Author: Tom K
Editor: Howard Ha
Publish Date: Wednesday, April 5th, 2006
Originally Published on Neoseeker (http://www.neoseeker.com)
Article Link: http://www.neoseeker.com/Articles/Hardware/Reviews/bfg_7600_gt_oc_sli/
Copyright Neo Era Media, Inc. - please do not redistribute or use for commercial purposes.
Last week I reviewed BFG's flag-ship video card, the GeForce 7900 GTX OC. It proved to be a monster, especially when paired up with another of its kin. Today, we're settling back and taking a look at a more realistic product from the very same company.
At a price point of about $250, BFG's GeForce 7600 GT OC is the new replacement for the venerable GeForce 6600 GT. Based on the recently-released G71/G73 series, which in turn is a member of the very speedy and efficient G70 family, the GeForce 7600 GT OC is leaps and bounds ahead of the 6600 GT on the technology front. We covered the details behind the G71 in our GeForce 7900 GTX launch article so there's no use in rehashing old information, but as a quick and effective summary, the name of the G71 game is power consumption, parallelism, and shader performance.
The BFG GeForce 7600 GT OC is quite obviously a member of BFG's "OC" series of video cards, which has made a name for the company. This series appeals to the enthusiast gamer crowd because the cards are all noticeably overclocked out of the box -- all while retaining BFG's lifetime warranty. They are also priced very aggressively, in line with the stock-clocked products of other manufacturers, leading to an overall better bang-for-the-buck. Just what kind of specifications can you expect from BFG's GeForce 7600 GT OC? Let's take a look at a chart.
|6600 GT||X1600 XT||X1800 XT||7600 GT||7800 GTX|
|Manufacturing Process||110 nm||90 nm||90 nm||90 nm||110 nm|
|Core Clock (MHz)||500||590||625||580||550|
|Memory Clock (MHz)||1000||1380||1500||1450||1700|
|Memory Bandwidth (GB/s)||16.0||22.1||48.0||23.2||54.4|
|Memory Size (MB)||128||256||256||256||512|
Looking at the table, it's clear that the 6600 GT is no match at all for the 7600 GT. On the ATI side of things, the 7600 GT appears to sit between the X1600 XT and X1800 XT, but leaning lot closer to the X1600 XT side. Its price point is also between that of those two cards. The showdown will be interesting indeed.
With the raw specifications now out of the way, let's go sneak a look at what BFG actually offers us, shall we?
In terms of sheer size, the BFG GeForce 7600 GT OC is no bigger than a reference NVIDIA GeForce 6600 GT. In fact, the board layout appears to be a descendant of the 6600, sharing a number of commonalities, such as capacitor placement, RAM chip placement, and so on. The heatsink and fan design also appears to be closely related to that of the 6600 GT, which leads me to believe that the 7600 GT will also suffer from the high-speed whir that we have come to know so well from the 6600.
I'm very pleased to see that there is no need for a PCI-Express power connector, meaning that the 7600 GT, even though it is around twice as powerful as the 6600 GT (going by the specifications), still only requires PCI-Express bus power. This could very well turn out to be an excellent card to use in a low-power/low-noise (with a 3rd-party cooler) environment that still requires a performance kick.
Before I talk about anything else, I'm going to state that I've been rather spoiled by the hardware manufacturers -- especially when it comes to the high-end product entries. The thing about these high-end products is that their bundles contain everything and a bag of chips, as in the case with BFG's GeForce 7900 GTX bundle -- a t-shirt, slick mouse feet pads, cables up the wazoo, and so on. When reviewing a mid-range product such as the 7600 GT, it's hard not to find yourself expecting the same amount of accessories as you just dug out of the box of a high-end product. The reality, of course, is that the mid-range bundles are considerably more reserved.
BFG's GeForce 7600 GT bundle is complete, and as retail-feeling as you can get. You get the usual twin DVI-to-VGA adapters and the HDTV break-out cable, as well as the user's/installation guides and driver CD. The only real extra is the second CD, which contains software that can be of use to more than one of us -- FarStone's GameDrive 9.0, iolo's System Mechanic Pro 5, and Webroot's Spy Sweeper, Window Washer, and Desktop Firewall. There are no t-shirts or "Teflon Slick Pads" in this one, but don't take that as me saying that BFG is cheap.
