Date: November 21, 2006
Author(s): Rob Williams
Looking for a great video card but don’t want to open your wallet -that- wide? Been there. We are taking a look at the ASUS 7950GT with 512MB of GDDR3. It proves to have a pricetag that’s easy to stomach and also a lot of overclocking headroom.
Let’s face it. Not everyone wants to shell out near $600 for a graphics card, but that doesn’t mean they want to pay much less and get a horrible performing card out of the deal. This includes myself… I still use a 7800GT in my primary rig, as I don’t really have a need for anything larger at this point. Sure those $600+ 8800GTX’s look sweet, but it’s a little overkill for 1600*1200 resolution.
Luckily, there are some sweet mid-range cards out there that cost half as much as the big boys, but still pack a punch. Not too long after the 7800GT was released, we seen the advent of the 7900GT, which amped up the performance a fair bit. Even later still, we seen a few companies take a 7950GT and 7950GX2 plunge. We are taking a look at the ASUS 7950GT, essentially a 7900GT with higher clocks, and HTCP support.
One thing you may notice right away, is that opposed to the 7800GT’s of last year and most 7900GT’s of this year, the 7950GT comes complete with 512MB GDDR3. The benefits of this will not be seen by everyone, as it’s most noticeable with higher resolutions, and probably also SLI. Since I am using a lower (by todays standards) resolution overall, I won’t be able to do comparisons between 512MB to 256MB. That said, let’s take a look at the card itself and what’s included.
For something as simple and small like a video card, the 7950GT comes in one honking box. Huge. It’s actually larger than the box of the ASUS M2N32-SLI motherboard! We can see from the box that Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter is included, in addition to the fact that the card is HDCP compliant. This means that it’s fully compatible with next-gen video formats such as BluRay and HD-DVD, and will display it in it’s original uncompressed format. This is important, since if you do not have an HDCP compliant card, the video will have it’s quality worsened. Go go DRM go!
Inside the box, you will immediately find a quick install guide, ASUS branded CD-Rom holder, Molex to PCI-E power converter and also an TV-Out cable. A DVI to VGA connector is also included, should you need one.
Here is the card itself. One big difference between the 7800GT’s and 7900GT’s is the fact that the latter do not take care to slap a heatsink on each of the memory chips. Since they all run rather cool, they are not needed. This is a great thing, as it should allow for better airflow since small heatsinks are not acting as a blocker.
Because this isn’t a powerful beast like a GTX card, the 7950GT gets away with a very modest cooler. The character on the cooler looks familiar, but I can’t place my finger on it. Regardless, it looks cool ;-)
One thing you may have noticed is the fact that the slot bracket is a little bent at the bottom… that’s how the card arrived oddly enough. I can’t begin to explain how such a deformation would happen, but apparently someone was rough with the cards on the assembly line. Aside from the fact of it being strange, it bent back into place without issue.
The card includes dual DVI ports, and also a TV-out. Both connectors are available in the box to take advantage of these. Here is a high-res image of the back of the card.
There we have it! Let’s check out some of the specs of the card, and then move onto some performance tests.
As I mentioned before, this card is essentially a 7900GT with a beefed up core. As we will get into shortly, it also overclocked far better than our 7900GT. ASUS took the standard road with their model, using the reference 550MHz Core / 1400MHz Memory clocks. Of course this card has plenty of memory available to handle large games, 512MB in all, brought to you by Infineon.
To cut a long story short, our 7950GT uses a 256-Bit memory interface and has a 44.8GB/sec bandwidth. The card is also capable of 13.2 Billion pixels per second and also 1.1 Billion vertices per second. 24 pixels per clock also embrace this beast.
Other such features include HDCP support, for HD-DVD and BluRay playback. Since these formats have various protections, they cannot be played at the original resolution without such support, due to fear of piracy. Because I am sure that someone wants to download a 50GB torrent. Regardless, this card will allow you to watch your videos in full, unadulterated resolution, which makes the card very suitable for an HTPC.
