iXBT Labs - Computer Hardware in Detail






Gainward CoolFX Ultra/1800 XP GS 256MB Video Card Review


  1. Video cards features
  2. Testbed, test tools, 2D quality
  3. Test results: Quake3 ARENA
  4. Test results: Serious Sam: The Second Encounter
  5. Test results: Return to Castle Wolfenstein
  6. Test results: Code Creatures DEMO
  7. Test results: Unreal Tournament 2003
  8. Test results: Unreal II: The Awakening
  9. Test results: RightMark 3D
  10. Test results: HALO: Combat Evolved
  11. Test results: Splinter Cell
  12. Conclusion

In spite of the winter outdoors we are going to speak about a video card with a specific cooler - a water one. Gainward which is headquartered in Taiwan got used to the tropic climate and accounts for the fact that not the whole mankind lives in the northern hemisphere, - and it's the second time it brings out a card with a water-cooling system by the X-mas.

The card used carefully selected GeForce FX 5950 Ultra (Golden Sample series). Before we continue studying this card have a look at the list of reviews of GeForce FX based cards.

Theoretical materials and reviews of video cards which concern functional properties of the GPU NVIDIA GeForce FX 

So, NVIDIA's flagship today is GeForce FX 5950 Ultra. In applications that do not use shaders this product goes on a par with the RADEON 9800 XT and even outscores it in some OpenGL games with carefully debugged drivers. Performance in shader applications is a very arguable and disputable issue. In some games where the special compilation mechanism in NVIDIA's drivers still works badly, and the GeForce FX 5950 Ultra falls much behind the competitor because the shaders 2.0 of the NV3x are weaker than those of ATI's solutions. In applications where performance depends not only on shaders and NVIDIA's compiler is strong, the Californian flagship doesn't yield much to its competitors. Besides, optimizations also help NVIDIA's latest product a lot (in 3DMark and some other benchmarks). All that causes debates among follows of one or the other company. The strong and weak points of the GeForce FX 5950 Ultra GPU were discussed a lot. I just want to say that the price will be a determining factor. The current price, over $500, doesn't look affordable for many out there.

Earlier we reviewed a card similar to the Gainward's one, but that was based on the FX 5900 Ultra. The CoolFX on the 5950 Ultra has the same build as its predecessor, that is why the installation is similar.

Well, meet the Gainward CoolFX Ultra/1800 XP GS 256MB! Later we ill see that apart from the water cooler this card has some more peculiarities!



Gainward CoolFX Ultra/1800 XP GS 256MB

Gainward CoolFX Ultra/1800 XP GS 256MB
The card has AGP x8/x4 interface, 256 MB DDR SDRAM memory in 8 chips on both PCB sides.

Hynix 2ns memory chips (corresponds to 500 (1000) MHz), memory clocked at 475 (950) MHz, GPU at 475 MHz. 256 bit memory bus.
These clock speeds refer only to the standard mode. The Enhanced mode available with the ExperTool utility offers 550/525 (1050) MHz!

Comparison with the reference design, front view
Gainward CoolFX Ultra/1800 XP GS 256MB Reference card NVIDIA GeForce FX 5950 Ultra

Comparison with the reference design, back view
Gainward CoolFX Ultra/1800 XP GS 256MB Reference card NVIDIA GeForce FX 5950 Ultra


This is a copy of the reference card, just of the red color. All its features were studied earlier

The card has a narrow heatsink (which lets the coolant flow further), that is why the first PCI slot is free. Besides, the card has no fans, and a card installed into the first PCI slot won't hamper GPU cooling.

See the details on installation in the review of the similar card based on the FX 5900 Ultra GPU, I'll just show you a couple of pics. Here's the big sink cooled by the fan which can be installed inside or outside the PC case.

All pipes are hard to pull on the ducts; they are tightened with fit nuts:

Here's the finished system:

In the video clip (6.7MB) you can see how the coolant moves (there're some bubbles for you to see it).

Now comes the package and accessory pack. 

Gainward CoolFX Ultra/1800 XP GS 256MB
I used a 100-rubles note so that you can see how big this box is. It took me a while to find a bag to take it to the lab :-)

Gainward CoolFX Ultra/1800 XP GS 256MB
The box contains an installation guide (brief), a software CD, and the stuff shown on the pics :-). The card ships with a sink mounted on the factory.


Testbed and drivers


  • Pentium 4 3200 MHz based computer:
    • Intel Pentium 4 3200 MHz CPU;
    • DFI LANParty Pro875 (i875P) mainboard; 
    • 1024 MB DDR SDRAM; 
    • Seagate Barracuda IV 40GB HDD; 
    • Windows XP SP1; DirectX 9.0b;
    • ViewSonic P810 (21") and ViewSonic P817 (21") monitors.
    • NVIDIA drivers v53.03.

VSync off, S3TC off in applications. 

Cards used for comparison:

  • Hercules 3D Prophet 9800 XT (RADEON 9800 XT, 445-432/365 (730) MHz, 256 MB DDR, driver 6.396).
  • NVIDIA GeForce FX 5950 Ultra (475/475 (950) MHz, 256 MB DDR).

Overclocking potential: 570/1070 MHz. 

Test results

Before we start examining 2D quality, I should say there are no complete techniques for objective 2D quality estimation because:

  1. 2D quality much depends on certain samples for almost all modern 3D accelerators; 
  2. Besides videocards, 2D quality depends on monitors and cables; 
  3. Moreover, certain monitors might not work properly with certain video cards. 

