||XFX GeForce 6600 DDR2 Review
November 03, 2005
Summary: Looking for a $99 GeForce 6600 GT board? If so, you may want to check out NVIDIA's new GeForce 6600 DDR2 GPU. With a little bit of overclocking, these cards can be turned into marvelous performers. In today's review, we're taking a look at XFX's GeForce 6600 DDR2. Boasting higher than reference specs, we were eager to see what this board could do. You may be surprised by the results...
| Introduction||Page:: ( 1 / 17 )|
While NVIDIA’s GeForce 7800 GTX and 7800 GT have dominated the headlines the past few months (and the GeForce 6800 Ultra and 6800 GT before that), it has actually been NVIDIA’s less expensive mainstream and value offerings that have been bringing in the bulk of their sales.
Positive reviews of NVIDIA’s self-proclaimed “DOOM 3 GPU”, the GeForce 6600 GT, helped get the ball rolling, but NVIDIA’s follow-up GeForce 6600 products have been equally impressive. After all, with their GeForce 6600 family NVIDIA not only offers a solid 3D solution with SLI support, the GPU is also backed up with other features such as PureVideo, which provides dedicated hardware acceleration for MPEG-2/DVD as well as the new Microsoft Windows Media HD Video standard (WMV HD), HDTV output (both 720p and 1080i), and other video goodies to the mainstream market.
As a result, the GeForce 6600 family has raked in the sales. To date NVIDIA and their board partners have shipped over 6 million GeForce 6600 cards to the market, with most OEMs and PC manufacturers using one GeForce 6600 variant or another in their systems. You can even find the GeForce 6600 inside Apple’s dual-core PowerMac G5; both the GeForce 6600 and GeForce 6600 LE are available as standard graphics for the PowerMac, with NVIDIA’s GeForce 7800 GT and Quadro FX 4500 available as build-to-order options.
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It’s because of this success that NVIDIA felt the need to respond to ATI’s recently announced X1300 series, including their $149 RADEON X1300 PRO. NVIDIA’s answer isn’t an all-new GPU -- our preview of the X1300 and X1600 a few weeks ago indicate that NVIDIA’s current lineup already performs well against ATI’s latest offerings -- instead they’ve decided to tweak the GeForce 6600’s proven formula to meet their needs.
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According to NVIDIA, their new GeForce 6600 DDR2 not only delivers more performance than ATI’s fastest X1300 board, the RADEON X1300 PRO, it does so at a lower price point, officially carrying an MSRP of $119 MSRP. Considering the X1300 PRO’s high clocks, 600MHz for the graphics core and 400MHz for memory (800MHz effective), this is a pretty tall order. Let’s see if the GeForce 6600 DDR2 is up for the task.
| The specs||Page:: ( 2 / 17 )|
The only difference between the GeForce 6600 DDR2 and the original GeForce 6600 launched last year is that the memory subsystem has been slightly tweaked, with the GeForce 6600 DDR2 sporting DDR2 memory rather than the DDR1 memory used on the original GeForce 6600. If you recall, DDR2 was quickly heralded as the replacement to DDR1 by NVIDIA and Samsung way back in the days with the GeForce FX 5800 Ultra due to its high clock speeds and reduced power consumption, but ultimately never really took off as a replacement in desktop graphics memory because early DDR2 memory modules generated an excessive amount of heat. (A perfect example of this would be the ATI RADEON 9800 PRO 256MB, its memory only ran 10MHz faster than its DDR1-based sibling yet the 256MB DDR2 board required heatsinks on its DDR2 memory modules to keep the modules cool. Even with this addition the board’s memory still generated lots of heat.) Because of this, we were eager to see how cool the DDR2 memory modules ran on the GeForce 6600 board, but more on this later.
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NVIDIA’s reference specifications call for 256MB of DDR2 running at 400MHz, which is an improvement of 125MHz over the original GeForce 6600’s memory speed of 275MHz, although we wouldn’t be surprised to eventually see some board manufacturers produce 128MB SKUs at even lower price points.
