XFX GeForce 8600 GT XXX Review

Author: J. Micah Grunert, Michael Nguyen
Editor: Howard Ha
Publish Date: Saturday, April 21st, 2007
Originally Published on Neoseeker (http://www.neoseeker.com)
Article Link: http://www.neoseeker.com/Articles/Hardware/Reviews/xfx_8600_gt/
Copyright Neo Era Media, Inc. - please do not redistribute or use for commercial purposes.

With the advent of the new NVIDIA G80 GPU, we have seen another amazing leap forward in PC graphics performance. And as usual, NVIDIA has rolled out some more mainstream iterations of that particular GPU.  Earlier this week the G84 and G86 GPUs officially launched in the form of the 8600 GTS/GT and 8500 GT.  Today we're the more affordable of the 8600 cards, a XFX 8600 GT.

Built around the NVIDIA G84 GPU core, this budget card promises some considerable performance at a reasonable price. In comparison, our very recent review of the XFX GeFORCE 8600 GTS XXX edition card lead us to discover that in some cases, newer isn't necessarily better. Despite the newer architecture and new naming scheme, the reduction of Stream processors within the G84 core (the 8500 series holds the G86 core) revealed a significant impact upon overall performance.

But this doesn't necessarily mean that the GeFORCE 8600 series (and the 8500 series) won't find a home in the boxes of conservative/cost conscious consumers. There is a place for the mid to low end card, and NVIDIA hasn't released a new card in this price range since the GeForce 6600 GT or 7600 GT. So while it has been months since there has a been a low-range release, it all depends on the 8600 GT to be a worthy successor to the previous generations.

The new NVIDIA G80 core has been thus far been a bag full of surprises. In the beginning, we saw the release of the powerhouse G80 based cards, some of notable reference being the BFG GeFORCE 8800 GTS and the flagship XFX GeFORCE 8800 GTX XXX card.  The G80 returned with the more affordable but still powerful XFX GeFORCE 8800 GTX XXX 320MB version.  Now the long awaited cards priced below the $250 range have been released, headlined by the XFX GeFORCE 8600 GTS XXX. All do deliver their expected measure of performance, with the 8800 versions shining above the rest. Though the 8800 320MB cards are essentially identical, that cut in memory (from 640MB down to 320MB) did have an adverse affect upon frame rates in the higher resolutions, especially when hitting 2048x1536  and 2560x1600 pixels. Read the XFX GeFORCE 8800 GTX XXX 320MB article and you'll see what I mean.

As for the new G84 core, we have seen thus far that the reduction in Stream Processors is graphically akin to cutting the number of cores in a processor when trying to crunch multiple threads apps. Performance will inveritabllt begin to suffer.

So to illustrate the differences between the new NVIDIA GPU's, the following chart helps to determine where the various cores lay in terms of overall GPU specs.

Model Release Date Codename Fab process (nm) Core clock max (MHz) Fillrate max (billion texel/s) Shaders Memory Power Consumption (Watts) Transistor Count (Millions) Shader Processing Power (Gigaflops)
Stream Processors Clock (MHz) Bandwidth max (GB/s) Bus type Bus width (bit) Memory Clock (MHz)
GeForce 8300 GT [10] May 2007 G86 80 500  ? 16  ?  ? GDDR2 128 128/256 1200  ? 210  ?
GeForce 8400 GS [10] May 2007 G86 80  ?  ? 16  ?  ? GDDR2
 ?  ?  ?  ? 210  ?
GeForce 8500 GT[11] [10] 17th April 2007 G86 80 450 3.60 16 900 12.80 GDDR2 128 256/512 400 40 210 43.20
GeForce 8600 GT [10] 17th April 2007 G84 80 540 8.64 32 1190 22.40 GDDR3 128 256 700 43 289 113.28
GeForce 8600 GTS [10] 17th April 2007 G84 80 675 10.80 32 1450 32.00 GDDR3 128 256 1000 71 289 139.20
GeForce 8800 GTS [12] [13] [14] 8th November 2006 G80 90 500 24.00 96 1200 64.00 GDDR3 320 320/640 800 147 681 (~750) 345.60
GeForce 8800 GTX [12] [13] [14] 8th November 2006 G80 90 575 36.80 128 1350 86.40 GDDR3 384 768 900 177 681 (~750) 518.40
GeForce 8800 Ultra [15] 1st May 2007 G80 90  ?  ? 128  ? 105.60 GDDR4 384 768 1100  ? 681 (~750)  ?

The 8800's 96 Stream Processors are cut to a third for the 8600 GT, leaving us with 32. The 256MB of GDDR3 memory is standard for this price point. Some of the core speeds and memory speeds do make a difference, but every manufacturer clocks their cards a little differently. Our review card is XFX's XXX version of the 8600 GT which is overclocked to 600MHz core  / 1.6GHz memory speeds.

