Summary: Are you in the market for a new GeForce 6600 GT AGP card but don't know which card is best for your needs? If so, then today's article is for you! We've rounded up GeForce 6600 GT AGP cards from six manufacturers: ASUS, BFG, eVGA, Leadtek, MSI, and XFX are all here. Some cards ship with copper cooling, while others ship with VIVO, dual DVI, and/or overclocked clock speeds. In this article we go over the features of each of these cards, as well as evaluating other factors such as noise levels, temperatures, and of course performance. Read all the details inside!
NVIDIA’s GeForce 6600 GT is taking the mainstream segment of the graphics market by storm right now. By taking the same fundamental technology found in the GeForce 6800 series and migrating it down to a more tangible price point, NVIDIA has struck a real chord with users. Sure, the GeForce 6600 GT features half the number of pixel/vertex units, and only a 128-bit memory controller, but thanks to its blazing clock speeds, this is more than enough to outperform last year’s high-end graphics card, the $500 RADEON 9800 XT, in many cases.
The only downside to GeForce 6600 GT had been the lack of AGP offerings; NVIDIA initially launched the GeForce 6600 in PCI Express form only. Up to this point, PCI Express hasn’t taken off as quickly as many had expected. The only PCI Express-capable motherboards on the market that have been released are all based on Intel’s 925 and 915 chipsets, which, quite frankly aren’t popular solutions among enthusiasts. Neither chipset offers much of a performance improvement over Intel’s older 875P and 865PE chipsets, and the added features such as improved audio and Serial ATA support haven’t really helped to sell more motherboards either. Of course, it’s also a pretty well known fact that Athlon 64 is currently outperforming Pentium 4 in most games right now.
The bottom line is that PCI Express systems haven’t displaced AGP rigs yet, and there is still a large chunk of gamers with AGP systems who would like to upgrade their current DX8 graphics card to something faster.
Realizing this, NVIDIA quickly adapted their GeForce 6600 for the AGP market. By taking their high speed interconnect (HSI) chip, and grafting it to GeForce 6600, NVIDIA had their solution months before the competition, and just in time for the holiday shopping season. The HSI chip acts as a translator of sorts, allowing PCI Express chips to “talk” with AGP components and vice versa. HSI was first used on NVIDIA’s GeForce PCX series, which were GeForce FX cards that were adapted for PCI Express thanks to HSI. For GeForce 6600 GT AGP, HSI works in the other direction, translating the PCI Express protocol for use with AGP chipsets such as nForce2/3 and Intel 865/875P. An aluminum heatsink is then used to help keep the HSI chip cool.
Besides the addition of the HSI chip, the second physical difference you’ll notice on GeForce 6600 GT AGP boards in comparison to their PCI Express-based cousins is the presence of a 4-pin Molex power connector on the back of the card. Unlike PCI Express, the AGP interface doesn’t have quite enough juice to supply the GeForce 6600 GT’s NV43 GPU with enough native power, an external source is required to run the card at full clocks (if the Molex power connection isn’t used, the core underclocks itself to 300MHz).
The final difference between PCI Express GeForce 6600 GTs and their AGP equivalent lies in the memory clock frequency. While the graphics core in both cards runs at 500MHz, NVIDIA’s reference specifications for the GeForce 6600 GT AGP only call for a memory frequency of 450MHz (900MHz effective). This is 50MHz below the memory clock speed of the GeForce 6600 GT PCI Express, giving it a slight edge over AGP-based 6600 GT cards. Some card manufacturers (BFG, XFX) in this article have decided to go beyond NVIDIA’s reference specifications for the GeForce 6600 GT however. Let’s go over the feature set of each of the cards…
ASUS is already well known for building feature-packed, reliable motherboards, but they’re also in the business of producing equally compelling graphics cards, notebook computers, PDAs, and other PC components. ASUS’ RADEON X800 XT-based EAX800XT/2TD/256 just took home our Editor’s Choice Award and won our X800 XT roundup a few weeks ago due to its unique combination of features. It was the only card in the roundup to feature dual DVI connections and even boasted copper-based heat pipe cooling for added performance. ASUS’ RADEON 9800 XT and 9600 XT cards were also Editor’s Choice winners thanks to the addition of VIVO support, and their high-end GeForce FX 5900 Ultra/5950 Ultra and 6800 Ultra cards are among the only single-slot solutions on the market. And we still haven’t mentioned their excellent Smart Doctor software for hardware monitoring and dynamic or manual overclocking. It’s because of innovations like these that ASUS graphics cards have quickly gained a loyal following among gamers and enthusiasts.