To further improve performance of the GeForce 6600 DDR2, NVIDIA has also bumped up the core clock frequency from 300MHz on the original GeForce 6600 to 350MHz on the newer GeForce 6600 DDR2. This is an improvement of 15%b on the graphics core.
|GeForce 6600 Series Comparison|
|GeForce 6600 GT||GeForce 6600 DDR2||GeForce 6600||GeForce 6600 LE|
|Core Clock (MHz)||500||350||300||300|
|Memory Speed (MHz)||500||400||275||275|
|Memory Interface Width||128-bit||128-bit||128-bit||128-bit|
|Memory Bandwidth (GB/sec)||16||12.8||8.8||8.8|
With these new clocks, NVIDIA feels they’ve got a pretty strong product on their hands to compete with the X1300 family from ATI. Again, as we mentioned previously the GeForce 6600 DDR2 officially carries an MSRP of $119, but already board partners have announced lower prices for their boards, XFX for example lists the MSRP of the GeForce 6600 DDR2 board we’re reviewing today at $99. The really sweet part is that XFX has clocked their $99 GeForce 6600 DDR2 board at speeds higher than NVIDIA’s reference specifications.
| Board analysis||Page:: ( 3 / 17 )|
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XFX is NVIDIA’s first board partner to hit retail with the GeForce 6600 DDR2. Based on pictures we’ve seen of the GeForce 6600 DDR2 reference board (we don’t have an NVIDIA reference card to make direct physical comparisons), XFX appears to follow NVIDIA’s reference board design to the letter. Board components used and their placement look identical, right down to the board’s heatsink/fan unit. The only difference that we can spot is the board’s blue PCB (NVIDIA’s reference 6600 DDR2 board sports a green PCB), and of course, the all important XFX sticker on the card’s fan.
While this doesn’t encroach too much into GeForce 6600 GT territory, this is still a notable improvement over the standard GeForce 6600 DDR2 specifications. And with a little bit of overclocking (which we certainly did over the course of our testing) we were quite hopeful that we could achieve near GeForce 6600 GT speeds. After all, the GeForce 6600 DDR2 is built on the same manufacturing line as the 6600 GT. XFX uses 2.5ns Infineon modules on their GeForce 6600 DDR2 board, (Part number HYB18T256161AF-25), which are good for up to 400MHz, but we were hopeful for a high overclock anyway, especially once we saw how cool the board’s DDR2 memory modules ran.
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Unlike first-gen DDR2 boards like the GeForce FX 5800 Ultra and RADEON 9800 PRO 256MB, the memory modules on XFX’s GeForce 6600 DDR2 ran surprisingly cool. Even when overclocking, the modules never got hot over the course of our testing. In fact, we should also note that XFX’s GeForce 6600 DDR2 ran quieter than the RADEON X1300 PRO. ATI’s reference X1300 PRO board ships with a small, high-RPM fan that can get a little noisy at times. The fan on XFX’s card on the other hand is the complete opposite, it’s by no means silent, but it runs just under 30 decibels, making it perfect for HTPC applications.
Software and accessories
Besides the graphics card and driver, XFX sweetens the package by including a copy of CryTek’s hit shooter Far Cry, which ships on DVD-ROM. Also included with the card are two DVI adapters and an S-Video cable, for hooking the board up to a TV.