With the ViewSonic P817 monitor and BNC Bargo cable the card showed excellent quality at the following resolutions and clock speeds: 

Gainward CoolFX Ultra/1800 XP GS 256MB  1600x1200x85Hz, 1280x1024x120Hz, 1024x768x160Hz

Test results: performance

Conventional signs: ANISO 8xP - Anisotropic 8x Performance (earlier it was called Balanced), ANISO 8xQ - Anisotropic 8x Quality, ANISO 16xQ - Anisotropic 16x Quality. 

NVIDIA's optimization policy changes the things and we do not know anymore if there are applications where NVIDIA's anisotropy works to its full capacity. That is why we consider that it's correct to compare ANISO 16xQ (ATI) to ANISO 8xQ (NV). Both have their strong and weak points, but in general they compensate each other. 

Test applications: 

Return to Castle Wolfenstein (MultiPlayer) (id Software/Activision) - OpenGL, multitexturing, ixbt0703-demo, test settings - maximum, S3TC OFF, the configurations can be downloaded from here

Serious Sam: The Second Encounter v.1.05 (Croteam/GodGames) - OpenGL, multitexturing, ixbt0703 demo, test settings: quality, S3TC OFF 

Quake3 Arena v.1.17 (id Software/Activision) - OpenGL, multitexturing, ixbt0703 demo, test settings - maximum: detailing level - High, texture detailing level - #4, S3TC OFF, smoothness of curves is much increased through variables r_subdivisions "1" and r_lodCurveError "30000" (at default r_lodCurveError is 250 !), the configurations can be downloaded from here

Unreal Tournament 2003 v.2225 (Digital Extreme/Epic Games) - Direct3D, Vertex Shaders, Hardware T&L, Dot3, cube texturing, default quality 

Code Creatures Benchmark Pro (CodeCult) - the game that demonstrates card's operation in DirectX 8.1, Shaders, HW T&L. 

Unreal II: The Awakening (Legend Ent./Epic Games) - Direct3D, Vertex Shaders, Hardware T&L, Dot3, cube texturing, default quality 

RightMark 3D v.0.4 (one of the gaming scenes) - DirectX 8.1, Dot3, cube texturing, shadow buffers, vertex and pixel shaders (1.1, 1.4). 

HALO: Combat Evolved (Microsoft) - Direct3D, Vertex/Pixel Shaders 1.1/2.0, Hardware T&L, high quality

Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell v.1.2b (UbiSoft) - Direct3D, Vertex/Pixel Shaders 1.1/2.0, Hardware T&L, Very High quality; demo 1_1_2_Tbilisi

If you need patch 49 which is not easy to find and the demo benchmarks let me know by email. 

Note that with the ExperTool the clock speed raises to 550/525 (1050) MHz from 475/475 (950) MHz! This peculiarity should be taken into account like the OverDrive of the Hercules 3D Prophet 9800 XT when the core clock was increased by 30 MHz in all benchmarks.

The card ran at 550/1050 MHz without any additional cooling, and according to the RivaTuner Hardware Monitoring (thanks to Aleksei Nikolaichuk AKA Unwinder) the core temperature didn't exceed 52-55 degrees.

That is why it's quite interesting to compare this product with the fastest RADEON 9800 XT and with the standard FX 5950 Ultra. 

Quake3 Arena

No AA, no anisotropy: the Gainward easily beats the competitor.

AA enabled: The advantage grows up in low resolutions but the card loses in 1600x1200 because of shortage of memory.

Anisotropy enabled: Gainward wins.

AA and anisotropy enabled: the same (except the defeat in 1600x1200).

Serious Sam: The Second Encounter

The Gainward CoolFX Ultra/1800 XP wins in all modes.

Return to Castle Wolfenstein (Multiplayer)

No AA, no anisotropy: parity.

AA enabled: the Gainward gets a little advantage.

Anisotropy enabled: parity.

AA and anisotropy enabled: the same.

Code Creatures

No AA, no anisotropy: the Gainward wins.

AA enabled: the advantage noticeably grows up.

Anisotropy enabled: the card suffers a defeat.

AA and anisotropy enabled: the cards actually go on a par though the Gainward is a little ahead.

Unreal Tournament 2003

No AA, no anisotropy: parity.

AA enabled: the card falls a little behind its competitor.

Anisotropy enabled: here the card both wins and loses.

AA and anisotropy enabled: parity.

Unreal II: The Awakening

The Gainward card loses in all the modes.

RightMark 3D

This shader test doesn't let the GeForce FX based solution win either. However, the card on the ATI RADEON 9800 GPU shows some artifacts with the latest drivers. 

HALO: Combat Evolved

No AA, no anisotropy: parity.

The game doesn't support AA.

Anisotropy enabled: defeat.

Splinter Cell

No AA, no anisotropy: victory.

The game doesn't support AA.

Anisotropy enabled: victory.


It doesn't look that bad, and the RADEON 9800 XT based card from Hercules and Gainward's GFFX 5950 Ultra based solution with the water cooler can be considered equal, but we didn't use this time TRAoD and HL2 (beta) benchmarks where NVIDIA's products usually terribly fail. 

The biggest problem of such cards will be the price. If the Hercules card might cost $550 at most, Gainward prices its solution at $820-850 by retail. This is a kind of product to admire; only computer enthusiasts might buy it.

The card is high-quality and reliable, however, it's not that quiet. It's clear that the pump and the big sink are not noiseless. But the card is equipped with rubber dampers that prevent vibration of the PC case.

In our 3Digest you can find full comparison characteristics for video cards of this and other classes. 

Andrey Vorobiev (anvakams@ixbt.com

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