As a direct follow up/replacement to the GeForce 6200, the GeForce 7300 offers all of the features of the GeForce 7 Series, along with a few exclusive features, at a substantially reduce price. This lower price entails, as the 3 in the name of the card does as well, that there are some sacrifices made for the sake of getting the latest graphics technology into the hands of the casual gamer. With a price tag around $80, it does not get much more affordable than the PCI-Express based NX7300GS from MSI.
For a budget-oriented graphics card, MSI certainly did promote the NX7300GS as being the bees' knees when it comes to gaming. The packaging artwork was engaging with the image of a medieval character holding a spear, which reminded me of an elf-warrior from the Lord of the Rings movies, and breakout boxes highlighting Dynamic Overclocking Technology, 256MB GDDR2 of RAM, TurboCache and a "Game with MSI!" graphic. The contents included a disc with custom drivers, a second disc with a few games, a DVI-to-VGA converter for the one DVI port on the card, an S-Video cable, a Quick User's Guide, registration cards and another pamphlet outlining information on driver installation.
Knowing that the NX7300GS is manufactured with only 4 pixel pipelines, 3 vertex shaders and a 64-bit memory bus, I was somewhat surprised that it had 256MB of memory to begin with. The NX7300GS also has the ability to annex another 256MB of system memory for systems with 1GB or more, via TurboCache, to bring the frame buffer total to 512MB.
All that memory in conjunction with a core clocked at 560MHz (10MHz above stock) and the onboard DDR2 memory at 820MHz (again, 10MHz above stock) seemed like overkill. But surprisingly, the NX7300GS held its own and apart from some dodgy drivers, I became impressed with the GeForce 7300 line of graphics cards.
INSTALLATION AND FURTHER INFORMATION
Installation was a snap. The NX7300GS is small, especially compared to the two GeForce 6800 GT's that are normally housed in the case. My system was definitely a LOT quieter with the NX7300GS, but to be honest, I kind of missed the hum from the two GeForce 6800 GT fans. Even under full load the NX7300GS ran much cooler and quieter than the GeForce 6800 GT's.
Before shutting the system down to install the NX7300GS, I uninstalled the NVIDIA display drivers I had been running just to be on the safe side. I assumed that MSI would have proprietary drivers for the NX7300GS and I was right. The drivers were a special version of the 82.65 beta reference drivers that added MSI-specific tabs to the display properties applet.
It was here that the only problem I had with the NX7300GS originated. Shortly after installing the drivers and restarting the PC, my Logitech MX1000 laser mouse began to act VERY erratic. The mouse cursor would move up when I moved the mouse to the left, or down when I moved it to the right, or any other direction it felt like moving when it moved at all. Clicking would sometimes take ten or more times for the mouse to actually register that something was being clicked. It was very frustrating and started off as a minor annoyance that became progressively worse to the point that after uninstalling the NX7300GS and drivers the mouse was STILL acting up. A complete reformat and reinstall of Windows XP from scratch fixed the mouse issue.
Because of the way TurboCache works, the NX7300GS detects the amount of system RAM and, if the amount is enough to give the card extra memory, it does so without any user input. The only way to test the NX7300GS with 256MB would have been to have less than 1GB installed, which was not possible given my RAM and the fact that the results would have been completely skewed. So, for all my benchmarks, the NX7300GS was using 512MB of memory.
The Dynamic Overclocking Technology was a neat sounding feature that, based on the documentation, sounded like the NX7300GS will overclock itself based on the load being put on the computer to offer up to 10% increased performance. The custom tabs the MSI drivers added contained a feature to adjust clock settings. Due to the problem I was having with the drivers though, no attempt was made to overclock besides the already afforementioned 10MHz on both the core and memory that the NX7300GS did itself.
To give it a run-through, I tested the NX7300GS using 3DMark05, which scored 2191 3DMarks, the Counter-Strike: Source stress test, Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle Earth 2 and Guild Wars. The games were tested at 1024x768 and 1280x1024 (1280x960 for BFME2) with two settings - one with all settings on low with 0xAA and 0xAF and again with all settings as high as possible with 4xAA and 16xAF. Vsync was off in all cases. The results were shocking, to me at least, but in a positive way.
In the case of LOTR BFME2, the game is capped at 30fps, so the frame rate recorded by FRAPS never went higher. Even when there were over a hundred units on screen with rushing water and all the particle effects, the impact was hardly noticeable - even on the highest settings. Now, playing against an easy enemy, the battles never got as epic as they would against a hard enemy. In those games, the performance of the SLI GeForce 6800GT's was strained, so there is no doubt the NX7300GS would have been strangled. But this shows just how well it can keep up in one of today's most graphically demanding games without any problems at all.
As for Guild Wars, the numbers shown are the lowest framerates I experienced during heavy combat. The area I was playing with my level 16 Ranger/Elementalist is right outside of Droknar's Forge against large groups of Mountain Trolls with a party of eight that included seven henchmen. With numerous spells and other effects taking place, the scores above were the lowest the game produced. Even with a minimum of 12fps, the game was still VERY playable. When there was no combat going on, walking around with my group saw frames in the high 60's at 1024x768, regardless of the image quality, and in the mid-50's at 1280x1024. This is a testament to Guild Wars for being able to scale so well and still look gorgeous and give amazing framerates regardless of settings and to a budget graphics card that should not be able to perform that well!
Apart from the driver nightmare, I thoroughly enjoyed using the MSI NX7300GS. And more than enjoying it, I was completely taken aback at how well it handled some of today's most demanding games. The NX7300GS is pretty serious for being a budget gaming card, which most gamers would scoff at before thinking of putting one in their case. For the casual gamer who just wants to play and does not really care about settings or how the game looks, the NX7300GS is a dream come true.
The 512MB frame buffer allows the NX7300GS a lot of breathing room, while the core and memory speed are nothing to laugh at either. For those in the market for just such a card, I highly recommend the MSI NX7300GS. Just be careful with their included drivers and, if possible, lose some of their proprietary abilities (Dynamic Overclocking) for increased system stability by using NVIDIA's reference drivers.