It's Christmas and everyone seems to be looking for an excuse to upgrade their system. With a variety of graphics chipsets on offer from the leading board vendors, buying a new video card is a popular upgrade choice these days. With so many good cards to choose from, the choices facing you are also being confused as a war continues to rage on the Net between fill-rate and T&L performance. Fortunately, the current performance leader has both performance advantages; and it is the GeForce 256 chip from NVIDIA. As you might know, we have looked at a couple of the available solutions (see
As we have been saying the last few weeks, the NVIDIA GeForce chipset is the first consumer hardware T&L based graphics solution that currently has the best fill-rate performance, too. For more information on this chipset please read "
Asus has been a stable source for motherboards as well as video cards for some time now and we have come to expect extra quality and performance whenever they decided to support a new chipset (on their motherboards and video cards). It is not uncommon for Asus to modify reference designs to raise the bar of quality and performance. This is the case with the design of the Asus V6600 GeForce 256 based video card. Extra effort in the design was made to allow for SGRAM support. Although NVIDIA has not suggested that OEMs take this route and use a non-SDRAM or DDRAM configuration; Asus has taken a diverged from the 'norm' and comes out a winner. I will cover this in greater detail farther into the article but note that the SGRAM appears to have been a good more to help memory performance. As we have proven to you before (click
|Feature||Asus V6600 Deluxe||Creative Labs Annihilator||Leadtek WinFast GeForce 256|
|On-board memory||32MB 5ns SGRAM||32MB 5.5ns SDRAM||32MB 5ns SDRAM|
|Video Out||Yes, S-Video, Composite, VR Glasses||No||Yes, Composite, DVI|
|Video Input||Yes, S-Video||No||No|
|MSRP||$299.00 (USD)||$249.00 (USD)||$249.00 (USD)|
Note: Blue text signifies a general feature advantage.
As far as features go, the Asus V6600 is slightly ahead of the Leadtek WinFast GeForce 256 having Video-in and VR output. However, the V6600 is $50 (USD) more expensive than the competition, which is not a small difference. For that price difference, the V6600 enters the newly released DDR GeForce board price range. Keep in mind we are reviewing the deluxe version of the V6600 and that a "pure" version is available at $249.00 (USD) that does not have the video capabilities or the VR hardware.
The Asus card comes with a few pieces of software ranging from utilities/applications to full game titles. To briefly review what the Creative and Leadtek boards bundled, click
- Ulead Video Studio - an MPEGII encoder as well as a video editing software.
- AsusDVD - Software DVD player.
- Games - The full version of Drakan and Rollcage along with a CD game sampler (good ole shovel-ware).
The bundle is not that special but it does have the standard software DVD player and a couple of games for free. The video encoding/editing software does its job and it makes a lot of sense to be able and convert huge motion-JPEG files of recordings into the smaller MPEG2-format, as long as you've still got enough disk space or a DVD-RAM. All in all, I would rate the bundle as average like the other two software packages.
Windows98 Driver for the Asus V6600 Deluxe
This is the standard information screen that we see in many video card drivers. You can get basic information like memory size, memory type, bios version and driver version that makes checking what the machine is running quick and painless.
Here we have another familiar properties box that allows for brightness contrast and gamma adjustments with the ability to set schemes for different users or possibly monitors that a system might interchange with.
When we switch into D3D modes, the color adjustments are different from what we have set on the desktop so you may need this display property adjustment to balance out the visual colors during D3D games or applications.
Here are the video color adjustments. This is especially important for fine-tuning your video output. The quality of the output video is much better on TV's once adjusted.
Windows98 Driver for the Asus V6600 Deluxe, Continued
In case you do not have adjustment on your monitor or care to much with monitor menus, you can use a software adjustment to center your monitor.
If you have dealt with video output much, you will know that it is important to have video adjustments to center the TV picture. With some of the cards I have tested in the past, this is a real annoying issue for drivers without adjustment.
