So here's my verdict .. I'm a big fan of the NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB. It offers so much performance, quality and simply stated fun that you just have to love the product. Sparkle tried to make it a little more special.
I truly wish for Sparkle that I could praise that TEC cooler into heaven. Hey this is innovation, something fresh something new; something that I can admire so much as I just love stuff like this. But I have to face the fact that I also don't understand why they are using a Peltier cooler; besides the fact it's something with a different angle and thus great for marketing that is.
Here is why I state that: it makes as much noise as other coolers, it dumps the residual heat inside your PC, absorbs a little more power (although this was hardly measurable and neglectable) and in this test the card overclocks roughly equal or less compared to the standard reference cooled product. The sheer size also makes it block the more than one mainboard slot. If you for example have the 680i SLI mainboard .. next to a PCI bus the third x8 PCI-Express slot is blocked also.
Now peltier technology itself can be magic .. peltier can do so much more than it's doing on this product ... I wish there was a turbo cooling switch of some sort so that the TEC unit would cool down the card to let's say 15 degrees C. No real risk for condensation yet that's where the overclock and tweaking fun really begins. Right now it's cooling nicely but that's pretty much it.
I already stated it .. the Peltier unit not only draws heat it generates heat as well. That heat is being dumped inside your PC. Now initially I could not understand why this card would not overclock as much as I expected as hey. And then it hit me .. it could be either of two things. Bad luck .. some cards just don't clock very well which is the reality of hardware these days.
And the second thing that popped into the labyrinth that's called my mind .. that dumped heat .. I took a little piece of paper and placed it above the fans to see where the airflow is pointed towards .. the heat is directed downwards to the PCB. Sure there's a small metal shim between the PCB and cooler yet it's only a millimeter away and actually on top of the memory.
Now don't get me wrong here .. as I might very well have it wrong. But that doesn't make sense to me. Why would you blow heat back over the graphics card ?
So basically you draw heat from the GPU, push it through a heatpipe upwards to the cooling ribbons to move it away .. and once it's there .. the fans blow it back over the graphics card. That heat that really needs to escape, as it is warming up the PCB and could very well be the result of the mediocre maximum overclock.
Ironic funny line: Global Warming !
Okay .. let's set that aside and please do make note of the fact that we did achieve a reasonable overclock, so it's not a big issue but I believe this product can be so much better. If you don't even plan to overclock yourself then this is not even remotely something you need to think about. The second mishap is the fact that the card is blocking the SLI connector. Sparkle is solving this by making a new higher SLI connector. But if you just picked up two of these babies ... you will not get SLI working as it is right now.
Right; if you do not plan to massively overclock the product .. then this card is quite honestly very fun to own. It's not the cheapest 320MB model due to the guaranteed pre-overclock and cooler yet to sweeten up the deal you'll receive a free game, namely Painkiller which adds value to your product again. And for the brag factor .. it does look intense to have such a beast hanging there in your PC.
The 320MB model itself compared to 640 MB then. See on one side we have the sheer power of 96 shader cores in the graphics processor to show off some really impressive stuff; yet on the other side as soon as you hit a high resolution you'll hit a wall as the amount of memory is holding you back. It's like buying an Aston Martin to drive around tight city streets. You can't use all it's power in higher resolutions.
Then if we compare the tested 320 MB version towards a regular 640 Mb model of the GeForce 8800 GTS we see in the more normal and common resolutions that the 320 Mb models are faster (compared to that 640 Mb model) as they are allowed to be pre-overclocked; it does make this a very interesting product.
Looking at it in general. The 8800 GTS 320MB is a fantastic product. If you game up-to a resolution of 1920x1200 you are good to go. With pretty much all modern gaming titles and this years upcoming games. If you want to game at roughly 1920x1200 or higher, you'll need more memory on the graphics card. The majority of gamers out there are still on an LCD screen at 1280x1024 or 1600x1200. And for you guys this card means bang for your bucks. If you aim at a higher resolutions then definitely go for the 640 model, or even better the delicious 768 MB GTX.
There's another thing to bare in mind though, upcoming games that require massive amounts of texture memory could form an issue. A good example in our test run was GRAW; the GTS 640 MB model performed way better on all levels thanks to the fact it had enough memory. With upcoming DX10 titles like Crysis I'm not really sure just yet what the effect of 320 MB memory is.
Let's talk money here... a regular GeForce 8800 320MB will cost you roughly 300 USD/EUR. This Calibre GeForce 8800 GTS with TEC cooler will set you down a good 349 USD/EUR. So there's a 50 bucks difference; which is a lot. Is it worth it ? Well yes and no. Not because of the TEC cooler. It's the combo. The higher default overclock and thus performance gives this product it's edge. Next to that you get to have the free game, and obviously you'll receive three years warranty. I do think though that if Sparkle wants to compete with BFG, XFX and eVGA then at the very least the Calibre edition should get the life-time warranty (in Europe 10 Years).
TEC cooler or not; this Calibre P880LV is a really great card to own. You'll get a DX10 compatible product offering great above standard performance up-to a resolution of 1920x1200. I wish it would have had a 512MB framebuffer but the nature of the G80 architecture does not allow that. To make up for it you do get a full 96 shader cores in that graphics processor activated. Plain and simple; at this price level this product is very nice and it promises you a tremendous gaming experience at that 349 USD/EUR price level.
Due to the TEC cooler: the Calibre P880LV 320 MB definitely shines .. but it doesn't Sparkle.
Many GeForce 8800 320 MB models already have been spotted in our pricewatch database, click here to have a browse.