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| Test Systems||Page:: ( 4 / 17 )|
AMD Athlon 64 3500+
DFI nF4 Ultra Infinity
1GB OCZ DDR400 SDRAM
ATI RADEON X1300 PRO
CATALYST 5.10a hotfix driver
NVIDIA GeForce 6600 GT
XFX GeForce 6600 DDR2 @350/400
XFX GeForce 6600 DDR2 @ 400/400
Driver version ForceWare 81.87
250GB Maxtor Hard Drive Maxline III SATA Hard Drive w/16MB Cache
Windows XP Professional SP1
IL-2 Sturmovik: Forgotten Battles
| IL-2 2xAA/8xAF||Page:: ( 5 / 17 )|
IL-2: FB – OpenGL
| Far Cry 2xAA/8xAF||Page:: ( 6 / 17 )|
Far Cry – Direct3D
| Half-Life 2||Page:: ( 7 / 17 )|
Half-Life 2 – Direct3D
| Half-Life 2 2xAA/8xAF||Page:: ( 8 / 17 )|
Half-Life 2 – Direct3D
| Battlefield 2||Page:: ( 9 / 17 )|
Battlefield 2 – Direct3D
| BF2 2xAA/8xAF||Page:: ( 10 / 17 )|
Battlefield 2 – Direct3D
| Quake 4||Page:: ( 11 / 17 )|
Quake 4 – OpenGL
| Quake 4 2xAA/8xAF||Page:: ( 12 / 17 )|
Quake 4 – OpenGL
| F.E.A.R. Performance||Page:: ( 13 / 17 )|
F.E.A.R. – Direct3D
|F.E.A.R. Performance 1024x768x32|
|Card||Min FPS||Max FPS|
|GeForce 6600 GT||28||84|
|GeForce 6600 DDR2||20||69|
|XFX GeForce 6600 DDR2||22||72|
|RADEON X1300 PRO||14||46|
| F.E.A.R. Performance||Page:: ( 14 / 17 )|
F.E.A.R. – Direct3D
|F.E.A.R. Performance 1024x768x32|
|Card||Min FPS||Max FPS|
|GeForce 6600 GT||21||69|
|GeForce 6600 DDR2||16||54|
|XFX GeForce 6600 DDR2||15||59|
|RADEON X1300 PRO||11||39|
| Overclocking||Page:: ( 15 / 17 )|
Quake 4 2xAA/8xAF
Half-Life 2 2xAA/8xAF
| Ballistics Report||Page:: ( 16 / 17 )|
GeForce 6600 core: NVIDIA’s GeForce 6600 GPU has been the mainstream graphics solution of choice since it was introduced last year. Packing 8 pixel pipelines and 3 vertex engines, the 6600 has more than enough horsepower to handle today’s games, although with its 128-bit memory interface it doesn’t quite have the memory bandwidth to run these titles with 4xAA and high resolutions. That’s what you need SLI for.
While we didn’t test two GeForce 6600 boards running in SLI today, we imagine its performance would likely fall somewhere between that of a GeForce 6800 and 6800 GT.
Higher clocks: For added performance, XFX runs their GeForce 6600 DDR2 board at clock speeds higher than NVIDIA’s reference specifications, opting to run the board’s graphics core at 400MHz, rather than the 350MHz clock speed NVIDIA’s specifications call for.
In our testing, this yielded us an additional 9% in performance with Quake 4, 7% in F.E.A.R. and Half-Life 2, all at 1024x768x32 with 2xAA/8xAF. This is essentially “free” performance that you get out-of-the-box, all you have to do is boot up your computer. There’s no special driver or tool you have to download in order to get this extra performance.
XFX’s new double lifetime warranty: XFX recently launched their double lifetime warranty program. Under it, XFX guarantees not only you a lifetime warranty once you register your card, the lifetime warranty also applies to anyone you may sell the board to in the future once you’re ready to upgrade. All the second card owner would have to do is register the board with XFX for instant lifetime coverage. This new warranty program should appeal to Ebay shoppers.
In theory, you should have an easier time selling your XFX board on sites like Ebay, just make sure to mention the double lifetime warranty your card has.
Price: XFX currently lists an MSRP of $99 for the GeForce 6600 DDR2. For $99, this board delivers an awful lot of performance. We hit playable frame rates in cutting-edge games like Half-Life 2 and Quake 4, just remember to keep the screen resolution and AA/AF in check.
