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Quick Anisotropy of  NVIDIA, Albatron GeForce4 Ti 4200 128MB
Sparkle GeForce4 Ti 4200 128MB
and Gainward PowerPack GeForce4 Ti 4200 64MB 3.3ns Video Cards

August 20, 2002









CONTENTS

  1. Peculiarities of NVIDIA GeForce4 Ti 4200 based video cards from ABIT, Prolink, Palit and Gainward 
  2. Test system configuration, test tools, 2D quality 
  3. New capabilities of anisotropic filtering in 30.* drivers from NVIDIA 
  4. Performance of video cards of the GeForce4 Ti 4200 class 
  5. Conclusion

Today we will take a look at some more NVIDIA GeForce4 Ti 4200 based video cards which are quite popular today. And this time we will focus on new capabilities with the forced anisotropic filtering. Besides, we will describe three more cards based on the NVIDIA's reference design. 

As the GeForce4 Ti cards are the final line of the GeForce family, we should turn back to the history. First of all, the GeForce256 and its successor - GeForce2 GTS were single releases. At that time NVIDIA didn't release new lines. When the new products settled down on the market the company came up with their improved versions (GeForce256 DDR, GeForce2 Pro). The GeForce3 went through the same way, though the release of the GeForce3 Ti wasn't planned in advance, it was a response to the ATI RADEON 8500. 

By the birth of the NV25 (future GeForce4 Ti) NVIDIA understood that a line was more advantageous than just a single product. And this winter we got two new solutions - Ti4600 and Ti4400. The Ti4200 joined them a bit later. The latter became the most popular among three as it possesses the best price/performance ratio. For overclockers it's a real dream: almost all Ti 4200 based cards easily overclock up to 300 MHz and higher. And the memory overclocking easily reaches Ti 4400. Thus, users get something average between the Ti 4400 and 4600 at a much lower price. 

However, all features of the Ti 4200 (and the whole GeForce4 Ti line) were already discussed a lot of times in our reviews of GeForce4 Ti. 

Theoretical materials and reviews of video cards which concern functional properties of the NVIDIA GeForce4 Ti GPU

This time we will take a look at three more cards; one of them, from Gainward, was tested last time, but now we have a new revision with the 3.3ns memory. Two more cards come from Sparkle, a very famous company, and Albatron, a newcomer in our local market. The story of foundation of this company has flown the whole net. I'm not going to focus on it again but some products really deserve careful attention. First of all, because of their price/quality ratio. 

But the main subject today is anisotropic filtering. 

Cards

 
Albatron GeForce4 Ti 4200 128MB 






Sparkle GeForce4 Ti 4200 128MB 






Gainward Powerpack Ultra/650 XP 64MB 3.3ns 







 
 
 
Albatron GeForce4 Ti 4200 128MB 
The card has AGP x2/x4 interface, 128  MB DDR SDRAM located in 8 chips on both PCB sides. 

The card comes with Samsung memory of 4ns access time which corresponds to 250 (500) MHz. And the memory runs at this frequency, which is higher than the rated one for 128MB cards - 222 (444) MHz. The GPU works at the frequency typical of Ti 4200 - 250 MHz. 




Sparkle GeForce4 Ti 4200 128MB 
The card has AGP x2/x4 interface, 128  MB DDR SDRAM located in 8 chips on both PCB sides. 

The card comes with Samsung memory of 4ns access time which corresponds to 250 (500) MHz. But the card operates at 222 (444) MHz which is the rated frequency for such cards. The GPU works at 250 MHz. 




Gainward Powerpack Ultra/650 XP 64MB 3.3ns 
The card has AGP x2/x4 interface, 64 MB DDR SDRAM located in 8 chips on both PCB sides. 

EtronTech memory has 3.3ns access time which corresponds to 300 (600) MHz; but the memory runs at 256 (513) MHz. The GPU's speed is 250 MHz. 





 
 
 
Comparison with the reference design, front view 
Albatron GeForce4 Ti 4200 128MB  Reference card NVIDIA GeForce4 Ti 4200 






Sparkle GeForce4 Ti 4200 128MB 



Gainward Powerpack Ultra/650 XP 64MB 3.3ns 




 
 
 
Comparison with the reference design, back view 
Albatron GeForce4 Ti 4200 128MB  Reference card NVIDIA GeForce4 Ti 4200 






Sparkle GeForce4 Ti 4200 128MB 



Gainward Powerpack Ultra/650 XP 64MB 3.3ns 






All the cards follow the reference design, and the Sparkle's solution is a complete copy of the reference card. 

Note that starting from a certain time all 64MB cards got a frequency higher by 6 (13) MHz (perhaps since the NVIDIA's release of the new BIOS because all the mentioned cards has the reference BIOS). There is some mess with frequencies. Fortunately, at present they are higher than those recommended by NVIDIA. It concerns the 128MB card from Albatron. 

The 64MB and 128MB cards are based on a single design; and the cards differ only in capacity of the memory chips. 

Now let's take a peep at each card separately. It's obvious that the cards differ also in a PCB's color and coolers' design. 