The overall presentation of the entire product is, of course, top-notch. Everything from the box art to the paper leaflets seems thought-out, and definitely not like a last-minute throw-in. If I had purchased this, I'd probably be feeling pretty good about my purchase right now. Let's now turn the spotlight over on to what everyone came here for.
Our benchmark systems remains unchanged from our GeForce 7900 GTX launch. Hardware used is the following:
The video card configurations we used looked as follows:
A list of benchmarks performed follows:
Drivers used were ForceWare 84.17 for the NVIDIA cards, CATALYST 6.3 for the ATI cards, and nForce4 AMD 6.70 for the nForce4 platform. The operating system used was Windows XP Professional with Service Pack 2. The Classic theme was in use with minimal effects enabled, and unneeded system services were turned off so as to provide maximal system resources for the benchmarks.
So how does this new-comer stack up against its competition from the Red Team? What kind of kick in the pants can you expect if you strap two of these together? Clicky clicky!
As I suspected, the X1600 XT gets absolutely trounced by the BFG GeForce 7600 GT OC in the synthetic 3DMark 2006 tests. As I also suspected, the X1800 XT, with its "heavier" raw specifications, maintains a sizable lead over the 7600 GT. The test which kills this consistency is the vertex shader test. There we see that the 7600 GT's complex vertex shader performance is lower than that of the X1600 XT, though the only competitor taking any significant leads is the 7600 GT SLI setup -- but I could say that about every one of these tests. Note that the shader model 3.0 particles does not run on the ATI cards due to ATI's deviation from the DirectX 9.0c feature set.
Call of Duty 2
Call of Duty 2 presents us with a very nice spread of scores -- it's almost too perfect, really. The Radeon X1800 XT takes an imposing lead over everything else in the pack, with the 7600 GTs in SLI following behind. Next up is the 7600 GT, and finally the X1600 XT. The X1600 is just barely maintains playable framerates (at 1024x768 with no AA/AF), while the 7600 GT does decently at 1024x768 and maybe 1280x1024. For higher-resolution Call of Duty 2 gaming, or perhaps AA/AF, 7600 GTs in SLI, or an X1800 XT are a must.
The 7600 GTs in SLI are the indisuputed champions in Doom 3, which has proven time and time again that it loves SLI. The Radeon X1800 XT doesn't do too shabbily, maintaining a close lead behind the SLI setup for the majority of testing. The single 7600 GT, however, still pushes very playable framerates up until 1600x1200 with AA/AF, where it drops below my hypothetical 40 FPS mark. The poor Radeon X1600 XT simply does not hold a candle to any of the other three competitors.
Half-Life 2, with its extensive use of DirectX 9.0 pixel shaders, has always been a stronghold of the Red Team. That holds true once again, with the X1800 XT taking a lead over the Green Team. Perhaps if the SLI anomaly were to just ... disappear ... then maybe the 7600 GT SLI would come close, but not today. What I said just now about ATI and Half-Life 2 doesn't hold true when it comes to the X1600 XT, which gets slaughtered with ease by the 7600 GT. For a $200-$250 card, the 7600 GT manages to hold out very impressively here.
It's a very fierce battle between the Radeon X1800 XT and GeForce 7600 GT OC SLI, but the Radeon edges out the GeForces in 5 out of 6 tests. A car length (or is that video card length) away is the 7600 GT, which manages to do admirably here. The only area of concern with the 7600 GT would probably be 1600x1200 with AA/AF, where it just manages to squeeze out close to 40 FPS -- this borders on unplayable considering the heaving action that one can get into in this game. The X1600 XT actually does decently in Far Cry as well, maintaining playable levels of performance all the way up to 1024x768 with AA/AF (and maybe 1280x1024 with AA/AF, depending on your definition of "playable").
Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory
Splinter Cell 3: Chaos Theory with shader model 3.0 and all the fancy effects turned on is clearly an arena that belongs to the big boys -- namely, the X1800 XT and GeForce 7600 GT SLI. The latter snags the performance crown early on, but the X1800 XT creeps up to meet it, matching it step-for-step at the highest AA/AF resolutions. The single 7600 GT will manage well in this game, as long as you stay below 1280x1024 without AA/AF, and 1024x768 with AA/AF. Anything higher than that, and you're probably risking a slideshow once the action gets heavy. The poor Radeon X1600 XT isn't well-suited for Chaos Theory at all. You might get away with 1024x768 on this card, unless you're willing to drop down to shader model 1.1 and no fancy effects. We no longer benchmark that for obvious reasons.