Here we have the fine-tuning adjustments for when using the VR glasses in D3D applications
Windows98 Driver for the Asus V6600 Deluxe, Continued
When we click on the more options screen of advanced D3D, we get these extra options. Note that we have the V-SYNC disable feature available.
For OpenGL we have a few adjustments when using the VR glasses. We seemed to have lost some adjustments going from D3D VR to OpenGL VR.
In case you do some nifty little OpenGL work in Windows98 or need some tweaks for your next Quake Arena session, here are some advanced OpenGL properties for you.
Windows98 Driver for the Asus V6600 Deluxe, Continued
If you use the optional Asus taskbar control panel, you'll have all these shortcuts to the display properties.
An optional utility you can install for your V6600 card is the tweaking utility that lets you overclock. There are limitations to this program so that is why I personally stick with Powerstrip.
So you have plans to overclock at some ridiculous speed, huh? Well you had better keep track of the operating temperatures as you start to experiment. Asus has provided a nice little monitor utility called SmartDoctor to help you keep track of your card's thermal factors like fan speed and operating temperatures.
In case you would like to have a little more power management control over your card, you can use the advanced features in the SmartDoctor util.
Overall the Asus drivers are very complete. Most of the features available here are also available on the competing cards though. The one cool ability that Asus is offering is the Smart Doctor feature which will greatly help overclockers monitor just how much they are pushing their card and possible save it if things get too hairy.
I can see big question marks coming from some of you regarding this topic already. As I have stated time and time again, overclocking is NOT the more stable way to run your hardware and the returns will vary from part to part. I only overclock with stock cooling and typical case cooling devices, nothing more. I also only claim to have a 'stable' machine if the card is able to complete tests without any visual problems or lock ups. In this particular case, I was able to clock our V6600 to 155 MHz core and 215 MHz memory speed. The card ran flawlessly over a 24-hour period of testing and looping of game demos overnight. I was surprised to say the least. In the test results I have included the performance runs with the V6600 at this speed. The numbers it produces are very impressive.
|Motherboard (BIOS rev.)||ABIT BX6 2.0 (BIOS date 7/13/99)|
|Memory||128 MB Viking PC100 CAS2|
|Reference NVIDIA TNT2 Ultra||4.12.01.0353|
|Asus V6600 Deluxe||4.12.01.0362|
|Creative Labs Annihilator||4.12.01.2202.01.0348|
|Leadtek WinFast GeForce 256||4.12.01.0353|
|3dfx Voodoo3 3500||4.11.01.1213|
|Matrox G400 MAX||4.11.01.1410 w/TurboGL 1.00.001|
|OS Version||Windows 98 SE 4.10.2222 A|
|Quake 3 Arena||Retail version
command line = +set cd_nocd 1 +set s_initsound 0
Advanced Settings = disable sound, disable music, disable movies, disable joysticks,
enable optimized surfaces, enable triple buffering, enable single-pass multi-texturing
High Detail Settings = enabled
|Descent III||Retail version
Settings = -nosound -nomusic -nonetwork -timetest
|3Dmark 2000||16-bit settings = 16 bit textures, 16-bit Z-buffer, triple buffering
32-bit settings = 32-bit textures, 24-bit Z-buffer, triple buffering
Benchmark Results - 3DMark 2000 (DirectX 7)
I have decided to try out Mad Onion's newly released 3DMark 2000 benchmark that uses the Max Payne game engine from Remedy/3Drealms. Normally we do not care for synthetic benchmarks but this one is based on a real application that should be out in the near future. This benchmark provides ways to gauge fill-rate, a slightly questionable T&L performance (hardware and software) test and overall 3D performance tests in various game environments. The game engine claims to have CPU optimized pipelines for Intel x87, Intel KNI, AMD Athlon and AMD 3DNow!
There are many tests available in 3DMark 2000 so I chose a few to start out with and at the resolution of 1024x768. Originally I had the data for all the resolutions we normally do but it was overkill and we do not want to miss the point of the tests by flooding you with too much information. 1024x768 is a fairly realistic resolution for the graphics solutions of today so we will look at that set of results. Please note that the 3dfx VD3 3500 would not run any of the 3DMark 2000 tests for whatever reasons. I am working to get things going for it next review. It could be drivers or it could be the benchmark for all we know.