With such a rich pedigree of building compelling graphics cards, we had high hopes for ASUS’ N6600 GT/TD. Upon opening the box, we instantly noticed the card’s eye-catching aqua blue PCB and non-reference cooling solution. We’re not quite sure if it’s copper-based or an aluminum heatsink, we’ve seen conflicting information on ASUS’ website and the board doesn’t have the heft of some of the other copper-based boards from BFG and MSI, so we’re inclined to think it’s an aluminum-based heatsink, but one aspect we definitely noticed is its near silent operation. The card’s fan was one of the quietest in this roundup.
ASUS’ Global and UK websites both mention that the N6600GT/TD is “equipped with the fastest 1.6ns DDR3 memories”, but unfortunately, our board shipped with 2.0ns memory. We’re not quite sure if the UK and other markets get 1.6ns boards, while the North/South American region gets boards with 2.0ns memory, or if it’s simply a misprint on the ASUS website. It’s also possible that ASUS ran a batch of AGP-based cards with 2.0ns memory by mistake. Whatever the case, we hope the situation is resolved quickly, as there’s a big difference between 1.6ns and 2.0ns GDDR3 memory. 2.0ns modules are only rated for speeds up to 500MHz, while 1.6ns modules like those used on other GeForce 6600 GT PCI Express cards we’ve received from MSI and eVGA are good for up to 600MHz.
ASUS clocks their N6600GT/TD at 500/450, the standard GeForce 6600 GT AGP clock speeds NVIDIA has specified for all 6600 GT boards, and the board ships with the traditional DVI/VGA connector combination we’ve seen on many graphics cards.
In addition to the card and driver CD, the N6600 GT/TD/128 ships with a copy of Novalogic’s Joint Operations: Typhoon Rising, and Media Show 2 SE. Hardware accessories included with the card are a DVI adapter and S-Video cable.
The BFG GeForce 6600 GT OC is clocked to run at 525MHz core/525MHz memory, an improvement of 25MHz (5%) on the graphics core and a whopping 75MHz on the memory (14%). This change nets the BFG card an additional 2.4GB/sec of memory bandwidth (16.8GB/sec in the BFG 6600 GT OC versus 14.4GB/sec in conventional GeForce 6600 GT AGP cards), which will really come into play at high resolutions and/or situations with anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering turned on.
The real beauty of this is that BFG doesn’t charge a premium for this added performance: the BFG GeForce 6600 GT OC AGP retails for the same $200 as other GeForce 6600 GT AGP cards on the market. In addition, BFG backs the card up with their full lifetime warranty, making this card perfect for those of you who have always wanted to dabble in overclocking your card, but have ultimately been reluctant to do so because you didn’t want to risk damaging it. BFG’s “OC” line solves this dilemma for you!
Just how is BFG able to guarantee their GeForce 6600 GT OC won’t die a premature death due to the increased heat generated by overclocking? Simple, BFG uses better cooling.
Sitting atop the GeForce 6600 GT’s NV43 graphics core is a large copper heatsink. Copper’s thermal conductivity characteristics are superior to aluminum, allowing the copper heatsink BFG uses to draw more heat off the graphics core than if a similar aluminum-based heatsink design would have been used. BFG then adds rolled copper fins to the recipe for increased surface area. The results speak for themselves: we noted the lowest idle and load temperatures with the BFG card at 37 degrees Celsius and 54 degrees Celsius respectively. Basically, not only does the GeForce 6600 GT OC run faster than competing cards, it also runs cooler. BFG even adds blue LEDs to the card’s fan for added panache.
