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

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SKYMTL

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Overclocking…how far can it go?

Overclocking…how far can it go?

The XFX 8800GTS 512MB is clocked at the Nvidia reference speeds so there should be a bit of headroom for both the memory and the core. Since the memory is rated at 2.0Ghz, I am hoping this will overclock exceptionally well past its current speed of 1940Mhz. Let’s see if this holds true:

Max Overclock Speeds

Core: 820Mhz
Memory: 2234Mhz (DDR)

One thing is for sure: these 65nm G92 cores can overclock like the no one’s business. These overclocks represent what was done on the standard heatsink and represent a 170Mhz overclock on the core and a 290Mhz overclock on the memory (or 21% and 13% respectively for those keeping track at home). I was a bit disappointed at a 13% memory overclock but considering the Qimonda GDDR3 modules are rated at 2000Mhz, I guess this was to be expected.

So, let’s see how these overclocks perform….


Performance Tests

3DMark06 Professional

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With the bump in clock speeds, the XFX 8800GTS 512MB really kicks the competition in the teeth. I wouldn’t be surprised to see 3DMark world records start falling in short order with these cards in SLI.


Crysis

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Crysis sees a massive performance improvement at 1600x1200 resolution without AA enabled but everything still falls to pieces once again when AA is enabled. I actually had to test the results achieved without AA turned on over and over again because I couldn’t believe my eyes…


World in Conflict

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Once again we see some huge performance improvements when the Alpha Dog is overclocked. It out muscles the 8800GTX for top honors in this test as well.
 

SKYMTL

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Temperatures & Acoustical Characteristics

Temperatures & Acoustical Characteristics

To measure temperatures I have used nTune’s temperature monitoring program to log the GPU temperatures over a 1-hour time period. The graphics cards were installed into a Gigabyte Aurora 570 case and the temperature of the room was kept at a constant 24.2°C at the beginning of each test. The side panel of the case was closed for each of these tests.

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The switch away from a single slot cooler is paying dividends for the temperatures of the G92 core used on the 8800GTS 512MB. Temperatures are the lowest I have seen out of a stock cooler even though the copper contact plate leaves a lot to be desired in terms of quality. Without a doubt, this is a very convincing result.

The older 8800-series dual slot coolers were quiet until the card was under load for a good amount of time and they kept the core relatively cool. On the other hand the original heatsink on the 8800GT was completely inadequate to the task of taming the heat produced by the G92 even though it was still dead-silent (it refused to ramp up in speed without some hands-on Rivatuner modding). Unfortunately, it seems like Nvidia got a bit scared with the heat problems on their 8800GT cards and decided to give the fan on the 8800GTS 512MB a far too aggressive speed profile. I measured 10 minutes of load under Company of Heroes until the fan was noticeably louder than anything else in my case. It stayed that way until the end of the hour test and by then it was beginning to get a bit annoying. While it was A LOT quieter than the racket put out by the HD2900XT, its sound profile did not blend into the rest of the fan noise in my case like the 8800GTX’s fan does. Simply put; if you are looking for a silent performer, this is not it.

I should also note that people’s perception of what constitutes “noise” is highly subjective and tends to vary a lot from person to person. On the other hand, I had a few friends come over and they all agreed that the XFX 8800GTS 512MB was louder than all of the other cards except the HD2900XT “dustbuster”. This is too bad because I would have been more than willing to sacrifice a few degrees in temperature for a quieter fan.

I am hoping to get my hands on another 8800GTS 512MB card soon to see if this fan speed issue was unique to this card.
 

SKYMTL

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Aftermarket Cooler Installation

Aftermarket Cooler Installation (Thermalright HR-03 Rev.A)

After the numerous positive comments about the aftermarket cooler section in the HD3870 review, I have decided to begin discussing aftermarket cooling solutions in ALL of the GPU reviews from this point forward.

This time I will be looking at the installation of a Thermalright HR-03 Rev.A onto the XFX 8800GTS 512MB. It should be noted that even though this cooler fits without a problem, it is not listed as being compatible with the G92-based cards. This is because it does not provide enough heatsinks for the VRM modules on the card. However, ramsinks are cheap these days and should not cost you more than $12 for a package of eight but it is VERY important that you use heatsinks on exposed VRM modules.

Since the hole offset around the core is identical to that of the 8600GT/GTS, any cooler which is listed to work with these cards will also work with the 8800GTS 512MB. This includes the Thermaltake DuOrb, Thermalright V2, Arctic Cooling Accelero S1, Zalman VF-900 and any other cooler which is compatible with the 7900 or 8600-series cards. The only thing that needs to be added is heatsinks for the VRM modules (4 to be exact). I can hear owners of these older heatsinks dancing in the streets even as I write this…

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Even though installing this particular heatsink is a bit of a pain on ANY card, it installed perfectly on the 8800GTS 512MB. Something to take note of is the height which is quite a bit taller than the stock heatsink when a 90mm fan is installed.

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Here you can see that I used a number of low-profile heatsinks on 3 of the VRM module clusters and a leftover VRM heatsink I had lying around (the long and narrow heatsink closest to the camera). This long heatsink could easily be replaced by a square one if that is all you have.


Performance Results

To measure temperatures I have used nTune’s temperature monitoring program to log the GPU temperatures over a 1-hour time period. The graphics cards were installed into a Gigabyte Aurora 570 case and the temperature of the room was kept at a constant 24.2°C at the beginning of each test. The side panel of the case was closed for each of these tests.

