Best Buys Reviews: GeForce FX-based graphics cards

In the Best Buys section in the November 2003 issue of PC World (starting page 125) we reviewed a selection of the latest entry, mid-range and high-end graphics cards to hit the market.

As we couldn't fit all of those cards we initially tested in the pages of the magazine, we've compiled these additional reviews of GeForce FX 5600 and GeForce FX 5900 based cards for our PC World Web site readers.

GeForce FX 5600 based cards

Soltek SL-5600XD

Fairly new to the graphics card market, Soltek's GeForce FX 5600 offering is solid and inexpensive. The card ships with only the basic necessities, such as the driver disc, an S-Video to RCA converter, and an RCA cable. No games or utility software are provided, and the package omits a DVI-VGA converter even though the card's bracket features a DVI port in addition to GVA and S-Video out.

The card installed with no problems and performed as expected in all the tests. There is no overclocking functionality so we were unable to push this card to its limits. The main chip is cooled by a good-sized heatsink-and-fan combination, but none of the 128MB worth of memory chips are fitted with heatsinks.

VERDICT: All up, if you are after an inexpensive, no-frills 5600 based card, then the SL-5600XD is a good choice.

GeForce FX 5900 based cards

ABIT Siluro FX 5900

This 128MB, FX 5900 based card features the most interesting cooling device of all the cards tested in this roundup. Called OTES by the ABIT marketing folk, the card employs a huge one-piece graphics chip and memory heatsink and a fan inside a shroud sits atop this heatsink. The shroud helps direct warm air towards the outside of the PC case through the exhaust present on the double-width mounting bracket. As such, this card will occupy the adjacent PCI slot of your motherboard. The card is easy to install in terms of software setup and a molex power connector needs to be plugged into the card to complete the hardware installation. Connectivity on this card is supplied by a DVI port and an S-Video out port in addition to a regular VGA port, and cool translucent S-Video, RCA and converter cables ship with the card. No games are supplied with the card, but it does ship with WinDVD for watching movies and Graphic Max2 for overclocking.

The cards default clock and memory speeds are 400MHz and 850MHz, but this utility allowed for stable and suitable operation up to 420MHz and 860MHz. Faster settings wreaked havoc with the image quality. At its default settings, the card performed on par with the other non-Ultra card in this range.

VERDICT: With a $695 price tag and a fancy cooling mechanism, this card is perfect for the user who wants a good, yet inexpensive top of the line card, but is best suited to the user who has plenty of room available inside their case.

Gainward Golden Sample Ultra/1600 XP 256M

With large heatsinks, dual illuminating fans and the ability to tinker with the settings, this top of the line Gainward offering is highly suited to the PC enthusiast and hardcore game player. It is based on the GeForce FX Ultra chip and has 256MB of memory. The default clock speeds are 450MHz for the main chip and 850MHz for the memory, but upon installing the card, you will be able to install the Enhanced driver settings, which boost these values to 470MHz and 890MHz. The card performed splendidly at these settings and provided fast scores and good image quality.

The overclocking utility, ExpertTool, also let us go a bit further than Enhanced mode, where we were able to reach 485MHz for the main chip and 910MHz for the memory and still obtain good image quality and stable performance. The card can provide dual monitor support via its DVI port and the supplied DVI-VGA adapter, and TV-in functionality is present in addition to TV-out (VIVO). The cables for video in and out are supplied and video editing software is also bundled with the package, by way of InterVideo WinCinema.

VERDICT: Boasting good functionality and plenty of speed, this $949 Golden Sample package is definitely good quality, but like other cards of its class, sports an exorbitant price tag.

Sparkle FX 5900 Platinum 128MBDT

Elegantly styled, generously featured, and very competitively priced, the Sparkle Platinum package would hardly go unnoticed on a store shelf considering it ships in an oversized biscuit tin rather than a usual cardboard box. The card itself has a gold mounting bracket and a gold top edge, that matches perfectly the large blue plate that covers the copper heatsinks on the main chip and memory. It has a VIVO port on its bracket in addition to a DVI port and the standard VGA port and hardware installation requires that a spare molex connector be plugged into the card.

It performed slightly better that the ABIT card in some of the tests and was solid all-round. What was more impressive was its software bundle though, which includes the full version games Ghost Recon, Duke Nukem - Manhattan Project and The Elder Scrolls - Morrowind. That alone makes this card a much more attractive proposition than the ABIT card. A unique feature of this card is the fact that it ships with a SCART adapter that facilitates TV out connections to TV's that have one of these types of connectors.

VERDICT: For $693, this card provides an excellent out of box (tin) experience that is sure to instantly satisfy the novice as well as the experienced gamer.

To get a comprehensive comparison of GeForce 5600 versus GeForce 5900-based graphics cards, check out our detailed specifications table: http://secure.idg.com.au/images/pcw/gc_specs _nov03.pdf

For a performance comparison of all of the graphics cards listed here, check out our ratings: http://secure.idg.com.au/images/pcw/gc_performance_nov03.pdf

Common terms

Anti-aliasing: This feature aims to reduce jagged lines in on-screen images. It hinders the performance of a graphics card depending on the number of samples that are used to process the graphics for anti-aliasing, but many of today's mid-range and high-end cards -- such as those based on the Radeon 9600 and 9800 -- can capably run games with four or even six samples.

Anisotropic filtering: This feature graphics cards to retain the image quality of 3D objects so that they do not become blurred as they move into the background. It can be enabled through the card's driver program and requires a lot of processing power, so performance may suffer.

Overclocking: This is the process of making a graphics card's processor and memory chips run more quickly than they officially should. Many cards come with utilities that allow you to do this, but unless done properly you could experience poor image quality and poor stability.

API: Application Program Interface allows programmers to tap into the hardware features of a graphics card.

DirectX: This is a Microsoft API that many games are based on and is now up to version 9. With each version more advanced features are added, allowing programmers to create better shading and lighting effects for more realistic gaming environments.

OpenGL: This API can access the features of a graphics card regardless of the operating system. It is used not only in games such as Quake, but also for professional design and modelling applications.

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Elias Plastiras
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