NVIDIA standards on this card include SLI capabilities of course, CineFX 4.0, Intellisample 3.0 and Vibrance Control 4.0. All the usual good stuff is included with the official drivers also, such as nView.
On the overclocking side of things, I was impressed by how far the card could be pushed. I did not water cool the card, but was able to pump up a full 100MHz on the core and 150MHz on the memory, for 650/1.55GHz clocks. Surprisingly, the card -could- go higher, but had bad affects in a few select games. 650/1.55GHz was the true sweet spot.
Temperature wise, the card could get mighty hot in a room with fairly high ambient temp, but that’s no surprise. Here are the official temps gathered with Everest Ultimate Edition over the course of a half hour with RTHDRIBL running in full screen mode. The 7900GT is included as well for comparison. The room temperature during all testing was 78°F. All results are in Celsius.
With the max overclock in tact, the card hit a nice 89°C. Even at stock speeds the card hit 88°C, so the overclock actually made very little difference that way. It’s warm, but didn’t affect the performance of the card at all. If you run a PC in a cooler room, then overall temps should prove lower than this.
Throughout all of our benchmarks regardless of what we are reviewing, testing is done in a clean and stand-alone version of Windows XP Professional with SP2. Prior to testing, these conditions are met:
The testing rig used for today’s benchmarking is as follows:
The system is not overclocked, to retain a normal testing setup. Bare in mind that overclocked, some of these results should prove higher. Many reviewers benchmark using 1600*1200, but since I use a widescreen monitor I can only use 1680*1050, which means that the GPU will have slightly less pixels to process. Just bare that in mind when considering the results if you use 1600*1200. For comparison, an ASUS 7900GT 256MB was benched alongside the 7950GT.
Ghost Recon has always been a stature in the tactical shooter category, and for good reason. Advanced Warfighter takes what people loved, and improves on each and every aspect. Thanks to the incredible graphics and realism, the game is perfectly suited for benchmarking.
Before we jump into the graph, I have to point out the fact that there are no results for the 7900GT at 1680*1050. This is due to the fact that GRAW detects a GPU on the first run, and decides for you what you can, and can’t choose. I am unsure how the 7900GT is that much different, but that resolution was not even possible, nor were textures on high. Due to this fact, none of these results should be compared directly to each other. The 7900GT was utilizing Medium textures while the 7950GT was using High.
The section of the game used for benchmarking is the absolute start, where you and your friends jump out of a plane to the city below. If you’ve played this scene, it’s easy to know why it’s a good choice for testing a graphics card. Over the course of the 5 minutes, walking through the city and meeting up with the others also took place.
I am pretty impressed here. At 1680*1050 with nearly maxed out settings (8xAF as opposed to 16xAF), we received 55FPS. For a game with this graphic detail, that’s hardly something to scoff at. The low of 34 was also nice to see.
Quake IV doesn’t need an introduction to anyone. Running off the Doom III engine, it’s obviously one system intensive game. In fact, this was one of the first games out that recommends a 512MB card for “Ultra” detail settings. Since the monitor I used can’t reach very high resolutions, I couldn’t compare potential differences however.
The level used here was Convoy, which starts you off coming out of a ship. You need to haul ass to a crew waiting, and you proceed on a “train ride” and encounter much action along the way. This level is good for benchmarking for various reasons, the primary being the fact that there is a LOT of action.
Since the game doesn’t officially support 1680*1050, it was set manually using r_mode -1, r_CustomHeight and r_CustomWidth. Detail settings were left on High, but AA bumped up to 4x.
Both cards, despite the varying stock clocks, kept quite close results especially at 1280*1024. Moving up to 1650*1080 didn’t take that large of a hit surprisingly, as the game delivered only 4FPS less than the same settings at 1280*1024.
Half-Life 2 is one of those classic games that just doesn’t get boring. Even after playing the same level over and over, I still haven’t found myself completely “bored” of it in the least. I can’t say that for every game. The level used here is ep1_c17_02a, which starts you off in a dark yellow hallway. You progress through the narrow hallways killing zombies and combine soldiers along the way, all while having an airship outside shooting you through the windows.
