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MSI Geforce 7800GTX Review

DT Editor's Choice

Highs

  • Single slot design; relatively low power consumption

Rating

Our Score 8.5
User Score 9.3

Lows

  • Weak software package; poor SLI setup instructions
MSI has done a great job by offering a video card solution that is easy to find, competitively priced...

Summary

NVIDIA has made history this year with the introduction of their new GeForce 7800 GTX video card. For the first time, a video card manufacturer has made a video card available to the public on the very same day it was announced. Based on the NV4x architecture the new NVIDIA 7800 GTX, code named G70, promises full DirectX 9 feature set support and faster frame rates at higher resolutions.

Today we are reviewing two of MSI’s NX7800 GTX video cards based on the new G70 GPU and setup in a SLI configuration. Available in two versions, the regular NX7800GTX-VTD256E and the NX7800GTX-VTD256E (Lite) (the Lite does not include any games), MSI hopes to draw you away from the other countless brands of GeForce 7800 GTX video cards with their own offering. Read on to see if there is a reason to choose MSI over the others.

Features and Design

The new G70 GPU (graphics processing unit) used in the new GeForce 7800 GTX is compromised of 302 million transistors, more than any other consumer-level graphics card. The G70 also ups the ante from 6 vertex pipelines to 8, an increase of 33% allowing there to be more shading effects than ever before. Most of today’s games are only scratching the surface of these new effects, but this means the card should be able to support the shading effects of future games as well. There are now 24 pixel pipelines on the new G70, up from 16, a faster core processor speed at 430MHz and 256MB of GDDR3 giving the card 38.4GB/sec of memory bandwidth.

There are several features that really separate the 7800 GTX from previous NVIDIA based video cards. First of all, the 7800 GTX is physically thinner. This means it will only take up a single slot in your computer case. The previous 6800 Ultra graphic card came with a heat sink and fan so large that the card took up two slots in your case and essentially made it near impossible to get the 6800 Ultra is any sort of SFF (Small Form Factor) system chassis. Secondly, the 7800 GTX actually uses less power than the 6800 Ultra. Now NVIDIA touts the 7800 GTX as requiring 50% percent less power from your power supply than the 6800 Ultra, although that number seems to be exaggerated. Unfortunately the biggest downside to the new 7800GTX is that it will only be available in PCI-Express form, at least for now. So if you have an older AGP based system, you are either out of luck, or will need to upgrade your system’s motherboard. If you do decide to upgrade your motherboard, we recommend you go with a SLI supported board from either Abit, MSI or ASUS.

For HDTV fans, the new GeForce 7800 GTX is capable of 1080p HD output and supports both 3:2 and 2:2 pull down and advanced scaling and de-interlacing capabilities, so you can output HD to either a computer monitor or your television.

The specifications just listed cover just about every brand of 7800 GTX based graphics cards for the most part. The biggest difference you will see between manufacturers will be in either the software package that comes with the card or perhaps a faster memory or core GPU clock speed which means it most likely was overclocked by the manufacturer; BFG Tech is specifically known for selling graphics cards that are overclocked.

The NX7800 GTX which MSI provided us for this review comes in a nicely packaged retail box that features a high quality silver box and colorful graphics. There is a handle on the top of the box as well. Since the NX7800 GTX supports VIVO (Video-in, Video-out) capabilities, MSI packages a multimedia dongle that supports S-Video/RCA inputs and outputs as well as a component video output for HDTV quality output. Because the NX7800 GTX is a dual DVI output video card, MSI has courteously included two analog-to-DVI adapters to make sure this card will work with your analog VGA compatible monitor.

The software package that comes with the NX7800 GTX is pretty weak compared to the software packages we normally see from MSI. Instead of 14 or more utilities and games which has become the norm for MSI video cards, we only get a single game which is The Chronicles of Riddick, Escape from Butcher Bay and a couple trial software programs.  However, we’ve noticed that many of the other manufacturers are not offering many games, if any.  The Chronicles of Riddick, Escape from Butcher Bay is a great game though, and if you haven’t played it, you are in for a treat. If you already own it, save some money and get the Lite version of the NX7800 GTX which comes without the game.

