Summary: While EVGA was first out of the gates with a 2nd-gen 7800 GTX card, ASUS wasn't far behind with their Extreme N7800 GTX TOP. The N7800GTX TOP features a unique dual-slot copper cooler made by Arctic Cooling and ships with the fastest memory speeds we've seen yet. See how this board compares to EVGA's KO card, as well as the stock GeForce 7800 GTX in today's review!
This has been a huge win for consumers; not only can cards be found the day of launch, thanks to increased price competition, they can also be found at many popular online e-tailers for prices well under NVIDIA’s $600 asking price. This has actually been the case for weeks now, despite the fact that the GPU was launched over two months ago. Never before has a flagship GPU dropped in price so quickly.
EVGA was first out of the gates to bring a customized GeForce 7800 GTX card to market that deviated from NVIDIA’s stock reference GeForce 7800 GTX design, their e-GeForce 7800 GTX KO ACS³. We took a look at this card back in August and found that it not only offered excellent performance thanks to its higher than stock clock frequencies, the card also boasted excellent cooling.
Now ASUS, well known for producing first-rate high-end motherboards is delivering their first second-generation GeForce 7800 GTX card to market, the ASUS Extreme N7800 GTX TOP. Like EVGA, ASUS’ board improves on two areas of NVIDIA’s reference 7800 GTX card: cooling and clock speeds. In theory, this should allow the Extreme N7800 GTX TOP to not only outperform a stock GeForce 7800 GTX card, it should also do so with better thermals.
In order to help differentiate themselves from other graphics card manufacturers, ASUS also bundles the card with several new utilities unique to ASUS. ASUS’ SmartDoctor software has always been a favorite around here and was one of the chief features found in ASUS’ RADEON 9800/X800 cards, as well as their previous GeForce offerings. ASUS also made a name for themselves by offering other high-end features in these cards, such as copper heatpipe cooling in their Extreme RADEON X800 XT, which took home our Editor’s Choice Award at the end of last year, while their high-end GeForce FX Ultra cards were all single-slot designs.
The bottom line is that ASUS’ expertise extends not only to motherboards, but also to their video card lineup. And as you’ll see in this review, ASUS’ Extreme N7800 GTX TOP lives up to this heritage as well.
For their Extreme N7800 GTX TOP, ASUS opted to go with a heatsink/fan unit from Arctic Cooling, their NV Silencer 5. Arctic Cooling’s VGA Silencer coolers are well known for their unique ability to combine excellent thermal performance while running nearly silent, which is why enthusiasts have embraced them so quickly. The NV Silencer 5 cooling present on the Extreme N7800 GTX TOP is hardly audible over the CPU fan.
The cooler starts with a copper base plate, which rests over the GeForce 7800 GTX’s G70 GPU and its accompanying GDDR3 memory. Arctic Cooling uses copper instead of aluminum (which is used on the reference GeForce 7800 GTX cooler) because it conducts heat better than aluminum. With more heat coming off the GPU, Arctic Cooling needs to transfer that heat somewhere – this is where the Extreme N7800 GTX TOP’s dual graphics slot requirement comes in, as the NV Silencer 5 uses a large aluminum heatsink to accomplish this. The heatsink measures roughly 2.75”W x 2.9”L, with a height of about 1”.
This is just over twice the height of the stock GeForce 7800 GTX heatsink NVIDIA’s board partners use on their first-generation 7800 GTX cards, while the entire cooler is about ½” taller than the heatsink/fan unit used on GeForce 6800 Ultra cards.
As a result, the Extreme N7800 GTX TOP’s aluminum heatsink swallows up the slot directly adjacent to the graphics card. This is where you could run into problems with some motherboards if you plan on running two Extreme N7800 GTX TOP cards in an SLI configuration. The card’s cooler is so large that you’re really going to need just a hair over 2” of clearance between the bottom of the first x16 PCI-E slot, and the top of the second slot to seat two Extreme N7800 GTX TOP cards comfortably for SLI. ASUS’ own nForce4 SLI boards provide this, but unfortunately most other SLI boards don’t. This is something you’re going to have to keep in mind if you plan on pairing two Extreme N7800 GTX TOP cards together.
Thermal pads are used to transfer heat from the memory modules on the top of the Extreme N7800 GTX TOP board to the NV Silencer 5’s copper plate, heat from the GPU and memory then passes up the copper plate to the aluminum heatsink, whose large fins increase its surface area and thus its effectiveness. The heat then passes up the heatsink’s fins where it’s ultimately drawn outside your system’s case for better ventilation.
Arctic Cooling uses a large fan to accomplish this. The fan looks large and daunting, but its actually due to its size that it’s fairly quiet. Since the fan sports large plastic fins, the fan’s motor doesn’t have to crank up to high RPMs: Arctic Cooling’s NV Silencer 5 runs at 2,000 RPMs, about half that of your typical graphics card’s fan. Besides quieter operation, the other benefit of running at lower RPMs is that the fan’s motor lasts longer. Artic Cooling warranties their NV Silencer 5 fan for six years.
