The GeForce 7900 GS Packs Performance for ~$200

XFX GeForce 7900 GS 480M Extreme Video Card Retail Box

Just six months ago we were looking at the new NVIDIA 7900 GTX and 7900 GT. With the 7900 series NVIDIA moved from 110nm to 90nm production and saw a large increase in clock speeds with that move to smaller manufacturing process. While the move from 7800 series to the 7900 series brought no additional features it is clear that the 7900's is an extremely effecient and flexible architecture.

That brings us to today and the launch of a very important card, the 7900 GS. Don't let the name fool you, this card is every bit as powerful as cards costing much more than its $199 asking price. It's interesting how the 7900 GS arrives at this price point, by cutting 4 pixel pipelines and a single vertex pipeline off the 7900 GTX/7900 GT, giving it a total of 20 pixel pipes, and 7 vertex pipes. Also carrying over from the 7900 GT is the 256-bit memory interface, 256MB of memory, and clock speeds of 450MHz core/ 1320MHz memory. For those that don't recall the 7900GTX clocks in at 650MHz core/1600MHz memory, information that will be important later in the article. Of final note is that the 7900 GS is HDCP capable, it will be up to board partners to implement it in their designs.

NVIDIA GeForce 7900GS Video Card

With the addition of the GeForce 7950GT and the 7900GS the GeForce 7 product stack is starting to fill in quite nicely.

With the MSRP of $199 NVIDIA is targeting the 7900 GS at it's own 7600 GT, a great performer in its own right.

XFX GeForce 7900GS Video Card Picture

XFX has supplied us with the extreme version of their 7900 GS, the 480M extreme. The XFX card comes clocked at 480MHz core/1400MHz memory. Obviously this is a step in the right direction to making up the difference between the 7900 GS and 7900 GT. Let's take a look and see what she's got.

The XFX 7900 GS 480M Extreme

XFX GeForce 7900 GS Video Card

What a sharp looking card. I'm a huge fan of that jet black PCB. The layout of this card is identical to the 7900 GT.

XFX GeForce 7900 GS Video Card

XFX has added a bracket to the top side of the card to increase rigidity, something that will keep our card straight when we decide to swap the stock heatsink for one with a little more substance. While the heatsink and fan combination are the same as that of the 7900 GT, NVIDIA has done some tweaking to tone the noise. In 2D operation it's nearly silent yet throttles up when needed during 3D. What you get is slightly higher temperatures while not gaming, but your ears will be spared which is always a great tradeoff.

XFX GeForce 7900 GS Video Card

Here we see the now standard two dual-link DVI connectors, as well as the S-Video style connector for connecting component, composite, and S-Video devices.

XFX GeForce 7900 GS Video Card Core

The core pictured here is a G71 core meaning it is the same core as the 7900 GT and 7900 GTX and gives hope that it could be modded to open up those disabled pixel and vertex pipes. It also means that we should have a fair bit of room to overclock.

7900 GS

The Memory on the XFX GeForce 7900 GS 480M Extreme is made up of GDDR3 memory IC's from Hynix. The IC's have the part number HY5RS573225AFP and after some reasearch we found that they are rated for operation at 700MHz (1400MHz effective) with 1.8 Volts of power running through them. These FBGA IC's are also ROHS (Restriction Of Hazardous Substances) compliant and feature no lead in them.

Let's take a look at how it performs.

Test System

Test System:

Test System

Video Card Test Platform

Component

Brand/Model

Live Pricing

Processor

AMD Athlon 64 4800+

Motherboard

DFI NF4 SLI-DR

Memory

2GB Crucial PC-4000

Hard Drive

Western Digital Raptor 74GB

Cooling

Retail AMD Heatsink

Power Supply

OCZ PowerStream 600W

Operating System

Windows XP Professional

Quake 4

Quake 4 is a very relevant test as this is obviously a very popular multiplayer game. Having a low framerate while competing in a local LAN is only going to hurt your chances of winning.

Quake 4

Quake 4

Right off the bat we see excellent performance from the 7900 GS. As far as I can tell there is no performance difference between the XFX 7900 GS and 7900 GT here.

