Today, we'll be looking at not one, but two of MSI's NX7800GTX-VT2D256E video cards. As with most of the good stuff from NVIDIA (and ATI), the 7800 GTX is a PCI Express part. Along with the various assortments of PCIE goodies, in the case of NVIDIA, PCI Express allows the user to plug two of these cards on a supported motherboard for SLI action.
As we've seen with our Albatron 7800 GTX review last week, one of these cards is wicked fast, so two must be faster, correct? One would generally lean towards yes, but the sheer speed of these next-gen cards do shift the bottleneck towards the CPU so in order to get the most out of your upgrade, you will need a processor powerful enough to keep one 7800 GTX busy, let alone two.
Unlike the Albatron card we looked at last week, MSI went a
little lot further than their competitor when putting their package together. As superficial as it sounds, there is some original artwork on the box, which is also mirrored on their cooling.
Other than the physical appearances, the card itself is based on the reference design, which means 1.2GHz DDR (600MHz frequency) memory, and a 430MHz 3D core. There's 256MB of GDDR3, 24 pixel pipelines, 110nm fab process, and Shader Model 3.0 support.
Other than the card, MSI tosses in the required cables, as well as two DVI-to-VGA adapters. I never quite understood why manufacturers go out to save a couple bucks (and forcing consumers to spend $10) by making a card with DVI connections, but not providing adapters in case the buyer doesn't have a supported monitor. Good to see MSI thinking of the customer and making sure they have everything they need out of the box.
Speaking of providing us with what we need, it's pretty much a given that anyone who chooses to by a 7800 GTX is likely a gamer. In general, most game bundles suck, but MSI went the extra mile and included a modern game (modern by game bundle standards) that actually doesn't suck. The MSI NX7800GTX-VT2D256E we received included The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher's Bay (Developer's Cut), and despite not being as much of a gamer as I used to be, this game is a lot of fun. Now, the card plus game bundle rings in at , but MSI does have a which is about $35 USD cheaper. Now, the game does retail about , so you should definitely shop around to see if it's worth your while to go for the card we're reviewing.
As mentioned earlier, the MSI NX7800GTX-VT2D256E uses the single-slot, heatpipe setup as NVIDIA's reference product. Given that many 7800 GTX boards were popping up soon after the launch, we figure MSI didn't have the time to package their own cooler. Given that is does a good job (our card measured around 75°C under load), we don't expect MSI to be changing it anytime soon. The cooling apparatus is relatively silent, but in a water cooled rig, we were able to hear the video cards humming.
For your input and output options, there is a S-Vid out, and two DVI connections for dual screen support.
Athlon 3500+, MSI K8N Neo4 Platinum SLI (v6.66), 2x512MB Corsair XMS PC3200, Seagate 160GB Barracuda 7200.7, Creative onboard audio enabled.
We'll be pitting the MSI NX7800GTX-VT2D256E (v77.77) up against the Albatron 7800 GTX (v77.77) and the ATI X850 Platinum Edition (v5.8), which is currently ATI's top-of-the-line part. We will also be collecting numbers from a pair of NVIDIA 6800 GTs (v77.77) in SLI mode.
As promised in the title of the review, we'll be stacking two MSI NX7800GTX boards in SLI, which we will expect to be the pinnacle of 3D performance standards, at least for the near future. Before getting into the benchmarks, we will say right now that we don't expect any surprises, but at $1000 for this combo, there better not be.
The games to be used for benchmarking are as follows:
Doom 3 v1.1
Far Cry v1.3
Unreal Tournament 2004 v3355
Chronicles of Riddick
's default timedemos were used for the majority of game testing. The driver settings were manually configured for AntiAliasing and Anisotropic Filtering enabled (4xAA and 16xAF respectively), and set to "Quality" via the video driver's control panel. All games were set to their highest allowable game settings unless otherwise noted. The latest chipset and video drivers at the time of testing (in parenthesis above) we used for the tests.
As expected, the MSI 7800 GTX in SLI mode rules the roost, offering about 29% better performance at 16x12 than two 6800GTs, though at about 50% more money. At the same resolution, the MSI in SLI offers a 60% improvement over a single 7800 GTX, so I suppose if you're looking for your money's worth, you'll get a 10% return on investment. Then again, economics were never my forté, so you'll need to decide that yourself.
Image quality was excellent, and slightly better than what we've experienced with NV4x hardware. Of course, the 7800 GTX is also a lot faster, so you'll be able to enjoy the improved image quality without sacrificing too much performance.