XFX 8800 GTX review

£348
Price when reviewed

As we saw last month, the Nvidia GeForce 8800 GTX is currenty the fastest GPU in DirectX 9 games – up to 250% faster than the previous speed king, the GeForce 7950 GX2. And, crucially for keen gamers, it will also play the eagerly anticipated DirectX 10 games, which will only be available on the imminent Windows Vista release. For those who aren’t made of money, though, the pricey 8800 GTX has a smaller, cheaper sibling, the 8800 GTS.

GTX vs GTS

In architectural terms, there aren’t that many differences between the GTX and GTS. Both contain the new breed of stream processors, capable of processing vertex or pixel calculations, as well as physics or geometry data, to free up your CPU. But while the GTX has 128 of these running at 1.35GHz, the GTS has 96, running at 1.2GHz. The core clock speed is also lower, reduced from 575MHz to 500MHz. This speed governs sub-units such as setup engines, the thread dispatch engine and the ROPs (render output units), which perform the final processing on pixels, apply anti-aliasing (AA) and output pixels to the frame buffer. The GTX also has a massive 768MB of GDDR3 RAM running at 900MHz to the 640MB of GDDR3 RAM of the GTS, which runs at 800MHz.

Scores

As all current cards run at stock speeds (variants will be along shortly), there’s no performance difference between manufacturers. We tested at 1,600 x 1,200 using 4x AA and 8x AF. In Far Cry with HDR (high dynamic range) rendering enabled, all the GTS cards managed an average of 71 frames per second, while the GTXs were an amazing 35% faster, at an average of 96fps. Call of Duty 2 is usually unplayable at these settings, but the GTS scored an impressive 47fps here, while the GTX proved 28% faster at 60fps.

We repeated the in-game benchmark from Company of Heroes three times, with a reboot between each test to ensure the game was properly flushing its textures. The GTS cards again proved exceptionally speedy, with an average score of 47fps, while the GTXs were a colossal 57% faster at 74fps. Next, we used FRAPS (www.fraps.com) to record a three-minute jog along a path with wide-open views of the Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion countryside. The GTS cards scored an impressive of 53fps, while the GTXs raced along at 67fps.

In summary, the GTXs proved around 37% quicker than their GTS counterparts, and we’d expect that to translate to DirectX 10 games too. It’s worth remembering, though, that we’re some way off seeing these next-generation games: the first release of note (Electronic Arts’ Crysis) is pencilled in for May 2007.

Pick a card

With all the cards running at stock speeds, supporting HDCP (high definition content protection) and having the same quiet (and huge) cooling arrangement, the only differentiator at this stage is price and bundled extras.

If you’ve got the very latest games and a high-resolution monitor, the Inno3D 8800 GTX is the obvious choice. It’s £15 cheaper than the bundle-less XFX 8800 GTX, and the inclusion of Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter and a full copy of 3DMark06 doesn’t manage to justify the extra £77 you pay for the Asus EN8800 GTX.

However, blowing nearly £400 on a graphics card isn’t to be done lightly, so we’d advise all but the most rabid gamer to stick with a GTS. This will give you a lightning-fast card both now and under Vista, and you’ll be playing gorgeous DirectX 10 games for a good while to come. The Sparkle GeForce 8800 GTS wins out here with its lower price and the inclusion of Call of Duty 2. The extra £24 you pay for the MSI NX8800 GTS only gets you the seriously outdated Serious Sam II, while the BFG 8800 GTS comes with replacement mouse feet, a branded T-shirt and a selection of heatsink stickers.

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