Is the GeForce GTX 560 Ti the New 8800 GT?

GeForce GTX 560 Ti VS GeForce 8800 GT

January 27, 2011

By Jimmy Thang

When the GeForce 8800 GT was released in October 2007, it set the standard for affordable, high-performance GPUs. Priced at around $250 at launch, many thought it performed as well as cards that cost twice as much. The 8800 GT also ushered in mainstream DirectX 10 support, which allowed for better shader/rendering support and improved overall image quality. Even Cevat Yerli, CEO and president of Crytek, commended the 8800 GT for its ability to run their hardware intensive first-person shooter Crysis. Essentially, if you wanted a bang-for-your-buck graphics card, the 8800 GT card was the one to get. The card proved to be so well-received that three years since its first launch, it is still the most popular GPU on Steam. In fact, as of December 2010, 8.2% of Steam users are using either an 8800/9800 GT.

Fast forward to today. NVIDIA just launched the GeForce GTX 560 Ti. It's been hailed by many as the 8800 GT of the DirectX 11 era and a worthy successor to the popular GeForce GTX 460. Given the occasion, we thought it would it would be interesting to do an upgrade article. But we didn't want to do just any upgrade article.

In what follows you will find no bar charts or 3DMarks; you can view plenty of those in the various GeForce GTX 560 Ti reviews. What we aim to answer is—"What kind of difference am I going to see in my games if I upgrade from n GeForce 8/9 series GPU to a GTX 560 Ti? How much better will the games look? What difference will DirectX 11 make? And how fast will it run?" These are the questions we want to answer.

Methodology

We picked two GPUs to compare: the GeForce 8800 GT to represent the old generation and the GeForce GTX 560 Ti to represent the best bang/buck GPU today. For this comparison, we tested five games: Crysis, World of Warcraft: Cataclysm, Mafia 2, Metro 2033, and Just Cause 2. Our goal was to tweak each game until we maxed out their graphics settings while keeping the framerate playable (30-40fps). We did this on both cards then captured screenshots to compare the difference.

As you may know, GeForce.com has a large library of optimal playable settings that help you pick the best in-game settings for your games. We used this data as a starting point and made tweaks along the way where we felt we could obtain better performance or image quality.

Our reference system uses an ASUS P6TD Deluxe motherboard coupled with an Intel Core i7 CPU 930 @ 2.8 GHz, 6 GB of RAM, running on Windows 7 64-bit.

Crysis

The first game we looked at was Crysis. As previously noted, the 2007-released shooter was known for its notoriously steep system requirements. This is understandable, as when it came launched, it was hailed as the finest looking game ever made. So good looking in fact, that many deemed it to be hardware "future-proof." Crysis became the stable by which PC GPUs were compared. "But can it run Crysis?" became a catch phrase. Luckily, you did not have to freeze yourself into a hyperbolic time chamber to awaken 10 years later to play the game. The 8800 GT, released shortly after Crysis, made playing the hardware-demanding first-person shooter an affordable proposition. While the 8800 GT was not able to max out the game's settings (which was something sort of seen as a reoccurring dream for PC gamers back then), the card at least made Crysis playable.

On the GeForce 8800 GT, we found the game looking best at 1920 x 1200 with all settings set to "medium" with the exception of texture quality, which we set to "high." This coincided with GeForce.com's optimal playable settings and yielded 39.5 fps. On the GeForce GTX 560 Ti, we found the sweet spot at the same resolution with every setting on "very high." The framerate was almost identical at 39.0 fps.

Click on image for an animated comparison

8800 GT: 1920x1200 resolution, 4xAA, "Medium" settings. Frame rate for this scene = 35.

GTX 560 Ti: 1920x1200 resolution, 2xAA, "Very High" settings. Frame rate for this scene = 35.

Showcasing the same landscape, the most striking difference here is the lighting quality. Compared to the 560 Ti image, the sun in the 8800 GT screenshot looks like a bright, circular texture. This is a stark contrast to the sun in the 560 Ti image. The light in this image is not simply brighter, but emits greater warmth with its tones and pushes high dynamic range (HDR) lighting which creates a more radiant, luminescent glow that the 8800 GT lacks. In the 560 Ti image, looking at the tree attempting to blot out the sun, it is impressive to see to see the ultra bright lights bleed around the branch. This is a direct outcome of using "very high" quality shaders. By comparison, at "medium" quality shaders, the sun in the 8800 GT image lacks that HDR look. Equally impressive to the lighting in the 560 Ti image are the dark, bold shadows that sift their way through the lands and add depth to the forestry and grass. On the subject of vegetation, the 8800 GT is a bit lacking. While there is some shrubbery on the background mountain to the right in the 8800 GT image, the 560 Ti's mountain renders many more trees and bushes and looks much more jungle-like by comparison.

Takeaway: On the GeForce 8800 GT, Crysis plays well at medium settings, but lacks that compelling "next-gen" look. On the GeForce GTX 560 Ti, you can play Crysis with all settings at "very high." The rich HDR lighting, realistic shadows, and detailed vegetation lends the game a photorealistic look.

