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ASUS V9900 Ultra (NVIDIA GeForce FX 5800 Ultra) Video Card; AA & Anisotropy Quality

April 2, 2003






CONTENTS

  1. General information
  2. Video card features
  3. Test system configuration
  4. Test results: 3Digest
  5. 3D quality: new AA 8x and 16x modes 
  6. 3D quality: AA at different angles
  7. 3D quality: highest-quality modes
  8. Conclusion

Spring 2003 is the hottest season for 3D game accelerators. If you remember, in Spring 1999 3dfx launched its Voodoo3 line and NVIDIA brought out Riva TNT2/Ultra. That spring was the only similar in the tension. 

No sooner had NVIDIA started building up its GeForce FX 5800, than ATI announced a new 3D king - RADEON 9800 PRO. NVIDIA stroke back with a whole line of mainstream accelerators - GeForce FX 5200/5600, but they failed to beat the current favorites of this sector - RADEON 9500/9500 PRO. Meanwhile, ATI's new solution - RADEON 9600/PRO expected in April will be much cheaper than 9500/PRO and much slower (according to some Net sources). 

But the new solutions are still on paper, and testers simply hang around looking for what to test. Old products of 2002 which everyone is tired of? Or maybe something that is expected this Spring? But everything that could be said is said; we just hope that production cards will be at least 90% similar to what we got in the tests. I mean NV31 (GeForce FX 5600 Ultra) which is going to have clock speeds different from the reference card (for example, ASUSTeK mentioned they would be 325/275 (550) MHz against 350/350 (700) MHz of the reference solution). It makes me think that the new-comers will be slower than expected. It also concerns ATI when higher-rated cards (9600) are slower than those marked 9500. But ATI has already offered DX9 accelerators for the mainstream market (RADEON 9500/PRO) though they are still in short supply. 

April and May will show who are developing just "paper" creativity and who will actually fill up the market. At present we can see only GeForce FX 5800 Ultra - expensive, sophisticated and greatly heating cards which are crawling bit by bit into the market. 

Some of these accelerators were already reviewed before: 

The PCB of such cards is very sophisticated, that is why NVIDIA places orders for them with third parties and supply manufacturers both with the chips and PCBs (who only assemble the cards). Some vendors, however, demonstrate their imagination and make masterpieces out of their NV30 cards (but we are not able yet to estimate reliability of the cards and, in particular, coolers). 

Most manufacturers simply assemble such cards according to the reference design including the FlowFX cooler which has gotten a great many ludicrous names and epithets. 

ASUSTeK is among those who decided to deal with such arguable and low-profit product, and it throws in the box a copy of the reference card with its sticker (why arguable is explained in the reviews listed above as well as in this article). 

Now let's focus on the card itself. 

Card

ASUS V9900 Ultra 







 
ASUS V9900 Ultra 
The card has AGP x2/x4/x8 interface, 128 MB DDR SDRAM (8 chips on both PCB sides). 128bit memory exchange interface. 

Samsung K4N26323AE-GC1K memory chips of BGA form-factor. Maximum clock speed is 550 (1100) MHz, hence 1.8 ns access time. The memory works at 500 (1000) MHz in 3D and at 300 (600) MHz in 2D.





 
Comparison with the reference design, front view
ASUS V9900 Ultra  Reference card NVIDIA GeForce FX 5800 Ultra 










Comparison with the reference design, back view
ASUS V9900 Ultra  Reference card NVIDIA GeForce FX 5800 Ultra 










 

Since this is a copy of the reference design, we are not going to describe it anew; but this time we will take the risk and remove the cooler so that you can see the card naked and examine the cooling device. 
 

ASUS V9900 Ultra 
The device consists of a copper plate and a turbine cooler attached above, the fan of which pumps air through the tubular radiator. This radiator is connected to the copper plate with pipes containing low-boiling liquid inside where heat transfer takes place. 

The card had to be widened because of this bulky cooler, and the first PCI slot after AGP can't be used. The first floor of the card houses d-Sub, DVI and S-Video connectors and the second has holes for taking in cold air and exhausting hot air. 

