To test these cards, I ran our usual set of benchmarks on our reference Intel 975XBX â€œBad Axeâ€ motherboard, with an Intel X6800 Core 2 Duo, coupled with 2GBs of Corsair CMX1024-6400C4 running at 800MHz with latency settings of 4-4-4-12.
We've now added in Company Of Heroes (CoH) into our testing suite and have dropped the ageing Quake 4. We use the inbuilt graphics test in CoH which features heavy use of water, lighting, explosions and masses of vegetation and it gives a fair representation of overall performance throughout the game. As this is a manual test we have reduced the number of tests to just one without anti-aliasing and one with anti-aliasing, using the in-game anti-aliasing setting. All other in-game settings were kept at their maximum.
As well as CoH, we also ran Call of Duty 2, Counter Strike: Source, Battlefield 2, Prey and 3DMark06. Bar 3DMark06 and CoH, these all run using our in-house pre-recorded timedemos in the most intense sections of each game. 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, and 1,920 x 1,200 each at 0x FSAA with trilinear filtering, 2x FSAA with 4x AF and 4x FSAA with 8x AF. All other in-game and driver settings are kept to their maximum.
For comparison I've pulled in results from our recent tests of nVidia and ATIs previous generation mid-range hardware, the 7600 GT and X1650 XT. Also, to see what spending an extra Â£50 - Â£70 will get you, I've included results for the 8800 GTS 320.
Our Call Of Duty 2 test is very texture heavy and pushes memory bandwidth to the limit. So, it's no surprise that this is the one title where the 8600 GTS falls behind all the other cards. In all our other games, which are more shader heavy, the 8600 GTS consistently stays ahead of the DX9 only cards. However, the margin is not as large as most us of would've hoped and when higher resolutions and anti-aliasing are used the gap shrinks to negligible amounts. And, what is most obvious is just how much the 8600 GTS lags behind the 8800 GTS 320. Even as the lowest end part based on the G80 core, the 8800 GTS 320 still trounces everything else on test here. At lower resolutions the difference seems on a par but as you crank up the resolution and anti-aliasing we see differences of over 50 per cent.
It's difficult not to feel disappointed with the GeForce 8600 GTS. DirectX 9 performance is simply not up to scratch when compared to previous generation hardware from both nVidia and ATI. Obviously we can't fully pass judgement until we've tested the card using DirectX 10 games but after the barn storming success of the 8800 I think we all hoped the 8600 GTS would outperform its predecessors by a greater margin.
The new video processor, HDCP compliance, HDMI support, and dual-link capabilities all point to a good all-rounder and certainly if you just want a card that will perform all your multimedia duties then you can't go too far wrong. However, if that's all you need then it may be worth waiting for the cheaper 8600 GT and 8500 GT, which may have these features.
If you own an X1650 XT, 7600 GT, or anything better, then the 8600 GTS isn't going to offer you anymore performance right now and you'd be better off waiting until DX10 performance can be assessed. However, if you have been desperately holding out for mid-range DirectX 10 hardware to become available before replacing your ailing 6600 GT or X800 GT then the 8600 GTS may just be worth investing in. It's not a dead cert though.