Midrange Cards: NVIDIA GeForce 8600 Round-Up

Author: Kevin Spiess
Editor: Howard Ha
Publish Date: Monday, June 18th, 2007
Originally Published on Neoseeker (http://www.neoseeker.com)
Article Link: http://www.neoseeker.com/Articles/Hardware/Reviews/8600_roundup/
Copyright Neo Era Media, Inc. - please do not redistribute or use for commercial purposes.

Today we are going to compare some of NVIDIA's latest in their mid-range offerings: the 8600 GT/GTS family of video cards.

At the heart of the 8600 GT/GTS class card is the recently released G84 core. The G84 is a slimmed down version of the blazing-fast flagship G80 GPU core, which is (as of mid-June) still the biggest commercial GPU on the market, with a transistor count of over 680 million. The G84 came out in April, primarily to address an upcoming need for Vista-ready, performance-class cards able to handle soon to be released DirectX 10 games. While the G80/8800 series GPU's are aimed more towards the hardcore gamer crowd who will only settle for peak performance, the G84 family aims to strike a balance between performance and an affordable price ($125-$225).

Previously, in our April review of the XFX 8600 GT XXX, the 8600 GT was shown to be a solid upgrade choice for someone with an aging, under-performing GPU. Benchmarks indicated that the XFX 8600 GT XXX vastly outperformed 6600 GT class cards, while offering only slight performance gains over 7600 GT cards. However, if you consider that the 8600's all utilize the new unified shader model, and with PureVideo HD (for optimized Blu-Ray and HD DVD playback), as having Coverage Sampling Antialiasing technology (which reduces the processing strain of AA on your GPU), then going the 8600 GT/GTS route makes a lot of sense. Especially when you can find 8600 GT's retailing for only 10 or 20 dollars more than the 7600 GT's. 


But what 8600 GT/GTS should you chose? Well, that's what we are going to try to help you decide. The good news is that you have no shortage of options. The competitors we have selected for this roundup,  in alphabetical order are: the Asus EN8600 GTS, the Asus EN8600 GTS TOP, the Gigabyte 8600 GT, the Gigabyte 8600 GTS OC, MSI's NX8600 GTS, the XFX 8600 GT, and the XFX 8600 GTS.

Here is a brief chart comparing the vital digits of these editions:

8600 Roundup Asus EN8600 GTS Asus EN8600 GTS TOP Gigabyte 8600 GT Gigabyte 8600 GTS MSI NX8600 GTS XFX 8600 GT XFX 8600 GTS
Core Frequency 680 745 600 675 675 620 730
Memory Frequency 2000 2000 1400 2000 2000 1400 2260
Memory Interface 128-bit 128-bit 128-bit 128-bit 128-bit 128-bit 128-bit
Memory  256 MB 256 MB 256 MB 256 MB 256 MB 256 MB 256 MB
Stream Processors 32 32 32 32 32 32 32


As you are probably aware, this chart doesn't really tell the whole story. All these cards are playing in the same league, so, when considering one edition over the other, you will probably want to look at other factors beyond clock speeds -- such as the bundled software, price, and cooling options for example -- in order to better help you make the right choice.

Without further delay, let's see what these 8600 GT/GTS's can do, and see if any particular card can steal the show...

Asus contributed two cards for this roundup: the EN8600 GTS, and the EN8600 GTS TOP. Asus has used the TOP branding for a few years now, and the acronym stands for 'Top Overclocking Performance.' The TOP GTS clocks in at 745 MHz core and 1600 MHz RAM speed, where as the regular version has a 675 MHz core and a RAM speed of 1450 MHz. Besides the clock speeds, both cards are also easily distinguishable because they offer much different cooling solutions.

The Asus EN8600 GTS (the non-TOP GTS version) has been fitted with a small heatsink/fan combo that has an almost retro-look to it.  It is also one of the smaller cooling solutions employed the cards in this roundup.

The TOP goes for the conventional 8600 GTS reference design cooling option: a smallish fan horizontally paired with an array of aluminum fins, and covered with a thin plastic shield. Curiously, the cooler has a S.T.A.L.K.E.R sticker on it. I like that game as much as the next gamer does, but having this advertising right on the card without including the game in the package is a bit of an oddity -- however, certain editions of the 8600 GTS do ship with this title. So if you are looking for that specific bundle, you'll want to look for the EN6800GTS/G/HTDP/256M model, as opposed to our EN6800GTS/HTDP/256M/A. 

Both Asus cards both require a PCI-e 6-pin power connector to operate correctly. You can run the card without the connector, but not feeding the card that extra power will lead directly to annoying warning messages, and reduced GPU speed.

