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Reviewed by: Carl Nelson [03.15.04]
Manufactured by: Gigabyte

 Street Price: $430 on NewEgg

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Not Just Another 5950 Ultra

New for 2004 is Gigabyte's GeForceFX 5950 Ultra-based "N595U 2004 GT Edition". They already had a GFFX 5950 Ultra video card, but are releasing this one on top of it. The idea is to cater to the segment that includes people who not only want the fastest video card available based on the latest technology - they want one FASTER.

So what makes this one so special? It has been specifically engineered from the ground up to be overclocked. Normally the 5950 Ultra clocks in at 475 MHz with 950 MHz memory. The 2004GT, however, comes pre-overclocked right out of the box at 520 MHz. The memory remains the same.

That is quite a jump from stock speed for something that is hard-clocked in the BIOS. Gigabyte is putting a lot of faith in their card building in this case! But what does it involve? There are a few steps Gigabyte took in manufacturing this card to make sure it is rock solid at 520 MHz.

According to a PowerPoint presentation dated March 14th 2004 (and it features dreadful English translation, so please bear with me), there are 3 main steps in designing and manufacturing this video card. In the first step, Gigabyte makes sure to use the best components on the card, and something they call "POA" or "Power Optimized Adjustment", along with what is described as a 'special cooling system'.

Basically, POA is a specific revision of the hardware that allows the chip to run cooler at higher temperatures, using a two phase power system.

Another modification that Gigabyte has made is called "PIC" which stands for "Performance Ensured Curve" for some reason. The idea behind PIC is basically Gigabyte's method of stress testing. Through various methods and configurations, that have found 520 MHz to be the 'sweet spot' for overclocking.

SSC or "Save Stripped Curve" is another measurement Gigabyte made to determine 520 MHz as the maximum stable point of the 5950 Ultra chip. Going much higher caused the chip to act abnormally, and potentially lowered the life span of it.

Gigabyte also did their own binning once they received the chips from NVIDIA. Of course the chips are tested at the stock 475 MHz before they arrive, but Gigabyte did their own binning at 550 MHz for the GT edition. Any chips that didn't pass this were probably passed along to the regular 5950 Ultra they have.

One last step of manufacturing is an overnight burn-in for every chip before it ships out. The chips are burnt in at 50 degrees C overnight, to ensure rock solid stability once they are in our hands.

So as you can see, a lot of time and effort has gone into making this the very fastest video card available at this time. A quick search on Pricewatch found this model to be about $50 more than Gigabyte's own standard 5950 Ultra, so it doesn't come at some extra cost. Also, NVIDIA is expected to release their next generation chipset at the end of this month, and it could potentially kill the 5950 Ultra in its tracks - even overclocked ones. Still, you have to applaud their effort.

The Card Itself

The documentation I have described the cooling as being "Special" but it looks to be a standard NVIDIA reference cooler to me:

Looks the same to me! Well at least they got the chip running cool at high speeds, so this beefy cooler should suffice! It's too bad though, that they didn't fix the one issue I have with this reference design; I do NOT like the Molex connector pointing down like that! Just a minor gripe though...

As with every other 5950 Ultra, you will be giving up a PCI slot, no matter what. This isn't such a big deal, as it would never be a good idea to have something directly below your video card anyway, as it would block airflow. But since this particular cooler features a shroud (something single slot coolers can't have normally), you can feel free to install something directly below it.

The back of the card features an extra heatsink just to help keep things as cool as possible:

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