Zotac seems bent on attracting as much Nvidia consumers as possible. The best way to do this is to offer the potential customer a wide choice of quality products. No matter if you're looking for a low end solution, or a high performance card, Zotac has something to offer. The good news is that now all Zotac's Nvidia Geforce 8 series G84 and G86 support HDMI.
The first Nvidia 8 series cards to be offered by the company had reference clocks, but Zotac soon expanded its lineup. For all those seeking high performance, Zotac offered the AMP series of overclocked cards, and recently it launched passively cooled Zone edition cards, aimed at true connoisseurs.
The Zone family consists of 8600 GT and 8500 GT cards. The cheapest passive colled card is the 8400 GS ATX card which is available with 128 or 256 MB of GDDR2 memory.
Zotac Geforce 8500 GT Zone Edition GDDR2 (128-bit)
Unlike the affordable passive G86 (8400 GS) and G86 (8500 GT Zone) cards, the slightly pricier Geforce 8600 GT Zone (G84 core) ships with GDDR3 memory. Since we had one Zotac 8500 GT AMP with reference fan cooling lying around, we decided to include it in this review of Zotac's affordable Geforce 8 series cards.
Zotac Geforce 8600 GT Zone Edition GDDR3 (128-bit)
Due to the limitations brought upon by the use of passive heatsinks, Zotac took no chance with the clocks, so the 8400GS and both Zone edition cards are reference clocked. The cards are primarily intended for multimedia and office use, so the reference clocks are in no way a bad thing. If you put performance in front of silence, you can always go for the 8500GT AMP.
Zotac Geforce 8500 GT AMP GDDR2 (128-bit)
The size of the heatsink is the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about passive cards, and on Zotac cards the heatsinks aren't that big, so all cards are single slot solutions. The heatsinks work well, but don't forget that with all passive cards you need good airflow in your case, just to be on the safe side.
Zotac Geforce 8400 GS GDDR2 (64-bit)
The Geforce GT Zone edition uses Hynix HY5PS561621A GDDR2 memory, while the 8600GT Zone edition goes one step further with Hynix HY5RS123235 GDDR3 chips. Although both cards use the 128 bit memory bus, the GDDR3 clocks are significantly higher and provide a much better bandwidth.
The GDDR2 memory on the 8500GT Zone card is clocked at 400/800MHz, which gets you 12.8GB/s bandwidth, while the 700/1400MHz GDDR3 memory on the 8600GT Zone delivers 22.4GB/s. Both cards have 256MB memory.
If you opt for the cheapest 8400 GS, beware, as you will get a 64 bit card with GDDR2 memory which will show its limitations in gaming performance. It will suffice for multimedia or office use. It comes with 256MB GDDR2 memory onboard, the core clock is 450MHz and the memory is clocked at 400/800MHz.
The GPU clock on the 8500 GT is 450MHz and the shaders are clocked at 900MHz. These are reference clocks, unlike the ones on the 8500 GT AMP. The AMP series cards are overclocked, and our 8500 GT AMP worked at 702MHz core, while its shader stream processor was clocked at 1485 MHz. The memory on both cards is clocked at the reference 400/800MHz.
Apart from the G86 based Geforce 8500 GT cards, Zotac is also offering slightly more expensive Geforce 8500 GT cards with GDDR3 memory, which we didn't review.
The performance gap between the Zone and AMP cards is significant, but the prices are pretty close. This one is up to you, you can go for the silent version, or a faster fan cooled card which is also pretty quiet. You can easily reach 8500 GT AMP clocks by overclocking your passive 8500 GT, but keep in mind that this is a passive card and that it needs more cooling at higher clocks.
The Geforce 8400 and 8500 aren't SLI ready, so you can't increase performance by adding another card. All four cards have the DirectX 10 unified shader architecture.
What you see here is an 8500 GT Zone card with the standard yellow colored DVI to HDMI dongle. We already said that Zotac will soon launch GTS cards with HDMI support via a DVI to HDMI dongle.
You can't enjoy multimedia content without adequate sound support. The DVI dongle also enables you to get HD sound to your TV. You just need to get the sound from your sound card or motherboard to the graphics card and that's it. You'll find the necessary cable in the box, along with the card, DVI to HDMI dongle, driver CD and a short manual. The box is small, filled with card specs and it looks pretty nice.
The Geforce 8400GS, Geforce 8500 GT Zone and Geforce
8500 GT AMP each have a VGA out. As you can see on the picture, the arrow points to the VGA connector, but it says it's a Dual-link DVI with audio. This is also true, but only when you use the DVI output.
All cards were tested on an EVGA 680i SLI motherboard and we used the 162.18 WHQL driver.
OCZ FlexXLC PC2 9200 5-5-5-18 (Supplied by OCZ)
for test at CL5-5-5-15-CR2T 1066MHz at 2.2V
Zotaz Geforce 8400GS ATX, 8500GT Zone Edition, 8500GT AMP, 8600GT Zone Edition
Freezer 7 Pro (Supplied by Artic Cooling)
Artic Cooling - Artic Fan 12 PWM
One of the more interesting comparisons to be drawn is the one between the 8500 GT and the overclocked 8500 GT card, which outperforms the reference clocked 8500 GT Zone edition by more than 25%. Both cards are closely priced, and you can overclock your Zone edition to match the AMP's performance. The AMP version's core is clocked at 700MHz, which isn't impossible to reach with your passive Zone edition card. If you want to try this, under no circumstances should you forget to provide the Zone card with a great case airflow.
