XFX 7950 GT XT

Author: Geordan Hankinson
Editor: Howard Ha
Publish Date: Thursday, September 14th, 2006
Originally Published on Neoseeker (http://www.neoseeker.com)
Article Link: http://www.neoseeker.com/Articles/Hardware/Reviews/xfx7950gtxt/
Copyright Neo Era Media, Inc. - please do not redistribute or use for commercial purposes.

Introduction

The competition below the $300 price point has taken a noticeable turn in the past three weeks with both competing graphics companies making large strides towards better price/performance ratios. ATI recently slashed the entry price for an X1900 XT to $279 and NVIDIA has moved the base fee for a 7900-based card to $199.  Today, NVIDIA is fully replacing the 7900 GT at the $299 price point with the 7950 GT, with cards available from the major board makers including EVGA, BFG and XFX, who's particular card we have for our review.  The 7950 GT was announced over a week ago with the 7900 GS, however the boards did not reach store shelves until today.

On the next page we will be taking a closer look at the XFX card itself, however we will be highlighting the differences between the 7900 GT and the 7950 GX2 first. While the '7950' tag could confuse this card for the dual-PCB GX2, NVIDIA are not concerned about supplementing that card at the top end, and are wisely targetting the performance segment. The carry over of the high end annotation will only be helpful in selling this card, which comes a step closer to 7900 GTX territory in terms of specification.

NVIDIA has bumped the stock clocks of the 7900 GT by 100 MHz to 550 MHz, bringing the 7950 GT within 100 MHz of the core speed of 7900 GTX cards. The memory clock rate of a stock 7950 GT is 1400 MHz, up from 1320 MHz on the 7900 GT, but still 200 MHz short of the 7900 GTX. The most notable addition perhaps however, is the doubling of the memory figure, which now sits at 512 MB. This boost makes clock rates and cooler outfitting the only difference between 7950 GT and 7900 GTX cards and makes this a very powerful sub $300 card indeed.  One non-performance difference between the 7950 GT and 7900 GTX is NVIDIA's decision to include HDCP support on all 7950 cards. HDCP, while currently the love of every future-proofing enthusiast, is essentially an entirely negligible 'feature' at the moment seeing as copy protected disks will not be hitting store shelves until the latter portion of 2007 anyhow. Assuming the prices of HD-DVD and BluRay drives have fallen by significant amounts by that time (or you decide to splurge), and you own an HDCP supporting monitor and HDCP-required disks, then and only then does HDCP become a feature. If you know that that's you in a year and you don't plan on upgrading your graphics board until some point beyond that time, NVIDIA have done you a good service by including the required cypto-rom on all 7950 boards.

Aside from those changes, NVIDIA has added a variable-speed fan controller to all 7950 boards which should regulate the whining tendencies typical of a loaded 7900 GT. We're not sure however of the standard cooler's (which remains the same on most 7950 GT boards, an exception being our XFX board) ability to withstand the higher clocks of the 7950 GT.  A number of 7900 GT owners have ran into problems with factory overclocked solutions because the cooler that shipped on those cards was not sufficient. We're hoping that we don't run into a similar situation this time around.

Speaking of heat and noise however, click on to the next page to find out what XFX has done with their overclocked 7950 GT cards - the answer may not be what one would assume as XFX has chosen to make this card really stand out.

The Board

Rather than simply overclocking their boards by 20 MHz and slapping on the NVIDIA-standard cooler, XFX, as has been their style as of late, has put alot of effort into the physical card in terms of performance as well as aesthetics. This version of the XFX 7950 GT (dubbed the 7950 GT XT by XFX) uses a passively cooled heatsink made out of aluminum of both regular silver and exotic sprayed-black fare. A green aluminum XFX logo is attached to the main bank of fins which employ two heatpipes to draw heat from the GPU to the outer sink. The bracket that XFX are known for applying to most of their cards is featured here as well but has been heightened to ensure rigidity with all of the extra aluminum that has been attached. Overall, XFX have managed a supremely bang up job with the card in terms of fit, finish and appearance. The gun-metal and green DVI ports which we observed on the 7900 GS make an appearance here, as does the matte black coating. It should be noted that all XFX 7950 GT boards, overclocked or not come with the silent cooler, which should serve to sway at least a number of buyers due to the $300 MSRP of the standard clocked model - a competitive package to be sure.


