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Sub-$100 3Digest: The End of 2003

December 1, 2003



CONTENTS

  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: Unreal Tournament 2003
  7. Test results: Unreal II: The Awakening
  8. Test results: RightMark 3D
  9. Test results: HALO: Combat Evolved
  10. Test results: Splinter Cell
  11. Conclusion

The year 2003 is ending and it's time to sum up the events... We touched upon it in our 3Digest as well, and today we are just to draw a bottom line.

Unfortunately, the sub-$100 sector covers a lot of various cards: those initially targeted at the low-end market and those which jumped from the middle-end sector. The prices vary a lot! There are GeForce2 MXs, first RADEON releases, and GeForce4 MXs with 64bit buses standing next to them... The same mishmash is in the upper subsector of $60 to $80.

So, what's better? How do these relatively old accelerators perform in modern games, especially at the maximum quality settings? You can check our 3Digests published these years to see how they performed in older games. As to the newer games, it's quite complicated to keep all the cards (both old and new) in our 3Digest. That is why it often becomes a problem to compare old models with modern ones targeted at the low-end sector.

We have decided to revive such reviews covering the value video cards. Today we will test 22 cards priced from $15 to $100. To see whether a certain accelerator justifies its price the diagrams also indicate the prices for the end of November 2003.

Cards

1. NVIDIA GeForce2 MX 200
Gigabyte GeForce2 MX200 32MB SDR 64bit, 175/166 MHz


2. NVIDIA GeForce2 MX 400
NVIDIA GeForce2 MX 32MB SDR 128bit reference card, 200/183 MHz


3. NVIDIA GeForce2 Pro
Inno3D Tornado GeForce2 Pro 64MB DDR 128bit, 200/400 MHz


4. NVIDIA GeForce4 MX440
eVGA e-GeForce4 MX440 64MB DDR 128bit, 270/400 MHz


5. NVIDIA GeForce4 MX440SE
eVGA e-GeForce4 MX440 64MB DDR 128bit, downclocked to 250/200 MHz


6. NVIDIA GeForce4 MX440-8x
NVIDIA GeForce4 MX440-8x 64MB DDR 128bit reference card, 275/512 MHz


7. NVIDIA GeForce3 Ti 200
ABIT Siluro GF3 Ti200 64MB DDR 128bit, 175/400 MHz


8. NVIDIA GeForce4 Ti 4200 64MB
Gainward Powerpack GeForce4 Ultra/600 64MB DDR 128bit, downclocked to 250/400 MHz


9. NVIDIA GeForce FX 5200 64bit
ASUS V9520 Magic 128MB DDR 64bit, 250/333 MHz


10. NVIDIA GeForce FX 5200 128bit
ASUS V9520 128MB DDR 128bit, 250/400 MHz


11. NVIDIA GeForce FX 5200 Ultra 128bit
MSI FX5200U 128MB DDR 128bit, 325/650 MHz


12. NVIDIA GeForce FX 5600 XT 64bit
Chaintech GeForce FX 5600 XT 128MB DDR 64bit, 235/400 MHz


13. NVIDIA GeForce FX 5600 XT 128bit
Chaintech GeForce FX 5600 XT 256MB DDR 128bit, 235/400 MHz


14. ATI RADEON 7200 128bit 64MB
ATI RADEON 64MB DDR 128bit, 183/366 MHz


15. ATI RADEON 7500LE 128bit 64MB
Manli RADEON 7500LE 64MB DDR 128bit, 260/380 MHz


16. ATI RADEON 9000 PRO 128bit 64MB
TYAN Tachyon G9000PRO 64MB DDR 128bit, 275/550 MHz


17. ATI RADEON 8500LE (9100) 128bit 64MB
SuperGrace RADEON 8500LE 64MB DDR 128bit, 250/460 MHz


18. ATI RADEON 8500LE (9100) 128bit 128MB
Joytech Apollo Monster II RADEON 8500LE 128MB DDR 128bit, 250/500 MHz


19. ATI RADEON 9200SE 64bit 128MB
PowerColor RADEON 9200SE 128MB DDR 64bit, 200/333 MHz


20. ATI RADEON 9200 64bit 64MB
Sapphire RADEON 9200 64MB DDR 64bit, 250/400 MHz


21. ATI RADEON 9200 128bit 128MB
Gigabyte RADEON 9200 128MB DDR 128bit, 250/400 MHz


22. ATI RADEON 9600SE 64bit 128MB
ASUS A9600SE 128MB DDR 64bit, 325/400 MHz



 
 
 

However, it's still doubtful whether two of them actually belong to this sector: GeForce FX 5200 Ultra (which is still hard to find for below 100), and the GeForce FX 5600XT 128bit which must be definitely cheaper than $100 in a month.

Quality of all the cards is described in our 3Digest

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; ATI v6.396 (CATALYST 3.9).

VSync off, S3TC off in applications. 

All tests were carried out at 800x600@32bit color. It's made for weak cards not able to perform at 1024x768 at all. In some benchmarks the performance wasn't good at all even at 800x600!

