Sparkle Calibre P860
- Very good performance at mid-range resolutions, 512MB GDDR3 memory, overclocked by default, temperature display
- Sluggish performance in Lost Planet: Extreme Condition, not HDCP-ready
For mid-range gaming, the P860 is a fast choice. It won't produce super-smooth frame rates in the latest games, but it will produce playable frame rates in most games, and those frame rates will still be better than what most competing 8600 GT-based cards can achieve.
Price$ 269.00 (AUD)
Differentiating one graphics card from another in the same market segment can be difficult for vendors to do. Because they all use similar graphics processors, they all, pretty much, have similar performance. However, overclocked cards, cards with unique cooling designs and other incentives do exist, and Sparkle's Calibre P860 is one of those cards. Its cooler isn't unique, it's simply a heat sink with a large surface area and a small fan, but its processor is overclocked and the card does have a novelty -- a LED display panel is attached to the circuit board, which lets you know what temperature the GeForce 8600 GT processor is running.
The LED panel provides a decimal display of the graphics processor's temperature in Celsius (in real time) and gives the Calibre a DIY type of appearance (it looks like it's been tacked on). It also infringes slightly on the space of the adjacent expansion slot, which could affect the installation of full-height add-in cards. To read the LED display, the case will have to be open, or you'll need to have a windowed side panel.
If you can see it, the LED panel will be useful for keeping an eye on the temperature, especially if overclocking the card, but the card is already overclocked by default. It features a 630MHz processor and a 1620MHz memory speed. These are well above the standard speeds for these components (540MHz and 1400MHz for the processor and memory, respectively). At these overclocked speeds, the processor was reported to be 52 degrees when idle, while it hovered around 70 degrees under a full processing load.
Using Call of Juarez, Lost Planet: Extreme Condition, Half-Life and FEAR, the card racked up scores that are very fast for a card based on the 8600 GT and almost within reach of cards based on the standard 8600 GTS processor. However, don't expect to be able to play the latest DirectX 10-based games at high resolutions.
Despite the P860's fast speeds and 512MB of GDDR3 memory, it'll still struggle to provide smooth frame rates above a resolution of 1024x768. In the DirectX 10-based Call of Juarez, at 1024x768 and with low detail settings, it scored 34.2fps (frames per second), which is playable. In Half-Life, which is a DirectX 9-based game, it scored 81.85fps with maximum detail settings and a resolution of 1920x1200. Indeed, for DirectX 9-based games, this card is ideally suited, but if you're serious about playing DirectX 10-based games, a card based on an 8800 graphics processor is a better option.
This was further evident in the DirectX 10 version of Lost Planet: Extreme Edition, where the card chugged along at an average of 8.1fps using the game's default settings, which isn't a playable result in anyone's language. In the DirectX 9-based FEAR, however, the card returned a rate of 56fps at 1024x768 and 40fps at 1280x960 (the standard resolution that should be used when playing on a 19in or 17in LCD monitor). These are smooth results and higher than what we were expecting.
To get even more out of the card, we used nTune to overclock the processor to 655MHz. We gained one extra frame in Half-Life, but in Call of Juarez we actually dropped 0.7 of a frame. Pushing the processor higher than 655MHz resulted in a degradation of the screen's image quality, not only in games, but in the Windows Vista environment. As such, it's not worth overclocking this card any more than it already is. It's already setup for optimum performance.
For connecting the card to a display, its two DVI ports can be used, but it also ships with a DVI-HDMI adapter and a component output cable. It's an ideal card to run a high-definition display panel or TV.
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