Asus EN7600GT graphics card
One of the first Nvidia GeForce 7600 GT-based cards out the door
Review When Nvidia launched the GeForce 7800 GTX in June 2005 it broke with tradition by not releasing a mid-range GeForce 7600 and a budget GeForce 7200, which is what we'd expected after the precedent set by the GeForce FX5200/5600/5800 launch and followed by the GeForce 6200/6600/6800 roll-out. Instead, Nvidia demoted the GeForce 6800 chip to the upper mid-range, leaving the GeForce 6600 in the mid-range and the GeForce 6200 as a budget product...
This was an unusual move but it made sense: the GeForce 6xxx series supports DirectX 9.0c while the ATI products of the time were DirectX 9.0b part and, let's face it, the Radeon X300 and X700 weren't very impressive.
The situation changed with the release of Radeon X1300, X1600 and X1800 in November 2005 and then the X1900 earlier this year, as it meant that every current graphics card (that we care about) is now fully DirectX 9.0c compliant, and now Nvidia has slotted the GeForce 7600 into the mid-range.
The 7600 uses half of the hardware that you find inside the GeForce 7900 GTX so you get 12 pixel pipelines, eight Raster Operations Units (ROPs), five pixel shaders, a 128-bit memory controller with support for up to 256MB of memory. The GPU comes in two versions: the GS has a core speed of 400MHz and 256MB of DDR 2 memory that runs at an effective 800MHz, and which is intended to be used with a passive cooler to give silent running. The performance option is the GeForce 7600 GT which has a 560MHz core and uses GDDR 3 memory with an effective speed of 1.4GHz, which is exactly what you'll find in the Asus EN7600GT.
As far as we can see the only thing that distinguishes the Asus from Nvidia's reference design is the Asus sticker on the cooling fan so it's fair to expect that its performance will be typical of the breed. The 7600 GT doesn't have any new headline features to offer over the 6600 GT as both chips support DirectX 9.0c with Shader Model 3 and are native PCI Express parts. However, the move to a 90nm manufacturing process brings some benefits as it allows the new chip to run both faster and cooler, so the heatsink/fan unit is the same size as the type that you find on a 6600 GT. Having said that we found that the fan was annoyingly noisy when it ran at full speed during 3D work as it makes a penetrating whining noise.
It's a sign of the times that a typical 6600 GT had one VGA port and one DVI but the reference design for the 7600 GT has a pair of DVI ports, as well as TV-out. The enhancements that Nvidia made to the GeForce 7800/7900 core also benefit the 7600 GT so it's worth taking a look at our coverage of the MSI GeForce 7900 GT here.
We were impressed to see that the £140 Asus card has some 80 per cent of the performance of the £249 7900 GT so it's very good value for money. Indeed, if you gang up a pair of 7600 GT cards in SLI mode, you'll find that performance is better than a 7900 GT and gets close to that of a 256MB 7900 GTX.
These days you can find a 6600 GT for £90 so the price:performance ratio is maintained as the 7600 GT has at least 70 per cent more performance than the 6600 GT and when the 3D going gets tough the differential increases to over 100 per cent.
You can play any game that you like with the 7600 GT, including F.E.A.R. and Half Life 2, and provided you don't want to run monstrous screen resolutions you can turn most of the eye candy on. So if you currently have a 6600 GT in your PC then we heartily recommend that you replace it with a 7600 GT immediately.
Nvidia intends that the 7600 GT should take on and comprehensively demolish the Radeon X1600, and for once it looks as though ATI is keen to play merely a defensive game itself in the mid-range market. It has tacitly acknowledged that the X1600 doesn't have a prayer. We don't expect to see the 80nm RV535 until August so in the meantime it has released the X1800 GTO. This is a cut-down version of the X1800 XL that has had the number of pixel pipelines reduced from 16 to 12 and a price of £170.
Unfortunately, we didn't have an X1800 GTO to hand so we were unable to compare it with the 7600 GT. However, we did have a Sapphire X1800 XL, and the ATI card was a comfortable winner. We have no problem believing that the X1800 GTO and the 7600 GT will have very similar performance. However, the X1800 GTO costs £30 more than the 7600 GT and is only £10 cheaper than basic versions of the X1800 XL. So if you're going down this route we suggest that you ignore the GTO and plump for the XL. Once you break the £200 barrier you're approaching the point where you can consider a GeForce 7900 GT, which means that you'll have a completely different decision to make.
Getting back to the Asus EN7600 GT, we had mixed views. The performance of the card is very good at this price poin. The inclusion of the King Kong game is welcome. The only other goody in the box is an HDTV Component cable so the value-for-money decision comes down in favour of Asus, but only just. Our biggest complaint about the card is the noise of the fan.
We said: "THE NOISE OF THE FAN."
No doubt another manufacturer will come up with a quieter version, in which case we'll be very happy indeed.
Nvidia's new GeForce 7600 GT is an incredibly impressive mid-range graphics chip. Asus hasn't done much with its version, the EN7600GT, apart from re-badging a reference card and bundling a copy of King Kong but heck, what else do you want? ®