A nice addition to the Asus 8600 both GTS bundles is am Asus branded faux leather (a.k.a. Pleather) 16 capacity CD/DVD carrying case.  Both the GTS and the GTS TOP also come with a DVI to VGA adapter, a  HDTV cable, a driver CD, and a CD with a multi-language manual on it. 

One feature that both these ASUS cards share that is not offered elsewhere in this round-up is a support for resolutions up to 3840 x 2400, at 30Hz. The price for the TOP and regular GTS have been jumping around quite a bit lately. You can expect to find the regular GTS priced at around $200 and the TOP costing $20-30 more.

Gigabyte has two contenders in this roundup, both of which are the the only passively cooled cards of the bunch.  

Following Gigabyte's tendency to favor quiet cooling solutions, the 8600 GT has a black metal Silent-Pipe II heatsink on it. The Silent-Pipe II almost looks a little like a cooking griddle; the large heat-sink hangs about an inch of the end of the card, and roughly doubles the cards weight in comparison with the standard reference design board, which has a heatsink/fan combo.

The 8600 GTS has an upgraded Silent-Pipe 3 heatsink on it. The Silent-Pipe 3 is a more substantial cooler, doubling the cards width -- that's right, this Gigabyte 8600 GTS might have to encroach into a second slot's space in your computer. So if you are running out of room in your rig, and you think you might want go SLI sometime down the road, double-wide cards like this and the MSI NX8600 GTS, may be something you might want to avoid.

The Silent-Pipe 3 does not hang as far off the end of the card compared to the GT's Silent-Pipe II system, however -- the cooler only stretches about 3/8ths an inch off the end. The Silent-Pipe 3 also has  a pair of copper pipes, and an array of staggered fins that stick out through the bracket, giving the card a unique look.

While overclocking and temperature tests would show how effective these two passive cooling systems are when compared to the active systems used in the other cards in this roundup, one benefit of using passive heatsinks over fans is noise -- or more precisely, the lacking there of. If you'd like your running PC as quite as possible (maybe for a home theater system?), then Gigabyte made this card for you. Additionally, these cards do not require a PCI-e power connection, so if you have an old and weak PSU (especially with an output of less than 350W) and want a 8600 GTS, this is might be a good option to go with. However, on the downside, these coolers have the tendency to get quite hot. So if your case has sub-par ventilation, you might want to 'pass' on these passively cooled cards.    

Both the Gigabyte 8600 GT and GTS come bundled with Supreme Commander, which is an excellent RTS game with an impressive graphics engine. Coincidently, Supreme Commander is not a DirectX 10 capable title, and all of the 8600GT/GTS series of cards are DX10 compliant. Nonetheless, Supreme Commander is a great way to burn-in a new GPU.

The GT package comes with a driver CD, two DVI to VGA adapters, and a HDTV adapter.  Included with the GTS also comes a double-molex to PCI-e power adapter cable.

The GT currently retails for around $140, whereas the GTS goes for roughly $190. Quite the price jump for an extra 75 MHz core speed and a 600 MHz boost in memory speeds.  

Micro-Star International has one card in this round-up, and it's the NX8600 GTS OC.  The OC stands for -- you guessed it -- "Overclock Edition."

To make a purely subjective observation, the NX8600 GTS stands out from the rest of the pack -- when it comes to aesthetics. As you can see in the photos below, the board itself is red, and the both DVI's are yellow, giving the card a color scheme usually associated with ATI Radeon cards.  

Judging by appearance, out of all the cards in this round-up, this MSI card appears to have most robust cooling solution. This is not a humongous surprise, as this card is a factory overclocked edition. But when compared to the ASUS 8600 GTS TOP, or any other card in this round-up, the MSI cooler looks like it is the most effective, and not to mention most expensive, cooler of the bunch. The card cooling system is composed of a thin-finnned aluminum heatsink connected to a copper heatpipe and a good sized, dual-slot fan. Like the Gigabyte 8600 GTS, this card is a double width card, so it'll take up a bit more space in your case.

If the robust design of this fan had one trade off, it'd be the sound envelope: this card is probably the loudest of all the cards in our roundup. Fortunately, this is mitigated by a option that is undocumented in the (very slight) manual: the card has both a 4 pin and a 3 pin power connector -- if you'd prefer less noise instead of performance, it is a simple matter to unplug the 4 power connector, and plug in the 3 pin connector instead; and after you switch to the 3 pin connector, the card runs much quieter, at about roughly 80% fan speed. It's just a simple matter of running the fan at power levels of either 5 Volts or at 12 Volts by switching connectors. Hence, low and high speed.

This MSI card comes with a molex to PCI-E power cable, a S-Video cable, two DVI to VGA adapters, and a HDTV cable -- but the bundle does not include a game. Curently, the  NX8600 GTS retails around $170.

Now we will look at the two XFX cards in this roundup: the 8600 GT and the 8600 GTS.