The cooler is attached with 2 bolts and 4 clips on the edges of the copper plate near the memory chips. A spring cramp fixes the cooler on the back. There is also a copper plate on the back for the memory chips. Such a solid system is installed to maintain operation of the chipset and memory which generate a great deal of heat (first of all, memory!). But such turbine is not necessary because the card we tested before with a conventional cooler worked stably. However, the memory needs to be cooled anyway (even with such a copper heatsink without external air-cooling the heatsink heating exceeds human's pain barrier). 

Such turbine system is very noisy. And that is probably why the developers decided to turn off the fan and reduce clock speeds in 2D. That was mentioned in the basic review. 

The fan is controlled by the GPU because NV30 supports hardware temperature monitoring. 

Once again I want to say that the noise FlowFX makes annoys a lot because of reswitching between 2D and 3D. When the test runs in the packet mode the changing frequencies of the cooler drive me mad. 





























 
 
 
Here is the processor hidden under the cooler. 
 
 



The marking here is placed on the top, though earlier it was made in the middle. Letter U on the right probably indicates the Ultra version. 

The PCB design is very complicated because of DDRII memory, and NVIDIA makes orders for the boards with third parties which have enough experience in this sphere. 




Box contents: 

ASUS V9900 Ultra 
Two user guides (one common for all ASUS video cards, and the other for this particular card), CD with drivers and utilities, CD with ASUS DVD player, CDs with games (mostly obsolete), S-Video-to-RCA and DVI-to-d-Sub adapters, TV-out extenders. Unfortunately, they forgot to throw in a splitter for external power supply (though a power supply unit may have no free "tails"); it's not excusable for a card priced at $400-450. 



 
 
 
The video card ships in a retail package. 
ASUS V9900 Ultra 
The video card ships in a big box filled with foam plastic by 70% which supports the card and its accessories. 






 
 
 

Overclocking

ASUS V9900 Ultra  NVIDIA GeForce FX 5800 Ultra has risen its speed a little with the new driver version. What we could obtain was 525/1050 MHz. Taking into account that NV30 is limited mostly by the memory throughput, and the memory gains only 25 MHz (50), there is no sense in showing diagrams. Just add in your mind 3-8 fps. 

 
 
 


 

Note that 

  • Overclocking requires additional card cooling (for its memory, in particular): 

  •  





  • Overclocking depends on a certain sample, and you shouldn't extend single-card results to the entire series or trade mark. Overclocking results are not obligatory characteristics of video cards. 

Testbed and drivers

Testbed: 

  • Pentium 4 3066 MHz based computer: 
    • Intel Pentium 4 3066 MHz; 
    • ASUS P4G8X (iE7205) mainboard; 
    • 1024 MB DDR SDRAM; 
    • Seagate Barracuda IV 40GB Hard Drive; 
    • Windows XP SP1; 
    • ViewSonic P810 (21") and ViewSonic P817 (21") monitors. 
    • NVIDIA drivers v43.40 (tests in the heavy modes for this review) and v42.82 (tests in 3Digest). 

VSync off in drivers, texture compression off in applications. Texture detail - High Quality. 

Test results

Together with the ViewSonic P817 monitor and BNC Bargo cable it showed excellent 2D quality at the following resolutions and clock speeds:

ASUS V9900 Ultra  1600x1200x85Hz, 1280x1024x120Hz, 1024x768x160Hz 

 

Test Results: 3Digest

Test applications: 

  • Return to Castle Wolfenstein (MultiPlayer) (id Software/Activision) - OpenGL, multitexturing, Checkpoint-demo, maximum test settings, S3TC OFF, the configs are available here
    •  

  • Serious Sam: The Second Encounter v.1.05 (Croteam/GodGames) - OpenGL, multitexturing, Grand Cathedral demo, test settings: quality, S3TC OFF 
    •  

  • Codecreatures Benchmark Pro (Codecult) - Direct3D, Shaders, Hardware T&L, Dot3, cube texturing, highest quality 
    •  

  • Unreal Tournament 2003 Demo v.1077 (Final Release) (Digital Extreme/Epic Games) - Direct3D, Vertex Shaders, Hardware T&L, Dot3, cube texturing, default quality 
    •  

  • 3DMark2001 SE Pro (MadOnion/Remedy), Game2 "Dragothic" - DirectX 8.0, Hardware TCL, multitexturing, LOW Details, DXTC OFF, double buffering, 24-bit Z buffer
    •  

  • 3DMark2001 Pro (MadOnion/Remedy) - DirectX 8.0, Hardware TCL, Game1, Game2, Game3, Game4, Low, High detail levels

  •  
  • RightMark 3D (one of the game scenes) - DirectX 8.1, Dot3, cube texturing, shadow buffers, vertex and pixel shaders (1.1, 1.4). 

