Summary: With its G71 graphics core, 20 pixel shaders, 7 vertex shaders, and 256MB of high-speed GDDR3 memory, the GeForce 7900 GS is designed to appeal to gamers with an eye on performance. But with its $200 price tag, the 7900 GS will also be extremely appealing to users on a budget. In this article we'll be taking a look at the 7900 GS, as well as factory overclocked cards from EVGA and XFX. See how they stack up to the competition inside!
NVIDIA’s attack will come in two waves: first, for the mainstream market, NVIDIA’s prepped the GeForce 7900 GS 256MB, this is the GPU we’ll be taking a look at in today’s article. The GeForce 7900 GS carries a $200 price tag and is loaded with features, but more on this later.
The GeForce 7950 GT
Sitting above the GeForce 7900 GS in NVIDIA’s refreshed lineup is the GeForce 7950 GT. The GeForce 7950 GT takes the $300 spot currently occupied by the GeForce 7900 GT, and sports a 550MHz core clock speed with 512MB of GDDR3 memory running at 700MHz (1.4GHz effective). With a 550MHz core clock speed, the GeForce 7950 GT runs a full 100MHz faster than the GeForce 7900 GT it replaces on the graphics core, and just 100MHz shy of the GeForce 7900 GTX, while its memory is 140MHz faster than the 7900 GT and 100MHz below the 7900 GTX.
As you can see in the images, the GeForce 7950 GT will continue to reside in a single-slot package, in fact NVIDIA’s reference board appears to borrow the same reference cooling used on the 7900 GT. As a result, going from the GeForce 7900 GT to the 7950 GT should be a smooth transition for board manufacturers, all they’ve got to do is swap out the core and memory, and integrate the extra crypto-ROM chip to store the card’s HDCP key. With the 7950 GT officially replacing the 7900 GT, look for GeForce 7900 GT cards to drop in price down to the $200-$300 range before slowly disappearing. The GeForce 7950 GT will hit store shelves next week on September 14th, taking on ATI’s recently announced Radeon X1900 XT 256MB directly.
G71 gets cheaper: the GeForce 7900 GS
Pegged just below the GeForce 7950 GT will be the GeForce 7900 GS, NVIDIA’s sixth GPU to utilize their 90-nm G71 graphics chip. The 7900 GS retains all the key features found in more senior G71-based GPUs like the GeForce 7950 GT and GeForce 7900 GTX, only for the GeForce 7900 GS NVIDIA deactivates one of the GPU’s six pixel shading quads, effectively disabling four pixel shading units in the process. This brings the total number of active pixel shaders in the GeForce 7900 GS down to 20, in comparison the 7900 GT/GTX and GeForce 7950 GT all feature 24 pixel shaders. NVIDIA also disables one vertex shader in the GeForce 7900 GS, leaving seven vertex shaders active (in comparison the other G71 cards feature eight vertex shaders).
Clock speeds for the GeForce 7900 GS carry over unchanged from the 7900 GT, the graphics core is clocked at 460MHz while the board’s memory runs at 660MHz (1,320MHz effective). In terms of connectivity, like the other GeForce 7900 cards the GeForce 7900 GS is outfitted with two dual-link DVI connectors but unlike the 7950 GT, HDCP support is an optional feature – it will be up to NVIDIA’s board partners to determine which (if any) of their GeForce 7900 GS cards will offer full HDCP support. Among the board partners we polled, most of them don’t plan to offer HDCP support for their first crop of GeForce 7900 GS cards, but there are HDCP-compliant GeForce 7900 GS cards out there. You’ll have to read the fine print closely if this feature is important to you.
Besides its G71 graphics core, the most attractive part about the GeForce 7900 GS is without a doubt its price. The board carries an MSRP of $199 and is outfitted with 256MB of GDDR3 memory. In terms of availability, unlike the GeForce 7950 GT, the 7900 GS is available now, retailers are selling boards as we speak from a variety of NVIDIA’s board partners. (In fact, we’ll be taking a closer look at the first wave of partner boards on the next page.) With its $200 price tag, the GeForce 7900 GS is expected to do battle with ATI’s Radeon X1800 GTO and X1900 GT as street prices on both cards are in the same price range as the 7900 GS (as of right now, the lowest PriceGrabber listings for the X1800 GTO are $199.99, while the X1900 GT starts at about $209.99).