Let's start with the GT. Of the six cards in this roundup, this card is the smallest.  Not only is it lacking the massive cooler present on the other GT in this roundup, the Gigabyte GT, but the actual printed circuit board (PCB) itself is shorter. Additionally, the XFX 8600 GT sports the smallest cooling fan of the bunch.  The black PCB and green DVI ports gives the board a slick, low-profile look to it. Featuring more capacitors than the majority of 8600 GT's currently available, as well as a EMI-reducing copper coil (seen on the top-right), the XFX 8600 looks like a lean and mean little machine.      

One thing to be aware of: if you are looking to purchase a XFX 8600 GT, be aware that they have 2 models which are similar in every way but price and performance.  The PVT83JUDD3 XFX 8600GT has about 15% higher clock-speeds, and sells for a about 20$ dollars more than it's brother card, the PVT83JUDF3 XFX 8600GT.  We are reviewing the faster card, the PVT83JUDD3 model.

As for the XFX 8600 GTS, it looks like it stayed pretty close to the reference board design.  Only two things differentiate the XFX 8600 GTS from the ASUS EN8600 GTS in appearance: the sticker on the cooler, and a black plastic ridge that runs along the top of the card. Like the XFX 8600 GT, the GTS comes in three editions that look the same, but have different clock speeds and prices: the PVT84GUDF3, PVT84GUDE3, and the PVT84GUDD3. The PVT84GUDD3 is the fastest card of the three, clocking in with a 730 MHz core, and 2260 MHz memory speed. The PVT84GUDD3 also comes with great FPS Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter, while the other editions do not. 

The GTS bundle also includes a DVI to VGA adapter, a molex to PCI-E power cable, and a S-Video cable. The GT does not require a power connection, so the bundle lacks the power cable. The GT also does not have Ghost Recon. The GT card retails around the $135 mark, whereas the GTS is around 200$.

Here's our benchmarking system:

Software-wise, we used the following programs for benchmarking purposes:

One factor to consider, in respect to these benchmarks, is that with the fundamental design architecture changes introduced with these 8xxx series cards, software developers are entering into some entirely new territory. Currently, there are hardly any programs available that were coded to take advantage of the changes incorporated with new DirectX 10 standard. Keeping that in mind, with all of our benchmarks being based upon DirectX 9.0c, and considering that DX9 has been around since late 2002, it becomes difficult to judge the future performance gains that can be made by buying a new eighth-generation card. Coming soon, as more DirectX 10 games are released, we will take a second look at how these cards perform under the new DX10 standard.

Let's check out some benchmarks, shall we?

XFX really shined in this first test: their GT offering trounced Gigabytes', while the XFX GTS was only outperformed by the over-clocked ASUS T.O.P edition.

The Gigabyte GT did not do so well -- particularly on the Particles, and especially on the Vertex Shader Performance test.  The Gigabyte GT card did exceptionally awful on this Vertex Shader test, and was outperformed by a significant margin. The MSI NX8600 GTS however, really shined on this benchmark.  We will see if this translates into better game  performance at the higher-quality settings in the next benchmarks.

In both of these games, the Asus GTS T.O.P does come up on top -- but not only by razor-slim margin over the XFX 8600 GTS.

It also seems like the XFX 8600 GT is really holding its own against the more expensive GTS cards.

For Doom 3, the XFX GT comes in last place for the first time; although it still outperforms the Gigabyte GT when no AA or AF is used.

Also for the first time, the XFX GTS unseats the top spot on the graphs from the Asus GTS T.O.P here, for the Quake bench. But if you take a close look at the numbers, you'll see that each card's performance is almost identical.

For F.E.A.R, the Asus GTS T.O.P comes in first yet again. For second place, although the MSI NX8600 GTS is listed ahead of the XFX 8600 GTS on the chart, the XFX 8600 actually offers superior performance when AA and AF are utilized.

All of the GTS cards offer similar performance in X3.  There is only a spread of about 5 FPS between the best performing, and not-so-best performing, of the GTS cards.

With Company of Heroes (we are not using the DirectX 10 patch, by the way), it is noteworthy how well the XFX 8600 GT performs with AF and AA on. If you just bought a XFX 8600 GT, installed it, and then kept one eye on the Company of Heroes in-game bench, and one eye on your bank statement, a big grin might appear on your face, as if by magic.

The Gigabyte GT does require a bit less juice then all the other cards -- not too surprising, considering it is a GT card; but even against the XFX GT it compares well. You might reason that the Gigabyte GT requires less power because it does not have a fan, but that should not make a big impact on it's overall power consumption (only a watt or two st the most).

As for the GTS cards, the MSI NX8600 GTS seems able to get by with just a little less power than the others.