Overclocking: While we normally don’t boast over the virtues of overclocking as it can vary from board to board, we have a pretty safe feeling that you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the overclocking potential of the GeForce 6600 DDR2. The 6600 has already proven to be a wonderful overclocker thanks to its 110-nm manufacturing process.
With the addition of 400MHz DDR2 memory modules, the platform is even better for overclocking. The newer DDR2 modules from Infineon XFX is using on their card run considerably cooler than earlier modules we’ve tested on earlier generation DX9 boards.
AGP please!: With its $99 price tag and superb gaming performance, NVIDIA’s GeForce 6600 DDR2 would make an excellent upgrade for countless gamers on a budget looking to upgrade from aging AGP-based 3D hardware. This includes GeForce4 owners who are finally ready to see what all the DX9 fuss is about, as well as numerous others with DX7/DX8 graphics and/or integrated graphics solutions. Even those of you with RADEON 9700/9600s or GeForce FX boards would be in good hands with the GeForce 6600 DDR2 platform, if only it were available in AGP.
This isn’t a strike against XFX’s GeForce 6600 DDR2 board, as far as we’re concerned, XFX has put together a great piece of hardware, it’s just a shame that AGP users can’t get in on the action. Hopefully NVIDIA will release an AGP version in the future, after all they produced PCI-based GeForce2/4 MX boards for years after AGP’s debut, but to the best of our knowledge no plans are in the works.
| Final Verdict||Page:: ( 17 / 17 )|
But in fact, in real-world use there’s a lot to be excited about.
In real-world performance, our benchmarks clearly favored the GeForce 6600 DDR2 over the RADEON X1300 PRO. The GeForce 6600 DDR2 simply outperformed the RADEON X1300 PRO in most of our testing. We’re not just talking OpenGL performance either, as the GeForce 6600 DDR2 outran the X1300 PRO in titles that have traditionally favored ATI cards such as Half-Life 2. In HL2, even the stock GeForce 6600 DDR2 outran the X1300 PRO in all but two cases, both without AA/AF. Once these eye candy features are turned on, the GeForce 6600 DDR2 begins to pull away from the X1300 PRO, especially at the lower resolutions you’re most likely to play at with these cards.
The clincher is that the GeForce 6600 DDR2 does all this at a lower price point, and while running quieter.
XFX’s interpretation of the GeForce 6600 DDR2 is even better than NVIDIA’s. Rather than stick with NVIDIA’s reference speeds of 350/400 for the core and memory respectively, XFX runs their board at 400/400. As we saw in the benchmarks, this change provides a nice boost in performance, pulling the XFX board even further away from the competition. XFX even prices their board for $99, $20 less than NVIDIA’s official MSRP of $119 for the GeForce 6600 DDR2. XFX even includes a copy of Far Cry (on DVD) in the card’s packaging.
Things really get interesting though once you overclock the XFX GeForce 6600 DDR2. If you haven’t seen the overclocking results yet, you really should go back a few pages and check them out. With a few simple clicks of the mouse and one reboot, our $99 XFX GeForce 6600 DDR2 was running just as fast as a fully-fledged GeForce 6600 GT board. And don’t forget that the board ship with 256MB of memory. All of the first-generation GeForce 6600 GT boards shipped with just 128MB of RAM. Only in more recent months have board partners been shipping 256MB GeForce 6600 GT boards, and all of these currently sell for a premium over the early GeForce 6600 GT 128MB cards.
With all this in mind, it was a no-brainer to award XFX’s GeForce 6600 DDR2 our Bull’s Eye Award. This card is all about delivering extraordinary price/performance, and as far as we’re concerned, it’s the best graphics card on the market in its price range. You just can’t find a better buy right now. If all you’ve got is $100 to spend on your next graphics upgrade, this board is hard to beat.
Now if NVIDIA will just release an AGP version…