But the clock speeds weren’t the only aspect of the BFG card that drew our attention. The BFG GeForce 6600 GT OC also sports dual DVI connections. This provides the most flexible combination of display connections available, allowing you to power a pair of DVI-equipped flat panel monitors; or, thanks to the two DVI adapters provided in the BFG card’s packaging, dual VGA displays.
BFG bundles their GeForce 6600 GT OC card with a copy of NVDVD 2.0, Windowblinds (with custom BFG skins for decking out your Windows desktop), an HDTV component video output with built-in S-Video output to your conventional TV, two DVI adapters, and finally, a power adapter. No game bundle is provided with the BFG GeForce 6600 GT OC.
eVGA is a very popular NVIDIA graphics solution among gamers and enthusiasts due to their wide distribution channels among both brick and mortar stores such as Office Depot and Circuit City, as well as online retailers like Newegg and Zipzoomfly. eVGA is also well known for standing behind their products; eVGA’s forums are filled with anecdotes of users who have received prompt product support via the eVGA forums, e-mail, or phone-in tech support. Another unique feature eVGA provides their customers is their step-up program.
Step-up allows eVGA customers to trade in their existing eVGA graphics card for the latest and greatest model available, as long as the upgrade occurs within 90 days of the initial card purchase. eVGA customers simply pay the difference between the two cards to complete the transaction. This allows prospective eVGA owners to purchase a faster graphics card if the original doesn’t meet their needs, or upgrade if NVIDIA introduces newer technology, but you can only step-up once so you should use it wisely.
For their GeForce 6600 GT AGP card, eVGA strictly follows NVIDIA’s reference design. eVGA uses the same power components and aluminum heatsink, and even borrows the same DOOM 3 sticker adorning the card’s cooler. This helps eVGA get their GeForce 6600 GT card to market quicker, as they don’t have to come up with their own design, or rely on external suppliers for parts like custom copper cooling. In fact, eVGA began selling copper heatsink units for the GeForce 6800 Ultra a few months ago.
Because of this, we were a bit surprised when we booted the eVGA card up only to see that it didn’t provide hardware monitoring functionality in the reference NVIDIA display driver. NVIDIA’s NV43 GPU features a thermal diode onboard, so eVGA must have decided to disable the chip’s hardware monitoring capability via BIOS for some reason. (It’s also possible that eVGA may have addressed this already with a quick BIOS update.)
eVGA relies on the standard NVIDIA clock frequencies of 500MHz for the graphics core and 450MHz for the card’s memory. This allows it to perform in line with other GeForce 6600 GT AGP cards from most manufacturers. Also like many other manufacturers, eVGA outfits their e-GeForce 6600 GT AGP with the traditional DVI/VGA connector combination.
Included in the card’s packaging are trial copies of Ulead Photo Explorer 8 and DVD MovieFactory 3 disc creator, as well as eVGA’s SyScan utility software, which checks to ensure that all of your system drivers are properly installed and up to par. Hardware accessories bundled with the e-GeForce 6600 GT AGP include a component video adapter box (with built-in S-Video and RCA connections) for hooking your card up to an HDTV, as well as a DVI adapter, and an additional S-Video cable. No power adapter cable is included in the packaging however.
It’s because of this that we were a bit surprised to see an aluminum-based cooler at the heart of the WinFast A6600 GT TDH when we opened its box. Leadtek’s Orb-shaped cooler put up respectable numbers though, its idle temperature registered in at 40 degrees Celsius, while load testing with 3DMark 2003 yielded one of the lowest recorded temperatures at 61 degrees, second only to the BFG card. Leadtek’s cooling unit did all this quietly, only the ASUS and MSI cards were quieter in operation – taken as a whole not a bad overall performance for such a mundane-looking cooler. We were also a bit surprised to see that Leadtek skipped the dust filter on the WinFast A6600 GT TDH. Leadtek has been providing dust filters with their cards for some time now, sitting just above the card’s fan.