February 2003 summary diagrams of videocards performance with latest drivers

Overclocked cards are marked red, clock speeds follow the 'o/c' sign. 

For the summary diagrams we used drivers v42.82 for NVIDIA cards, v6.292 - for ATI cards, v3.10.51 for SIS cards and v1.03.01.002 for Matrox cards. 

3D quality: new AA 8x and 16x modes

In the drivers v43.* and higher GeForce FX gets new AA modes: 8x and 16x which are composed of MSAA and SSAA (MSAA 4x is combined with SSAA 2x2 and 4x4, respectively). 

Such modes reduce the speed markedly; here are some examples for AA 8x (I think it's useless to draw diagrams for AA 16x working only in 800x600 or in lower resolutions): 













And what about quality? Have a look at the screenshots: 


 
AA Application Balanced Performance (Aggressive)
Serious Sam: TSE
AA 4x 








AA 8x 









 
AA Application Balanced Performance
Serious Sam: TSE
With colored MIP levels
AA 4x 








AA 8x 









 

AA 8x quality removes jaggies better, but font blurring and considerable speed falls of SSAA make this mode unwanted (it's needed only for professional accelerators where quality is much more vital than speed). 

The difference between Application, Balanced and Performance modes is based on adjustment of trilinear filtering quality and MIP levels (LOD). Besides, the Performance mode enables S3TC/DXTC technology which lifts up speed at the expense of quality (look at the sky in the screenshots above). 

3D quality: AA at different angles

Here we are going to examine anti-aliasing once again. Fist of all, look at it at different images. 
 

AA Cards ~10 degrees ~30 degrees ~45 degrees
Serious Sam: TSE
No AA  GeForce FX 








AA 4x  GeForce FX 








RADEON 9700 








AA 6x  RADEON 9700 









 

The worst angles for GeForce FX are those which are close to zero. AA quality of RADEON 9700 is definitely higher in this case. But the difference vanishes away as the angle approaches 45 degrees. In AA 6x mode RADEON 9700 shows even worse pictures (at 45 degrees). 

3D quality: highest quality modes

Let's see whether NVIDIA's new solution benefits from the AA mode on the whole. Also, we will have a look at the highest-quality modes in case of AA and anisotropy (where possible). 

Anti-aliasing in large


 
AA GeForce FX RADEON 9700
3DMark03: Game4, Example 1
No AA 


AA 4x 





AA 4xS 


AA 6xS/6x 





AA 8xS 


3DMark03: Game4, Example 2
No AA 


AA 4x 





AA 4xS 


AA 6xS/6x 





AA 8xS 


3DMark03: Game4, Example  3
No AA 


AA 4x 





AA 4xS 


AA 6xS/6x 





AA 8xS 


Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, Example  1
No AA 


AA 4x  Unsupported


AA 4xS 


AA 6xS/6x  Unsupported 


AA 8xS  Unsupported 
Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, Example 2
No AA 


AA 4x  Unsupported


AA 4xS 


AA 6xS/6x  Unsupported


AA 8xS  Unsupported

 

On the whole, GeForce FX fails. It shows inferior AA and lack of support for some AA modes in some games. The mode of 8xS is almost useless as it doesn't improve quality. That is why we will use AA 6xS as the maximum AA mode in Direct3D. 

Anisotropy


 
Anisotropy GeForce FX RADEON 9700
3DMark03: Game4, Example 1
No ANISO 


ANISO 8x Application 


ANISO 8x Balanced/16x Quality 





ANISO 8x/16x Performance 





3DMark03: Game4, Example 2
No ANISO 


ANISO 8x Application 


ANISO 8x Balanced/16x Quality 





ANISO 8x/16x Performance 





3DMark03: Game4, Example 3
No ANISO 


ANISO 8x Application 


ANISO 8x Balanced/16x Quality 





ANISO 8x/16x Performance 





Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, Example 1
No ANISO 


ANISO 8x Application 


ANISO 8x Balanced/16x Quality 





ANISO 8x/16x Performance 





Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, Example 2
No ANISO 


ANISO 8x Application 


ANISO 8x Balanced/16x Quality 





ANISO 8x/16x Performance 






 

Although the fans of NVIDIA and ATI are passionately arguing which anisotropic modes may be collated, in real games the difference in most scenes can be noticed only through a magnifier. The pictures above show that perfectly. Even in Morrowind with its vast spaces without grass it would take quite a lot of time to find scenes where different anisotropy modes look different. 