World of Warcraft: Cataclysm

The second game is Blizzard Entertainment's immensely popular MMO, World of Warcraft. Because the core game, released back in 2004, is much older than the 8800 GT, the 8800 is definitely capable of running the game. However, since WoW's initial launch, many updates, enhancements, and expansions have come out bolstering the game's visuals. World of Warcraft: Cataclysm, its latest expansion, was released just late last year and pushes graphics harder than all prior releases.

Running WoW at 1920x1200 with all settings on "Good" with the 8800, we got an average frame rate of 32.5. Maintaining AA at 4x and pushing all the settings to "Ultra" with the 560 Ti, we got an average frame rate of 45.2, a 39% increase in performance.

Click on image for an animated comparison

8800 GT: 1900x1200 resolution, 4xAA, "Good" settings. Frame rate for this scene = 35.

GTX 560 Ti: 1900x1200 resolution, 4xAA, "Ultra" settings. Frame rate for this scene = 35.

Looking at the cliffs in the background, you will notice that the rocky textures that the 560 Ti produces are not rendered in the 8800 GT version; furthermore, many of the trees in the horizon are not present in the 8800 GT image. Another huge visual difference between the two images pertains to the reflections. These are particularly evident by looking at the water. The water in the 8800 image is flat, whereas the water in the 560 Ti version provides a captivating reflection of the whole scene.

Takeaway: The graphics in World of Warcraft have improved steadily with each expansion. If you spend a lot of time playing Cataclysm, a GPU upgrade can make a substantial difference in visuals.

Mafia II

The next game we tested was Mafia II. The mobster game is backed up by one of the most riveting stories in modern games. Moving the story along are the game's engaging real-time-rendered cut-scenes. These sequences are enhanced on a powerful GPU like the 560 Ti that is capable of running PhysX, an engine that pushes realistic physics in games. While the 8800 GT can handle the graphics workload of the game fairly well, we couldn't enable PhysX without causing the framerate drop to the teens. In the screens below, you will see how PhysX enhances the game.

Click on image for an animated comparison

8800 GT: 1680x1050 resolution, APEX PhysX: off, Vsync off, Anisotropic Filtering: 16x, Anti-aliasing: on, Ambient Occlusion: on, shadow quality: high, geometry detail: high. Average frames per second = 28.1

GTX 560 Ti: 1680x1050 resolution, APEX PhysX: medium, Vsync off, Anisotropic Filtering: 16x, Anti-aliasing: off, Ambient Occlusion: On, shadow quality: high, geometry detail: high. Average frames per second = 33.2

On the GeForce 8800 GT, we managed to enable high quality shaders, ambient occlusion, and 16x anisotropic filtering. Performance fell just short of 30 FPS with these settings (28.1 FPS), but the game was playable and looked very good.

Similarly with the GeForce GTX 560 Ti, we set all settings to high, but this time around, we enabled PhysX. Despite the increased workload, the overall performance of the card was higher by 18% (33.2 FPS).

PhysX makes a difference beyond just the visuals. In these two images, pay attention to the coattails. In the 560 Ti image, the mobster's trench coat smoothly follows the motion of his legs as he tries to bust down the door. On the 8800 GT image, his coat is stiff and inanimate, almost like a cardboard cutout.

Click on image for an animated comparison

8800 GT: 1680x1050 resolution, APEX PhysX: off, Vsync off, Anisotropic Filtering: 16x, Anti-aliasing: on, Ambient Occlusion: on, shadow quality: high, geometry detail: high. Average frames per second = 28.1

GTX 560 Ti: 1680x1050 resolution, APEX PhysX: medium, Vsync off, Anisotropic Filtering: 16x, Anti-aliasing: off, Ambient Occlusion: On, shadow quality: high, geometry detail: high. Average frames per second = 33.2

The next batch of Mafia II screens once again highlights PhysX usage. In the 560 Ti image, you will notice that a back and forth battle is ensuing as opposing gunfire is being shot up at the window sill. Rock, concrete, wood, and various debris are flying all over the place. In the same frame using the 8800 GT, none of those particle effects are present. It looks more like the mobster is initiating a sniper attack than engaging in a chaotic back and forth battle. In addition, the machine gun fire illuminates the surroundings on the 560 Ti. That lighting effect is not present in the 8800 GT screenshot.

Takeaway: Older GPUs can run Mafia II pretty well graphically. With a newer GPU, you can also turn on PhysX, which adds a great deal of realism to destruction and clothing.

Metro 2033

The next game we looked at was Metro 2033. Like Crysis before it, Metro 2033 is known to be a gorgeous-looking shooter, provided your gaming rig can handle it. While the GeForce 8800 GT does meet the game's minimum system requirements, the three year-old GPU did sometimes struggle running the game's proprietary 4A graphics engine. We had the 8800 GT running the game on DX 9 with the lowest settings in each category. Tessellation, a DX11 feature that improves the geometric detail, was not an option. While these scaled-down settings proved most playable at 1920x1200, the 8800 GT's frame rate still often dipped into the teens when we ran the game's benchmark.