Dust is one of the fan’s biggest culprits. Too much dust can cause the fan’s motor to die prematurely, which is why Leadtek’s dust filter was such a nice addition. Leadtek may have decided to remove it to help lower noise levels; the filters on some user’s cards were a little loose, causing excessive vibration and thus more noise. (The problem could be easily solved by tightening the filter with a small Philips screwdriver.) Whatever the case, we hope to see Leadtek reincorporate the dust filter on their future mainstream cards, as it was a fine feature.
Like ASUS, eVGA, and MSI, Leadtek has chosen to stick with NVIDIA’s reference clock speeds of 500MHz core/450MHz memory for their WinFast A6600 GT TDH card. All three cards also ship with the conventional DVI/VGA combination as well. Leadtek outfits their card with one of the better game bundles in this roundup by including the DVD version of Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, two popular Ubisoft titles from 2004. Leadtek also bundles a power adapter, DVI adapter, and HDTV output with the WinFast A6600 GT TDH.
But heat pipes have a few drawbacks. The most significant is heat. The units get quite toasty, so much in fact that larger, high RPM fans must be used to keep the heat pipe cool. These fans tend to generate more noise, as was demonstrated by GeForce FX 5800 Ultra, as well as ABIT’s OTES cards. Zalman/Sapphire were the only ones who were able to get around this with their ATI-based cards, but ultimately the heat pipe had to be abandoned when the latest generation 12 and 16 pipeline cards were released.
MSI decided to go in a different direction with the cooling used on their high-end cards. They sought to provide the graphics market with a quiet card that also had good thermals. Their solution to the problem? T.O.P. Tech cooling.
By using a massive copper heatsink with a large, yet quiet fan, MSI had a cooler that delivered the thermal performance they were shooting for without generating a lot of noise. Since reviewing our first T.O.P. Tech-based card (a GeForce4 Ti 4200), we’ve evaluated numerous MSI cards and every one of them has been extremely easy on the ears. And guess what, today’s NX6600 GT from MSI is no exception, it was the quietest card tested in this roundup!
At the heart of the NX6600 GT is a colossal copper heatsink that not only covers the NV43 graphics core, but also the Samsung GDDR3 memory modules nearby. This is the only GeForce 6600 GT AGP card we’re aware of that cools both the graphics core and memory. Sitting on top of the copper heatsink is a fan with 11 long blades. By using a lot of long blades on their card, MSI can spin their fan at lower RPM levels than the other board manufacturers, resulting in a card that emits very little noise – we’ve heard many system chipset fans that were louder than this card’s fan!
The end result is a card that’s a little heavier than the other cards (MSI actually uses a metal bracket on the underside of the card to keep the copper heatsink in place), but well worth it if you’re planning on building a quiet PC for use in your bedroom/dorm room or living room.
With such an awesome cooler mounted on the card, it’s a shame we couldn’t record core temperatures for NV43 – temperature monitoring wasn’t enabled when using the reference NVIDIA display driver. This is a bit of a disappointment, as we were really hoping to see how effective MSI’s cooler was in comparison to the other cards from diode readings (again, this is a software issue that can be easily fixed with a BIOS update).
In addition to the cooling, another unique feature MSI provides with their NX6600 GT is video input support. Nestled underneath NVIDIA’s NV43 GPU is a Philips SAA7115HL video decoder, providing video capture support.
If the cooling and video input weren’t enough, MSI includes an impressive software bundle with the NX6600 GT too. Included in the card’s packaging is a copy of Uru: Ages Beyond Myst, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, XIII, a DVD with demo copies of 14 games, MSI Media Center Deluxe release 2, 3D Album, Virtual Drive 7 and Restore It 3, WinDVD 5.1, WinDVD Creator Plus, Photshop Album SE, and finally, MSI 3D Desktop.
Hardware accessories include an HDTV cable with VIVO support also thrown in, an S-Video cable, DVI adapter, and MSI case badge thrown in for good measure.