Anisotropy + AA 


 
Mode GeForce FX RADEON 9700
3DMark03: Game4, Example 1
No ANISO/AA 


ANISO 8x Application+AA 6xS / 16x Quality+AA 6x 





3DMark03: Game4, Example 2
No ANISO/AA 


ANISO 8x Application+AA 6xS / 16x Quality+AA 6x 





3DMark03: Game4, Example 3
No ANISO/AA 


ANISO 8x Application+AA 6xS / 16x Quality+AA 6x 





Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, Example 1
No ANISO/AA 


ANISO 8x Application+AA 4xS / 16x Quality+AA 6x 





Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, Example 2
No ANISO/AA 


ANISO 8x Application+AA 4xS / 16x Quality+AA 6x 






 

Now let's see what speeds the cards have at the maximum quality:













Even the lighter mode of AA 4xS (instead of 6xS) didn't help GeForce FX. The Application mode with anisotropic filtering enabled is very GPU-hungry. And this fact caused the defeat. But is this mode that needed? Our previous tests showed that the Balanced mode is quite enough. 

But although GeForce FX 5800 Ultra is the mightiest accelerator (the cards on this GPU are already on sale in contrast to RADEON 9800), the weak points outweigh. 

Conclusion

  1. GeForce FX 5800 Ultra is a real heater, and in the closed PC case it can greatly rise the temperature affecting stability of the whole PC unit; 
  2. FlowFX makes a lot of noise, and its frequent reswitching irritates; 
  3. All these attributes of a super-accelerator do not help it outsmart RADEON 9700 PRO, except a few cases of victory, but at the maximum AA and anisotropy levels this card loses the battle; 
  4. If NV30 were comparable in price to RADEON 9700 PRO, a lot of disadvantages could be neglected. However, GeForce FX 5800 Ultra sells at, at least, $425 in those U.S. stores where such cards appeared; 
  5. All these facts and NVIDIA's striving for NV35 made NV30 an outcast with the manufacturers. Few companies are going to roll out cards based on NV30, but it will be done mostly for the sake of press-releases. Such cards won't be in large supply. 

However, NV30 is flexible and programmable, and it is possible that the drivers will raise its performance. At this moment I'm grateful that NVIDIA has released v43.45 with errors corrected in some games. There is nothing much we can say about the speed, but with the drivers v42.82 in RtCW at 1600x1200 it scored 120 fps against 70 with v43.*. You remember that v42.68 was optimized for 3DMark03, - NV30 could work twice faster but in other games the operating system could hang easily. 

If GeForce FX 5800 Ultra approached $370-380, the card could get a chance to be in demand. It also concerns ASUS V9900 Ultra because this is a copy of the reference card packed into an attractive box and equipped with old software. But I heard that such cards are now on their way to Moscow with the recommended retail price of $399. If it's true, the cards stand a good chance to succeed! 

If the cards are not many in number, the price will go up considerably, because fans of NVIDIA will pay even $450 for such wonder :-). However, NV35, an improved version of NV30 and accelerator stronger than even RADEON 9800 PRO, is already behind the corner. 

Frankly speaking, NV30 is a card for researchers who are interested in testing cards with different drivers and analysis of operations of various 3D functions. 

Highs:

  • Highest 3D performance (RADEON 9800 PRO is not on sale yet); 
  • High build quality (the PCB is very expensive and sophisticated, and the boards are produced at special factories); 
  • High stability and reliability in spite of the heating cooler (especially from the memory chips); 
  • Novations in 3D graphics, some of which can be already used (several modes of operation, which mostly influences anisotropic filtering). 

Lows:

  • Overpriced; 
  • The cards are in very small quantities for the end of March. 


 
 
 

Andrey Vorobiev  (anvakams@ixbt.com
 

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