Here are their coolers: 
 

Albatron GeForce4 Ti 4200 128MB 
A stylish gadget. And a large number of fins of the heatsink makes the cooler quite effective. 


Sparkle GeForce4 Ti 4200 128MB 
This is a reference cooler from NVIDIA consisting of a closed heatsink with a fan shifted away from the GPU's center. 


Gainward Powerpack Ultra/650 XP 64MB 3.3ns 
And here is a cooler typical of Gainward which consists of a flat platform with multiple vertical fins forming a cylinder. Above there is a circle with the company's logo. 



 
 
 

The cooler hides the GeForce4 Ti 4200 GPU: 




Note that two cards come with the Philips 7108 chip, but only in the Sparkle's solution it means VIVO (Video-In Video-Out). Soon we will examine functional properties of the Video In based on the Philips 7108 which is used for all VIVOs of the NVIDIA GeForce2 MX and senior cards. 

In the Gainward's card this codec is used only for TV-out. The Albatron's card has a TV-out based on the Conexant processor. 

Now let's take peep inside the boxes: 
 

Albatron GeForce4 Ti 4200 128MB 
User manual, CD with drivers and utilities, WinDVD, 2 games, DVI-to-VGA adapter, S-Video-to-RCA adapter. 


Sparkle GeForce4 Ti 4200 128MB 
User manual, CD with drivers and utilities, PowerDirector 2.0ME (for VIVO), VIVO adapter/splitter, DVI-to-VGA adapter, S-Video extender. 


Gainward Powerpack Ultra/650 XP 64MB 3.3ns 
User manual, CD with drivers and utilities, WinDVD, DVI-to-VGA adapter, S-Video-to-RCA adapter. 



 
 
 

All video cards ship in retail packages. 

Albatron GeForce4 Ti 4200 128MB 
This package can actually be used as a mirror :-) 


Sparkle GeForce4 Ti 4200 128MB 
The style is in the NVIDIA's manner and typical of Sparkle. 


Gainward Powerpack Ultra/650 XP 64MB 3.3ns 
This box doesn't change at all. What card is inside? You might find it out from a sticker below. We reproved the company for it lots of times, but noticed no attempts to change it. 



 
 
 

That's all about peculiarities of the cards. 

Overclocking

Albatron GeForce4 Ti 4200 128MB  250/500 -> 310/630 MHz, excellent potential of the card. 
Sparkle GeForce4 Ti 4200 128MB  250/444 -> 315/620 MHz, good potential of the core, and the Samsung's memory showed nice results for 4ns. 
Gainward Powerpack Ultra/650 XP 64MB 3.3ns  250/513 -> 320/630 MHz, despite 3.3ns the overclocking is not greater as compared with the previous cards. However, the potential is still striking. 
 




The scores show that it's easy to reach the level of the Ti 4400, and some come close to the Ti 4600. The chip, by the way, easily outscores 300 MHz. 

Note:

Test system and drivers

Testbeds:  The test system was coupled with ViewSonic P810 (21") and ViewSonic P817 (21") monitors.

In the tests we used NVIDIA's drivers of v30.82. VSync was off, S3TC was off.

Test results

Before we start examining 2D quality I should say that there is no a complete technique of objective estimation of this parameter because: 
  1. Almost all modern 3D accelerators can have 2D quality much dependent on a certain sample, and it's impossible to trace all cards; 
  2. 2D quality depends not only on a video card, but also on a monitor and a cable; 
  3. Besides, certain monitors do not get along with certain video cards. 
As for the tested samples, together with the ViewSonic P817 monitor and BNC Bargo cable the cards showed excellent quality at the following resolutions and frequencies:
Albatron GeForce4 Ti 4200 128MB  1600x1200x85Hz, 1280x1024x100Hz, 1024x768x120Hz 
Sparkle GeForce4 Ti 4200 128MB  1600x1200x85Hz, 1280x1024x85Hz, 1024x768x100Hz 
Gainward Powerpack Ultra/650 XP 64MB 3.3ns  1600x1200x100Hz, 1280x1024x100Hz, 1024x768x120Hz 




For the performance estimation we used: 

New capabilities of anisotropic filtering in 30.* drivers from NVIDIA

As we mentioned a lot of times before this function in the GeForce4 Ti family takes a great deal of resources - the performance falls down by 50-55% when the Level 8 is enabled. Although NVIDIA's anisotropy is more correct and all surfaces are processed irrespective of an angle of inclination, still, a too great speed fall irritates a lot. For details on anisotropy of ATI and NVIDIA see our 3Digest

The software developers of NVIDIA look like an assembly of ancient philosophers who sometimes utter a word of wisdom, but on the whole they are conservative, because we haven't seen yet anisotropy in Direct3D in the drivers' settings (in the OpenGL it's open for users). And if it were not the talented programmer Aleksei Nikolaichuk AKA Unwinder, we would still have to enable anisotropy in Direct3D from the registry, or couldn't do it at all, because some variables are encrypted. I hope that everyone who knows NVIDIA products understand that we mean the RivaTuner utility. 

