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XFX 8800GTS 512MB (G92) Alpha Dog Edition Review

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SKYMTL

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XFX 8800GTS 512MB Alpha Dog Edition Review




Manufacturer Product Page: TBD
Product Number: PV-T88G-YDF4
Availability: Now
Warranty: Double Lifetime
Price: Click here to compare price


This is a great time to be a consumer looking for a new graphics card. Over the last few weeks we have been inundated with new cards from every quarter which have all been firmly focused at the more budget-minded enthusiast. With the release of the G92-based 8800GT, Nvidia released what some punters are calling the most popular graphics card of all time. Even though it was popular, the 8800GT proved to be next to impossible to find due to some serious supply shortages and the prices skyrocketed above the original MSRP. Finally, the shortages of this card seem to have ended….just in time for another new release from Nvidia: the G92-based 8800GTS 512MB. Or as I like to call it: “yes, another 8800GTS”.

While the 8800GT was aimed at offering a massive amount of performance for every one of your hard earned dollars, Nvidia is hoping their new 8800GTS will appeal to consumers looking for something with a little more power at a little higher price. Basically, what Nvidia is looking to do with this card is increase their lead over ATI’s recently released HD3870 which (like the 8800GT) is selling faster than they can be produced. There have been a few changes made to this card to differentiate it from the GT but we will get into that a little later. At this point, it is sufficient to say that Nvidia a firing on all cylinders these days and I have high expectations for this card. Something that also sets Nvidia apart from the competition is the sheer number of their board partners that offer lifetime warranties. Unlike the HD3870 launch where you would have had a snowball’s chance in hell to find an ATI card with a lifetime warranty, there will be quite a few manufacturers offering lifetime warranties on their 8800GTS 512MB cards.

Now that we have all that out of the way, let’s talk a bit about the availability of these new 8800GTS 512MB cards. Unfortunately, we are not hearing much out of our usual contacts but that could mean one of two things: either they have plenty of stock and are not panicking or have already hung themselves from the nearest doorframe rather than going through another 8800GT-like launch. Personally, I think that stock will be a bit tight due to popularity but not to the extent like we saw with the 8800GT. Pricing will pretty much run the gamut and these cards will be priced between $360-$400 CAD which represents about a $100 increase in price from the GT. Meanwhile, the XFX 8800GTS 512MB Alpha Dog Edition we are reviewing today comes in at a pretty trim $374.99 or thereabouts.

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SKYMTL

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The Revised and Still Confusing Nvidia Lineup

The Revised and Still Confusing Nvidia Lineup

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Over the last month we have seen Nvidia’s lineup expand with some very interesting offerings but at the same time the naming conventions have become increasingly muddled. For whatever reason, Nvidia seems to be unwilling to move away from the “8800” moniker and even with this latest release; we are seeing ANOTHER 8800-series card. So now we have the GTX, GTS cards equipped with 320MB, 512MB and 640MB of memory and GT cards with 512MB and 256MB of memory. Confused yet? A little while ago we even reviewed another 8800GTS 640MB card with 112 Stream Processors (not in the chart above) instead of the regular 96 which further adds to the head scratching of the consumer. Luckily, Nvidia has also chosen this time to begin trimming their lineup a bit by discontinuing the 8800GTS 640MB and 320MB. There will also be a gradual rollback of 8800GTX and 8800 Ultra production until they are no longer available through retailers.

After that introduction we may as well get onto the star of today’s show: the brand new 8800GTS 512MB. This G92-based card shares a lot of similarities with the amazingly popular 8800GT but packs a bit more firepower under the hood with more Stream processors and higher stock clock speeds than its smaller sibling. With a GPU running at 650Mhz and 512MB of GDDR3 memory running at a blistering 1940Mhz, the specifications of the 8800GTS 512MB look a lot like those of the EVGA 8800GT Superclocked Edition we reviewed. Yet, the new GTS has a leg up on the GT in terms of the all-important Stream processors where it has 128 which equal the number found on the 8800GTX.

All of these specifications may sound great until it becomes apparent that the 8800GTS 512MB is saddled with the same 256-bit memory interface as many lower-priced cards. While the difference between it and a 512-bit interface may not be noticed at lower resolutions, the 256-bit interface will cause some bottlenecking at higher resolutions or when higher instances of AA and AF are enabled. Just how much of a performance hit this will cause will be seen in our tests.
 