Serious Sam 2

Ok, let's get Serious! This game offers HDR, tons of impressive scenery and enough enemies to make your trigger finger tired. We've provided results below with standard Anti-Aliasing without HDR. HDR is the next big thing for games coming out today and on the horizon. Although the ATI X1000 series support the use of Anti-Aliasing with HDR enabled in Serious Sam 2, the Nvidia 7000 series does not. No HDR+AA results were included in the review for this reason.

Serious Sam 2

Serious Sam 2

In Serious Sam 2 testing with HDR enabled there is a very slight difference between the GT and GS. Also impressive is that the XFX 7900 GS is faster than X1800XL and X1800 GTO.

Serious Sam 2

Serious Sam 2

With HDR disabled and AA enabled it's much the same scenario with the 7900 GS right on the coat tails of the 7900 GT. The X1800XL and GTO aren't really even close here.

F.E.A.R.

First Encounter Assault Recon or F.E.A.R. Anyone who has played this game knows that it brings any computer to it's knees. Fantastic visuals, this is one of the most advanced graphic engines we have seen. If you haven't played this game you should really check it out. Both graphics and machine settings were on "Maximum" in the F.E.A.R. performance menu. Soft Shadows were turned OFF.

FEAR

FEAR

FEAR

FEAR performance was actually a big shocker for us as the XFX 7900 GS is actually faster than the 7900 GT until 1600x1200! The only video cards faster than the XFX 7900 GS in FEAR cost nearly double its price.

X3 Reunion

This new game is starting to get a lot of attention and rightfully so. It offers some of the best visuals that we've ever seen in a PC game. Visit the gang at Egosoft and download the demo. We tested with the resolution set to 1280x1024, High Quality with 4xAA/16xAF and everything enabled.

X3:

Just to show how little performance difference exists between XFX 7900 GS and 7900 GT in X3 we've decided to leave the last hundredth of a point. Here the 1800XL is ever so slightly faster than the 7900 GS.

Call Of Duty 2

Call of Duty 2 was tested with a custom multi-player demo. Quality Settings were set to max, DX9 rendering, and Anisotropic filtering. Optimize for SLI was enabled for all cards.

Call

Call

Call

In Call of Duty 2 we see a small seperation between the GT and 7900 GS. Again the 7900 GS is significantly faster than anything else anywhere near its price.

3DMark 2006

Futuremark has overhauled "The Gamers' Benchmark" with the introduction of 3DMark 06. The benchmark includes improved Shader Model 2 tests, new CPU tests and HDR Shader Model 3 tests for system-wide gaming performance measurement. Final scores are now impacted very directly by the CPU used so we are including the Shader Model 2.0 and Shader Model 3.0 results as this will tell us just how well our video card performs in this benchmark.

3D Mark 2006

3D Mark 2006

3D Mark 2006

Even 3DMark is having trouble showing differences between the GT and GS! I'll bet that a little overclocking can change that.

Temperatures

One thing that often goes overlooked when it comes to graphics cards is the temperature that they run at.  Since this card is priced right around $200 it is sure to sell well, so we figured we would take a look at the temperatures.

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With the deafult clock speeds we let the system idle and found the Core of the GeForce 7900GS to run right around 49C at idle.   

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When we ran a 3D application the graphics card warmed up a great deal and finally topped out at 78C with the stock cooling solution by XFX.

For those that want to go a little extreme, water cooling is a very efficient way to cool graphics cards and when the core on the 7900GS was cooled by water the temperature dropped significantly at idle and under load.

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With the water block on the GPU the idle temperature dropped from 49C with the factory cooling solution to just 35C. 

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At full load the GeForce 7900GS reached 40C when before it was running 78C! By water cooling the core we were nearly able to cut the temperature level in half under load. The video card is by far one of the hottest pieces of hardware in a modern computer, so if you already have a water cooler we highly suggest water cooling the graphics card as it will lower the overall case temperature and allow for better overclocking.

Air Cooled Overclocking

Air Cooled OC

Here is our starting point, 480MHz core speed and 700MHz memory speed as shipped from XFX.

Air Cooled OC

After selecting "Detect Optimal Frequencies" we let coolbits work its magic. By the time it was finished we were running 615/824, which is a huge 135MHz/124MHz jump over the stock clocks, nearly 30% on the core.

