Reinventing the G80 - the NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GT 512MB

NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GT 512MB Unveiled

Notable Highlights of the GeForce 8800 GT

Besides what we have mentioned earlier, the GeForce 8800 GT is also a milestone in being the first consumer graphics card to support the new PCI Express 2.0 specifications. Promising to double the bandwidth from a total of 8GB/s (for PCIe x16) to 16GB/s (with PCIe 2.0), this requires a compatible PCIe 2.0 motherboard (Intel's X38, AMD's RD700, NVIDIA's MCP72) to realize its maximum potential but naturally, it is also backwards compatible with the prevalent PCIe 1.1 standard that all of the other motherboards support today. Whether this will mean anything in practical application is moot at such an early point in time but you can count on more of such supported cards in the future. Our hunch is that the extra bandwidth won't play any significance anytime soon, but it's good to know that the card can handle such bandwidth when the need arises.

Another notable feature for the GeForce 8800 GT is that it is the first member of the GeForce 8800 series to support HDCP over dual link DVI. While some of the mid and lower range cards like the GeForce 8600 and 8500 series came with similar HDCP support (depending on the vendor while all the GeForce 8600 GTS cards supported it), the GeForce 8800 series lacked HDCP over dual-link. Instead, only single link HDCP is supported, meaning that HDCP content played over a display requiring dual-link DVI connection (such as the Dell 30-inch displays) will downscale to lower resolutions on these cards (1280 x 800 usually). This is because that particular monitor was designed to handle resolutions of 1280 x 800 and below on single-link connection while anything higher used a dual-link DVI connection. However when used with single link DVI connection such as a 24-inch LCD monitor or any HDTV, this issue doesn't exist and 1080P protected content can be viewed in their full bliss. Compared to ATI's Radeon HD series, all of which support HDCP over dual link, it is obviously not the best of situations for NVIDIA even though the user group for dual-link DVI displays is small.

This has been rectified for the new GeForce 8800 GT, with NVIDIA adding HDCP support over dual link and it will even scale the HDCP content to the display's native resolution such as 2560 x 1600 in the case of 30-inch LCD monitors, surpassing the supported video display resolution of 1920 x 1200 on the Radeon HD 2900 XT. Only a few expensive, 30-inch monitors currently support such a resolution for HDCP content so those with the budgets should find the GeForce 8800 GT the ideal high-end card for both HD video playback and gaming.

Somewhat related to the launch of the GeForce 8800 GT is the introduction of new ForceWare drivers (167.37 & above). First, there is a new transparency multisampling (TRMS) algorithm that has a lesser performance penalty compared to the older version. Hence, users may find now it feasible to use the new TRMS mode in addition to conventional anti-aliasing for better image quality. NVIDIA has also added anti-aliasing support for games using Unreal Engine 3 and this can be enabled from within the NVIDIA Control Panel.

As for the actual hardware itself, the GeForce 8800 GT is a slim, albeit relatively lengthy graphics card outfitted with a single slot cooler. The fan is quiet by any standard, though it does spin at its peak during boot up. The black metallic shroud on the cooler keeps most of the components on the GeForce 8800 GT under wraps, though most of the cooler felt scalding to our touch after a benchmarking session. At idle however, this was not an issue.

NVIDIA rates the TDP of the GeForce 8800 GT as 105W, lower than the 140W on the GeForce 8800 GTX. The 65nm core probably contributes to this figure in a positive sense, though the GeForce 8 series seems like advertisements for the eco-friendly movement when compared to the 215W rating on the Radeon HD 2900 XT.