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MSI FX5950 Ultra-VTD256
MSI FX5700 Ultra-TD128 128MB
Tested in 3DMark03 v.340

December 30, 2003






CONTENTS

  1. Video cards features
  2. Testbed, test tools, 2D quality
  3. Test results: 3DMark03 v.340: Game1
  4. Test results: 3DMark03 v.340: Game2
  5. Test results: 3DMark03 v.340: Game3
  6. Test results: 3DMark03 v.340: Game4
  7. Test results: 3DMark03 v.340: Marks
  8. Test results: 3DMark03 v.340: Vertex Shaders
  9. Test results: 3DMark03 v.340: Pixel Shaders
  10. Conclusion

There's little snow in the streets because it's +2 outside, and H2O can't remain solid at this temperature :). I hope that the New Year day will be more frosty, snowy and brilliant...

In the very near future we will sum up the events of 2003. One of the most important events of this year is the release of the NVIDIA GeForce FX series.

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

In the reviews listed above you can see what this GPU series is able of: from low-end to high-end models. Not all NV3x models are successful compared to the GeForce4 Ti. There are very few games which need DX9 accelerators only. Beauties of all other shader-enabled games can be well seen even with the older cards. Although they also deliver the anisotropy and AA, it's not a triumph.

The situation is bettering thanks to the right price policy, though the High-End models are still pretty expensive.

Today we will take a look at the new-comers from MSI, and at performance of the GeForce FX 5950/5700 in the 3DMark03.

MSI is a well-known company on the world market, and the products to be tested today crown the High-End and Middle-End sectors - FX 5950 Ultra and FX 5700 Ultra.

Yet in summer 2003 we decided not to use the 3DMark03 anymore because the performance could vary within 25-40% with every new patch and every new NVIDIA driver. It was unclear what results should be considered correct. Above are the links to the reviews where we investigated this issue. After all those events the benchmark left our lab.

Why did we speak about it again? NVIDIA recently released drivers v5x.xx with the integrated shader compiler which optimized their execution by converting shader texts on the fly. The developers of 3DMark protested against such handling of their shaders - I must say that despite such reputation of 3DMark this benchmark is still widely used by many end-users and assemblers' testlabs. The new patch 340 released removes any shader manipulations. NVIDIA announced that it used no tricks, and the compiler was harmless, while FutureMark played a bad trick by disabling the compiler (though later they disclaimed saying that).

All it happened between the official releases of NVIDIA drivers 52.16 and 53.03. After the release of the benchmark v340 the performance of all GeForce FX GPUs fell down considerably on the driver v52.16 (the patch was released right in the middle between NVIDIA's releases). What's the effect from the v53.03 where NVIDIA promised to accelerate the compiler's performance? Today we are going to answer this question. Also, we will see if the rumors saying that ATI brought optimizations into CATALYST 3.10 are true or not.

Cards

 

MSI FX5950 Ultra-VTD256


MSI FX5700 Ultra-TD128



 
MSI FX5700 Ultra-TD128
The card has AGP x8/x4/x2 interface, 128 MB DDR SDRAM memory in 8 chips on both PCB sides.

Samsung (GDDR2) 2.2ns memory chips (corresponds to 450 (900) MHz), memory clocked at 450 (900)  MHz, GPU at 475 MHz. 128 bit memory bus.
 




MSI FX5950 Ultra-VTD256
The card has AGP x8/x4/x2 interface, 256 MB DDR SDRAM memory in 16 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.
 





 
Comparison with the reference design, front view
MSI FX5950 Ultra-VTD256 Reference card NVIDIA GeForce FX 5950 Ultra









MSI FX5700 Ultra-TD128 Reference card NVIDIA GeForceFX 5700 Ultra







 
Comparison with the reference design, back view
MSI FX5950 Ultra-VTD256 Reference card NVIDIA GeForce FX 5950 Ultra









MSI FX5700 Ultra-TD128 Reference card NVIDIA GeForceFX 5700 Ultra






The PCB design looks like the reference one, though the card is red (traditionally for MSI) and integrates proprietary coolers. 

MSI FX5950 Ultra-VTD256
Yet the FX 5900 based card from MSI tested in summer had three unique copper coolers.

The first one consists of a hemispherical heatsink with a powerful fan in the center. By the shape of the step-like sink you can see what part of it cools the GPU and what cools the memory.

The second device is the symmetrically located heatsink with the cut-out center. It cools the memory chips located underneath. 

The third cooler is located underneath right under the GPU and also consists of a heatsink and a fan. It's smaller than the first one, but it's also very powerful. This third cooler may not let you install such cards into mainboards which have the north bridge with its own sink and a fan placed near the AGP slot. This problem was already discussed in the MSI FX5900 review. That is why MSI doesn't use here a cooler like the first one as such cards would be incompatible with a much greater number of mainboards. The NB sink fins closest to the AGP slot on our test PC are turned aside so that such cards can be inserted. 

















 
MSI FX5700 Ultra-TD128
This card has a simpler roundish copper cooler similar to that we saw on the back of the other card. It's just a bit bigger. The DDR-2 memory modules have only sinks above though they get very warm; however, they are also copper and look nice.



