As if having the jump over rival ATI by releasing the world's first DirectX 10 compatible graphics architecture is not enough, NVIDIA has continued to consolidate its superiority by extending its GeForce 8 series from the initial high-end GeForce 8800 cards. So we have also seen the mid-range GeForce 8600 and 8500 series in recent months while at the extreme high end, NVIDIA's response is the GeForce 8800 Ultra. MSI sent us its version of this new king of the hill and here are the highlights.
How to top the successful and speedy GeForce 8800 GTX 768MB? Well, NVIDIA's answer is to raise the bar on the clock speeds. The MSI card we received is a typical reference card that follows the default clocks - which have all been increased in the Ultra SKU. Hence, the core clock has gone from the GTX's 575MHz to 612MHz, the memory has increased to 2160MHz from 1800MHz and underneath all this, the internal shader clocks have also gone up to 1500MHz from 1350MHz. As this is a standard card, we will not be showing the performance benchmarks and you can refer to our previous review of the NVIDIA GeForce 8800 Ultra for the figures. Let's just say we were not exactly thrilled with its performance (or its price point).
The success of the NVIDIA GeForce 8800 Ultra has been how the engineers have managed to keep the graphics card at an admirably low noise level despite increased clock speeds (that usually spells more heat and in many cases, a noisy fan). A black plastic shroud covers most of the card but the large two-slot cooler is as quiet as the GeForce 8800 GTX. Although NVIDIA's engineers claim to have reduced power consumption slightly in certain scenarios, that wasn't the case during our testing, so be prepared to have extra 'juice' in your PSU before getting one of these.
If the inherently faster clocks on the GeForce 8800 Ultra is still not enough to suit your taste for speed, MSI's usual proprietary overclocking utility, Dynamic Overclocking Technology (D.O.T) is bundled together with this card. Users are able to get the preset profiles to get between 2 and 10% boost in clock speeds, though of course, getting the maximum 10% to run stable on your card is not guaranteed. However, as usual, MSI will be responsible for any damages encountered during the use of D.O.T, so it's a form of insurance for less daring overclockers.
Other exclusive MSI software include StarOSD, which allows users to tweak their clocks and fan settings within an application, e.g. a game. There is no need to exit the program to change your graphics card settings anymore. This should be a boon for enthusiasts who desire close, complete control of their systems and to optimize them on the fly. Finally, MSI also bundled a future Hall of Fame RTS game in the award winning Company of Heroes, which has breathed new life into the genre. It is a fitting title for a top end card like this GeForce 8800 Ultra. More so now that the game has been updated to support DX10 in the latest patch release version 1.7.
The GeForce 8800 Ultra is a luxury item, with prices starting from US$829 at launch and we don't expect this MSI card to be any different, especially when one factors in the software and applications bundled. There probably won't be that many available also for this niche product that will appeal only to enthusiasts with real spending power. For the majority, this is a card for bragging rights only, as the value is hard to justify with its performance. This isn't the fastest yet as MSI has an overclocked version in the pipeline, but that too will come at a price of course.