The following chart summarizes how the GeForce 7900 GS and 7950 GT compare to the rest of NVIDIA’s high-end lineup, as well as competing cards offered by ATI.
Therefore any board partner that’s built a 7900 GT card should have no problem transitioning to the 7900 GS, all a prospective board partner would have to do is drop the 7900 GS GPU onto the PCB and memory used for their older 7900 GT cards. In fact it appears that’s precisely what most board partners are doing with their first-generation 7900 GS cards. Thankfully the 7900 GS boards we’ve received so far aren’t direct replicas of the 7900 GT reference design…
BFG’s 7900 GS OC
BFG’s GeForce 7900 GS OC is one such card that isn’t an exact copy and paste rendition of the NVIDIA GeForce 7900 GT reference board. It’s heritage actually dates back to the design of BFG’s GeForce 7900 GT 512MB board, as the card shares the exact same blue PCB and copper cooling as BFG’s 7900 GT OC 512MB.
We should note that BFG’s cooling is the same as NVIDIA’s reference board. A copper heatsink rests above the 7900 GS GPU, with a small fan supplying the heatsink with fresh air. The heatsink/fan combo is single-slot, so those of you with small or cramped cases shouldn’t have a problem fitting the BFG 7900 GS OC into your system. The cooler NVIDIA uses isn’t exactly silent, but we wouldn’t call it loud either. It would be nice if the pitch on the fan’s motor wasn’t so loud though.
As a part of the “OC” line, BFG’s GeForce 7900 GS OC is of course overclocked from the factory by BFG. BFG clocks the board at 525MHz on the graphics core – an improvement of 75MHz over the stock GeForce 7900 GS – while the board’s memory runs at the 7900 GS’ stock speed of 660MHz (1.32GHz effective). HDCP support is not included with the GeForce 7900 GS OC, but BFG’s well known lifetime warranty policy is supported.
Our BFG boards just arrived yesterday, so we didn’t have time to test them, but expect a full article on the OC cards shortly.
EVGA’s GeForce 7900 GS KO
EVGA hopes to knockout the competition with their e-GeForce 7900 GS KO board. Like other 7900 GS board manufacturers, EVGA borrows heavily on their previous GeForce 7900 GT cards for inspiration for their e-GeForce 7900 GS KO card. In the case of the 7900 GS KO, EVGA used their high-end GeForce 7900 GT KO/Signature Series as the foundation for the 7900 GS KO, as the e-GeForce 7900 GS KO features the same copper cooling present on those high-end GT cards.
Taking a closer look at the cooler you’ll see that it’s made entirely from copper. A large copper heatsink not only cools the 7900 GS GPU, but also the board’s memory modules as well. As a result, EVGA’s larger copper cooling does a better job of cooling the graphics core and its memory, all while running a little quieter than NVIDIA’s stock reference design.
If the tweaked cooler weren’t enough, EVGA’s also offering a KO SKU with full out-of-the-box HDCP support (Part Number 256-P2-N625-AR), making it one of the few first-gen GeForce 7900 GS cards to support this feature. (This is the card we evaluated for this article.)
On top of all this, EVGA runs their e-GeForce 7900 GS KO board at speeds that are higher than stock, opting to clock the graphics core at 500MHz (50MHz higher than stock), while the board’s memory runs at 690MHz (1.38GHz effective), that’s 30MHz higher than the stock memory speed for the GeForce 7900 GS.
To spice the package a little further, EVGA also includes a copy of the game Hitman: Blood Money with their e-GeForce 7900 GS KO. EVGA also continues to provide their lifetime warranty support as well as their Step-Up trade-in program.
Besides the HDCP-enabled GeForce 7900 GS KO, EVGA offers four other GeForce 7900 GS cards, a regular KO board without HDCP (Part Number 256-P2-N624-AR) and three GeForce 7900 GS SKUs without the factory overclocked speeds. Two of those three cards have the KO cooling while the third card relies on NVIDIA’s stock cooling unit.
