As we noted in our original review of the GeForce 7600 GS, NVIDIA seems to be going for the HTPC segment with a reference design that had decent performance coupled with a passive heatsink and support for all the PureVideo goodness that relieves your CPU of the burden of HD video acceleration. It seemed quite perfect, until we realized that there are no HDCP ready outputs. It was a single but major flaw that prevented it from taking our recommendation as the must-have card for a HTPC.
Gigabyte has gone and remedied this crucial failing of the GeForce 7600 GS by making it really friendly for the living room. In other words, by adding a HDMI connector to its GeForce 7600 GS card. With most HDTVs sporting HDMI connectors, it was only appropriate to outfit its new Gigabyte GV-NX76G256HI-RH with one. This, along with its HDCP readiness, is provided by Silicon Image, and the company's SiI1930 HDMI transmitter can be clearly seen on the board.
Since the HDMI output combines the video stream with the digital audio signals to have a single cable managing your TV-output needs, an S/PDIF audio cable is provided in the package and you can connect this cable from your motherboard or soundcard to the Gigabyte graphics card. This card also uses a familiar looking heatsink, a passive cooler that is exactly the same as what we found on Gigabyte's GeForce 7300 GT cards. A small looping heat pipe is used to spread the heat to aluminum fins to increase the surface area for thermal dissipation. Gigabyte also boasts the presence of all-solid capacitors throughout the board and extols the virtues of using these slightly more expensive capacitors, mainly its longer lifespan and improved power stability at higher temperatures. Since such a 'feature' is also found on Gigabyte's recent motherboards like the Gigabyte GA-965P-DQ6, this seems to be a new initiative to distinguish its products from the competition by focusing on product stability and longevity.
Specs-wise, the Gigabyte GV-NX76G256HI-RH is an overclocked GeForce 7600 GS, with an above average core clock speed of 450MHz. The memory clock is unchanged at the standard 800MHz DDR2 and RAM from Hynix rated at 2.5ns is used, so don't hold high expectations about its overclockability. Based on our experience, the stronger GeForce 7300 GT cards, especially those with DDR3 memory, should compete strongly against this GeForce 7600 GS, though of course they would also lack its HTPC edge.
Finally, while our evaluation unit came bare, consumers however can expect the list of items below, if the press release that we received is accurate. There should be quite a few HDMI-related cables inside for end-users to connect to their HDTVs while the latest PowerDVD will allow playback of H.264 content. The choice of the award winning time based strategy, Civilization IV game can be interpreted as a nod to the mundane performance of the GeForce 7600 GS and will probably appeal more to the older crowd that go for expensive HDTVs and HTPCs due to its slower game play and genre. Here's what you can expect to find in the Gigabyte GV-NX76G256HI-RH:
** Updated as of 31st August 2006 **
We were informed by Gigabyte that the actual Gigabyte GV-NX76G256HI-RH will ship with an overclocked core speed of 450MHz instead of the standard 400MHz that we found in the preview unit we received. This should result in slightly faster performance compared to the default GeForce 7600 GS and we have updated all our old references and benchmark scores accordingly to reflect the true status of the graphics card.