SKYMTL

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The XFX 880GTS 512MB Alpha Dog Edition

The XFX 8800GTS 512MB Alpha Dog Edition

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In the graphics card industry, the name XFX carries with it respect from enthusiasts everywhere. They are known for offering some of the most heavily overclocked cards on the market and backing them up with an outstanding warranty and great customer service. In this review we will be putting XFX’s new 8800GTS 512MB Alpha Dog Edition under the microscope. Unlike quite a few XFX cards, this Alpha Dog Edition does not come pre-overclocked even though it carries with it a funky name. To tell you the truth, there is nothing performance-wise that would distinguish this 8800GTS 512MB from all the other stock-clocked cards. XFX will have their typical XT and XXX versions out around the same time as this card is released so if you want slightly more performance than the Alpha Dog will give you, those cards may be a good choice.

With the Alpha Dog Edition, XFX offers you a full version of the game Company of Heroes as well as XFX’s unique Double Lifetime Warranty. I find the game a great addition since it is (in my opinion) one of the best RTS games released in the past few years and it offers a large amount of added value to this card from XFX.

The Double Lifetime Warranty is completely unique in the industry and it offers the best protection on your investment compared to the warranties offered by other companies. Not only does it offer you a lifetime warranty but it also offers a lifetime warranty to the NEXT person to own your card if you choose to sell it. This will usually mean that XFX cards with this warranty will command a price premium when they are sold on EBay or the For Sale areas in forums. This warranty will also not be voided by the installation of an aftermarket heatsink or overclocking. For more about this warranty, please go here: XFX - Support


Packaging and Accessories

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Upon first glance the box of the XFX Alpha Dog seems a bit on the small side compared to other graphics cards we have seen in the past year. I actually remember receiving an 8800GTX card a few months back in a box whose size defied my imagination. Well, with the recent focus upon “going green” many companies have drastically cut down on their packaging size which not only helps the environment but it also helps their bottom lines.

Even though the box itself is small, it contains all of the information one would expect. Something that is conspicuously missing is the usual Double Lifetime Warranty sticker seen on nearly all other XFX boxes. Maybe XFX had to get these cards out in a rush before anyone could pop the stickers on them.

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The 8800GTS 512MB card itself is lovingly embraced in form-fitting Styrofoam which protects it quite well against any mishandling it may encounter on its way to you.

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The accessory bundle is quite complete with the inclusion of a full copy of Company of Heroes, a driver CD, a single DVI to VGA adaptor and a HDTV Out connector. On the other hand, the documentation is pretty basic with a single page Quick Start Guide and a Tips and Tricks guide. There is also the inclusion of what may be the geekiest thing I have seen in a long time: a sign for your door handle that says “I’m gaming, do not disturb”.
 

SKYMTL

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A Closer Look at the XFX 8800GTS 512MB

A Closer Look at the XFX 8800GTS 512MB

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The first thing that will jump out at you when you first see the new 8800GTS 512MB is the fact that it is equipped with a dual slot cooler. Frankly, I think that Nvidia realized that their stock cooler on the original 8800GT would not put up with the extra heat generated by this card and designed a new heatsink. XFX has kept the stock Nvidia heatsink but has done away with the standard Nvidia stickers and has applied their own Alpha Dog themed motif.

The total length of the card stands at 9” from tip to toe which should not pose a problem with the majority of ATX cases on the market today.

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The fan assembly on these new 800GTS 512MB cards definitely bucks some longstanding traditions with its overall design. While the fan itself looks like it would be right at home on an older 8800GTS or GTX, on these cards it is much thinner and it is angled downwards towards the main heatsink fins. This definitely makes for an interesting and unique profile to the dual slot heatsink. Personally, I think the whole thing looks a bit awkward but if it works, who am I to complain?

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One side of the heatsink holds a small GeForce logo which was first seen on the 8800GT cards but it is now slightly larger. If you have a standard ATX case layout, this little touch looks great but if you have an “inverted” layout like that seen on many Lian Li cases, it will unfortunately be upside down. Also, as you can see the SLI connector is hidden by the large heatsink but it is still easily accessible.

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In order to get the fan at its odd angle, the back of the heatsink is jacked up on what looks to be plastic stilts. While it definitely does not look too attractive, I am guessing Nvidia had a good reason for angling their fan downwards. This vaulting of the fan also makes it possible for the back of the heatsink to clear the capacitors which are located at the rear of the PCB.

