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ASUS EN8800GT TOP 512MB Graphics Card Review

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SKYMTL

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ASUS EN8800GT TOP 512MB Graphics Card Review




Manufacturer Product Page: ASUSTeK Computer Inc.
Product Number: EN8800GT TOP/G/HTDP/512M
Availability: Now
Warranty: 3-Year
Price: Approx. $260


ASUS is a company which has been catering to the enthusiast computer component market for longer than most of us can remember but at the same time they have a presence in nearly every other area of the computer market as well. From laptops to monitors and from barebones units to high-performance motherboards, they have it all and from our experience, every one of their products sticks to the same ideals of quality and performance. While in the past we have reviewed mundane (a DVD drive) and innovative (their ASUS Xonar D2 sound card) gear from them, today we will be looking at a product which is aimed squarely at the high-performance gamer: the ASUS 8800GT 512MB TOP Edition with the optional Glaciator cooler.

While Nvidia and ATI have been battling it out in the trenches with their new graphics cards, their board partners have been forced to come up with innovative ways to distinguish their products from the competition. Some of them forego the reference cooler and add an aftermarket heatsink while others pre-overclock their cards for increased performance over the competition. This is especially true with the 8800GT series since this card is the best selling graphics card in Nvidia’s history and board partners are chomping at the bit to get a piece of the action. Enter ASUS’ 8800GT TOP Edition, and as we will see with this card ASUS has actually gone with the best of both worlds by installing their custom Glaciator cooler while overclocking both the core and memory. As is usual for ASUS graphics cards, the TOP is considered a full retail package-type product and in this case it comes with the game Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts along with quite a few other extras. With the market full of 8800GT cards, it looks like ASUS is putting tons of effort in order to get their card recognized.

As is normal in the graphics card industry, all of these extra features contribute to make the ASUS 8800GT TOP more expensive than most competing reference-based cards. Thus, expect to pay a $30-$40 premium for this card over a standard 8800GT which puts the TOP Edition’s price at around $260. Along with this price, another slight problem presented itself for us: there is literally no way of telling if you will get the TOP Edition with the Glaciator cooler. According to ASUS, the product number EN8800GT TOP/G/HTDP/512M is valid for both (reference cooler and Glaciator) of their TOP edition cards. Indeed, as you can tell by the product page we linked you to above, even ASUS’ website does not make a distinction between the two cards. Buyer beware; try to get confirmation from store you are buying this card from regarding which version they have in stock. You may also notice that we don’t have a price listed on our price compare engine and this is due to the fact that this particular version seems extremely hard to find here in Canada.

With this card, ASUS is looking to make some waves in the graphics card market and without a doubt the 8800GT TOP looks ready to take on the big boys.


TOP-7.jpg
 
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SKYMTL

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The Current Nvidia Lineup / ASUS TOP Edition Specs

A Closer Look at the Nvidia Lineup

TOP-19.jpg

The current Nvidia lineup is finally beginning to look a bit clearer. Can you hear the sarcasm in that statement? Even though things have become more confusing than one of Steven Hawking’s physics calculations, this orgy of choices only benefits the consumer in the long run…even though that same consumer will be scratching his head over what to buy. Indeed, as Nvidia makes its transition to the 65nm manufacturing process, cards like the 8800GTX, 8800Ultra and 8800GTS 640/320MB cards have been discontinued while other cards have and will be taking their places like the recently-released 9800GTX.

Since our initial 8800GT 512MB review, there has been a literal explosion of cards based off of the G92 core and some of them have been limited production, manufacturer-specific products. The 8800GS came into the market as well as the 8800GT 256MB and both of these cards have been selling reasonably well while playing second fiddle to the 8800GT and 8800GTS 512MB cards. Even the highly anticipated 9-series has made its debut in the guise of the 9600GT and 9800GTX. Yet, all of this is window dressing since the real star of the show is still the 8800GT 512MB. From a price/performance standpoint, it is extremely hard to beat.


ASUS EN8800GT 512MB TOP Specifications

TOP-20.jpg

The ASUS 8800GT TOP carries with it a healthy overclock of 100Mhz on the core and 200Mhz (DDR) on the memory over stock speeds. While the memory overclock is in-line with many of the other overclocked cards on the market, the 15% GPU core overclock makes this ASUS card one of the faster 8800GT 512MB cards we have seen. Usually, overclocked cards do not perform much faster than their reference-speed brethren when it comes to actual gameplay and this is because the overclocks are usually quite minor. Thus, the 100Mhz overclock we have with this card may actually translate into some actual gameplay benefits.

