ATI Radeon X1800 GTO vs Nvidia GeForce 7600 GT
Sub-£150 cards from Gecube and Gigabyte
GPU face-off Every new generation of high-end graphics cards heralds a speed bump for the mid-range products. In the past, I've been disappointed with many of the mid-range cards - there's just not enough peformance there to justify the £150-200 price point. It's about time we get some decent performance out of the not-stupidly-expensive line-ups and this time round both the red and the green teams have come up with the goods...
The X1800 GTO is a cut-down Radeon X1800 XL, so it's not new technology. Neither is the 7600 GT, which owns its heritage to the 7800 and 7900 series of GPUs. To be fair to Nvidia, the 7600 GT is from its most recent generation of graphics chips, while the X1800 GTO comes from an older line. It's nonetheless a very capable card as you'll see from the benchmark results.
There are several differences between the two cards that are worth highlighting. The size of the cards is the most obvious one, with the 7600 GT being about 5cm shorter than the X1800 GTO. This means it will be easier to fit into a small form-factor (SFF) PC, something that you might not be able to do with the X1800 GTO. You won't need to connect any additional power connectors to the 7600 GT - by contrast, the X1800 GTO, which uses the same board design as most of the X1800 series, requires an extra power feed.
Cooling requirements are vastly different too. The 7600 GT's heatsink is tiny in comparison to the X1800 GTO's. The fan is also slightly smaller, although oddly enough it's not as noisy as the one on the X1800 GTO when you're playing games. Although, if you're after a silent card, you might want to consider the 7600 GS - watch out for our upcoming review.
Both cards having 'only' 256MB of memory, so neither will run F.E.A.R. at 2,048 x 1,536 with full-screen anti-aliasing enabled as this requires 512MB of graphics memory.
Let's take a closer look at what the two cards have on offer and what you get for your money. It's a very close call on which card to choose and it really comes down a lot to personal preference and a bit of luck in sniffing out the best price.
The cards where tested using an AMD Atlhon 64 FX-60 processor, 1GB of Crucial Ballistix PC3200 DDR memory, a Western Digital Caviar 16SE hard drive. The GeCube Radeon X1800 GTO was tested on an Asus A8R32-MVP motherboard, and the Gigabyte GeForce 7600GT on an MSI K8N-SLI motherboard.
GeCube X1800 GTO 256MB
Let's start with the ATI-based X1800 GTO card, which until recently was closer to the £200 price point than the sub-£150 price point most 7600 GT cards have been sold at. ATI recently decided to drop the price on the GTO part and you can now pick up the GeCube board for less than most 7600 GTs.
Although it might be based on previous-generation technology, the X1800 GTO has one advantage over the 7600 GT: there has been several reports of users successfully modding their X1800 GTOs into X1800 XLs.
ATI's codename for the X1800 GTO was R520LE whereas the fully featured X1800 GPUs where called R520. The GTO and the XL share the same core, but certain elements have been disabled in the BIOS. The X1800 XL has 16 pixel pipelines while the X1800 GTO has 12. The 'missing' four pipelines can in some cases be re-enabled. There's no guarantee the process will work, but the possibility is there and you will gain a fair performance jump if it works.
The clock speed of the GTO is 500MHz on the core and 500MHz (1GHz effective) on the memory just like the X1800 XL, though less than the 7600GT. It has 12 ROPs and eight vertex shaders. To its advantage the GTO has a full 256-bit memory interface, which gives it a performance boost without having to use a higher memory clock speed. As this is a mid-range product, once you could have presumed that it would have less memory than the XL, but so far all the GTOs have 256MB too.
It is a rather large card and as I mentioned in the introduction this can cause a problem if you have a small case or not enough clearance between the motherboard and the hard drive cage. Far more annoying is the cooler, as the fan kept changing speed throughout the benchmarking process. It got really frustrating really quickly. ATI needs to come up with a better stock cooler. I'd be happy to pay another £5 for my graphics card if I got a low-noise cooler as standard.
According to ATI, you can buy two X1800 GTO cards and run them in CrossFire mode over the PCI Express bus, rather than having to invest in a master card.
The X1800 GTO is worth the new asking price and it's a very good mid-range product from ATI. The possibility of modding it to a fully fledged X1800 XL is also an intriguing option for some users. A quieter cooler wouldn't go amiss, but this is the only real downside to this card.
Gigabyte GV NX76T256DB-RH 7600GT
Although its heritage is clear, the 7600 GT is not just a BIOS-downgraded version of an older product, but a new chip design taking advantage of the technology found in other Nvidia GPUs. The chip has 12 pixel pipelines, eight ROPs and five vertex shaders - fewer than the X1800 GTO. However, the clock speeds are higher, with the clocks coming in at 560MHz for the core and 700MHz (1.4GHz effective) for the RAM. These are higher than the X1800 GTO's clocks, but the 7600 GT is using a 128-bit memory bus, half the width of the X1800 GTO's bus, which means that although the memory is clocked faster, fewer data can be moved across the bus each cycle.
Personally, I wouldn't bother with the standard version of Gigabyte's 7600 GT as you can get a passively cooled version, the 7600 GS, for pretty much the same money. Sure, the fan noise doesn't come close to that of the X1800 GTO, but it's something I'd rather not have at all if possible.
Gigabyte bundles a small breakout box that adds component video output. Sadly, the cable is very short, so you can't place the breakout box on your desk or by your TV - it just ends up hanging behind your PC adding more clutter.
Most 7600 GT cards are highly overclockable, and some manufacturers sell pre-overclocked cards at a price premium.
The Gigabyte 7600GT is a capable card and it comes at a reasonable price. If you already own an nForce 4 SLI motherboard, then this is the way to go for an affordable SLI set-up.
We've judged the two cards each in their own right, but how do they fare when they're compared directly?
Performance-wise the GTO has the edge. It won all of the game benchmarks except for F.E.A.R. and it also came first in 3DMark 05. The 7600 GT beat it in 3DMark 06, though only in the four tests it could do out of 12, due to the fact that it won't do FSAA with high dynamic range (HDR) enabled. So if you're in to the few HDR titles that are out there, you might well want to consider the X1800 GTO in favour for the 7600 GT.
Both cards have their own video processing systems, Avivo on the ATI and PureVideo for Nvidia. Neither yet offers as stand-out benefit over the other. The 7600 GT comes on a more conveniently size board than the X1800 GTO, sports a more friendly, less intrusive cooling system and it doesn't need an extra power feed.
But with the recent price cut, the X1800 GTO has one other advantage: it's cheaper than the 7600 GT, though the difference isn't huge. For now, then, the scales tip in the ATI product's favour. For now... ®