The backplate of the 8800GTS 512MB has an exhaust grille for the hot air as well as a pair of DVI connectors and a single HDTV Out jack. You can also see a pair of screws which are used to hold the backplate flush with the heatsink.

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There really isn’t much to see on the back of the PCB but what I would like to bring to your attention is the mind-boggling number of screws which hold down the heatsink. All told, there are seventeen (including the two already mentioned on the backplate) which makes removing the stock heatsink a bit tedious. One way or another, lets get to stripping that thing off.
 

SKYMTL

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Under the Heatsink

Under the Heatsink

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After removing all those 17 screws, we get a view of the naked PCB and all the components attached onto it. The G92 core is laid bare and makes direct contact with the copper plate of the heatsink instead of using an IHS like the older G80 based cards. This ensures quicker heat transfer between the core and the heatsink. The PCB itself is a bit lighter green than I am used to seeing on graphics cards.

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The ram used on this card is Qimonda HYB18H512321BF-10 GDDR3 modules in a 64MB x 8 layout. These modules are rated at 1.0Ghz (2Ghz DDR) so there should be at least a bit of overclocking headroom.

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From some labeling on the DVI connector covers as well as some silk-screened logos on the PCB it looks like Foxconn is the manufacturer of this particular card. Some of you may be saying right now: “but doesn’t Nvidia make these cards?” Well, the answer is no; Nvidia makes the GPU core while they subcontract the actual production of the card to large manufacturers such as Foxconn, Flextronics and PC Partner.

The back of the 8800GTS 512MB differs a bit from that of the GT; there is an extra bank of VRM modules as well as a pair of additional capacitors.

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By looking closer at the core of the XFX 8800GTS 512MB, we can see that this is labeled as the G92-400 while the 8800GT has the G92-270 designation. This is still based off of the same 65nm manufacturing process which should offer some measure of power consumption savings over previous cards.

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I never include a close-up shot of the stock heatsink base but I felt that I had to in this situation since the finish of the copper contact plate is nothing short of horrible. Even though it looks a bit reflective in this picture, I can tell you right now it is anything but; it is full of ridges and has even begun to tarnish slightly along one edge. The apple has fallen very far from the tree in this case since the stock G80 heatsink bases held well-honed copper contact plates. I was hoping for an improvement from the older heatsink quality but this is definitely a step in the wrong direction.
 

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: LG Flatron L2000CN-BF (1600X1200, 1280x1024)
OS: Windows Vista Ultimate x64


Graphics Cards:

XFX 8800GTS 512MB Alpha Dog Edition
Asus 8800GTX 768MB (stock)
Nvidia 8800GT 512MB (stock)
ATI Radeon HD3870 512MB (Stock)
Gigabyte HD2900XT 512MB (stock)


Drivers:

ATI Catalyst 7.11
Nvidia 169.12
Nvidia 169.06 (8800GTS 512MB)


Applications Used:

3DMark06 Professional
Call of Juarez
Company of Heroes
Crysis
Half Life 2: Episode 2
Lost Planet: Extreme Condition
Prey
PT Boats: Knights of the Sea
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

- It is VERY important to note that we are using updated drivers. Thus, some scores may be different from our last reviews.
 

SKYMTL

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1280 x 1024 Resolution Testing (DX9)

1280 x 1024 Resolution Testing (DX9)


3DMark06 Professional

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The new 8800GTS 512MB seems to be running away with this test. It is about 10% faster than the stock 8800GT and handily beat out the 8800GTX as well.


Company of Heroes

Company of Heroes from Canadian developer Relic has been widely held as one of the greatest RTS games of all time while also being one of the most stressful games on the graphics card. There are very few instances in this game that will not make your graphics card beg for mercy and as such it makes a great benchmarking tool. Instead of using a typical mission (which seems to have given odd results more often than not when used with FRAPS) we are now using the in-game benchmarking tool which seems to give MUCH more consistent results

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Half Life 2: Episode 2

Half Life 2: Episode 2 is the newest installment 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.

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Lost Planet: Extreme Condition

This game was one of the first to jump into the DX10 pool. It provides some pretty good visuals while being very fun to play. In this test we ran through the retail version’s in-game benchmark 4 times and averaged out the scores we received in each area.

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World in Conflict

This is one stunning game. World in Conflict has provided me with some of my most memorable gaming experiences since the first Homeworld game was released and it has not stopped wowing me. This is a brand new benchmark for us and with all of the bangs and whistles turned on; this is a great benchmark for any graphics card out there.