We overclocked the 8500 GT Zone to 700MHz core, and 426/852MHz memory. This got us very similar performance as with the 8500 GT AMP card. Due to the faster memory clock, the 3Dmark06 score was a bit higher. Considering it's a passive card, we recommend that you stick to the reference clocks, which should be enough for the average user. The card won't heat up too much and its lifespan will probably be longer too.
The G84 Geforce 8600 GT has 32 stream processors, 8 ROPs, 16 texture filtering units and texture addressing units, which is twice as much as on G86 Geforce 8500 GT or 8400 GS cards which have 16 stream processors, 4 ROPs, 8 texture filtering units and texture addressing units. On top of that, GDDR3 memory on the 8600 GT cards gets you a significant performance boost over the cheaper G86 based cards.
As far as the 8600 GT Zone edition goes, we managed to get the core up to 674MHz, stable. Zotac uses Hynix mHY5RS123235 FP-14 GDDR3 memory on these cards. Rated at 1.4ns, we were able to overclock the memory to 735/1470MHz.
All games were tested with details set at maximum. Where available, we used the in game demo, in other titles we used FRAPS. We used the current 162.18 WHQL drivers.
Company Of Heroes
The Geforce 8600 GT Zone performs good, and it will allow you to play most games without too much hassle. The 8500 GT cards are not a great choice for hard core gamers, but they'll be enough for most consumers. With a bit of tweaking and in game adjustments, you'll be able to play at 1280x1024. As for the 8400 GS, it's good enough to run Company of Heroes at 1024x768, but only after reducing the detail level to low or maybe even medium.
Without Antialiasing FEAR is playable on all the cards we tested today. Even the 8400 GS scores an acceptable 37 FPS at 1024x768. The core clock helps the 8500GT AMP card to beat the 8600 GT, but the tables turn as soon as we turn on Antialiasing and Anisotropic filtering. At 1280x1024 the 8400 GS still puts on a good fight. At 1600x1200 or more, the game is challenging even for the 8600 GT, while the other cards show a huge performance drop.
The overclocked 8500GT Zone edition performs just as well as the 8500 GT AMP.
All tested cards, including the 8400 GS, are good enough for Quake 4
Serious Sam 2
We played with the HDR settings and the Antialiasing and Anisotropic filter, and got some very nice effects in the game. Serious Sam is a game which will provide you with hours of fun gaming, especially thanks to good effects which aren't too demanding. For the first time in our test the Geforce 8600 GT gets a decent framerate at 2048x1536 with Antialiasing and Anisotropic filtering.
We can see that the 8400 GS is simply not powerful enough to cope with Obilivion's terror at high detail levels. So we tried lowering the quality settings in order to get a usable framerate and enjoy the game.. Zotac 8500 GT cards are good for resolutions up to 1024x768 or bit higher without Antialiasing. The silent 8600 GT Zone also does a good job.
On higher resolutions, with AA and AF, only the 8600 GT Zone achieves a playable framerate. At 2048x1536 the game is simply too much for the cards.
Power and Temperature
We measured the temperatures on idle and under full load. The power consumption is measured for the entire system. In all tests we used identical components, apart from the graphics cards, of course.
In idle mode, all cards are pretty cool. We used an Arctic Cooling 12PWM fan to help cool the passive cards. The maximum temperature on the 8600 GT was 74°C. We can see that the passive cooling does well on all cards. The 8500 GT AMP, in spite of its active cooler, even on higher clocks, is only 2°C warmer than the 8500 GT Zone at default clocks.
Not surprisingly, the power consumption is highest with the 8600 GT. However, we were surprised that the 8500 GT Zone beat the 8400GS in the full load power efficiency test.
After spending a lot of time with these sub-€100 Zotac cards, it turns out there is no grand conclusion, you'll get as much as you're willing to pay and everyone can find the flavor which suits them best. Apart from the cards we featured today, Zotac has a few more 8600 GT, 8500 GT and 8400 GS cards to offer.
You can also get 8600 GT cards with GDDR2 memory, they're a bit cheaper than the 8600 GT Zone edition card, you can also get 8500 GT cards with GDDR3 memory. There's a low profile 8400GS too, which is a bit cheaper than the tested 8400 GS card.
We found 8400 GS ATX cards listed for € 50, and they're a good choice if you're not a gamer and just want to use your card for multimedia or in the office. You can also play a few rounds with them, but on low detail settings.
The Geforce 8500 GT AMP is one of the fastest 8500 GT cards on the market and it can run most games on slightly lower resolutions.
Its passive cousin, the Geforce 8500 GT Zone Editon, is one of the latest cards to be offered by Zotac and we recommend it to anyone looking for a silent card. The heatsink isn't too big, the card uses up just one slot and you'll easily find enough room for it in your case. The AMP is a better choice for gaming, but don't forget that you can overclock the Zone edition and get similar performance. Both cards retail at around € 80.
The absolute performance champion of the test is the 8600 GT Zone edition. A bit more expensive than the fan cooled version, this silent Geforce 8600 GT is a very good choice and one of the most interesting 8600 GT cards on the market.
Zotac is giving away DVI to HDMI dongles with all its cards, which means you'll be able to use it on all cards. If you feel the cards we tested today don't get you enough performance, you should wait for the soon to come 8600 GTS cards with HDMI. We're not sure about the high end 8800 cards, since nobody has redesigned them yet, and that's necessary for full HDMI support.
All in all, if you're looking for a DirectX 10 card, chances are Zotac has something for your needs. Offering HDMI on Nvidia cards was a very good move by Zotac.