As the level progresses, you need to take down that ship with your rocket launcher. The reason this level is great for benchmarking is due to the use of HDR, which is heavily used especially during that large fight scene.
This is a game that loves high clocks, whether it be CPU or GPU, and the graph here proves it. The differences between the non-overclocked and overclocked settings at 1680*1050 proved quite minimal, both being at around 80FPS. Smooooth.
When first launched, this game was touted for it’s superb graphics and overall realism. Still today, the game doesn’t cease to impress me. The graphics are as sharp as they come, and even at lower FPS the game tends to run extremely well.
The level chosen for benchmarking is the second in the game, Demolition. Like many spots in the game, this one has some heavy gunfights and lots of special affects such as snow and smoke.
Once again some great performance is shown here from the 7950GT. The average FPS from 1280*1024 to 1680*1050 proved only 7 different, leaving us with 45.156. As mentioned, this game runs very well at even 25FPS, so 45FPS was incredibly smooth. Even though 1680*1050 is not “high” by todays standards, the game looked incredible.
Serious Sam is not a game that should be used to truly test the power of a GPU, as even when it was released it didn’t have astonishing graphics. Still, it’s a good game to test with due to the fact that it uses a lot of special effects. That, and I just straight out have fun testing with it ;-)
The first level in the game was used, which begins you off in a village to be quickly inhabited by a few goons. The level ends after you take on a huge barbarian with a magic axe.
Overclocked or not, this card allowed near 90FPS at 1680 resolution, and 130FPS at 1280*1024. Not too shabby.
Need for Speed is a game I get addicted to with each new release. They are always well put together for the mostpart, and fun to play. Sadly, Carbon does not favor widescreen resolutions at all, so testing was completed at 1280*1024. While the monitor supports 1680*1050, it cannot do 1600*1200 which the game does support.
The race used for testing is the very first in the game, where you are basically learning the… uhh basics. Considering the fact that the game doesn’t exactly have mindblowing graphics, you’d imagine that the game would run at ultra-high FPS with a decent card. Not the case, since the game is so fast paced it does a good job of keeping your card in check. Luckily enough, even at 20FPS the game is completely playable with little flickering.
With our overclocked 7950GT, the game managed an average of 30FPS. That seems quite low, but the game was very smooth. Though I couldn’t test a 1600 resolution, you could expect the differences to not be very great… I’d expect around 25FPS on average.
Though 3D Mark is pretty useless for gauging a video cards worth, it’s fun to try to break personal records and compare similar cards to one another. Speaking of useless, 3D Mark 01 comes to mind, as it’s now 6 years old. Even though that benchmark is incredibly CPU sensitive, better GPUs also make a difference.
Thanks to the huge overclocking capability, 10,700 was reached with ’05 and 5,885 with ’06. Not too bad for a single GPU, non-overclocked setup.
At the time of writing, ASUS’ 7950GT retails for around $300US and I consider this to be well worth it. I remember handing over close to $500 for my 7800GT last year, and its performance is weak compared to the card we looked at today. At $300, the card is priced similarly to other companies cards on the market. eVGAs card costs around $280 while Pines is around $330. ASUS is the only one that bundles a killer game though. If you were planning to pick up GRAW in the first place, picking up this card will save you a few dollars. The only other company to bundle a game with this card, that I could see, was eVGA with Hitman.
If I was in the market for a killer GPU and only had $300 to spend, I’d jump all over this. On the ATI side of things, there is the comparable X1950 Pro which retails for the same price. It may even exceed the 7950GT in performance, so you may want to check out that offering as well. As it stands though, this is one card that’s well worth your cash. It proved extremely overclocking friendly on AIR, and was rock solid stable. Coupled with one of the top games going and HDCP support, this card is well worth looking at. I am awarding the ASUS 7950GT 512MB an 8/10 and our Editors Choice award.
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