I consider myself a pretty hardcore gamer. Ever since I've gotten the itch to play the latest shooters (look for me on the COD4 servers with the tag "Hiro"), I've tried my best to keep up with the best hardware for my gaming needs. I said that statement the way I did as I am still a poor student with a limited income, so my PC is fairly modest by VL standards.
VL has reviewed the 8800 GT before so it's no secret already that the GPU offers a lot of bang for the buck. At first glance, the may seem like another drop in the large 8800 GT pond. Upon closer examination though, that isn't the case as there are some differences between Gigabyte's model and the ones many manufacturers have released.
Gigabyte GV-NX88T512HP Video Card
One step away from the reference design is that the Gigabyte 8800 GT is overclocked out of the box. The GPU core is clocked at 700 MHz, 100 MHz above reference. The shader clock is also overclocked, running 1700 MHz, 200 MHz faster than the reference design. It is a PCI Express 2.0 design, which is forward thinking in upcoming board designs, but is also backwards compatible with current motherboards. The GPU itself is based on the 65nm fab process, a shrink from the 90nm of the G80 series. The hardware features a fully unified shader core which dynamically allocates processing power to geometry, vertex, physics, or pixel shading operation. High Dynamic Range (HDR) lighting capability is present and will support 128-bit precision (32-bit floating point values per component). This will obviously improve image quality and allow for more true-to-life lighting and shadows. Dark objects can appear very dark, and bright objects can be very bright, with visible details present at both extremes, in addition to rendering completely smooth gradients in between. Quantum Effects GPU-based Physics is present and it allows for physics calculations to be handled by the GPU creating a more realistic game environment. It will also free up the CPU to handle other items such as game AI.
The Gigabyte 8800 GT takes a different approach from Nvidia's reference design. The first thing that you may notice is the large cooler.
It's really no secret today's modern video cards put out a lot of heat. GPU manufacturers have gotten better, but many board vendors have to come up with good cooling solutions of their own in order to battle heat and in some cases noise. Zalman is a familiar name for many people as makers of good cooling products that do not blow out our ears.
The Zalman VF830-AlCu cooler used for the Gigabyte 8800 GT is a very large copper and aluminum designed cooler, complete with heatpipes. The Zalman effectively makes the 8800 GT a two slot card so to speak as it uses up a fair amount of real estate.
In this shot, you get a good look at how the Zalman makes contact with the GPU. Here lies the good and the bad, at least when overall cooling is concerned. The good is through testing, the Zalman did a fantastic job keeping the GPU cool. The cooler is not loud at all, and the Thermaltake V1 at medium setting I used for my CPU was louder than the Zalman. However, it seems to be a bit too loud for HTPC usage. We're using an Asus silent cooler in our Silverstone case and I can easily hear this Zalman cooler from 8 feet away. It wasn't screeching of course, but it was audible for sure.
However, the heatsink design does not move any of the heat created by the GPU out of the case. Some cards, such as those using Nvidia's reference design, use heatsinks that exhaust heat from the card and out the back of the case. With the Zalman, if your case's heat management isn't well thought out, more hot air blowing around inside the case won't help matters.
Another cooling note is the memory modules have no passive cooling attached to them. The Zalman does provide indirect cooling, but we are already anticipating this will limit our overclocking. On the topic of memory, there is 512MB of GDDR3 memory clocked at 1840 MHz and has a 256-bit memory interface capable of delivering up to 57.6 GB per second of memory bandwidth. Nvidia's reference memory speed is 1800 MHz, so unlike the other components, the memory overclock out of the box is less aggressive.
The Gigabyte 8800 GT will consume about 110W under load and therefore requires a PCIE power connection, which most modern PSUs have, but Gigabyte does include a dongle out of the box.
Gigabyte includes a video-out breakout box similar to those used by ATI. The box supports RCA and S-Video. There are two DVI-to-VGA adapters also included. There is a well written manual, quick start guide and driver CD. Gigabyte includes NeverWinter Nights 2, which isn't my cup of tea as I would have preferred a game that will allow me to blow stuff up.
The breakout box will connect to the video out on the IO backplane of the card. There are also to DVI connections for more normal connection options.
Unique to Gigabyte
Gigabyte customized their Gigabyte GeForce 8800 GT Turbo Force Edition by increasing the clock speeds of key areas on the card, but they did not stop there. Ultra Durable2 is a fab process they use to increase the durability and longevity of their products. Ultra Durable2 is featured on both their graphics hardware as well as their motherboards. Lower RDS (on) MOSFET Design, Ferrite core chokes, and Lower ESR Solid Capacitors are the three main components of their design. These components will create less wasted energy, lower power consumption and last longer.