Due to timing, these shots were taken from XFX's product page, we will be replacing these with our own shots soon however.

In terms of the bundle that XFX pack with their 7950 GT cards, there are in fact more suprises - suprisingly. It would seem that the game bundle of days past has gone by the wayside mostly, for better or for worse. Some appreciate the barebones packaging and software inclusions that some manufacturers have taken to, while there are definitely those who wouldn't mind the extra games that occasionally come with a new video card. XFX have packaged a copy of the latest Ghost Recon into their 7950 GT retail package which coupled with the silent cooling, needn't convince anyone of the outstanding value involved. If this doesn't serve to stir up the other manufacturers out of their poor habits of simply rebranding NVIDIA product, there isn't much that will. XFX have outdone themselves with this release, and we're betting that it will have good returns at retail.

XFX have pared down their 7950 GT offerings from the plethora of different 7900 GT cards that have been sold in different clock speed and aesthetic configurations under the XFX name before. This time around, XFX are only shipping two 7950 GT variants, one clocked at the standard 550/1400 Mhz, and an XT variant (our review sample), clocked at 570/1460 MHz. Both of these should be available today for $299 and $319 respectively.

Test Setup

We're testing the XFX 7950 GT XT on our Conroe platform against an X1900 GT, X1900 XT 256MB, BFG 7900 GTX OC, and BFG 7900 GT OC.

The list of applications tested is as follows:

Video drivers used were ATI CATALYST 6.8 and NVIDIA ForceWare 91.47.

3DMark 06


3DMark 06




Quake 4




The 7950 slots perfectly in between the outgoing 7900 GT and the 7900 GTX, just managing to oust the X1900 XT 256 MB in Quake 4.

Doom 3




Half Life 2




Doom 3 sees similar results as in Quake 4, with the NVIDIA cards leading, however the X1900 XT 256 MB manages a victory in Source over the 7950 GT.

Far Cry




Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory




With filtering on, the X1900 XT 256 MB manages a very good fight against the NVIDIA cards and establishes a noticeable lead over the green camp in Splinter Cell.

F.E.A.R.




Serious Sam 2




Suprisingly, the X1900 XT 256 MB outpaces the 7950 GT in F.E.A.R., though the numbers even out fairly well in Serious Sam 2.

Power Consumption

To test power consumption we measured total power draw of the entire benchmark system using each of the video cards. This doesn't give an absolute value for the actual draw of each card, but it does give an accurate idea of the differences in each card's power consumption relative to one another



The power figures here are very encouraging, and despite the extra memory and the boosted clocks, the 7950 GT XT stays within 4 Watts of the 7900 GT OC under load. This compares quite favorably to the X1900 XT 256 MB (and even the X1900 GT) which uses significantly more power than even a 7900 GTX.

Conclusion

The 7950 GT itself is a very well positioned chip in terms of performance and price. The newcomer slices the performance spectrum right down the center between the 7900 GT and 7900 GTX and does so at an equivalent price point to a 7900 GT. The extra memory is sure to help in certain situations where high resolution and high filtering levels are being employed. In SLI, two of these cards will allow for very good performance at those higher settings, where the platform begins to seperate itself from the competition.

XFX in particular have done an outstanding job with their 7950 GT XT card, and we would not hesitate to recommend their board. The cooling solution is sufficient and while we wouldn't overclock with it, it does do its job well, and being completely silent, could potentially make for a whisper quiet, ultra powerful SLI rig when used in a pair. Those with windowed cases will appreciate the effort that XFX have gone to to bolster the aesthetics of what would otherwise be a plain-jane green PCB card as well.

Should the pricing and availability of this card reflect NVIDIA's intentions, ATI's X1900 XT 256 MB will have a strong competitor at the ~$300 price point, and with both cards offering such good performance, equalling eachother in the overall gamut of games we tested with, it will ultimately come down to personal preference in the details and retail bundles. Either board is a good decision and its very nice to finally see a completely balanced performance segment with both companies pushing top notch products out the door, starting today.

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