The graphics card market is flooded with competing companies all offering the same version of a product. Many times, though, these graphics cards are identical to each other with the only differences being the video card company selling the card and the sticker that has been placed on the card's cooler. The reason behind this similarity in products is quite simple; many of today's video card companies are simply buying the parts pre-assembled from the GPU vendor.
In today's article, we are zeroing in on the ASUS GeForce 8800 Ultra, a card which turns out to be identical to the reference NVIDIA 8800 Ultra board. We really are starting to wonder when we will begin seeing more unique graphics cards from NVIDIA's partners. We wonder if NVIDIA's partners really believe that their products actually differ from each other's, since all that most of the partners are doing is buying pre-assembled graphics cards from NVIDIA, pasting their stickers on the cooler, and putting them in boxes. A trend we have been seeing in the video card market is many so-called graphics card manufacturers buying pre-assembled video cards instead of manufacturing them, and then simply sprinkling some magic marketing sauce on the product, all the while claiming their card offers the highest grade of quality, performance, and unique features.
But what can we say other than this is what we like to call smart marketing! Now we aren't going to place all of the blame on the video card manufacturers. The graphics business is now more competitive than it has ever been, and NVIDIA and ATI are delivering their next-generation GPUs to companies on very short notice. What this means is that at the launch of a GPU, it is much more efficient and wise to simply buy pre-assembled cards instead of attempting to assemble the parts. The latter method may result in not having a product out on the market in time for the launch. Despite this, we still do feel that it is important for video card companies to add some level of uniqueness to their cards. If not at launch, then surely add the uniqueness a few months later. Unfortunately, this isn't something that we have recently seen companies doing.
Video card vendors are showing that they are very comfortable with NVIDIA assembling the cards for them. Many of the 8800 GTS/Ultra cards that different companies are selling are actually manufactured at the same plant according to NVIDIA's orders. NVIDIA assembles ALL the cards, certifies them, and then sells them to its partners. It is not simply GPUs or GPU + Memory chip kits being sold, but ready-made cards. All partners need to do is apply their sticker to the cooler, create a nice box, and then add some marketing to the mix. Taking this into consideration, it is a pity that NVIDIA doesn't sell its graphics cards directly to consumers, as it might provide for some price reductions, although we aren't sure what the actual profit margins in the video card market are. Naturally, NVIDIA likes to keep its partners close to itself, primarily because it makes other companies dependant on it and allows for it to focus less on marketing and more on creating the actual product. The lesson taught by 3dfx's failure is probably also fresh in the mind of NVIDIA; never corner yourself in a market by abandoning your partners.
The reason we went on this explanation, which might be considered by some as a mini-rant, is to explain to potential buyers of high-end video cards that it doesn't make much sense to ask "which 8800GTX card is more stable or offers higher quality?" We have been asked this question many times, and our only response is that they come from the same production line. The cards passed the same quality control tests, and even if a card is defective, it is not the result of the manufacturing efforts of ASUS, MSI, or Palit. The simple explanation is that the defect was overlooked at the factory and the companies we mentioned have nothing to do with it.
You can ask, however, which 8800 GTX is faster, as some NVIDIA partners select cards that can operate at higher frequencies. This selection, naturally, costs them extra money, and so the premium is passed on to the user and such cards are 20-30% more expensive than standard cards.
Let's return to the graphics card under review today. After our introduction you should probably be able to understand that this card is the reference GeForce 8800 Ultra. ASUS provides only the box, the bundle, and stickers. And that's it. By the way, in case you are still looking for a famous ASUS quality video card, we suggest re-reading the above paragraphs and trying to understand that there is nothing to pay extra money for. ;)
The above photos prove that the ASUS video card is the same as the base NVIDIA reference design. This means that the card is still manufactured at the NVIDIA third-party plant. ASUS has nothing to do with its manufacturing.
The card features TV-Out that uses a unique jack. It is necessary to use special bundled adapters to output video to a Television via S-Video or RCA. You can read about the TV-Out jack in more detail here.
Analog monitors with d-Sub (VGA) are connected to the card using a VGA connector or a DVI-to-d-Sub adapter that is included with the bundle. The maximum supported resolutions and frequencies are:
The cooling system is exactly the same as the NVIDIA reference design, and nothing has really been changed for the ASUS card.
