Best Buys Review: NVIDIA GeForceFX graphics cards

NVIDIA GeForceFX chipsets

In the Tech Files section in the June 2003 issue (on page 99) we reviewed a selection of the latest graphics cards available from NVIDIA, which are based on their new family of FX chipsets. These new chipsets support Microsoft's Direct X 9.0 application programming interface (API), which means the graphics cards have the ability to run games written for Direct X 9.0.

The FX card range spans the high-end to the low-end with the FX5800 Ultra, FX5600, FX5600 Ultra, FX5200 Ultra and the FX5200. The PC World Test Centre is yet to test an FX5200 Ultra or FX5600 Ultra-based card; but we plan to bring you reviews of FX5600 based cards in the coming months.

All cards feature an 8X AGP bus, and the flagship FX5800 Ultra distinguishes itself from the 5600 and 5200 models by offering much higher clock speeds for the memory and main chips. Indeed, the GeForceFX 5800 Ultra chip itself clocks in at around 500MHz, with its memory chips clocking in at 1GHz. The lower end GeForceFX 5600 clocks in at around 350MHz for the main chip and 700MHz for the memory, and the GeForceFX 5200 clocks in at approximately 250MHz for the main chip and 400MHz for the memory.

But the new chipsets do not only offer speed improvements, as NVIDIA has introduced a few new technologies designed to greatly improve image quality. This image improvement is achieved using the CineFX engine, which according to the vendor provides 128-bit colour processing technology for programmers, and allows game developers to provide real-time pixel shading effects for more realistic details and more vivid colours. Direct X 9.0 also supports new pixel shading techniques and NVIDIA say these features will provide greater 'cinematic detail'. Currently games based on Direct X 9.0 are not available.

Picture quality and detail levels are enhanced further by the technology called Intellisample, which is incorporated into the FX range of chips (with the exception of the 5200 version). It uses up to 6X anti-aliasing sampling (for less jagged lines), gamma adjusted sampling (for better lighting and colour quality) and more advanced anisotropic filtering (for greater texture quality).

NVIDIA GeForceFX 5800

Asus V9900 Ultra TD

Description: Based on the NVIDIA GeForceFX 5800 Ultra chipset, this card employs extraordinary cooling measures that make it heavy and loud. Large heatsinks draw heat away from the memory chips and the main chipset and the fan that cools the chipset is powerful and noisy, while encased in a plastic shroud.

The card's mounting bracket is twice the width of a regular graphics card and apart from providing extra mounting support, it also provides more room for the exhaust system. The left side of the bracket is used to suck air into the shroud with the right side used to extract the warm air that is generated.

A supplemental power port resides on the graphics card and requires a standard hard drive type power connector. The card will run without it, but at an underclocked setting speed.

When the graphics card is required to process 3D graphics, the aforementioned fan spins vigorously and makes a very loud noise. Thankfully, in periods of idle time, the fan slows to a level where only a slight whir is noticeable.

A standard VGA port, a DVI port and a connection to a TV screen can be made via the S-Video out port.

With 128MB of DDR2 memory, this card has a bandwidth of 16GB per second and can display at resolutions up to 2048x1536x32-bit colour depth at an 85Hz refresh rate. In order to reach the maximum display setting you will also require a monitor with this capability.

Contents: In addition to the graphics board, this package includes games and applications. Included is an AsusDVD software DVD player, CyberLinks Medi@Show SE 2.0 slideshow creation software.

Five games are bundled too including, The ElderScrolls III Morrowind, Rainbow Six - Rogue Spear Black Thorn, Worms Blast, Battle Realms and IL2 Sturmovik.

Driver features: For multiple monitor usage, the NVIDIA drivers that ship with the card support nView and can be used to clone the desktop image over two screens, or to span the desktop image across two screens either vertically or horizontally. Image orientation can also be manipulated by the inclusion of NVRotate, that allows you to turn your desktop onto its side. This is very useful if you have a large LCD that has a pivoting screen, but trying this setting out on a CRT is definitely not recommended.

For more advanced users, the IntelliSample quality settings can be affected via the driver, as can anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering settings. Overclocking tools are not supplied with the driver, but a temperature gauge is present and shows the current temperature of the card and overall ambient temperature near the graphics chip.

Performance: This card performed almost identically to the Leadtek 5800 Ultra-based card in Unreal Tournament 3 for all the tested resolutions, suggesting that for high-end gaming, this card is ideal. Its Quake III results are not as impressive as the Leadtek cards, its result of 197 frames per second at a resolution of 1600x1200 means that this card is lacking some grunt at high resolutions. The heatsink warmed up to 47 degrees in our tests.

Target user: The limited availability of this product and its price tag, means this card is definitely aimed at the very keen enthusiast seeking the latest in graphics card technology. A keen game player who doesn't want to spend as much money for great performance and Direct X 9.0 compatibility should perhaps consider the ATI Radeon 9700-based cards instead.