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Prey

Even though Prey may be a bit older game compared against many of the other ones we are testing, it still provides a workout of even the best graphics cards on the market. This time we have enabled its Graphics Boost feature (Gboost in the charts) and run through a custom timedemo.

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Results Analysis

At this resolution, the performance displayed by the XFX 8800GTS 512MB Alpha Dog Edition is quite impressive without AA turned on. In some tests it was only about 10% better than the 8800GT which really isn’t anything to write home about but in others it walked away with very impressive numbers. In Company of Heroes this 8800GTS really shone by thoroughly trouncing the 8800GTX even though it really comes down to semantics when the scores are hovering above 100FPS. This card also pulls ahead in Half Life 2 Episode 2 where it seems the high clock speed of the core works to increase the scores. So far I am pretty impressed with the results but let’s see if they can carry into DX10 and higher resolutions as well.
 

SKYMTL

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1280 x 1024 Resolution Testing (DX10)

1280 x 1024 Resolution Testing (DX10)


Crysis

This is the big one. Crysis has quickly become the 2000lb gorilla in the room with its amazingly realistic graphics that beggar any system on the block. For these tests the in-game benchmark was used and completed all 4 runs in 32-bit mode. And average was then taken from all 4 runs.

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Call of Juarez

Other than being one of the first benchmarkable DX10 games, Call of Juarez also received luke-warm reviews but it provides some stunning visuals. To benchmark this game we used the in-game benchmark tool and ran it 4 times to give an average score.

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Company of Heroes

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World in Conflict

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PT Boats: Knights of the Sea

Russian developer Akella has released a nifty little DX10 benchmark centered around their upcoming game PT Boats: Knights of the Sea. Due to a bug in the software, the demo refuses to run on any graphics card with under 512MB of ram if AA is turned on. So this time I benched without AA turned off.

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Lost Planet: Extreme Condition

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Results Analysis

When it comes to more graphics-intensive DX10 programs, the XFX 8800GTS 512MB looks a whole lot better than it did in DX9. In most tests it trailed slightly behind the 8800GTX but increased its lead over the lower-priced 8800GT when AA was turned on. However, when playing without AA the 8800GT and XFX 8800GTS 512MB were fighting it out neck and neck more often than not.

As for Crysis….well, what can be said about it? The only way DX10 was playable was if we completely turned off AA and even then there were some massive slowdowns. It doesn’t look like Nvidia’s new driver does much to improve performance in this demanding game but I am sure revisions are on their way along with new patches for the game.
 

SKYMTL

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1600 x 1200 Resolution Testing (DX9)

1600 x 1200 Resolution Testing (DX9)

Company of Heroes

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Half Life 2: Episode 2

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Lost Planet: Extreme Condition

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World in Conflict

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Prey

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Results Analysis

Once again the XFX 8800GTS 512MB really flies in Company of Heroes and Prey but falters in games like Lost Planet where the 8800GT gains quite a bit of ground. The 10% performance improvement comes up again versus the GT but at these resolutions we really begin to see the 256-bit memory interface take its toll and because of this the 8800GTX is able to walk all over the 8800GTS 512MB in some tests.

At about this point I’m sure all the GTX owners out there are busy hoisting a cold one to Nvidia since they know their year-old card is still at the top in terms of performance more often than not.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Messages
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1600 x 1200 Resolution Testing (DX10)

1600 x 1200 Resolution Testing (DX10)


Crysis

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Call of Juarez

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Company of Heroes

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World in Conflict

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PT Boats: Knights of the Sea

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Lost Planet: Extreme Condition

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Results Analysis

While performance in Company of Heroes looks very good (I know, I’m starting to sound like a broken record) it is apparent that the XFX 8800GTS 512MB is bottlenecked by its memory interface at this resolution. On the other hand, performance was always above that of the 8800GT and sometimes to quite significant amounts in some tests where it comes close to GTX performance.

You know what’s coming up next: a quick discussion about Crysis results and to be honest, they are absolutely pathetic. The XFX 8800GTS 512MB gets eaten alive by the GTX even though not one card provides a playable framerate in DX10. Whether this is a driver issue or some other problem with DX10 optimizations, has yet to be determined. For some reason, the G92-based cards suffer more than others in Crysis DX10 at this resolution but hopefully upcoming driver revisions will help correct this. One thing is certain though: in order to play Crysis at 1600x1200 you need bucketloads of ram and at memory bus which is above 256-bit.
 
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