The weak cards perform very poorly in modern games, that is why I beg you not to cry that it's nonsense to test the GeForce2 MX on the Pentium4 3200 MHz as the processor and platform do not make a strong effect there. 

Test results: Performance

Test applications: 

  • Return to Castle Wolfenstein (MultiPlayer) (id Software/Activision) - OpenGL, multitexturing, ixbt0703-demo, test settings - maximum, S3TC OFF, the configurations are available here

  •  
  • Serious Sam: The Second Encounter v.1.07 (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: detail level - High, texture detail level - #4, S3TC OFF, curve smoothness greatly increased by r_subdivisions "1" and r_lodCurveError "30000" (r_lodCurveError is 250 by default!), the configurations are available here

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

  •  
  • 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 game scenes) - DirectX 8.1, Dot3, cube texturing, shadow buffers, vertex and pixel shaders (1.1, 1.4).

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

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

  •  

If you need demo benchmarks please email me.

Attention! There's a misprint on the diagrams: you should read "ATI RADEON 9200 128MB DDR 128bit" instead of "ATI RADEON 9200 64MB DDR 128bit"

Quake3 Arena

 

 





 

Serious Sam: The Second Encounter

 

 





 

Return to Castle Wolfenstein (Multiplayer)

 

 





 

Unreal Tournament 2003

 

 





 

Unreal II: The Awakening

 

 





 

RightMark 3D

 

 





 The video cards that do not support shaders were not tested.
 
 

HALO: Combat Evolved

 

 





 Originally, all the cards were tested in this game as it can do without shaders, but the quality was so awful so I removed scores of those cards that did not support pixel shaders.
 
 

Splinter Cell

 

 





 The situation is similar to the one above.

Conclusion

We have made up a list of benchmarks for every price sector that shows top three cards.

US$90-100:

  • Quake3 Arena
    1. GeForce4 Ti 4200
    2. GeForce FX 5200 Ultra
    3. RADEON 9600SE

  • Serious Sam: The Second Encounter
    1. GeForce4 Ti 4200
    2. GeForce FX 5200 Ultra
    3. GeForce FX 5600XT 128bit

  • Return to Castle Wolfenstein (Multiplayer)
    1. GeForce4 Ti 4200
    2. GeForce FX 5200 Ultra
    3. GeForce FX 5600XT 128bit

  • Unreal Tournament 2003
    1. GeForce4 Ti 4200
    2. GeForce FX 5200 Ultra
    3. GeForce FX 5600XT 128bit

  • Unreal II: The Awakening
    1. GeForce4 Ti 4200
    2. GeForce FX 5200 Ultra
    3. GeForce FX 5600XT 128bit

  • RightMark 3D
    1. GeForce FX 5200 Ultra
    2. GeForce4 Ti 4200
    3. GeForce FX 5600XT 128bit

  • HALO: Combat Evolved
    1. GeForce4 Ti 4200
    2. GeForce FX 5200 Ultra
    3. GeForce FX 5600XT 128bit

  • Splinter Cell
    1. GeForce4 Ti 4200
    2. GeForce FX 5200 Ultra
    3. GeForce FX 5600XT 128bit

The GeForce4 Ti 4200 is a leader here, with the GeForce FX 5200 Ultra following it. If the former disappears from the market and the production of the latter is stopped, the top position will be occupied by GeForce FX 5600XT 128bit (provided that it costs not higher than US$100).

In all other respects (multimonitor support etc.) the cards look equal. The GeForce4 Ti 4200 shows the best summary scores.

US$70-90:

  • Quake3 Arena
    1. RADEON 9100 128MB
    2. RADEON 9000 PRO
    3. RADEON 9200 128bit

  • Serious Sam: The Second Encounter
    1. RADEON 9100 128MB / RADEON 9000 PRO
    2. RADEON 9200 128bit
    3. GeForce3 Ti 200

  • Return to Castle Wolfenstein (Multiplayer)
    1. RADEON 9000 PRO
    2. RADEON 9200 128bit
    3. RADEON 9200 128bit

  • Unreal Tournament 2003
    1. RADEON 9100 128MB
    2. RADEON 9000 PRO
    3. GeForce3 Ti 200

  • Unreal II: The Awakening
    1. RADEON 9100 128MB
    2. RADEON 9000 PRO
    3. RADEON 9200 128bit

  • RightMark 3D
    1. GeForce FX 5600XT 64bit
    2. RADEON 9100 128MB
    3. RADEON 9000 PRO / GeForce3 Ti 200

  • HALO: Combat Evolved
    1. RADEON 9100 128MB
    2. RADEON 9000 PRO / GeForce3 Ti 200
    3. RADEON 9200 128bit / GeForce FX 5600XT 64bit

  • Splinter Cell
    1. RADEON 9100 128MB
    2. RADEON 9000 PRO / GeForce3 Ti 200
    3. RADEON 9200 128bit / GeForce FX 5600XT 64bit

The RADEON 9100 128MB and RADEON 9000 PRO turn out to be the leaders. But these cards as well as the GeForce3 are not produced anymore, and when they disappear from the stocks, RADEON 9200 128bit will become the leader. Although the GeForce FX 5600XT 64bit supports DX9, it's still an outsider (shaders v2.0 are too slow in the FX, and there are few games that support them).