We monitored temperatures using RivaTuner (written by A.Nikolaychuk AKA Unwinder). Here are the results:
NVIDIA GeForce 8800 Ultra 768MB PCI-E
As we can see, the temperature does not exceed the critical temperature point of 90 degrees or higher. For the most part, the cooler is not noisier than the overall background.
Installation and Drivers
VSync is disabled.
Test results: performance comparison
We used the following test applications:
Graphics cards' performance
If you have a decent understanding of 3D graphics, you may draw your own conclusions for the diagrams below. However, if you are interested in our comments on test results, you may read them after each test. Anything that is important to beginners and those who are new to the world of video cards will be explained in detail in the comments.
First of all, you should look through our reference materials on modern graphics cards and their GPUs. Be sure to note the operating frequencies, support for modern technologies (shaders), as well as the pipeline architecture.
If you have just begun realizing how large the selection to choose a video card is, don't worry, our 3D Graphics section offers articles about 3D basics (you will still have to understand them - when you run a game and open its options, you'll see such notions as textures, lighting, etc) as well as reviews of new products. There are just two companies that manufacture graphics processors: ATI (the graphics department of AMD) and NVIDIA. So most of the information is divided into these two sections. We also publish monthly 3Digests that sum up all comparisons of graphics cards for various price segments.
All of our tests are currently run on Windows XP. This is because it is currently the main OS for PC gaming. Later on we'll examine RightMark DX10 on Windows Vista. To be frank, the problem with Vista right now is that it is still buggy. But since it is the only operating system to support DirectX 10, sooner or later we will have to turn to it. These results, however, will be published in a different article. We will start using DX10 benchmarks hopefully sometime in August. Right now, though, we are still waiting for more stable drivers, anything less would skew performance results.
We are not going to analyze each test in this article, primarily because for us it makes sense to draw a bottom line in the end of the article. We will, however, make sure that we make our readers aware of any special circumstances or extraordinary results.
You might have noticed that we also tested the GeForce 8800 Ultra under SLI mode. This powerful configuration, in our opinion, is only justified if it is used with the highest resolutions along with Anti-Aliasing and Anisotropic-filtering enabled. Unfortuantely, NVIDIA has slowed down its development of SLI drivers this year. This means that the drivers still don't support a number of popular games as far as SLI is concerned, even though these games are available in driver profiles. For example, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. actually has lower performance in SLI mode. Users who have paid over $1500 for this SLI solution should be rightfully rather indignant with these results. Although there is a small group of people who can afford one GeForce 8800 Ultra card, let alone even thinking about two, it is still important in our eyes for the NVIDIA to deliver what it promises. Until these issues are resolved, we see no point for a SLI 8800 Ultra configuration.
The ASUS EN8800Ultra (GeForce 8800 Ultra) 768MB PCI-E is the fastest and the most expensive graphics card to date. For emphasis, we repeat that this specific model is the same as the NVIDIA reference card. It doesn't differ from the 880 Ultra cards from other vendors. The only thing that might potentially set it apart is its bundle.
The largest drawback of the 8800 Ultra cards is its cooling system, particularly its wide and large housing, which makes the graphics card incompatible with some motherboards.
Going back to the NVIDIA drivers, we notice some improvements in single-card performance, but it's still far from perfect. Despite this, the current situation is still far better than what we saw at the beginning of the year. See the ulterior details here.
As always, the final choice is up to the reader. We can only inform you about products and their performance, but can't make a buying decision. In our opinion, that should solely be in the hands of the reader, and possibly their budget. ;) If you want the fasted graphics card, than the 8800 Ultra would suit you well, but remember that the price premium is also quite high.
To find more information regarding the current video card market and the performance of various cards, feel free to read our monthly special 3Digest. In the monthly article, you will be able to find detailed comparison of various graphics cards along with in-depth comparisons and price-point breakdowns.
You can find more detailed comparisons of various graphics cards in our 3Digest.
ASUS EN8800Ultra (GeForce 8800 Ultra) 768MB PCI-E gets our Excellent Package award (August):
We express our thanks to
for the provided graphics card.
Andrey Vorobiev (firstname.lastname@example.org)
August 14, 2007
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