Considering the ease of which we can now overclock our own graphics cards with programs such as Rivatuner, pre-overclocking may seem a bit counter-intuitive to some of us. However, there are many consumers out there who prefer to have a pre-overclocked card rather than risk voiding their warranty (modder-friendly warranties aside) by boosting clock speeds themselves. They do not mind paying a slight premium for a product which will perform better than the reference design right out of the box. It is for these people that ASUS has released their TOP editions.
 
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SKYMTL

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Packaging and Accessories

Packaging and Accessories


ASUS has packaged their 8800GT 512MB in a gargantuan box which is bedecked with a picture depicting and Allied and an Axis officer from the cover of Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts. The rest of the graphics hold the usual marketing speech which includes performance projections as well as mention of the different software you get with this card. Meanwhile, the back of the box contains a more detailed description of the features and specifications.


The entire top of the box can flip open to reveal yet more information about Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts as well as information about ASUS’ proprietary overclocking, monitoring and screenshot-taking software called GamerOSD.


What we have been seeing in the past few photos is actually a cardboard sleeve which holds all the marketing and is slipped over a plain white box which holds the card and all of the accessories. The card is nestled into the protective embrace of a polystyrene cutout in the leftmost portion of the box and is additionally protected in an anti static bag. All of the accessories are pushed off to the side and they all get their own small compartment so they do not go flying all over the place during transport.


As is expected with any ASUS graphics card, the accessory package is more than complete. You get:

- Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts (Full Version)
- Driver CD
- Software CD
- HDTV-out connector
- DVI to VGA adaptor
- Molex to 6-pin adaptor
- Instruction manual

In addition to that you get a vinyl CD wallet which is without a doubt the crowning glory of this package after the inclusion of Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts.
 
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SKYMTL

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A Closer Look at the ASUS EN8800GT 512MB TOP

A Closer Look at the ASUS EN8800GT 512MB TOP


The ASUS 8800GT TOP is based off of the reference PCB design but has the inclusion of the large Glaciator cooler which promises to lower temperatures by as much as 35% over the stock cooling solution. Even though the reference PCB design is used here, it is clad in a blue finish which gives it a bit more unique look than if the standard green PCB was used.


The VRM modules on this card are cooled by a custom gold-painted aluminum heatsink which is installed with plastic push-pins for easy removal. ASUS has designed this heatsink so it takes advantage of the natural airflow within a case in order to cool down most of the modules.


As with all other 8800GT cards, the TOP Edition uses a single SLI connector so it can be linked with another 8800GT 512MB card but is not compatible with the newer Tri-SLI technology that is only reserved for higher-end Nvidia cards. In addition, while some custom 8800GT cards have two 6-pin connectors (the Galaxy 8800GT 512MB card comes to mind) this one makes due with a single 6-pin power connector which is used to bring up to 75W to the card.


The memory modules are set up in an 8x64MB pattern for a grand total of 512MB of GDDR3. These are Qimonda HYB18H512321BF-10 modules which are rated at 1Ghz (2Ghz DDR) operation. Interestingly, these are the same modules we saw in our review of the EVGA 8800GT 512MB Superclocked card and they offered quite limited overclocking headroom due to either limited voltage or tightened timings. Hopefully, the TOP Edition we have here today will be able to overclock a little better that what we achieved with the EVGA card.

You will also notice that these ram modules do not have heatsinks on them. While we can discuss the benefits (or lack thereof) of ramsinks, on this card they would be rendered somewhat pointless since the airflow from the heatsink fan is directed directly towards them.
 
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SKYMTL

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A Closer Look at the ASUS 8800GT TOP page 2

A Closer Look at the ASUS 8800GT TOP cont’.


The back of the card has the usual reference design but we can see that the Glaciator should be easy to remove since it is held in place by a mere four screws as opposed to the stock heatsink’s twelve.


The Glaciator heatsink is a custom ASUS design which looks like a beefed up version of some of the lower-end Zalman coolers we have seen installed on graphics cards for some time now. It utilizes a center-mounted, 9 bladed fan which directs airflow downwards through the gold-painted aluminum fins and down towards the ram modules. The fan spins at a constant rate and unlike some heatsink fans, it does not have any flashy LED lights embedded in it (though some blue LEDs here would have looked amazing).


All of the aluminum fins are spaced equidistantly apart which should provide optimal cooling for the core. Overall, the Glaciator looks like a very efficient CPU cooler but its true performance will be tested in our temperature testing section.
 