Benchmark Results - 3DMark 2000 - 3DMarks
3DMark rating is the score derived from the performance of each card in the two graphics scenarios that 3DMark tests. The Winfast GeForce card is slightly ahead of the other two 'stock' GeForce cards but by less than a reasonable margin of error that comes into play in these tests. The two clear things here are that the GeForce cards are all on top of things as the overclocked V6600 gains about 10% performance.
Bumping the color depth up to 32-bit, the GeForce cards take a hard hit in performance thanks to the limiting SDRAM memory. However, the overclocked V6600 pulls like a mule still with its SGRAM clocked at 215MHz.
Benchmark Results - 3DMark 2000 - Fill-Rate (single texture)
We hear all these theoretical numbers about fill-rate but this is what happens when we actually put cards to the real test. It is interesting to see that most of the cards are nearly identical in performance and I can assure you that this is the case even at 1600x1200 resolution in this test. The only thing that confuses my ideas about the benchmark having problems is the fact that the overclocked V6600 smokes the stock V6600. This will have to be investigated further. Keep in mind that this test is single-texture fill-rate.
Switching our little fill-rate test to 32-bit color returned some rather interesting results. No surprises between the GeForce cards as they all line up at about the same performance. Note how the G400 MAX nearly catches even the overclocked V6600.
Benchmark Results - 3DMark 2000 - Fill-Rate (quad texture)
So we hear all about multi-texturing (in this case quad or four textures per pixel) from everyone but what happens when we actually use it? As you can see from the above results, the GeForce cards have no problem dealing with it while the competition chugs along. The GeForce cards are all neck and neck while the overclocked V6600 takes a reasonable lead.
As we throw in 32-bit textures the set of GeForce cards stay together but fall much farther behind the higher clocked V6600 and nearly letting the TNT2 Ultra catch them. It is a bit shocking to see the TNT2 Ultra get that close.
Benchmark Results - 3DMark 2000 - Transform and Lighting
So now we have a nice little 3rd party T&L benchmark (besides DMZG which we are still working some technical issues out with). This test has an amazing 150,000 triangles on the screen with 4 lights (1 directional and 3 point lights). The cards that do not have T&L in the video hardware are using "software T&L" which relies on the drivers and CPU heavily. This type of situation is why KNI or 3DNow! can be very useful.
Benchmark Results - Shogo DirectX
As we would expect, all the GeForce cards are basically in a tie due to the fact that the CPU is the bottleneck in this low resolution. Note that even the overclocked card is barely ahead.
Although we have tapped the resolution up a bit, the story stays the same. The strong fill-rate of the GeForce chips is keeping the CPU as the bottleneck still. Notice how the competitors seemed to drop greatly in performance at this point.
Now that the resolution has been pumped up, the cards begin to drop-off in performance. Although very slight, the V6600 card seems to have an edge over its competition. We can also see that the overclocked board is sitting pretty at the top with its 10-frame lead.
Benchmark Results - Descent 3 DirectX
Here we have a low-resolution situation again where the CPU is holding things up. The only way you will see a difference in performance between the competing GeForce cards will be if the driver revision is that different from the others which is not the case here. Although we have a new driver for the VD3 3500, it still fails to run this test reliably under DirectX or OpenGL.
At the 1024x768x16 resolution, the CPU problem starts to taper off (as you can see by the overclocked card pulling ahead) but it does not change the fact that the GeForce cards are basically even.
Benchmark Results - Descent 3 OpenGL
Once again we have the low-resolution situation where most of the cards are in the same performance area and the GeForce boards themselves are basically all tied.
The competing boards are still very much even at this point.
Benchmark Results - Quake 3 Arena 640x480
With the release of Quake 3 Arena everyone has been anxious to see the final performance of each chipset. At the lower resolutions we will not see a big difference between the GeForce cards still but we can compare how they do against the competition. It looks like everyone can do the low-resolution normal settings just fine.