In overall comparison however, the power consumption readings for all of these 8600 cards are quite low, thus making them a very economical choice for low power systems. Case in point would be HTPC (Home Theater PC) applications. No one wants a growling fan drowning out their favorite movie. Another consideration might be for office use, where only the basics of a computer are required.

It is almost impossible to single out a clear-cut winner in this round-up. Each card has it's own unique feature-set; and each feature-set will appeal to some people more than others. However, one point that the benchmarks did indicate was how well the GT's stack up against the GTS cards. While the GT cards sell for roughly 75% of the price of the GTS cards, they offer performance in the same ballpark as the GTS's. But for the moment, lets put aside the GT's, and take a look at how well the GTS cards did.

If it were only down to the most FPS, than the choice would be easy: consistently, the Asus EN8600 GTS TOP out-performed its competitors in this round-up.  With a clock speed 75 MHz over the other GTS cards, it is no surprise it topped most of the benchmarks. The only benchmark that this card did not win was the F.E.A.R benchmark, where it was narrowly edged out by the MSI NX8600 GTS. The EN8600 GTS TOP delivered good performance in all our benchmarks, and it will probably be enough power to handle all of awesome-looking big-title DirectX 10 games coming out in 2007, like BioShock and Hellgate:London. Keeping in mind that if you want to game at resolutions any higher than 1024x768 with the eye-candy cranked, you'll probablly want a bettter card. But with the sppeds we saw, the overclocked Asus card continues the worthy legacy expected from Asus's 'Top Overclocking Performer' brand.

But when you consider the price-to-performance ratio, it is easy to like what the XFX 8600 GTS brings to the table. It often retails for about $20 less than the Asus EN8600 GTS T.O.P, but almost matches its performance. Although in almost all the benchmarks the XFX GTS came second behind the Asus GTS T.O.P, it only lagged behind by a slim margin of a few FPS. And the fact that this XFX 8600 GTS is bundled with Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter really makes this card seem like the better deal of the quicker, 8600 GTS cards.

The benchmarks indicated that the MSI NX8600 GTS OC came third in our overall performance hierarchy. Nonetheless, this card is still a solid performer. Offering the least-expensive GTS option in our round-up, and performing only slightly behind the XFX 8600 GTS, makes the NX8600 GTS OC attractive for gamers looking to get the most bang for their buck. Especially if you already own GRAW, or the game does not appeal to you very much, then the MSI NX8600 GTS OC makes a good choice for an upgrade. Some might find that the MSI NX8600 a touch on the loud side, but with the easy option of reducing the fan speed, this drawback is effectively negated. Keep in mind though, these cards willbe living inside a case too, so sound may not be the deciding factor. 
But: should you even go with a 8600 GTS at all? That's a tough call. When you consider that a savvy price-hunter might find a 320 MB 8800 GTS for under the $300 mark, it makes it harder to recommend the Asus EN8600 GTS T.O.P or XFX 8600 GTS cards. When you compare the benchmarks from this round-up to the benchmarks from our Asus GeForce 8800 GTS review, you can see that the 8800 GTS class runs circles around the 8600 -- sometimes offering as much as double the frames-per-second. The slower and cheaper 128 bit memory-interface of the 8600 family of cards really cuts into their performance. So, that leaves with you the decision: how much am I willing to pay for performance? If you were hoping to upgrade to something that will allow you to game at 1280x1024 with the eye candy cranked, the 8600 GTS cards might let you down -- it would probably make more sense to spend the extra money to get a 320 MB 8800 GTS class card; or, if DirectX 10 was not a deal-breaker, you might even consider a 7950 GT.   

If your gaming budget is more limited, look at picking up a 8600 GT, or maybe going with the MSI NX8600 GTS. The MSI GTS offers good performance for its price, and the GT cards deliver solid performance. For under a $150, you get a whole lot of video card with the 8600 GT's. So -- which GT to go with? Well, in this round-up, in all but one of the benchmarks, the XFX GT outperformed the Gigabyte GT. But again, you can't really pick a clear winner here. The Gigabyte GT runs completely silent, which is a plus; and the Gigabyte GT comes with Supreme Commander, which is a stellar game to be included at this low of a price-point.

For this assortment of cards, in the end, it's really just going to come down to what you want, and how much you are willing to spend to get it. If you are looking for a relatively inexpensive, solid upgrade solution, you can't go wrong with the XFX 8600 GT. If you budgeted to spend another $40 or $50 dollars or so, then the MSI NX8600GTS will deliver good performance for a reasonable price. If you want even more power -- well, it depends how much you want to spend. The performance offered by the 8600 GTS family does seem a little underwhelming -- so this might be a great excuse to set your sights a bit higher, and go for another option; or, maybe to wait a little bit longer, to see what kind of power the ATI HD 2600 XT can offer.


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