To improve performance, ASUS clocks the BIOS of their Extreme N7800 GTX TOP board at 486MHz on the graphics core, and 675MHz (1.35GHz effective) on the memory. These figures compare quite favorably to the other high-end GeForce 7800 GTX cards on the market:
As you can see, ASUS’ Extreme N7800 GTX TOP boasts the fastest memory on the market, with the board’s memory providing an additional 1.6GB/sec of peak memory bandwidth over other GeForce 7800 GTX cards like the BFG GeForce 7800 GTX OC and the XFX GeForce 7800 GTX Overclocked. In theory, this should come in handy at extremely high resolutions with AA/AF turned on. In these situations, the N7800 GTX TOP’s extra memory bandwidth should be slightly better than the other cards at keeping its G70 core fed with data.
On the graphics core itself, ASUS hand sorts the best G70 chips, putting them inside Extreme N7800 GTX TOP cards. This allows overclockers to hit even higher core speeds than ASUS’ default speed of 486MHz. (Of course, the card’s dual-slot cooling doesn’t hurt in this regard either.)
Flipping the board over reveals that ASUS has made no changes to NVIDIA’s reference cooling design. You’ve got the same aluminum plate cooling the board’s memory modules, while Arctic Cooling’s own retention bracket is used to cool the underside of the G70 core as well as hold the NV Silencer 5 cooler in place. Finally, you’ve got the dual DVIs, video input/output, and HDTV output you expect from a GeForce 7800 GTX card.
The soft stuff
Unfortunately, the Extreme N7800 GTX TOP doesn’t ship with ASUS’ excellent Smart Doctor software, but ASUS has included a number of software programs, which are unique to their cards.
Pacific Fighters - OpenGL
Far Cry – Direct3D
IL-2: FB – OpenGL
Half-Life 2 – Direct3D
Battlefield 2 – Direct3D
F.E.A.R. Beta – Direct3D
F.E.A.R. Beta – Direct3D
F.E.A.R. Beta – Direct3D
Half-Life 2 – Direct3D
NV Silencer 5 cooling: Rather than come up with their own custom cooling solution, ASUS partnered with Arctic Cooling for their Extreme N7800 GTX TOP card, opting to use an NV Silencer 5 cooling unit.
The cooler does a excellent job of keeping the graphics core cool, as you just saw in our temperature testing results. Under load (which consists of a looped session of 3DMark 03) the ASUS Extreme N7800 GTX TOP delivered temperatures 14 degrees Celsius lower than NVIDIA’s reference GeForce 7800 GTX cooling, and improved upon the performance of the EVGA KO board by 10 degrees. This is a pretty remarkable improvement over the stock cooling unit most graphics card manufacturers provide with their GeForce 7800 GTX cards.
In terms of noise, for one reason or another the NV Silencer 5 unit on our Extreme N7800 GTX TOP card didn’t run as quietly as TOXIC cards from Sapphire that we’ve tested in the past, but at the same time, it didn’t break any eardrums either. We do wish it ran a little quieter though, based on our experience with previous VGA Silencer cards.
Enhanced clock speeds: Besides its dual-slot cooling, the other feature that really helps the Extreme N7800 GTX TOP card stand out from other GeForce 7800 GTX boards is its supercharged clock speeds. ASUS bumps the memory up to 675MHz, the highest clock speed on the market right now, and it paid off in our Half-Life 2 testing where the ASUS Extreme N7800 GTX TOP card just squeezed ahead of EVGA’s KO board.
SmartDoctor: One of our favorite features we’ve loved on ASUS cards we’ve reviewed in the past is their SmartDoctor software. SmartDoctor goes a lot further than most utilities bundled with graphics cards these days, which typically only include a rudimentary slider for overclocking the graphics card. Smart Doctor not only provides overclocking, it also includes options for dynamic fan speed operation, sliders for manually tweaking the graphics card’s fan, hardware monitoring capability, and also features the ability to dynamically adjust the clock speeds of the card based on usage or temperature.
As the GeForce 7800 GTX market grows more competitive, board manufacturers are increasingly looking for new ways to differentiate themselves from each other. Some do it with game bundles and other software, while others do it with clock speeds, but only a select few have done it via enhanced cooling (although that’s sure to change soon). Based on their history of delivering unique GeForce and RADEON cards, it’s no surprise to see that ASUS was one of the first manufacturers to integrate an entirely new cooling unit on their second-generation GeForce 7800 GTX board, and they picked an experienced partner with Arctic Cooling, who has already earned design wins with Sapphire and HIS for RADEON cards.
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