There is more serious downside to the new G84 architecture, being the 128bit memory. Two big highlights though; GDDR3 versus GDDR4. As we can see, the GeFORCE 8500 GT (and lower) use GDDR2 memory, and in one case GDDR3. A shame really, simply for the high latency factor of GDDR2. But with an 8500 budget card, low memory latency and fast read/write times isn't really a factor due to the narrower memory bus. A card like that will probablly have most of (if not all) its time to surfing the web and drifting around the desktop. The GeFORCE 8300 to 8500 gamers need not apply.

But I am very excited to see that the GeFORCE 8800 Ultra edition (launching in May 2007) will be moving to GDDR4 memory. This new memory will most likely be graphics card exclusive, helping to facilitate some truely outrageous RAM bandwidth speeds. But we can save the tastier details until the GeFORCE 8800 Ultra edition hit the streets.

At the risk of repeating ourselves from our 8600 GTS review, the most welcome of additions to the 8600 series is the enhanced HD video features. The PureVideo HD (VP2 + BSP + AES128 Engine) is a method whereby all of the video processing of HD video (HD-DVD, Blu-Ray, H.264) is handled by the GPU, thus off-loading the system processor. In the past, HD-DVD and Blu-ray media required CPU processing to help decode the media stream. The changes for the added PureVideo HD functionality were made within the G84 and G86 silicon itself. A bitstream processor and second generation video processor comprise most of the new hardware which will now handle HD decoding.

With the GeForce 7900 and even the G80 based 8800 series, NVIDIA 's decoding system would only finish off the last two steps of the process while the CPU off-loaded the first two steps. Now the new core architecture will compensate for all four steps to minimalize CPU usage and prevent framerate drops during video playback. So in theory this means that a less power CPU is required for HD playback if you have a 8600 GTS, 8600 GT or 8500 GT working in conjunction with it.

One thing we've always appreciated with XFX's cards is the compact packaging.  There's a simplicity to it that makes it very appealing to us minimalists.  The card itself is also simple but elegant in colour: black PCB's with white coolers.

The black PCB is off-set quite nicely by the bright green accents of the DVI ports, while the white silkscreened text and markings make for a simple (yet strong) statement. It is a very basic card.

As with midrange cards of every other generation the 8600 GT does not require a PCI-e power connector.  Our power measurements later on show you why this is.  Below I've taken some pictures of the cooler disassembled from the card.

As for what you can expect to get with this card, there really isn't much aside from the card itself.  Most manufacturers are going this route to avoid added cost, except in the case of of a few special game bundles.

There's the Wolfman mascot, ready to take a bit out of bad frame rates, I guess. A pretty cool mascot who has been tearing things up since the day of XFX AGP cards.

However one thing to note is that the included driver cd has 'Armored Fist 3' and 'F-16 MultiRole Fighter' for included games, NVIDIA Personal Cinema Software, DirectX 9.0c, DirectX 8.1, and the  WinXP/WInXP64 drivers.

The benchmark system used to test the 8600 GT consist of:

The beta drivers used are the ForceWare 158.16 from Nvidia.

The games tested are:

NVIDIA intends for the 8600 cards to be direct replacements for 7600GT cards.  Now a 7600GT right now is can be found for around $110-$169USD, which overlaps the retail MSRP of the 8600 GT's $149-169 price point.  For comparison we chose a number of cards in the price range of the 8600 GT, plus a 6600GT, which we had to pull from out of the closet.  We include the 6600 GT because after our 8600 GTS article many of you commented that upgrading from a 6600 GT to an 8600 GT wouldn't be a good move, and yet everything we understood about the architectural changes make this an amazingly illogical conclusion to us, so we figured we'd test it out.

Note: Unfortunately, ATI video cards will not produce particle shader scores for comparison.

The 8600 GT is all over the board with the 3D Mark benchmarks but one place it doesn't score in is last. The card scores are very decent here.

Far Cry

Splinter Cell Chaos Theory

The 8600 GT is only a hair behind the 8600 GTS in both benchmarks. This is a recurring trend through out all of the tests.

Doom 3

Quake 4

In Doom 3, the 8600 GT is more on par with the 7600 GT rather than the 8800 GTS. But as long as it isn't scoring where the 6600 GT is, it remains competitive within its price range. Quake shows similar results.




While that X1950 Pro score is high, I should note that the F.E.A.R. benchmark was downgrading the textures (only with ATI cards) causing the extreme score. With AA/AF on, the scores are more inline with 8600 GT in the middle of the pack. Prey again shows results are mirror the same thing. It is becomings quite clear where the GT fits in.