Like the others manufacturers included in this roundup, XFX formerly known as Pine, is aiming many of their cards at the enthusiast segment of the market by providing premium graphics cards with very competitive pricing. XFX’s GeForce FX 5700 Ultra card was the first 5700 Ultra card on the market with dual DVI connections. XFX’s GDDR3 5700 Ultra board supported the same dual DVI capability.
For the GeForce 6 series, all of XFX’s GeForce 6600 GT boards ship with dual DVI connectors whether they’re PCI Express or AGP-based, while XFX also offers both dual DVI and DVI/VGA SKUs for their GeForce 6800 and GeForce 6800 GT cards. With high-end 16ms DVI-capable LCDs becoming cheaper everyday, dual DVI is becoming an increasingly important feature that enthusiasts are looking for. Also, as we discussed earlier, dual DVI cards provide the most flexibility in terms of display options supported, as flat panel users can drive two LCD displays off of DVI for the sharpest visuals rather than having to settle for one DVI-equipped monitor at the same time that the second LCD is VGA-based.
As you can see in the pictures, XFX’s GeForce 6600 GT AGP faithfully matches NVIDIA’s GeForce 6600 GT reference design, right down to the dual DVIs. XFX adds a little bit of flair with their blue PCB as well.
By sticking so closely to NVIDIA’s reference design, XFX was able to hit the ground running with their GeForce 6600 GT AGP card: XFX was the first NVIDIA board partner to bring a GeForce 6600 GT AGP retail card to market (we received our card the last week of November), a fact which likely bought them quite a few initial board sales as early adopters were quick to scoop up the first GeForce 6600 GT AGP cards. The fact that the XFX GeForce 6600 GT AGP card runs faster than stock GeForce 6600 GT AGP cards from other manufacturers will likely only further boost sales for XFX.
XFX also impresses with their stock clock speeds, as their GeForce 6600 GT AGP card is clocked at 500MHz core/500MHz memory from the factory; 50MHz higher on the memory than many of the other AGP cards represented in this roundup. By running their memory at 500MHz, XFX matches the specs of NVIDIA’s PCI Express-based 6600 GT boards, providing the graphics core with up to 16GB/sec of peak memory bandwidth. XFX uses the same 2.0ns Samsung GDDR3 memory modules as other manufacturers with their GeForce 6600 GT AGP card however.
XFX’s GeForce 6600 GT AGP card ships with copies of NASCAR Thunder 2004, X2: The Threat, and Commandos 3. Hardware accessories bundled with the card are an S-Video cable, and two DVI adapters, no component or power adapter cables are included with the board’s packaging.
Lock On: Modern Air Combat (Mig-29 custom demo)
Lock On: Modern Air Combat – Direct3D
IL-2 Sturmovik: FB - OpenGL
Splinter Cell – Direct3D
Tomb Raider – Direct3D
Halo – Direct3D
Call of Duty – OpenGL
Far Cry – Direct3D
Far Cry – Direct3D
DOOM 3 – OpenGL
DOOM 3 – OpenGL
ATI’s closest equivalent for the moment is the RADEON 9800 PRO 128MB. In our GeForce 6600 GT AGP Performance Preview article, the GeForce 6600 GT AGP delivered nearly double the performance of RADEON 9800 PRO in many cases, and was even capable of outperforming ATI’s 256MB RADEON 9800 XT in numerous situations. ATI eventually plans to counter with their 12-pipe RADEON X800 card, however it will likely be months before AGP variants of these cards ever see the light of day (assuming if ATI doesn’t scrap their plans entirely).
So with this in mind, who takes the crown in our GeForce 6600 GT AGP roundup? BFG.
The BFG GeForce 6600 GT OC ships at the highest clock frequencies we’ve seen in a GeForce 6600 GT card. The graphics core is clocked at 525MHz, 25MHz faster than the other cards, while the memory also operates at 525MHz, a stratospheric 70MHz over stock GeForce 6600 GT AGP clocks. This allowed the BFG GeForce 6600 GT OC to sweep all of our performance tests, running faster than any other GeForce 6600 GT card we’ve tested.