Vendor: Asus
Distributor: Achieva Technology Australia
Phone: (02) 9742 3288
Price: $859

Leadtek WinFast A300 TD Ultra

Description: Unlike the large and heavy cooling implementation of the Asus card, the Leadtek sports a design that is a lot quieter, not as bulky, yet it emits the same amount of heat in a PC enclosure. In this design the entire circuit board of the card is completely cocooned in a heatsink (both sides of the board are covered) and two fans are employed to disperse the warm air that is generated by the main chip as well as the memory chips.

It has a regular width mounting bracket, which leaves the adjacent PCI slot bracket empty and it also has a standard VGA port, DVI port and a MyVIVO port, which provides video-in and video-out connection. A power supplement using a standard hard drive type connector needs to be attached during installation.

Its 128MB of DDR2 memory capacity provides resolutions up to 2048x1536x32-bit colour depth at a 75Hz refresh rate, which means users with large monitors - at least 19in and above - will benefit from this card.

Contents: In addition to the card and its associated cabling, the A300 TD Ultra ships with a comprehensive software bundle that includes Ulead VideoStudio6 SE DVD. This movie editing software allows for the creation basic creation of video clips, as well as transitions and title sequences. The card also ships with a software DVD player and games including Gun Metal and Big Mutha Truckers.

A DVI to VGA adapter, and My ViVO cable, provide output for S-Video and RCA connectivity, and both types of cables are provided in the box.

Driver features: For multiple monitor usage, the NVIDIA drivers that ship with the card support nView and can be used to clone the desktop image over two screens, or to span the desktop image across two screens either vertically or horizontally. Image orientation can be further manipulated using NVRotate, which allows you to turn your desktop onto its side. This is very useful if you have a large LCD that has a pivoting screen, but trialling this setting on a CRT is not recommended.

For more advanced users, the driver can be employed to alter the IntelliSample quality settings, as well as the anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering settings. The Leadtek card also ships a program called WinFox, which monitors the card's temperature. For video capturing, the bundled software supports MPEG 1 and MPEG 2 formats, in addition to MPEG 4.

Performance: As the fastest NVIDIA based card we have seen to date, the A300 TD Ultra performed admirably at high resolutions, and its Open GL performance in Quake III was also the fastest in the field. It scored identically to the Asus card in the Unreal Tournament Direct 3D tests. Its heatsink also attained the same level of warmth as the Asus card, which held steady at 47 degrees during our testing.

Target user: This card provides is ideal enthusiast users who desire one of the fastest NVIDIA GeForceFX 5800 boards on the market. Its performance, video capture features and innovative cooling implementation come at a price, with this card priced at almost $1100.

Vendor: Leadtek
Distributor: BCN Technology
Phone: (02) 9648 0888
Price: $1095

NVIDIA GeForceFX 5200-based cards

Sparkle FX 5200

Description: This budget-oriented card has specifications a lot slower than the top of the line NVIDIA GeForceFX 5800-based cards. It does not boast any extreme cooling measures or require a supplemental power source to be plugged into it. The card features a basic heatsink and fan cooling assembly atop the main chip and the memory chips are left bare, with no heatsinks at all.

The mounting bracket of the card has, in addition to a regular analogue VGA port, a DVI port and a video out port.

The card has 128MB DDR memory and runs at a speed of 400MHz while the main chip cruises at 250MHz.

This card supports Direct X 9.0, as well, but does not feature the Intellisample technology, and it is offered at a price point similar to the GeForce4 MX440 based cards in the market.

Contents: This budget-based package merely comes with the essentials, that include a DVI to VGA adapter and an S-Video cable.

Driver features: NVIDIA's reference drivers offer Open GL and Direct3D tweaks for experienced users in addition to NVIDIAs Nview functionality, for connecting more than one display device. NVRotate is a cool little feature that can display the desktop in portrait mode, but only if you have a large LCD monitor (17in and above) and are willing to mount it vertically.

Performance: In terms of grunt, this card did not show too much promise. Its 3D Mark 2003 scores in particular were very low and the Inferno map in Unreal Tournament was barely playable. For current low level gaming though, the Quake III scores were good and if you're a gaming enthusiast and not too fussed about high resolutions and image detail settings, you will find it adequate.

Target user: This card is designed for those seeking a budget, low-end graphics solution, yet still needing connectivity and wanting Direct X 9.0 support. For basic computer systems that won't be used for high level graphics and gaming pursuits, this card is ideal.

Vendor: Sparkle
Distributor: Australia IT
Price: $154
Phone: (03) 9543 5855

Test system
CPU: AMD Athlon XP 2000+
Motherboard: Asus A7N8X
AGP mode: 8X
Memory: 2x 256MB Corsair PC3200 modules (in a dual channel configuration)
Hard drive: 120GB Western Digital Caviar WD 1200 Special Edition with 8MB cache
Hard drive interface: Parallel ATA

To view the complete list of our graphics cards reviews, check out the PC World test results table.

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