Performance

Designtechnica Test System

Windows XP Professional; AMD Athlon 64 FX-53 @ 2.41GHz; MSI K8N Neo4 Platinum/SLI mainboard; 1GB Crucial Ballistix PC3200 RAM, (2) 140GB Western Digital Raptor 10,000 RPMSATA hard drives in RAID stripe array, Creative Labs Sound Blaster Audigy 2 ZS

Setup and Use

For our testing system, we chose to use the MSI K8N Neo4 Platinum/SLI motherboard. The instructions that come with the NX7800 GTX are very short and oddly enough do not show you how to install two video cards in a SLI setup. So you will want to drag your motherboard manual out for the installation process. On your motherboard, depending on your model, there should be a switch that activates the SLI capability of the board so you can install two of these video cards. For our K8N Neo 4 board, we had to dislodge a small PCB board from a proprietary slot and flip it around to activate SLI capability. MSI also provides you with a connector bridge which you will use to connect the two video cards together. Your motherboard manufacturer may also provide you with a metal brace which will lock the two cards together to prevent any sort of malfunction due to the video cards shifting. MSI should have included better instructions for installing a SLI setup, but due to liability, they probably left it up to the motherboard manufacturers. Ultimately the consumer has to deal with the confusion though. PC enthusiasts with a medium skill level should be able to figure this out though.

For the hardcore gamer, MSI adds a feature called Dynamic Overclocking Technology (D.O.T) which is a software program designed to help you overclock the NX7800 GTX to get faster frame rates out of the card. D.O.T manually lets you increase the core GPU and memory frequencies in an effort to enhance gaming performance. If you want to use the D.O.T program, you must use the MSI video card drivers instead of the NVIDIA drivers when installing the card. This is a love/hate relationship though since the drivers available on the NVIDIA website are usually the most current available. If you do not plan to overclock this video card, we recommend you use the reference drivers available from NVIDIA’s website.

For our graphics tests, we chose to use the following games and test software: 3DMark 2003 and 2005, DOOM 3, Far Cry, Half Life 2, and Battlefield 2. In our gaming tests, the NX7800 GTX clearly shows a performance edge over the previous generation cards, the ATI X800 and NVIDIA GeForce 6800 Ultra series. Adding two of these cards together in a SLI setup pushes the performance envelope even further, a necessity for the hardcore gamer. What you need to keep in mind however is that while some of the frame rates between the older cards and the 7800 GTX may be similar, the 7800 GTX is doing so with higher levels of anti-aliasing, and Transparency Multisample Anit-Aliasing as well.

The bottom line is that with the NX7800 GTX, you should be able to play most, if not all of your games at 1600×1200 resolutions or higher, which a moderate level of anti-aliasing turned on. For complete benchmarking scores, please click on the performance tab and link found above and below this review. Click here for gaming benchmarks.

Conclusion

There is no doubt that two 7800 GTX video cards in a SLI setup make for the ultimate gaming machine. Power is almost doubled in some instances allowing you to play your favorite game at ultra high resolutions and up to 8X AA with playable frame rates. But with a price of almost $500 dollars per card, this is a luxury that few gamers will be able to afford.

We would still love to see a manufacturer come out with a SLI solution that includes two video cards in a single package and at a discounted rate. Instead you are forced to pay full price for two retail cards. Fortunately MSI helps a little with this by offering a “Lite” version of their NX7800 GTX card that comes with out the extra game. And with a price of $479 through retailers like Newegg the 7800 GTX has come down considerably since its introductory price of $599 a couple months back.

Remember, the 7800 GTX is not necessarily about frame rates, it’s about being able to play your games at higher resolutions, with more visual effects and with higher levels of Anti-Aliasing. It’s all about visual quality this time around.

Until ATI introduces their next generation video card, the 7800 GTX will stand uncontested as the world champion of video cards, and that is perfectly ok in our book. MSI has done a great job by offering a video card solution that is competitively priced, composed of high quality components and is available at most retail stores. There is no reason for MSI fans to jump ship to another brand. Otherwise we would also recommend BFG Tech which offers 24/7 tech support and a fantastic warranty for those that are new to installing their own hardware.

Pros:

- Top-notch gaming performance
- Single slot design
- Consumes less power then previous generation cards
- Comes with Chronicles of Riddick game
- A “Lite” version is available without a game and costing less
- MSI cards are easy to find

Cons:

- Poor SLI setup instructions
- Weak software package