We test all our ATI graphics card in an RD580 based Asus A8R32-MVP motherboard and all our NVIDIA cards in an nForce 4 SLI based Asus A8N32-SLI motherboard, matching chip with chipset. The rest of our equipment stays the same â€“an Athlon 64 FX60, 2GBs of Corsair CMX1024-3500LLPRO and a Seagate Barracuda ST3400832A8.
I used the 84.17 ForceWare drivers for the 7600 GT, which is now superceded â€“ but it was the only compatible driver available at the time of testing and performance is almost identical to the newer 84.21. Instead of using the beta drivers ATI tried to give us for the X1800 GTO, I used the official 6.3 Catalysts and patched them to support the X1800 GTO as it is architecturally identical to the X1800 XL and I donâ€™t like using drivers that arenâ€™t publicly available if I can help it.
Using our proprietry automated benchmarking suite, aptly dubbed â€œSpodeMark 3Dâ€, I ran Call of Duty 2, Counter Strike: Source, Quake 4, Battlefield 2 and 3DMark 06. Bar 3DMark06, these all run using our in-house pre-recorded timedemos in the most intense sections of each game I could find. Each setting is run three times and the average is taken, for reproducible and accurate results.
I ran each game test at 1,280 x 1,024, 1,600 x 1,200, 1,920 x 1,440 and 2,048 x 1,536 each at 0x FSAA with trilinear filtering, 2x FSAA with 4x AF and 4x FSAA with 8x AF.
Results were almost neck and neck with two minor exceptions. Naturally, Quake 4 was skewed towards the 7600 GT due to its superior OpenGL rendering engine and support for UltraShadow II. More importantly, in Battlefield 2 the 7600 GT really started to suffer when FSAA and AF was switched on, with 20-30 per cent difference noticed. This is most definitely due to the extra memory bandwidth on the X1800 GTO. However, it only really affects game play when used at the 1,920 and 2,048 resolutions, which unless you have an older CRT or really expensive TFT panel, canâ€™t be used.
What is interesting is how much improvement we saw from running two 7600 GT cards in SLI. We noticed 80-90 per cent improvement, even at 1,280 x 1,024 where it matters most. On average, across all the benchmarks and resolutions there was a 60 per cent improvement in performance, which is not to be sniffed at.
Buying two 7600 GTâ€™s is in a similar price bracket to buying a single 7800 GTX 256MB, so I decided to compare to this with astonishing results. On average, the two 7600s were 20 per cent faster. However, more commonly I saw 30-40 per cent improvement, with 55 per cent improvement in Battlefield 2 at 1,280 x 1,024. However, if I had Â£250 to spend, I would probably buy a single card rather than two 7600 GTâ€™s. The benefit shown here, is merely the ability to add another 7600 GT later in the day when prices have dropped even more and attain some serious improvements in performance.
The X1800 GTO and 7600 GT are very close performance wise and I wouldnâ€™t want to let that weigh too much in to my buying decision. The form factor of the 7600 GT is considerably nicer, being smaller, quieter and cooler. The X1800 GTO is loud, clunky and annoying.
The 7600 GT is currently available from Dabs for only Â£128.25 including VAT, while the X1800 GTO isnâ€™t even available. The cheapest X1800 XL I could find was Â£164.06 â€“ so I hope the GTO will be price competitive, but it is quite likely that it close to the X1800 XL than the 7600 GT, questioning if we even need the GTO in the marketplace at all. if this prpves to be the case, I would definitely opt for the 7600 GT card over an X1800 GTO.