filtering

 

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