Rather than just spout off some numbers, let's see how it translates to real world performance.

Call of Duty 2

Air Cooled OC

Air Cooled OC

Air Cooled OC

X3 Reunion

Air Cooled OC

While a 30% increase in performance would have been great, we see only a 10%-15% increase in performance. Not a bad performance increase for free! Let's see how it does on watercooling.

Watercooled Overclocking

Water Cooled:

When the card first arrived site owner Nathan Kirsch spent an afternoon with the XFX GeForce 7900GS and overclocked the card using a Corsair Naultilus 500 water cooler and a Danger Den Low Profile Maze 4 GPU water block.  When overclocked the memory IC's were too hot to touch, so a 120mm fan was used to blow air across the video card to help cool the GDDR3 memory IC's. 

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With a custom water cooler on the video card and a 120mm fan keeping the memory IC's a little cooler the overclocking results were very impressive.

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I (Nathan Kirsch) was able to reach 645MHz on the core, which represents a 195MHz increase in clock speed over a standard 7900 GS. This is a 43% overclock and one of the best overclocks that we have seen on any recent cores from both ATI and NVIDIA.  The memory clock frequency went up to 840MHz when using Coolbits, but that honestly wasn't far enough.  The card would run night at day at 645MHz/840MHz never once showing an artifact. I went on to use Riva Tuner to further overclock the memory, but ran out of time as Brian needed the card to complete the article. :(

Before I handed the card over I did run some benchmarks and was pleased with the results.  On my Intel Core 2 Duo E6700 processor and Intel Bad Axe D975XBX motherboard we were able to put down a stock clocked 3DMark06 score of 4590 3DMarks.

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After overclocking the card back up to 645MHz on the core and 840MHz on the memory we were able to reach a much better score of 5810 3DMarks.

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I never did find the max overclock on this card nor did I once see any artifacts during overclocked gaming and I did play Quake 4, Far Cry, Prey and F.E.A.R. with the card running at 645MHz/840MHz on top of the usual runs of 3DMark06. Our 43% overclock on the core did yield a 26% improvement in 3DMark06 performance and that alone is nothing to laugh at. 

Power consumption & Conclusion

Idle

Idle

As expected Idle and Load consumption is almost identical to the 7900 GT. Something that's not included here is that when overclocked to 615/800 load consumption went up only 4w to 194w total!

Conclusion

Summing up this card is a little difficult because we like it that much. Exactly how much praise can you give a card? If you recall we loved the 7900 GT when we reviewed it 6 months ago. With nearly identical performance and 1/3 of the price knocked off the XFX 7900 GS deserves serious consideration in any mainstream gaming system, if not the only consideration. Right now XFX currently offers two GeForce 7900 GS graphics cards with the only differences being the clock speeds and the price.  We looked at the more expensive overclocked version for this article.

The 7900 GS is literally in a league of its own. ATI has no part that can compete with it at the $199 price point. The high-end features and power of the G71 core make it the card to have for anyone not willing to pony up three, four, or five bills for the latest and greatest. If one wants to run SLI with a pair of GeForce 7900GS video cards it can be done for under $400, which is a heck of a deal for mainstream SLI.

Those of you that are willing to overclock will get the biggest value for your dollar. As we saw, adding some watercooling brings it to another level of performance.

NVIDIA was able to get a handle on the noise that the 7900 GT created, which makes the 7900 GS a welcome addition to those with systems that do not generate much noise. Only during gaming in an open test environment were we able to hear the fan. Heat is a minor concern but really only when overclocking. At retail speeds the heatsink was able to keep the card at a safe temperature in both 2D and 3D operations.

The XFX 7900 GS is the new definition of value in video cards. From the factory it performed as well as cards costing $100 more. This card seemed to beg for us to overclock it, offering a 140MHz increase in core speed

All of this together makes the 7900 GS the best value in video card performance today.

Legit Reviews Value Award

Legit Bottom Line: NVIDIA has given the mainstream gamer and overclocking enthusiast something that performs great and doesn't break the bank. At just $213 the XFX 7900 GS 480M is just as fast as a 7900 GT and begs to be overclocked for more.