The design of Gigabyte’s GeForce 7900 GS card, the GV-NX79G256DP-RH, also draws heavily on an older high-end GeForce 7900 GT offering, in this case Gigabyte’s Zalman-cooled GV-NX79T256DP-RH and GV-NX79T256DP-RH-ED.
Rather than relying on the stock NVIDIA GeForce 7900 GS reference board design, Gigabyte plans to tweak the board for higher clock speeds. To accomplish this, Gigabyte’s employing higher quality electrolytic capacitors, as well as solid capacitors for their GV-NX79G256DP-RH board. To further enhance the board’s overclockability, Gigabyte plans on outfitting the board with a Zalman VF700-AlCu VGA cooler (minus the RAMsinks).
The VF700-AlCu is no longer Zalman’s highest-end VGA cooler, but it’s still more than ready to take on cooling an already cool-running GPU like the G71. It’s a dual-slot cooler, so it may be a tight fit for those of you who are space-constrained, but with its nearly silent fan and good cooling performance, the VF700-AlCu was pretty popular among enthusiasts looking for a good aftermarket cooler. When paired with the rest of Gigabyte’s GV-NX79G256DP-RH, it should make the board one of the quietest, if not the quietest GeForce 7900 GS cards on the market once it’s released (Gigabyte’s still tweaking the board’s final design).
With the more robust cooling and board design, Gigabyte plans to clock their GV-NX79G256DP-RH board at speeds higher than anyone else. The board’s graphics core will be clocked at 525MHz, matching the speed of BFG’s 7900 GS OC, while the board’s memory runs at a whopping 720MHz (1.44GHz effective). Gigabyte plans on using 1.4ns modules for their GV-NX79G256DP-RH – which are also used by stock GeForce 7900 GS cards and good for up to 700MHz – so officially they’re going to be overclocking the board’s memory modules a little to achieve those clocks.
For the software bundle, Gigabyte plans to include a copy of Serious Sam 2 inside the GV-NX79G256DP-RH’s packaging.
XFX GeForce 7900 GS 480M Extreme
Last but certainly not least is XFX. Like the other card manufacturers featured in this article, XFX draws from their 7900 GT board design for their GeForce 7900 GS card. In the case of XFX, their XTREME line of 7900 GT-based cards is the foundation XFX starts with.
The XFX GeForce 7900 GS 480M Extreme (Part Number PVT71PUDE3) sports a black PCB and back plate, while the board’s DVI connectors are fluorescent green. It gives the board a distinctive look that looks really sharp in our opinion. Sitting atop the board’s PCB is an additional black metal plate. XFX’s company logo adorns the top of the plate for added flair. But this plate isn’t just there for looks, it also serves an added purpose: to perform as a heatsink of sorts. You see, heat from the board’s PCB is transferred from the PCB to this plate, helping to keep board temperature down. XFX then finishes the package off with the stock NVIDIA copper heatsink/fan unit, with the top of the fan adorned with an XFX sticker.
For added performance, XFX clocks their GeForce 7900 GS 480M Extreme at 480MHz core/700MHz memory (1.4GHz effective), and of course, the card is backed up by XFX’s double lifetime warranty.
In addition to the 480M Extreme, XFX also provides a tamer GeForce 7900 GS card that retains the same board design as this card, right down to the black PCB and metal plate, only it ships at the 7900 GS’s stock clock speeds of 450MHz core/660MHz memory. If you’re interested in this card, its Part Number is PVT71PUDF3.
Both boards are available now with the XFX GeForce 7900 GS 480M Extreme carrying a $219.99 price tag which can be combined with a $20 mail-in rebate for a price of $199.99 after rebate, while the regular XFX GeForce 7900 GS sells for $199.99 and can also be combined with a $20 mail-in rebate for a price of $179.99 after rebate. Mwave.com, NCIX.com, Newegg, TigerDirect, and Zipzoomfly are the retailers that will be offering the XFX cards with mail-in rebate starting today, so if you’re interested in the card, you’ll want to check out one of those five retailers. Our tests today reflect the performance of the GeForce 7900 GS 480M Extreme board.