With demo002 we see the similar results as we did in demo001.
Throwing the cards into 32-bit mode and greater complexity even at low resolution seems to actually slow things down a tad as we see the overclocked card gain some ground where it normally does not. However, the rest of the GeForce line-up is all tied up.
Demo002 does not seem to be as critical on the higher quality settings as demo001 was since the overclocked V6600 is barely getting any benefit. The G400 MAX seems to be pulling its weight in this test as well.
Benchmark Results - Quake 3 Arena 1024x768
Shifting the video into the middle resolution we see the GeForce competition back off. The big boys are all still in an even line while the overclocked monster keeps a quicker pace.
No big changes between the two demos.
Switching to higher color and greater complexity really took its toll on the GeForce line-up this time as the G400 MAX and TNT2 Ultra creep up on them. Look at those nice gains on the overclocked V6600, not bad at all.
Benchmark Results - Quake 3 Arena 1600x1200
The Leadtek board tries to pull slightly ahead but all the cards are for the most part even. We gain a smooth 30%ish gain with the overclocked V6600.
The second demo provides no noteworthy changes. The competing cards are even and the overclocked V6600 keeps its large lead.
Look at everything come to a crawl :). Interestingly enough, the Leadtek board seems to keep a better pace than the other stock boards. Even the almighty overclocked V6600 cannot keep a playable frame rate at this setting. The fill-rate and memory bandwidth demands at this setting are just too great.
Hardware Performance Summary
As far as hardware goes, the cards with their respective drivers perform on par with each other. One could argue that the Asus V6600 or the Leadtek take a slight lead here and there but it is nothing large enough to justify a superior board on the hardware or driver level. The only obvious performance note I made was that the overclocked V6600 was making huge performance gains and performed flawlessly. If most V6600 cards are stable at those clock rates, you can gain some damn good performance for the price.
The Asus V6600 Deluxe offers a quality board with on par performance and great video features at a high price. The SGRAM is a nice change and hopefully most people will be able to recreate my findings of a stable high clocking memory. The software bundle is fair and they provide some decent tuning utilities as well as the basic necessities like a DVD player and video editing tools.
Creative Labs continues to hold its ground as the widely available solution that provides the great performance at a competitive cost. Its strengths are availability, frequent driver updates and Unified driver (Glide wrapper). The down sides are lack of DVI connector, no video options and the hardware has no advantage in the overclocking area (i.e. better memory or cooling solution) over the competition
Leadtek Winfast GeForce 256 has been spotted in more locations than I had originally expected and in decent quantities. The Leadtek board comes with higher speed memory, DVI, up to date drivers and a good software bundle as its pluses. The downside to picking up a Leadtek board would be that the prices do not seem to vary from the MSRP like I have seen with the Creative Labs Annihilator.
So what should you buy? There are a few scenarios I will answer this question for. If performance is your sole objective, hold out for the DDR GeForce solution if you're willing to spend the big bucks. Keep in mind that the DDR boards will be selling for about $300 (USD) while the Asus V6600 Deluxe runs for $299 (USD) and the Pure for $249). If the DDR is not available in your area yet, try out the Asus board. If video is your thing and you need hardware as well as software, go with the Leadtek board unless there's software you already have and like in which case I would suggest the Asus solution. If you are on the budget side of things (which would be weird being that the GeForce boards are not cheap in the first place), go grab yourself a Creative board. With the wide variety of GeForce based boards available, everyone who is interested should be able to find their match.
Personally I would have to hold out for a DDR based card due to its guaranteed high memory bandwidth. Mind you that these cards have been announced but who knows when you can get your hands on them. I'm very into my Quake 3 Arena and I demand a 60+ FPS at the resolutions I play at so the DDR boards will fit the bill when it comes to my hardcore 3D gamer needs. Even if everyone can clock the Asus V6600 Deluxe to 215, that still doesn't match the 300MHz base speed of the DDR GeForces to come.