Squeezing Value Out of Lower-End Cards

Test Setup

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System Hardware
Processor(s)AMD Athlon 64 3700+2.2 GHz, 1.0 GHz Bus, 1 MB L2 cache
PlatformAsus AN8-SLI PremiumNVIDIA nForce4 SLI, BIOS 1003 - BIOS version 1005
RAM2 GB Crucial Ballistix DDR400 - 2 x 512 MB
Hard DriveWestern Digital Raptor, WD740GD74 GB, 10,000 rpm, 8 MB cache, SATA150
NetworkingOn-Board nForce4 Gigabit Ethernet
Graphics CardsNVIDIA GeForce 7800 GTX 256 MB GDDR3430 MHz Core 1.2 GHz MemoryNVIDIA 7800 GT 256 MB GDDR3445 MHz Core 1.07 GHz MemoryNVIDIA GeForce 6600 GTX 256 MB DDR2400 MHz Core 800 MHz MemoryATI Radeon X800 GTO / XL 256 MB GDDR3400 MHz Core 490 MHz MemoryATI Radeon X1300 Pro 256 MB GDDR3600 MHz Core 800 MHz Memory
Power SupplyEnermax Liberty ELT620AWT 620W
System Software & Drivers
OSMicrosoft Windows XP Professional 5.10.2600, Service Pack 2
DirectX Version9.0c (4.09.0000.0904)
Platform DrivernForce 6.70
Graphics Driver(s)ATI - Catalyst 5.12NVIDIA - Forceware 81.95
3DMark 2003Default Benchmark
3DMark 2005Default Benchmark
UT2004Custom Timedemo - THG8 Assault
Far Cry 32bitCustom Timedemo - Cooler01Flashlight on
Doom 3Timdemo Demo1
Half-Life 2Custom Timedemo - DP_Coast_01
F.E.A.R.F.E.A.R. BenchmarkMaximum Details and Quality

All tests were run with the common screen resolution of 1024 x 768 and 1600 x 1200 (17" & 19" CRT displays). The tests at the 1024 resolution were run in two variations. The first used neither anti-aliasing nor anisotropic filtering. For the second, antialiasing was enabled, set to 4x and 8x for anisotropic filtering. The quality setting was selected from within the driver menus for all benchmarks and vertical synchronization was disabled. Because NVIDIA uses profiles with optimizations for their hardware we set Catalyst AI to standard so it could to do the same for the ATI cards. For both the ATI and NVIDIA based cards, we set antialiasing and anisotropic filtering through the application. If certain settings were not offered directly in the game's menu or were behaving out of sort, we then used the driver.

Overclocking Setup

Each card has its own identity and limits at which it can perform. For NVIDIA-based cards we use the Coolbits registry tweak to unlock the frequency selection menu in the driver. From here you can overclock the 2D and 3D settings for the GPU core and the memory. For ATI, we use a third-party tool called ATI Tool. The tool allows you to change the GPU and memory clock speeds and even has a feature to test the new features in a 3D window. It will report errors and even find the maximum frequencies for you, although this process can take a long time if there is a lot of room for improvement.

The card that was least capable of overclocking was the ATI Radeon X1300 Pro. We could not push the memory on the card at all. The core was only able to see a 3% increase in speed. Both of the other cards were able to achieve better results. The ATI R430 based card could achieve 10% more in both the core and memory frequencies. However, the overclocking shining star was the NVIDIA GeForce 6600 with DDR2 that was able to gain a 7% core increase and an astounding 23% increase in memory clocks.

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Header Cell - Column 0 Stock Chip ClockOverclocked Chip Clock% OverclockedStock Memory ClockOverclocked Memory Clock% Overclocked
GeForce 7800 GTX 512550N/AN/A1700N/AN/A
GeForce 7800 GT425N/AN/A1000N/AN/A
GeForce 6600 DDR25005377.40%80098823.50%
Radeon X1300 Pro6006213.50%8008020.25%
Radeon X800 GTO / XL4004399.75%980108010.20%