As to the other traits, it's only the RADEON 9000/9200 (not the 9100) and GeForce FX 5600XT that support multimonitor configurations. In general, the RADEON 9200 128bit has the best score here.

US$50-65:

  • Quake3 Arena
    1. GeForce4 MX440-8x
    2. GeForce FX 5200 128bit
    3. RADEON 8500LE 64MB

  • Serious Sam: The Second Encounter
    1. RADEON 8500LE 64MB
    2. GeForce4 MX440-8x / GeForce FX 5200 128bit
    3. RADEON 9200 64bit

  • Return to Castle Wolfenstein (Multiplayer)
    1. RADEON 8500LE 64MB
    2. GeForce4 MX440-8x
    3. GeForce FX 5200 128bit

  • Unreal Tournament 2003
    1. RADEON 8500LE 64MB
    2. GeForce4 MX440-8x / GeForce FX 5200 128bit
    3. RADEON 9200 64bit / GeForce FX 5200 64bit

  • Unreal II: The Awakening
    1. RADEON 8500LE 64MB
    2. GeForce4 MX440-8x / GeForce FX 5200 128bit
    3. RADEON 9200 64bit / GeForce FX 5200 64bit

  • RightMark 3D
    1. GeForce FX 5200 128bit
    2. GeForce FX 5200 64bit
    3. RADEON 9200 64bit

  • HALO: Combat Evolved
    1. RADEON 8500LE 64MB / GeForce FX 5200 128bit
    2. GeForce FX 5200 64bit
    3. RADEON 9200 64bit 

  • Splinter Cell
    1. GeForce FX 5200 128bit
    2. RADEON 8500LE 64MB
    3. GeForce FX 5200 64bit

The best runners are RADEON 8500LE 64MB (RADEON 9100) and GeForce FX 5200 128bit. But the former is not produced anymore and might soon disappear from the retail market. That is why the FX 5200 128bit can be considered a leader. Besides, if you compare its price with that of FX 5600XT 64bit (an upper sector outsider), the GeForce FX 5200 128bit will look more beneficial than 5600XT 64bit.

Taking into account the multimonitor (all the latest RADEON 8500/9100 do not have the second RAMDAC) and DX9 support, the GeForce FX 5200 128bit comes out a leader.

US$30-45:

  • Quake3 Arena
    1. GeForce2 Pro 64MB
    2. GeForce4 MX440
    3. RADEON 7500LE

  • Serious Sam: The Second Encounter
    1. RADEON 7500LE / GeForce4 MX 440 / GeForce2 Pro
    2. RADEON 9200SE
    3. GeForce4 MX440SE

  • Return to Castle Wolfenstein (Multiplayer)
    1. RADEON 7500LE / GeForce4 MX 440 / GeForce2 Pro 
    2. RADEON 9200SE
    3. GeForce4 MX440SE

  • Unreal Tournament 2003
    1. RADEON 7500LE / GeForce4 MX 440
    2. GeForce2 Pro
    3. RADEON 9200SE

  • Unreal II: The Awakening
    1. GeForce4 MX 440
    2. RADEON 7500LE
    3. GeForce2 Pro / RADEON 9200SE

  • RightMark 3D
    1. RADEON 9200SE
    2. -
    3. -

  • HALO: Combat Evolved
    1. RADEON 9200SE
    2. -
    3. -

  • Splinter Cell
    1. RADEON 9200SE
    2. -
    3. -

As we can see, the oldies sold for pretty low prices today keep the lead in the competition. The RADEON 9200SE wins only because it supports multimonitor configurations and DX81.

Sub US$30:

  • Quake3 Arena
    1. RADEON 7200 64MB
    2. GeForce2 MX400
    3. GeForce2 MX200

  • Serious Sam: The Second Encounter
    1. RADEON 7200 64MB
    2. GeForce2 MX400
    3. GeForce2 MX200

  • Return to Castle Wolfenstein (Multiplayer)
    1. RADEON 7200 64MB
    2. GeForce2 MX400
    3. GeForce2 MX200

  • Unreal Tournament 2003
    1. RADEON 7200 64MB
    2. GeForce2 MX400
    3. GeForce2 MX200

  • Unreal II: The Awakening
    1. RADEON 7200 64MB
    2. GeForce2 MX400
    3. GeForce2 MX200

  • RightMark 3D
    1. -
    2. -
    3. -

  • HALO: Combat Evolved
    1. -
    2. -
    3. -

  • Splinter Cell
    1. -
    2. -
    3. -

It was clear even at the end of 2000 that the RADEON 64MB DDR (renamed from RADEON 7200) was more powerful than the GeForce2 MX. Today we proved this once again. All these cards are already taken out of production; you can find only the stock remains.

Also note that if the performance doesn't allow playback even at 800x600, you should sacrifice quality by reducing the detail level and switching off effects. It should also be considered at cards evaluation.
 
 
 

Andrey Vorobiev (anvakams@ixbt.com)

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