F.E.A.R. is a force to be reckoned with, as it brings almost every one of our video cards to their knees. The only competitor which actually manages to maintain >40 FPS score past 1024x768 is the GeForce 7600 GT OC in SLI. The Radeon X1800 XT maintains an average 6 FPS lead over the 7600 GT OC in the non-AA/AF runs, but then mirrors the 7600 GT SLI on the AA/AF runs. The 7600 GT suffers a fairly significant hit when AA/AF are enabled, showing us that this card simply doesn't have the horsepower to drive F.E.A.R. in all its antialiased, anisotropic-filtered glory. This game is simply not playable at 1600x1200 with AA/AF on any of these cards, in all honesty.
Serious Sam 2
Serious Sam 2, with its modern graphics engine, manages to push these cards in a noticeable manner, but not quite as much as F.E.A.R. Performance with the X1800 XT and 7600 GT OC SLI ranges from "splendid" to "good", depending on your choice of resolution and AA/AF. Performance with the single 7600 GT is also decent at 1024x768 with and without AA/AF, but at the higher resolutions shifts into that grey area that may or may not keep you satisfied. The 40 FPS mark is what I consider the minimum framerate that I am happy with from an averaged-score benchmark, because I take into account the heavy-action scenes and their associated drops in performance.
My first impressions of the BFG GeForce 7600 GT OC SLI have been very well received. I feel that this is an ideal product for the gamer on a mid-level budget, or a DIY-enthusiast that wants a video card with some kick to it that won't turn his/her HTPC box into a nuclear reactor. The 7600 GT series cards were going for just under $200 USD on Pricewatch yesterday, which makes them an awesome bang-for-the-buck deal. With the Radeon X1600 XT going for slightly more than the 7600 GT (believe it or not!), while being a miserable slowpoke in comparison, this becomes a no-brainer if ~$200 is precisely your budget allocation.
The next-fastest ATI card that we compared the 7600 GT against, the Radeon X1800 XT, can be had for about $300-$320 USD, which makes for a tough call if your budget allows for some flexibility. Once you get in that range you'll also be interested in the 7900GT - which we are reviewing this Friday. In most of our tests, the X1800 XT is as fast or faster than two BFG GeForce 7800 GT OCs in SLI, which alone are ~40-80% faster (depending on the benchmark) than a single 7600 GT OC. I won't make any decisions for anyone, but the issue really rests on whether you are just a casual to mid-level gamer playing some older games, mixed in with some of the newer ones, or whether you play just new games and at higher resolutions to boot. If you are of the former type, then a single 7600 GT will suffice in almost every case, but if you are of the latter type, with more stringent needs (or is that wants?), then the X1800 XT or perhaps the 7900GT (review forthcoming) will keep you happier in the long term.
That said, I think the BFG GeForce 7600 GT OC is a product for the masses. Considering that most computers even nowadays still ship with resource-sucking (and sucking in general) integrated graphics, a power-efficient, sleek and "oomphy" card like the 7600 GT is a very smart upgrade -- and one that doesn't siphon off your funds like some punk hanging around your car with a gas siphon.
Do I have any complaints about the BFG GeForce 7600 GT OC? It's hard to say, to be honest. From the perspective of a high-end gamer, this card is not what I'd be looking for. From the perspective of a "Joe average" consumer, this card would be just what I'd be looking for. From the perspective of a picky hardware reviewer ... by God do I hate that little whiney fan. Granted, once the NVIDIA drivers kick in, the fan slows down to almost inaudible levels, but once the GPU heats up and things kick into gear, I am reminded of the great days of yore where 40/60 mm high-RPM fans ruled the lands. There's no cheating physics -- if you want a small fan to push as much air as a large fan, it has to spin faster -- but I would have preferred a flat fan in the ~80 mm range that could spin delicately while pushing a decent CFM. Something like what the Radeon X800 XTs had would be ideal.
That about sums up my complaints with the GeForce 7600 GT OC, so it's high time that I slap the "Recommended" sticker on this sucker. Good work, BFG.
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