Pacific Fighters 4.04 (with Perfect landscape setting for ATI and NVIDIA)
After numerous readers appealed to us to being testing NVIDIA cards with the image quality setting set to “high quality” we finally did just that last week in our Radeon X1950 XTX CrossFire story. We got lots of positive feedback as a result of that change, so we’re continuing to adjust the image quality slider from “quality” to “high quality”. This change turns off many of the optimizations NVIDIA has implemented for anisotropic filtering, and therefore brings with it a slight hit in terms of performance.
3DMark 06 – Direct3D
Half-Life 2: Lost Coast – Direct3D
Battlefield 2 – Direct3D
Quake 4 – OpenGL
Flight Simulator X Demo – Direct3D
Lock On: Modern Air Combat – Direct3D
Pacific Fighters – Direct3D
F.E.A.R. – Direct3D
Oblivion – Direct3D
Oblivion – Direct3D
Call of Duty 2 – Direct3D
Far Cry – Direct3D
Against the Radeon X1800 GTO, the GeForce 7900 GS puts up much better performance. In F.E.A.R., the stock GeForce 7900 GS board enjoyed a performance advantage of up to 26% at 1920x1200, while the 7900 GS pulled away even further at the same resolution in Quake 4, running over 33% faster than the X1800 GTO. The only app we tested with where the X1800 GTO actually managed to put up a fight against the GeForce 7900 GS was Oblivion, here it actually pulled away slightly at higher-res testing (particularly in foliage), but everywhere else the GeForce 7900 GS enjoys a comfortable double-digit performance advantage over the Radeon X1800 GTO.
When compared against the Radeon X1900 GT, which currently sells for just over $210 and up, the GeForce 7900 GS wins in the areas where NVIDIA’s GeForce line has traditionally done well in, while the Radeon X1900 GT outruns it in apps ATI cards have always held the advantage. In Quake 4 for instance, the 7900 GS carried a performance advantage of 13% at 1920x1200, but the 7900 GS trailed the X1900 GT by 21% at the same resolution in our Call of Duty 2 testing. In F.E.A.R. and Half-Life 2 Lost Coast, the 7900 GS finished behind by 10% and 20% respectively at 1920x1200. Yet the GeForce 7900 GS card puts up a strong performance in LOMAC, Pacific Fighters, and the Flight Simulator X demo.
Keep in mind that these numbers apply to the stock GeForce 7900 GS card. Many of NVIDIA’s board partners will be overclocking their 7900 GS boards from the factory, and these cards will deliver considerably more performance than the stock 7900 GS. Once this is factored in, the gap between the 7900 GS and the X1900 GT in apps like Call of Duty 2, Battlefield 2, F.E.A.R., etc narrows to the point where the GeForce card draws much closer to the X1900 GT, in fact it may even draw even with the X1900 GT, we saw this in the case of the EVGA e-GeForce 7900 GS KO in F.E.A.R. Basically, the exact amount separating the 7900 GS from the X1900 GT in terms of performance is ultimately going to come down to which GeForce 7900 GS card you choose and which app you’re interested in testing.
To sum it all up, the GeForce 7900 GS looks like a very strong card for the $200 market. While it has fewer pixel/vertex shaders, it often delivers competitive performance with the GeForce 7900 GT; in fact the factory overclocked EVGA GeForce 7900 GS card matched the 7900 GT in performance in some cases. It clearly delivers better performance than the Radeon X1800 GTO, which also sells for $200 right now, but against the $210+ Radeon X1900 GT it’s a toss up. Performance is going to come down to the clock speeds of the 7900 GS card in question, as well as the application being tested. In some cases, the 7900 GS wins, in others it loses. In dual configurations the GeForce 7900 GS is obviously the preferable solution, as ATI hasn’t implemented dongle-less CrossFire support for the Radeon X1900 GT (and therefore requires the purchase of a Radeon X1900 XT CrossFire card), so if that’s an important consideration for you, the 7900 GS is the clear winner right now. For everyone else, the choice between the two is probably going to come down to price, availability, and the games you play with.
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