The last version of this program can enable anisotropy and adjust its speed and quality. None of other similar programs is so flexible. But it works only starting from the v30.00 drivers. NVIDIA is probably debugging quick anisotropy in the future NV28/NV18. But it's already available now :-). 










In the Direct3D section it's possible to choose an anisotropy degree and optimize it. The drivers allow setting the highest filtering degree for each texture stage! It's possible to combine modes. It concerns a mode of texture processing only on far objects!

Let's estimate with the 3DMark2001 (Game1, Game2, Game4) how reduction of an anisotropy level impacts quality at the texture stages 0 and 1 (the 3DMark2001 works only with two textures in a pass). We set the Level 8, and reduced it to 2 or 4 for each texture stage.


Mode RADEON 8500 GeForce4 Ti
Game 1, Example 1
NO ANISOTROPIC -


ANISO 16/8





ANISO 8 Stage0 Level2 -


ANISO 8 Stage0 Level4 -


ANISO 8 Stage1 Level2 -


ANISO 8 Stage1 Level4 -


Game 1, Ïpèmep 2
NO ANISOTROPIC -


ANISO 16/8





ANISO 8 Stage0 Level2 -


ANISO 8 Stage0 Level4 -


ANISO 8 Stage1 Level2 -


ANISO 8 Stage1 Level4 -


Game 2, Example 1
NO ANISOTROPIC -


ANISO 16/8





ANISO 8 Stage0 Level2 -


ANISO 8 Stage0 Level4 -


ANISO 8 Stage1 Level2 -


ANISO 8 Stage1 Level4 -


Game 2, Example 2
NO ANISOTROPIC -


ANISO 16/8





ANISO 8 Stage0 Level2 -


ANISO 8 Stage0 Level4 -


ANISO 8 Stage1 Level2 -


ANISO 8 Stage1 Level4 -


Game 4, Ïpèmep 1
NO ANISOTROPIC -


ANISO 16/8





ANISO 8 Stage0 Level2 -


ANISO 8 Stage0 Level4 -


ANISO 8 Stage1 Level2 -


ANISO 8 Stage1 Level4 -


Game 4, Example 2
NO ANISOTROPIC -


ANISO 16/8





ANISO 8 Stage0 Level2 -


ANISO 8 Stage0 Level4 -


ANISO 8 Stage1 Level2 -


ANISO 8 Stage1 Level4 -



 




Let me show you the quality difference in animated GIF files: 


Game 1
Example 1 Example 2






Game 2
Example 1 Example 2






Game 4
Example 1 Example 2







 




So, what's about the quality? 

  1. In each game decrease of the anisotropy level has a different effect at each stage. In the Game 1 reduction of the anisotropy level hasn't affected the overall quality at the stage 0, contrary to the stage 1 which uses high-detail textures. 
  2. On the whole, reduction of the anisotropy level to 4 at any texture stage affects quality inconsiderably. 
Now let's take a look at the performance with the anisotropy enabled in the above modes. 

Game 1 Low details





Well, the programmers from ATI didn't sat around twiddling their thumbs, and the performance has quite a high level in the new drivers with the active anisotropy (note that the ATI's anisotropy is based on the RIP-mapping). 

The performance levels of the Ti 4200 with the anisotropy levels reduced for each texture stage are almost equal. That is why for the Game1 we recommend Level2 for Stage1. 

Game 2 Low details





All the same. 

Game 3 Low details





Here the speed at the Stage 1 is higher than at the Stage 0 with the anisotropy decrease. The recommendations are the same. 

Game 4





In this test we can recommend to reduce anisotropy to Level 2 at Stage 0. Other ways of optimization of this function are useless. 

Overall performance

The overclocked cards are marked with red color, sign o/c (overclocked) is followed by the frequencies reached.

Conclusion

The new method of optimization of the anisotropy by decreasing quality of processing of far objects is successful. The performance of the GeForce4 Ti grows up when the anisotropy is active. The quality doesn't get much worse and a user receives a flexible tool of balancing between quality and speed (with anisotropy turned on). Unfortunately, it's available only for those who has the Internet access and can download RivaTuner. The programmers from NVIDIA perhaps consider that this function is meant only for them and for marketers who extol the wonder of anisotropy everywhere, but users who don't have RivaTuner are deprived of it (only half a year ago they finally debugged anisotropy in the control panel in the OpenGL, unlike to the Direct3D). 

As far as the tested samples are concerned, we have the following things to say: 

  1. The Sparkle video card has an excellent price/speed ratio (VIVO is provided). 
  2. The Albatron's card has an attractive price/speed ratio as well, is based on the reference design and has excellent quality. This card works at increased memory frequencies relative to the rated ones for 128MB cards. 
  3. The new card from Gainward has a good overclocking potential and its overall quality is really high. I just wish the cards had prices comparable to their competitors. 
For complete comparison characteristics of video card of this and other classes see our 3Digest

Highs:

Lows:
 
Andrey Vorobiev (anvakams@ixbt.com
 

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