GeForce FX: worth it? 5800 Ultra and 5600

Last year, ATI's Radeon 9700 Pro stole the gaming crown, out­performing NVIDIA's NV25-based GeForce cards, the Ti 4200, 4400 and 4600. NVIDIA took stock and spent time perfecting the 0.13-micron process, enab­ling its designers to use 125 million transistors for increased speed and performance. This long-awaited NV30 foundation graphics chipset is now out and has been touted as a Radeon killer.

Different versions of this DirectX 9-based chipset - the 5800, 5600 and 5200 (NV34) - are soon to become available from most usual NVIDIA vendors. These cards will use the GeForce FX branding.

We looked at a produc­tion MSI card, and a pre-production reference card direct from NVIDIA.

The enthusiast-targeted MSI GeForce FX 5800 Ultra (NV30) comes bundled with abundant software, S-Video cable, VGA to DVI adapter, and S-Video to RCA connector. The card has an incredibly large fan shroud covering the GPU (graphics processor unit) and a copper plate heatsink is used on both sides of the card.

A large cooling fan pumps air to the rear of the card using heat-dispersing copper pipes that carry cooling liquid. The card requires two PCI brackets at the back of a PC for installation and has connections for VGA, S-Video and DVI. Next to these, an air intake and exhaust are connected to the large cooler.

The NVIDIA GeForce FX 5600 (NV31) reference card wasn't much to look at and simply featured a heatsink/fan combo for cooling. Like the MSI card, this one also required you to connect a Molex power plug to it inside the PC. Using a single PCI bracket, included ports were VGA, S-Video and DVI.

We were a little disappointed with both cards' overall performance, having expected them to reach dizzying new heights. The table shows both FX cards achieved higher results than the 9700 Pro but, when the screen resolution was increased, their performance dropped below the 9700. Although the MSI comes with overclocking software, we experienced excessive heat and stability issues.

As with any first-generation products, it may take some time to iron out the driver-related bugs and performance issues.

Benchmarks MSI GeForce FX 5800 Ultra NVIDIA GeForce FX 5600 ATI Radeon 9700 Pro Albatron Ti 4800 128DDR
3DMark 2001 SE
1024x768 @ 32-bit 14288 11207 11198 13656
1024x768 @ 32-bit and 2x anti-aliasing 12642 9507 10345 10752
1280x1024 @ 32-bit 12487 8982 10168 10794
1280x1024 @ 32-bit and 2x anti-aliasing 10612 7344 9957 7837
Quake 3 timedemo demo 1
1024x768 @ 32-bit 246 235 240 258
UT2003 benchmark (1024x768 @ 32-bit)- average frames per second
Inferno map 156 103 160 146
Face3 map 150 137 154 133
Testbed: AMD Athlon XP 3000+, ASUS A7N8X motherboard, 512MB DDR 400 SDRAM, Western Digital Caviar WD1200 SE hard disk.

In brief: MSI GeForce FX 5800 Ultra
These FX graphics cards may be the latest thing, but they still have some first-gen hiccups so don't jump on the bandwagon just yet - wait until more FX-based cards are released.
Price: $989
Vendor: MSI Computer
Phone: (02) 9748 0070

NVIDIA GeForce FX 5600
(Pre-production reference card, not rated)

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Ryan Shaw

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