The most immediately noticeable aspect of this chip is that nVidia hasn't followed ATI's lead on the number of pixel pipelines included. Whereas the latter's X1900 XTX chip boasts a stunning 48 pipes, the 7900 GTX is furnished with only half as many.
While current games don't really take advantage of 48-pipeline designs, these programmable units (which decide how a pixel is shaded) offer immense potential for more sophisticated visual effects.
If nVidia was cutting the number of pixel pipelines to reduce costs, we could understand the decision. But this is a £500 card and it has the same number of pipelines as the older, less expensive 7800 GTX chip.
Whereas the 512MB versions of the 7800 GTX had a 550MHz core clock speed, the 7900 GTX has 650MHz. Unfortunately, the memory clock speed has now dropped slightly to 800MHz, resulting in a slightly lower memory bandwidth of 51.2GBps (gigabytes per second). This is still a pretty impressive figure, however.
The 7900 now supports dual-link DVI (digital visual interface) connectivity, which means you can run flat-panel displays at a resolution above 1,920x1,200. Few people will own such a screen, but it's a nice touch.
The card makes good on its claim to be the fastest graphics chip available. When we assessed it across a range of games, however, we found it finished only just ahead of the field. It even fell behind the X1900 on a couple of tests.
Finally a word should be given to Asus. Its packaging and software bundle – which includes the King Kong game – are exemplary.