Running at the same resolution, the 560 Ti managed roughly the same frame rate with all settings on "high." In addition, we were able to enable tessellation.

Click on image for an animated comparison

8800 GT: 1920x1200 resolution, quality: "low," DirectX 9, Antialiasing: AAA, texture filtering: AF 4x, Tessellation: off, advanced depth of field: off. Average frames per second = 34.

GTX 560 Ti: 1920x1200 resolution, quality: "high," DirectX 11, Antialiasing: AAA, texture filtering: AF 16x, Tessellation: on. Frames per second = 32.

The biggest difference in the Metro 2033 screenshots pertains to the game's lighting. While the 8800 GT does manage to render some dynamic lights, they are not nearly as bright and penetrating as they are in the 560 Ti screenshots. In addition, the 560 Ti casts soft shadows in between the layers of fog and smoke. In a game that takes place in dark environments, good lighting and vision may mean the difference between killing your enemy and being killed by your enemy.

Click on image for an animated comparison

8800 GT: 1920x1200 resolution, quality: "low," DirectX 9, Antialiasing: AAA, texture filtering: AF 4x, Tessellation: off, advanced depth of field: off. Average frames per second = 34.

GTX 560 Ti: 1920x1200 resolution, quality: "high," DirectX 11, Antialiasing: AAA, texture filtering: AF 16x, Tessellation: on. Frames per second = 32.

This next batch of Metro 2033 images once again showcases the difference in lighting quality. The 8800 GT image is much darker, whereas the 560 Ti image's lighting illuminates the ground floor. In a game where monsters come out from the dark, it sucks to not have the necessary lighting.

What isn't showcased in the game's benchmarking sequence that is visible within the game are some of the particle effects. On the 560 Ti, the post apocalyptic air in Metro 2033 is properly highlighted with floating pollutant anomalies. The volumetric fog coupled with glowing particles really create the feel of radioactive air. On the 8800, with the weaker-looking glowing particles, we couldn't feel the air and missed that engrossing toxic ambience.

Takeaway: You can play Metro 2033 on an older GPU, but you'll be missing out on the core of what makes the game beautiful: superb dynamic lighting. On a fast DirectX 11 GPU, the intricacy of the lighting, the haunting shadows, and the thick, toxic air makes the game much more immersive.

Just Cause 2

Finally, the last game featured in our comparison is the wild action-shooter Just Cause 2. Being able to run the game's Avalanche 2.0 engine with all options maxed out can be a beautiful sight to behold. Lending to the game's beauty are its detailed character models. Below we examine both cards rendering Just Cause 2's female protagonist Maria Kane.

Click on image for an animated comparison

8800 GT: 1920x1200, antialiasing: off, anisotropic filtering: 2x, texture: low, shadows: low, water detail: low, objects detail: low, decals: on, soft particles: on, high-res shadows: off, SSAO: off, point light specular: on, bokeh filter: off, GPU water: off. Average frames per second = 38.3

GTX 560 Ti: 1920x1200, antialiasing: 32x CSAA, anisotropic filtering: 16x, texture: high, shadows: high, water detail: high, objects detail: high, decals: on, soft particles: on, high-res shadows: on, SSAO: high, point light specular: on, bokeh filter: on, GPU water: off. Average frames per second = 39.1

Running the introductory in-game cut-scene at 1920x1200 with the majority of the settings on low, the GeForce 8800 GT was able to maintain a respectable FPS average of 38.3. Bumping all the settings to near max with the 560 Ti, the game managed to look much better while at the same time mustering a slightly higher frame rate of 39.1.

The most striking visual difference in this pair of screenshots pertains to the lighting. On the 560 Ti, you can see the light source emanating from Maria's left. This in turn naturally casts nice, soft shadows on her face. The location of the light source in the 8800 GT image, on the other hand, is quite ambiguous. No dynamic shadows are cast and Maria comes across as a glowing texture. On the 8800 GT, texture compression artifacts are also evident on her forehead and cheeks. Another big difference can be seen on her shoulder straps. On the 560 Ti, Maria appears to have a nicely-rendered camouflage-textured backpack. When looking at the 8800 GT screen in isolation, the lower resolution textures make it much harder to discern the design.

Takeaway: While an older GPU is capable of running Just Cause 2 at lower settings, you can almost max out the game on the GTX 560 Ti. While the whole game looks better on "High," the girls especially stand out.

Conclusion

Whereas the GeForce 8800 GT was a great, affordable DX 10 card back in the day, the GeForce GTX 560 Ti is a fantastic, affordable DX 11 card today. The 560 Ti was able to run every modern game we tested on near max settings. We were able to turn on GPU-intensive features like tessellation, depth of field, ambient occlusion and PhysX. These features were either impractical or impossible on older cards like the 8800 GT. Frame rate wise, even with these advanced features enabled, it often beat the 8800 GT.

Is it time to upgrade? No one can answer that question for you. But if you've been holding out for a fast and affordable DirectX 11 graphics card, the time may finally be ripe.

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