There is a wide range of graphics card options for mainstream gamers, including both current and last generation models. This $100-$199 price range offers a ton of value, as performance and features should be up to par, while its retail price must be competitive. Overall performance is certainly not going to rival higher-end models, but in terms of overall price-performance, there is no better place to buy.
One of the more interesting cards is the GeForce 8600 GT; it is essentially a lower-clocked version of the GeForce 8600 GTS, and at a lower price point. This means a powerful base engine, a DirectX 10 feature set, and the potential of some overclocking headroom. The ASUS EN8600GT OC Gear 256MB provides all that and more, and is a very interesting mid-range performance option.
The GeForce 8600 series includes the GeForce 8600 GT and GTS, both of which use the 80nm G84 graphics processor. The G84 features 32 Stream processors, clocked at 1.19 GHz for the GeForce 8600 GT and 1.45 GHz on the GeForce 8600 GTS. These two GPUs also have different core and memory clock speeds, and the GeForce 8600 GT runs at 540 MHz/1.4 GHz while the GeForce 8600 GTS is a bit higher at 675 MHz/2.0 GHz on the. The GeForce 8600 series is built around a unified shader architecture and a DirectX 10/SM4.0 feature set. The GeForce 8600 GT and GTS include 256MB of onboard GDDR3 by default, and support NVIDIA Lumenex, Pure Video HD, nView, and SLI technologies, among others.
The core architecture of the GeForce 8600 GT is the same as its GeForce 8600 GTS big brother, and includes 8 texture address units, 16 texture filtering units, and 8 ROPs, making it very similar to the GeForce 7600 GT. The only potential issue with the architecture is the decision to use a 128-bit memory interface. This is a big step down from the 256-bit memory link featured on last-generation high-end video cards, not even mentioning the 384-bit memory link on the GeForce 8800 GTX and Ultra. We expect some concessions with a mainstream graphics card, but while the 8.64 GT/s fillrate is respectable, the 22.4 GB/s of memory bandwidth is on par with last-generation cards like the Radeon X1650 XT and GeForce 7600 GT.
ASUS offers a couple of different revisions of the GeForce 8600 GT, including both standard and Silent (fanless) editions. The ASUS EN8600GT OC Gear 256MB adds another wrinkle to the design, incorporating a mainstream GeForce 8600 GT card with OC Gear tweaking hardware. In terms of the card specs, it runs at the standard clock speeds of 540 MHz core, 1.19 GHz shaders, and 1.4 GHz DDR3 memory.
The physical design includes a large gold heatsink with an ASUS Gaming Series-branded cooling fan, which ASUS states will run -14° C cooler than a reference design. This also doesn't affect the card weight, as it checks in at only 240 grams. The heatsink is high enough to interfere with a PCI or PCIe slot directly below it, but it is otherwise a rather diminutive PCI Express card.
The remainder of the ASUS design is no different from a standard GeForce 8600 GT. The card's backplate features dual DVI ports that support resolutions of up to 2048x1536, along with a single HDTV/S-video out port. Like all GeForce 8600 GT cards, the ASUS EN8600GT does not require any external power connection. The EN8600GT OC Gear 256MB offers ASUS-specific feature like ASUS Splendid, Video Security Online, Game LiveShow, Game Replay, Game FaceMessenger, and Gamer OSD. It is also HDCP capable and offers SLI support right out of the box.
The retail bundle has everything you'll need to get up and running, along with a few extras. Along with the ASUS EN8600GT 256MB card, you will find the OC Gear hardware (device + USB cable), a full user manual, a Speed Setup guide, a DVI-to-VGA dongle, a HDTV break-out cable, and an ASUS-branded CD case. ASUS also bundles a trio of CDs, including drivers, OC Gear utilities, and softcopy user manuals. The only disappointment was not finding a bundled game, especially for a product from the ASUS Gaming Series. ASUS also offers a 3-year warranty on their VGA cards.
As the DirectX 10 graphics cards offer a new type of architecture, it's very difficult to compare the latest products in terms of "pipelines" and other common terms of the previous GPU generations. Instead, we have assembled a set of specifications and performance metrics that should illustrate exactly where the ASUS EN8600GT OC Gear 256MB fits in:
GeForce 8600 GT
GeForce 8500 GT
GeForce 7600 GS
Radeon HD 2600
Radeon X1650 XT
GeForce 7600 GT
Radeon HD 2600
GeForce 7900 GS
Of course, the best performance metric is real-world testing, and to that end, we've assembled a wide range of game benchmarks.