Mainstream GeForce 8 Series Round-Up: MSI & Gigabyte

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small_001.JPG The premium graphics card market is in a lopsided state.  NVIDIA's GeForce 8800 series is still relatively unchallenged in the high-end space, a position which has been futher solidified with the addition of the 8800 Ultra.  By giving the GeForce 8800GTX a nominal speed bump, NVIDIA continues to maintain its lead.  ATI, on the otherhand, is still trying to get their R600 on store shelves in mass quantities, after receiving a lukewarm reception at launch.  The Radeon HD 2900 XT we recently reviewed turned out to be a decent performer, but is nowhere near the challenger to the GeForce 8800 as we all thought it might be.  While "who's the fastest" may be the most popular and exciting topic, it's also the least likely to affect the masses, as it's safe to estimate the majority of us don't shell out upwards of $599 or more for a superfast video card. 

Today, we're going to stay grounded, evaluating several lower cost video cards designed to strike a balance between price and performance.  What we have on tap are two models based on the GeForce 8600, the MSI NX8600GT T2D256E and the Gigabyte GV-NX86S256H with Silent-Pipe III cooling.  Lastly we have the MSI NX8500GT TD256E which brings basic DX10 gaming performance to those on a strict budget.  In the pages ahead we'll have the three go head-to-head-to-head to see how each stacks up, then we'll throw in comparison scores from a similarly priced GeForce 7600GT and ATI Radeon X1950 Pro for good measure.  Think you can guess which was the best performer?  Well, it may not be as obvious as you might think.  Before we get started, let's take a moment to break down the retail packaging that complements each of these cards.

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The Gigabyte GV-NX86S256H has the most attractive retail bundle of the three cards we're evaluating here.  The package includes a detailed User's Manual which covers installation of the hardware, drivers from the accompanying drivers CD and GIGABYTE's V-Tuner 3 overclocking utility.  There are detailed steps for configuring the drivers to your liking along with images demonstrating proper usage of the card's component adapters.  The package also includes two DVI-to-D-sub adapters to help connect standard VGA monitors to the card's DVI ports.  Additionally, a HDTV/Video Out block is provided that delivers Y, Pb, Pr outputs as well as an S-Video port.  A power cable is also incuded that converts two Molex connections into a standard 6-pin PCI Express power connector.  We found this particularly interesting since the card does not need a supplimental power source.  On the entertainment side of the equation, GIGABYTE included a full version of THQ's Supreme Commander on DVD.  This is an excellent, current game that outclasses some of the older games that can be commonly found with other hardware.

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Both the MSI NX8600GT and NX8500GT had virtually identical retail packages, so we'll combine the two rather than duplicating our efforts.  Each bundle included a brief Quick Installation guide along with a complementary drivers CD.  The CD not only included drivers, but MSI also loaded it up with a number of various software titles, such as:

• MSI Live Update Series ( Live VGA BIOS & Live VGA Driver)
• StarOSD NEW!  
• Dual Core Center NEW! 
• GoodMen 
• LockBox 
• WMIinfor 
• MSI VIVID NEW! 
• MSI Live NEW! 
• MSI Secure DOC

• E-Color
• MediaRing
• ShowShift
• ThinSoft Be Twin 
• Adobe Acrobat Reader
• Norton Internet Security 2005 
• Microsoft® DirectX 9.0c
 

The NX8500GT sported a single DVI-to-VGA adapter whereas the NX8600GT sported two as it was a dual DVI card.  Rather than using a video block like GIGABYTE, MSI provides Y, Pb, Pr and S-Video using a flexable wire adapter to help facilitate the use of each card's external video options.  A separate S-Video cable was included with each package as well.  Notably missing was any kind of gaming software.  With both of MSI's budget class video cards, they've opted not to include any gaming titles whatsoever.  

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