All Boxed Up
The box looks pretty decent, the cover is adorned with the traditional fantastical warrior, in this case a lass who reminds me a lot of Jen from the game Primal.
Not Big on Accessories
There are rather paltry offerings in the box, which contains just the graphics card, video out cable and the driver CD and multi-language instruction manual. Closer inspection of the card shows us three video outputs, there is the now traditional dual graphics output with one analogue connector and one DVI, and there is S-Video TV output as well.
The cable provided connects to the S-Video output and offers component connectors to allow for high-definition output to an HD-ready TV, making it this card a good choice for an HTPC. You may also have noticed the connector on the top of the card which offers support for SLI so can link two of these cards together.
The 7600GS chipset supports most of the currently used technologies like DirectX 9, OpenGL 2.0, shader model 3 and High Dynamic range. Of course with DirectX 10 just around the corner many people are holding out for more cards to support it, but I think that it'll be quite a while before any true rewards are reaped on this front and at the moment these cards come at a major premium.
Installation was perfectly standard and after downloading the latest drivers from Nvidia we set about seeing what this card could do. I chose to run this card in a fairly low specced PC using a Socket 939 MSI motherboard, AMD FX-55 CPU @ 2.6GHz and a single stick of 1GB DDR RAM.
Leaving the card at its stock settings produced pretty much the exact kind of results you would expect from a 7600GS card, nothing spectacular, but then this is a fairly budget card. The card comes from Biostar with the core clocked at 400MHz with a stick voltage of 1.149V and the 256MB of GDDR3 memory clocked at 1400MHz with a stock voltage of 1.823V. At the factory settings the 7600GS scores around 4050 3DMarks in 3DMark05 at a resolution of 1280x1024.
Now you may be thinking that the last thing anyone needs is another overclocking tool, but what makes the new Sigma-Gate and V-Ranger software so interesting is that allows you to adjust not only the memory and core clock speeds, but it allows you to adjust the individual voltages as well. As far as I know there is no other overclocking tool available that allows you to overclock the voltages to your Nvidia graphics card from the desktop. There is also the option of temperature protection to help prevent you blowing up the card.
Sigma-Gate and V-Ranger Software
One thing that did confuse us was the use of two separate overclocking tools, I can only assume that the Sigma-Gate tool is the original tool and the V-Ranger is the newer software that allows voltage adjustment. As you see, the Sigma-Gate uses an 'interesting' design that looks quite cool, but does take some getting used to. Hovering over each bit offers a tooltip to explain its function, which can be very useful while you're getting to grips with how it works. The V-Ranger program is a lot easier to navigate and in fact I would recommend just foregoing the Sigma-Gate tool unless you need the wider frequency adjustment range that it offers.
Both the overclockers come with a test function that takes just a second to run, but will let you know as soon as you're starting to make the card unhappy, which is an awesome feature as it makes it so much easier to test the vast number of different settings available. After some fiddling with the frequency and voltage settings we managed get the card running stable with the core set to 650MHz at 1.3V and the memory set to 1720MHz at 1.92V. V-Ranger allows the core and memory to be clocked up to 1.381V and 2.131V respectively but we found that pushing the voltages further than we got them had no positive effect and just added more heat.
Speaking of heat, if you are going to be using V-Ranger to push your graphics card to its limits then we strongly advise replacing the rather dinky cooler that it comes with, but of course be aware that will void the warranty. We would also highly recommend using the temperature protection feature as when playing with the voltages you run the very real risk of permanently damaging the card. During testing we were getting temperature spikes of over 80 degrees Celsius which if maintained will drastically shorten the lifespan of the components on the board.
With these new settings 3DMark05 scored an impressive 5843 3Dmarks with the same resolution of 1280x1024 an impressive 44 percent increase. Similarly the Doom 3 demo jumped from an average of 78.2fps to 97fps making it a 24 percent increase. Strangely Far Cry only saw an improvement of 2fps from 65.38fps to 67.47fps, but I'm pretty sure that's down to a bottleneck in the other hardware.
As mentioned at the beginning of this review, on its own this card is pretty plain and performs pretty much as you would expect, but when you include the new Sigma-Gate and V-Ranger overclocking software from Biostar this card suddenly jumps in value as you now get a 7600GS card to run with performance comparable to a 7900GS card. If this level of overclocking starts to permeate across Biostar's range and to other GPU vendors then we may see a big change in the expectations of what our graphics cards can do, but how the physical hardware responds to this level of constant punishment and how warranties are considered over the long term remains to be seen. All in all this is a great step forward in helping consumers get the best value possible from their hardware. ?