In addition, a 90mm fan operating at 1000rpm was installed.

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Even though the stock heatsink did a bang-up job of taming the heat of the 8800GTS, the Thermalright HR-03 Rev.A improves upon it in leaps and bounds. This was all done while lowering the overall acoustical footprint quite a bit by having the 90mm fan rotating at 1000rpm. The only downside of this setup is that any heat buildup will stay inside of your case instead of being exhausted out the back like the stock heatsink does.

It should also be noted that overclocks do not seem to be held back by the stock cooler and installing the HR-03 had no effect on how far I could push either the memory or the core.
 

SKYMTL

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Power Consumption

Power Consumption
<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:eek:ffice:eek:ffice" /><o:p></o:p>
<o:p>This test will be done a bit different from the last power consumption tests we have conducted. In this case Company of Heroes is now used with AA enabled to put less strain on the CPU so it will not impact as much on the results. </o:p>
<o:p></o:p>
<o:p>Please remember that this is the power consumption for the WHOLE SYSTEM.</o:p>
<o:p></o:p>
<o:p>
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</o:p>

<o:p>All in all, power consumption is quite good when looked at in comparison to cards like the 8800GTX and HD2900XT. It seems like the 65nm manufacturing process of the G92 core is contributing to bring power consumption down by quite a bit. Considering this card’s results in our tests; its performance per watt is definitely at the higher end of the spectrum. For this card I would recommend a good 500W power supply if you have the 8800GTS 512MB and a dual core processor. If you have a quad core and this card I would recommend a 600W unit and if you were to SLI 8800GTS 512MB cards I would recommend a 700W power supply.</o:p>
 

SKYMTL

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Conclusion

Conclusion

Writing this conclusion is a bit tough because the XFX 8800GTS 512MB Alpha Dog Edition presented me with such varying results, it is hard to really gauge it in any kind of light. If this card would have been released into a marketplace which was devoid of the 8800GT 512MB, things would have been a lot more clear-cut in terms of the price you pay for performance. Since the 8800GT 512MB has been on the market for the better part of 6 weeks now (albeit in limited supply) comparisons can’t help but be drawn to it at every turn. If we are speaking of pure performance and price comparisons, the difference between the 8800GT 512MB and 8800GTS 512MB is about the same we saw between the 8800GTX and the 8800 Ultra.

With ATI seemingly content to release GPUs solely in the mid-range price category, Nvidia has been left with sole ownership of the high and ultra high-end performance crowns. Thus, we see another rehash of the 8800GTS moniker but this time in 512MB flavor. Say it with me: Competition good for the consumer. As usual, I have seen a mind-boggling amount of forum posts where ATI and Nvidia fanboys jealously stake out their territory while desperately hoping the other side will fail. It bears mentioning that without competition, the market begins to stagnate and we see snail’s-pace release schedules for high-end products. Without ATI making a concerted assault on the high-end market, Nvidia is able to release a succession of mid-priced cards without having to release a high-end card that will blow our eyeballs out through the back of our heads. While this may seem like it is benefiting the consumer (which it is to some extent) we are not really seeing any groundbreaking performance number here. Nvidia has now released one 8800-series card after another which has done nothing but confuses the customers and muddies the marketplace with their repetitive naming conventions.

That being said, I think that the XFX 8800GTS 512MB Alpha Dog is a success in terms of improving on a less expensive product and offering incredible performance per watt. Many people were expecting this card to be priced very close to or above $400CAD but XFX's card is priced at an appealing $375 and may go a tad lower as well. Not once does it falter and in many cases either beats or is a few frames per second slower than the almighty 8800GTX. This card also beats the 8800GT in every single test. It is also amazing to see the kind of performance Nvidia is getting out of these G92 cards considering they are somewhat hamstrung with their 256-bit wide memory bus. Indeed, the XFX 8800GTS 512MB is definitely one hell of a fast card but it shows that its 256-bit wide memory bus is an Achilles heel at higher resolutions. Another resounding quality of this card for the enthusiast community is how well the core responds to overclocking. Even though the memory is not all that cooperative when overclocking, the kind of performance the Alpha Dog Edition is able to output when pushed to its limits is simply mind blowing. It is also good to see that this kind of overclocking can be done on the stock cooler. Truthfully, XFX can only work with what they get from Nvidia and they did a bang-up job of making this card more attractive with the inclusion of their unique warranty and Company of Heroes.

While all these results are pretty impressive, those of you hoping for a $400 GTX-killer are going to have to wait a bit longer. The XFX 8800GTS 512MB Alpha Dog lags quite far behind the GTX when AA is turned on at higher resolutions and even suffers in some games when AA isn’t on at all. There is also the matter of an overly loud fan which will get on your nerves in pretty short order. The 8800GTS 512MB is positioned as more of a niche product for people who want the best performance possible outside of the power-hungry G80-based cards.

It would also be good to remember that while the 8800GT 512MB was beat in some tests by ATI's HD3780, the XFX 8800GTS 512MB Alpha Dog trounces the ATI card by a large margin again and again. That being said, I am sure many consumers will question the 8800GTS 512MB’s place in the market. They did the same thing with the 8800 Ultra when it was released but the same was true then as it is now: the card they are questioning is a hell of a performer, except this time it doesn't come with a stratospheric price.

Pros:

- Fast at stock speeds
- Overclocks like mad
- Runs very cool
- Double Lifetime Warranty
- Includes Company of Heroes

Cons:

- Not too different in performance from the 8800GT
- 256-bit memory bus
- Fan is quite loud



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