Company of Heroes

In our more recent benchmarks, the limits of the 128-bit memory bus start to shows its sign. The X1950 Pro is the only card in this lineup with 256-bit memory busses and it shows as its scores sweep away from the rest of the field. The disparity of scores with these newer games really exemplifies the weakness of the G84's 128bit memory with next generation games.  On the other hand, the above illustrates another point: those of you using 6600 GT class cards are woefully underpowered for playing next generation games at even 1024x768 with NO filtering or anti-aliasing features enabled.

Power Consumption

The 8600 GT uses slightly less power than the 8600 GTS. Seeing how the two card are exactly the same with some core and memory speed tweaks, these scores are what is expected.

Final Thoughts

When we reviewed the XFX GeForce 8600 GTS XXX earlier this week we were left wondering whether NVIDIA should have crippled the G84 so much for the $199-239 price range.  Now a look at the considerably cheaper XFX GeForce 8600 GT XXX reveals a different story.  The new G84 has been specifically designed to fill the low to mid range of graphics with next generation technology and DX10 support.  The 8600 GT, being identical to the 8600 GTS in every way except for clockspeed, fills the $149 to $169 price point rather well.  Consider this: the 8600 GT XXX is $70 cheaper than the $239 8600 GTS XXX, and in every benchmark we show it to be very nearly as fast.  It offers all the features of the G84 GPU including DX10 support, PureVideo HD, and advanced CSAA.  A standard non-overclocked 8600 GT will perform nearly exactly the same as a 7600 GT, and yet the 7600 GT is STILL SELLING at this very moment for $129 on average, with prices as high as $169.  This makes the choice of an 8600 GT over a 7600 GT a total no brainer.

Owners of 6600 GT who were gloating over the 8600 GTS's lack of success against $180USD X1950PRO's and 7900GS will probably have to face reality too: their cards are so sadly underpowered that any thoughts of the 8600 GT being a modest upgrade over the 6600 GT are simply delusions.  In some benchmarks the 8600 GT is performing at triple the framerates of the 6600 GT, and many are showing at least double the performance.  Incidentally you can still find the odd 6600GT going for as high as $110 USD.

With these considerations in mind, the 8600 GT might appear to be an excellent value for $149-169, but then you have to take into consideration the previous generation upper midrange cards whose prices have steadily dropped to around the same price as the new 8600 GT XXX. The more expensive 8600 GTS XXX is barely capable of keeping up with these 7950GT and X1950PRO cards so the 8600 GT has no chance either.

This is why our previous criticisms still have a place in spite of the 6600 GT and 7600 GT points.  We can't help but feel that NVIDIA crippled the G84 just a bit too much.  This leaves the door open for ATI to make some inroads when their DX10 cards are released a little later this year.  We think this is another case of the market leader releasing products that are just good enough to sell, while holding something back to counter against whatever their competitor will release later.  Clearly this is the case since NVIDIA has left the GeForce 8800 GTS to fill in as the the mid to high range successor, so NVIDIA doesn't have a true mid-range card to fill the $250 to $300 range.  The three newer card releases from NVIDIA  the 8600 GTS, 8600 GT and 8500 GT won't be outperforming the older generations of mid-range cards like the GeForce 7950 GT or 7900 GS and instead have been relegated to take on the likes of the GeForce 6600 GTand 7600 GT.

During benchmarking, the most evident scores that really depicts the G84's weakness were in Company of Heroes and X3. In those benchmarks, the PowerColor Radeon X1950 Pro takes a significant lead over the rest of the cards when it hadn't been able to do that in the older generation of gaming benchmarks. Seeing as the X1950 Pro is the only card in the lineup with 256-bit memory buses while the other four card (including the G84 cards) 128-bit memory buses, this seems to be the indicting variable for the large lead. Particularly with these new games, the larger textures will hammer card with limited buses and low amount of RAM.

Slotting the 8600 GT XXX into the lower mid-range is quite difficult as of right now depending on what stage of purchasing you're at.  While some people may be inclined to hold onto their older 6600 GT class card, these can no longer remain even remotely competitive with the 8600 GT that is 2 generations ahead. The GeForce 7600 GT is another story though, as it scores are taut with the 8600 GT.  Current owners of the 7600 GT class and X1950PRO/7900GS class cards are best recommended to stick with what they have.  What really remains to be seen is what NVIDIA has been touting the G84 to do, and that is enhanced Windows Vista performance.  DirectX 10 can only used with Vista and until some new benchmarks with DX10 compatibility come out,  there is still that lingering question mark.

At the end of the day the math can be summarized fairly simply.  The XFX GeForce 8600 GT XXX will cost a MSRP $169.99. With the X1950 Pro and GeForce 7900 GS sometimes as cheap as $169 and $159 respectively, it is best to wait a bit until the price drops for the 8600 GT.


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