 

The MSI FX5950 Ultra-VTD256 video card houses a big chip, or rather the GPU in a big case with a metallic cover above:




The chip is produced on the 37th week 2003, i.e. in November. 

The MSI FX5950 Ultra-VTD256 card is equipped with external Philips 7108 TV codec with the Video-In support. The card has the VIVO support indeed, though the TV-out is realized right in the GeForce FX5950. The MSI FX5700 Ultra-TD128 provides space for such processor.




I really like beautiful things, and video cards are no exception. Look at this product: the card cheaper than $200 (or it will be cheaper very soon) looks nice in operation and better than many High-End cards with carelessly attached iron stuff instead of heatsinks.




The sink is very narrow, and the first PCI slot is not locked.




The cooler on the FX 5950 Ultra unfortunately locks this slot.

Package contents.
 

MSI FX5950 Ultra-VTD256 
The accessory pack is luxurious! Here you can find 11 (!) software CDs (on the right pic) with various programs and games, not to mention CDs with drivers, utilities and Video-In software. Also there is S-Video-to-RCA and DVI-to-d-Sub adapters, a VIVO extension cord, a user guide, a notebook from MSI and a sticker for a PC case.





MSI FX5700 Ultra-TD128
Compared to the previous package this one lacks for the VIVO software (which is not needed), notebook and sticker.





Here are the boxes the cards ship in:
 

MSI FX5950 Ultra-VTD256 
The package is excellent! This big box with a bright cover displays all necessary information and has a handle. If you throw back the top you will see the card through a transparent window.





MSI FX5700 Ultra-TD128
This is a smaller variation of the previous box: it lacks for a handle and cover. The style is the same.



 
 

Testbed and drivers

Testbed: 

  • 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 v52.16 & 53.03.

VSync off, S3TC off in applications. 

Let's see how the FX5950 Ultra card performs in the safe overclocking mode which can be enabled in the drivers with the Auto-Detect in the toolbar. The maximum clock speeds were 516/1033 MHz (this mode almost always sets synchronous clock speeds for the chip and memory). Below you can see how the card performed at these clock rates without additional cooling in the closed PC case in this long-run test:




The  FX 5700 Ultra card behaves pretty strangely with the driver 53.03. If the card overheats a little bit (even with the Auto-Detect) the clock speeds get reduced down to 2D default values - 300/900 MHz without a chance to get back to the 3D level - 475/900 MHz. The driver doesn't help solve it: it must be reinstalled. 

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 cards showed excellent quality at the following resolutions and clock speeds: 

MSI FX5950 Ultra-VTD256  1600x1200x85Hz, 1280x1024x120Hz, 1024x768x120Hz
MSI FX5700 Ultra-TD128 1600x1200x85Hz, 1280x1024x120Hz, 1024x768x120Hz

Test results: performance

Test application:

  • 3DMark03 v.340 (FutureMark) - Direct3D (DirectX 7,8.1,9.0), multitexturing.

I do not compare quality of the cards because there are no visual artifacts. It's not worth to compare it bit-by-bit: in the earlier 3DMark03 tests we saw that there's some difference between ATI and NVIDIA cards because of different approaches and procedures. But there are no artifacts, reduced detailing etc! Optimizations and tricks are certainly used, and shaders do not work as the developers intended them to do, but... We are well aware of NVIDIA's standpoint about it, and it's useless to argue! We have to accept it as is whether we like it or not.
 

Game1
















FX 5950 Ultra:

No AA, no anisotropy: the FX5950 has a bit better scores, but this is the DX7 benchmark with complex multitexturing, where the trumps belong to NVIDIA.

AA enabled: the advantage grows up.

Anisotropy enabled: the situation is tougher for the 5950, and it brings parity

AA and anisotropy enabled: the FX5950 marginally wins

52.16 vs. 53.03: no difference

3.9 vs. 3.10: no difference

FX 5700 Ultra:

No AA, no anisotropy: the FX5700U leads the pack.

AA enabled: the slow memory of the R9600XT has a very negative effect on its performance which awfully falls down in 1600x1200.

Anisotropy enabled: the 5700U wins in this round

AA and anisotropy enabled: the same

52.16 vs. 53.03: no difference

3.9 vs. 3.10: no difference
 

Game2
















FX 5950 Ultra:

No AA, no anisotropy: the 5950U comes out a leader (but only on the driver 53.03!)

AA enabled: it wins as well (it also leads on the driver 52.16)

Anisotropy enabled: the 5950 wins here (again only with the driver v53.03)

AA and anisotropy enabled: NVIDIA wins again

52.16 vs. 53.03: the driver 53.03 returned NVIDIA's performance back to their level, and now we are waiting for the test developers to make another patch...

3.9 vs. 3.10: no difference! Take it into account when hearing rumors about tricks in the driver 3.10.

FX 5700 Ultra:

The behavior of the pair of FX5700U and R9600XT is identical to the above one. The 5700U wins here, and the driver 3.10 has no tricks. 
 