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SKYMTL

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Test System & Setup

Test System & Setup

System Used

Processor: Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600 @ 3.5Ghz
Memory: 4GB Corsair Dominator DDR3 @ 1556Mhz
Motherboard: Asus Blitz Extreme
Disk Drive: Pioneer DVD Writer
Hard Drive: Seagate Barracuda 320GB SATAII
Fans: 5X Yate Loon 120mm @ 1200RPM
Monitor: Samsung 305T 30” widescreen LCD
OS: Windows Vista Ultimate x64


Graphics Cards:

ASUS 8800GT TOP
BFG 9800 GTX 512MB (stock)
ATI HD3870 X2 (Engineering Sample)
XFX 8800GTS 512MB (stock)
EVGA 8800GT 512MB (stock)


Drivers:

Nvidia 174.74 WHQL (9800 GTX)
ATI Catalyst 8.3 WHQL
Nvidia 169.25 WHQL

Due to the unpredictability of some beta drivers in Windows Vista x64, we have decided to only use WHQL drivers for all graphics cards other than the one being tested.


Applications Used:

3DMark06 Professional
Call of Juarez
Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts
Crysis
Half Life 2: Episode 2
Prey
Unreal Tournament III
World in Conflict


*Notes:

- All games tested have been patched to their latest version

- The OS has had all the latest hotfixes and updates installed

- All scores you see are the averages after 4 benchmark runs

- If the game did not support 2560 x 1600 resolution, the closest resolution to that was used

- NO demos were run. Only full games were benchmarked.
 

SKYMTL

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3DMark06

3DMark06

While some may wonder at the use of still including 3DMark06 in the tests it gives us a good idea of the basic limitations of a graphics card. Since the standard test runs at 1280x1024 there will be a fair amount of CPU bottlenecking with higher-end cards and remember that in some cases a higher 3DMark score does not equate better performance.

TOP-22.jpg

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These first tests look extremely positive for the ASUS 8800GT TOP since its performance increase in 3DMark06 is above and beyond its claimed ten percent increase over the stock 8800GT. It handles the more-expensive 8800GTS 512MB quite handily as well and is a mere 300 points away from the newly-released 9800 GTX.
 

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Crysis

Crysis

Crysis is one of those games that comes along every now and then and totally humbles every graphics card on the market. While some people have pointed towards shoddy programming, it is undeniable that this game looks ridiculously good when played at higher settings.

For this test we recorded a custom timedemo on the Harbor level equaling about 15 minutes of game time. All results were recorded with FRAPS over the course of the timedemo. All settings were set at High and DX9 mode was used.

TOP-52.jpg

TOP-51.jpg

While the ASUS card is able to take good advantage of its high clock speeds and at lower resolutions, it drops a bit behind the stock 8800GTS 512MB but that doesn’t stop it from thoroughly trouncing a stock 8800GT. Unfortunately, even this overclocked card is not able to play Crysis at high settings at anything above 1280x1024.
 

SKYMTL

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Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts DX9 / DX10

Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts DX9

Company of Heroes has always been one of our favorite RTS games with visceral firefights and a gripping campaign. Opposing Fronts is the expansion to this great game and it introduces players to British campaign to liberate France from German occupation in the weeks and months following D-Day.

In this test we ran the in-game benchmarking program and pegged all the graphics settings to their highest levels. This was done for both DX9 and DX10 modes and the framerates were averaged after 4 runs.

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Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts DX10

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Unlike the other benchmarks we have seen so far, it seems like Company of Heroes allows the extra stream processors on the 8800GTS 512MB to come into their own. Meanwhile, the 8800GT TOP makes a good showing of itself by hanging on to come in slightly behind the 8800GTS 512MB but in this game, it just isn’t enough to beat it outright.
 

SKYMTL

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Half Life II: Episode 2

Half Life II: Episode 2

Half Life 2: Episode 2 is the newest instalment in Valve’s long running Half Life series and this is without a doubt the best looking game in the series. For this benchmark a typical 10 minute exterior gameplay sequence was prerecorded and then played back using the in-game timedemo feature. The results were recorded with FRAPS.

1280 x 1024

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1600 x 1200

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2048 x 1536

TOP-26.jpg

TOP-25.jpg

As we have seen in the past, it seems like Source engine games benefit quite a bit from overclocking your graphics card and here we see this borne out once again. While some tests have the telltale signs of CPU limitation (even with a quad core at 3.5Ghz) but in other tests the ASUS 8800GT TOP pulls ahead of the 8800GTS 512MB once again.
 
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