BFG then adds a copper heatsink/fan unit for better cooling (which is important when your overclocked graphics card ships with a lifetime warranty), and dual DVI connectivity. The card doesn’t ship with a software bundle, but that’s because BFG has tailored the card for purists who just want the best hardware available, at the expense of extras such as game bundles. And of course, don’t forget BFG’s lifetime warranty on the GeForce 6600 GT OC. All this adds up to a product that not only finishes first in our roundup, but also takes home our Editor’s Choice Award as well.
The BFG card doesn’t win Editor’s Choice because it’s the fastest. It earns it because it delivers the best combination of features a hardcore gamer or hardware enthusiast would want in a GeForce 6600 GT AGP card: copper cooling that gets the job done and performs well, with dual DVI connectivity for those of you with two high-end flat panel displays. The overclocked clock speeds are merely icing on the cake as far as we’re concerned, after all most of our audience probably knows how to overclock their graphics card by now, and all of the cards in this roundup share the same core hardware components, right down to the same 2.0ns Samsung GDDR3 memory.
Tied for second (and rounding out the top three) are the MSI NX6600 GT and XFX GeForce 6600 GT. So why are both cards tied? Because each card caters to a different crowd.
On one hand the MSI NX6600GT ships with a large copper cooler that cools both the NV43 graphics core and its accompanying memory; it’s the only card to cool both components in this roundup. MSI also uses a quiet fan that’s barely audible, making it perfect for those of you who would like to build a near silent PC. MSI also includes the best software bundle around, with three modern games and a ton of additional software programs and utilities. Finally, MSI rounds out their NX6600GT card with the addition of video input capability (VIVO), it’s the only card in this roundup to support this feature.
On the other hand XFX’s GeForce 6600 GT provides more flexible display options thanks to its dual DVI connections. Previously dual DVI was a feature that was only found on $500 graphics cards; XFX has made a commitment to bring this feature to all of performance-oriented graphics cards, apparently including those in the mainstream segment such as the GeForce 6600 GT AGP. And of course, don’t forget that the card ships with its memory running at 500MHz; 50MHz higher than stock GeForce 6600 GT AGP cards.
Because of this, those that like the idea of dual DVI will likely opt for the XFX card, while enthusiasts that are hardcore about cooling will likely want the MSI card.
The ASUS, eVGA, and Leadtek cards are also fine GeForce 6600 GT AGP boards that will leave a wide smile on the face of any prospective owner, each of these three share their own unique set of traits. eVGA backs their cards up with solid support and competitive pricing, while the ASUS and Leadtek cards boast quiet cooling.
As far as our overclocking results are concerned, don’t make any purchasing decisions based on our results. We’re simply working with too small a sample of cards from each manufacturer, and besides, cooling is only half of the overclocking game, equally important is getting lucky and landing a card that overclocks well. We’ve seen plenty of cards with excellent cooling barely overclock beyond stock speeds, while cards based on the same chip with very basic reference coolers overclock like there’s no tomorrow. Typically chips from ATI and NVIDIA scale to higher clocks over time, as they get better at manufacturing a given graphics core with more experience (this is where refresh products like the RADEON 9800 XT/X850 XT, and GeForce FX 5950 come in) but there are exceptions: ultimately the GeForce4 Ti 4600 never really scaled well beyond 330MHz.
Right now AGP-based GeForce 6600 GT cards are selling for a little more than their $200 list price, but once more board partners bring their cards to market and supply catches up to demand, prices will quickly fall to the sub-$200 price point PCI Express-based GeForce 6600 GT cards are currently going for. When that happens, we expect sales will really pick up. NVIDIA has delivered a killer product with the GeForce 6600 GT, who would have thought a $200 mainstream card would be outperforming high-end $500 graphics cards like the RADEON 9800 XT a year ago? Good job NVIDIA!
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