Game3
















FX 5950 Ultra:

The picture looks similar: the 5950 wins this game. the driver 53.03 lifts up its speed, and it's time for the developers of 3DMark03 to take another step. But I'm sure a new driver will bring it back again.. Where is a way-out? - There's none.

FX 5700 Ultra:

Just the same. 
 

Game4
















FX 5950 Ultra:

No AA, no anisotropy: the card goes on a par with the 9800XT (the driver 52.16 helped it gain a good advantage!)

AA enabled: while the driver 53.03 made the 5950 a good winner, the driver 52.16 makes it a good loser

Anisotropy enabled: the 5950U lost the battle

AA and anisotropy enabled: the driver 53.03 brings equal scores (with the driver 52.16 the game was lost)

52.16 vs. 53.03: the optimizations are back, the NVIDIA cards gained some performance.

3.9 vs. 3.10: no difference.

FX 5700 Ultra:

No AA, no anisotropy: the card loses in spite of all attempts of the driver 53.03 make the 5700U a winner.

AA enabled: here this driver saves its ward

Anisotropy enabled: the defeat again!

AA and anisotropy enabled: parity on the driver 53.03, and victory on the driver 52.16

52.16 vs. 53.03: the evident optimizations do not let the developers of 3DMark03, as well as ATI, sleep well :-) ).

3.9 vs. 3.10: no difference. 
 

MARKS







FX 5950 Ultra:

The FX 5950 Ultra beats the competitor on the driver 53.03. 

52.16 vs. 53.03: 18% lost after the patch 3.40 are brought back by the new driver.

3.9 vs. 3.10: the rumors that the 3.10 uses tricks are found to be wrong. But taking into account NVIDIA's optimizations ATI has a right for them to. However, they mentioned in forums that they've already got a compiler like that of NVIDIA.

FX 5700 Ultra:

The driver 53.03 helps the card outdo the RADEON 9600 XT.

52.16 vs. 53.03 and 3.9 vs. 3.10: the same situation. 
 

Vertex Shaders







FX 5950 Ultra:

The card catches up with the 9800XT, though it's mostly due to the optimizations in the driver 53.03.

52.16 vs. 53.03: the performance is lifted up by 30%.

3.9 vs. 3.10: no difference

FX 5700 Ultra:

Here's the promised difference between the 5700 and 5600! Look at the performance of the 5950 and 5700U! The cards have the same number of vertex pipelines and equal clock rates of 475 MHz... Hence the parity. It lets the card easily beat the R9600XT.

52.16 vs. 53.03: the optimizations increase the performance by a quarter.

3.9 vs. 3.10: no comments. 
 

Pixel Shaders







FX 5950 Ultra:

The driver 53.03 cuts off the performance by 20-25%, though earlier the cards had almost equal scores even with the patch 340. Did they remove the optimizations? Did they bring back the shader correlation we saw earlier in some tests? Strange.

3.9 vs. 3.10: nothing.

FX 5700 Ultra:

The picture is the same; the defeat has worsened.

3.9 vs. 3.10: no comments. 

Conclusion

  1. MSI FX5950 Ultra-VTD256 is a pleasant High-End solution. If the price is higher than for the RADEON 9800 XT (or even equal), users would prefer the latter as it has some advantages. But remember that only ASUSTEK has a R9800 XT based card that supports VIVO, and this card has the highest price for a High-End solution today. This is a strong point of MSI's product. Plus, the accessory pack is abundant. The 3D enthusiasts would prefer the 9800  because of the higher shader speed, but there are few games where the 5950Ultra is not efficient enough compared to the 9800. In short, the price will be a determining factor. 

  2.  
  3. MSI FX5700 Ultra-TD128 - on the one hand, this is a beautiful product with a nice package. On the other hand, its shader speed is noticeably lower (not just only in 3DMark). The advantage of the 5700U is its fast memory which can help the card beat its competitor in the AA modes in shading tests. It can also reach a good performance level in games using a lot of vertex shaders or complex polygon graphics. In short, if the card is cheaper than the RADEON 9600 XT, it will be in demand.

Regarding the 3DMark03, I must say that it doesn't make sense to compare the cards' quality because optimizations NVIDIA and ATI make are unnoticeable. Besides, we don't have a standard of quality: it's actually a matter s taste whether a leaf is turned to the right or left.

NVIDIA and 3DMark03 play an endless game. The patch 340 cut the speed of all GeForce FX GPUs, and the driver 53.03 brought it back to its previous level. The driver is WHQL certified, and FutureMark can't forbid them using these results. Should we expect the patch 350? What's next? The testlabs' work is going to become useless, right?

NVIDIA doesn't keep in secret their optimizations. You can blame them, buy only RADEONs, protest, keep silence or favor them. We said that it's good to use optimizations in games but not in benchmarks because the comparison becomes unequal. But that won't change anything! Our previous protests against the tricks are unfortunately unsupported by anyone :-(

Who will be the first to lose their authority: the trick makers or the developers of 3DMark03? It's hard to say. But we can see that it's impossible to trust 3DMark in such situation. However, there are no alternatives yet. 

As to ATI's drivers, the versions 3.9 and 3.10 have no difference. The rumors that the v3.10 got optimizations are wrong.

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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