Since Nvidia unleashed the world's first GPU (graphic processing unit) with the release of the Nvidia Geforce 256 card, other card manufacturers have stuggled to retain marketshare. Long-time gaming supremos 3DFX was sold last year to Nvidia after the latest Voodoo cards paled in comparison to the Geforce 2 chipset. Even ATI's Radeon range has struggled against the high performing, low cost Geforce 2MX and Geforce 2 Pro cards. After considerable success with the Geforce 2 cards; in the guise of 2MX, 2MX-200, 2MX-400, GTS 32, GTS 64, Pro and Ultra models, Nvidia release their new chipset, Geforce 3. One problem with the Geforce 2 chipset was limited bandwidth and a reliance on brute force rather than intelligent rendering. As an example, Kyro II and Radeon cards didn't suffer from "overdraw" like the Geforce 2. Overdraw is basically when the card draws all objects in a scene, even objects that cannot be seen from the viewpoint of the user (i.e. the back of a box). This is a huge waste of processing power, and something Nvidia tackled with their next chipset, the GF3. They also introduced "lightspeed memory management" to better allocate card resources and improve 3D performance. Nvidia released the Geforce 3 chipset to great acclaim, once again putting them at the top of graphics card performance. ATI then released details of their new Radeon cards, with the 8500 threatening to topple Nvidia's Geforce 3. Nvidia responsed by relaunching the Geforce 3 cards in two new flavours: Geforce 3 Titanium - 200 Geforce 3 Titanium - 500 They also relaunched the discontinued Geforce 2 Ultra as the Geforce 2 Titanium in order to have a low-mid range card. The 2 Ti sells for around £130, the 3 Ti-200 for £150-190 and the 3 Ti-500 for £300 upwards. The difference between Ti-200 and Ti-500 is in the Ns (nanosecond) speed of memory, bandwidth, core clock speed
, memory clock speed and 8 layer printed circuit board. The Ti-200 is effectively a "crippled" Ti-500, similar to what Nvidia did with the older Geforce 2Mx, which was a "crippled" GTS. This way they can manufacture the same chip, but alter clock speeds to hit different pricepoints. For high-end gaming machines, you want the Ti-500. The Ti-200 is capable, but has considerably less power. The original Geforce 3 is still available, and has more power than the Ti-200, plus the opportunity to "overclock" the core / memory clocks to similar levels of the Ti-500. There has been some confusion over this "Ti" relabelling, with many gamers confused as to which Direct X and Open Gl versions the new card supports. Nvidia didn't help this confusion, by releasing new Detonator XP drivers which introduced a host of new lighting, pixel and vertex shading features. They claimed these features were part of the new GF3 Ti range, but in truth, anyone with an original GF3 could access these features by installing the Detonator XP drivers. Just so you know, the Det XP driver and any GF3 based card will support Direct X 8.1 and Open GL 1.3, despite Ati claiming their Radeon 8500 is the only card to support both these standards. Phew..well we got all that out of the way, so what about this ASUS card? Why did I go for ASUS over other brands? The internet is great for researching new computer components, and I found a whole load of detailed tech info on the GF3 Ti-500 cards. One site had even compared 18 different Ti-500's, which is very useful when faced by shelves of similar product from different companies. All these cards share the same chipset, but their motherboard design, layout, extra features and bundled software greatly varies. This explains the range in prices, my ASUS "pure" card carried a retail price of £319 (I got it for £280 cash) whereas the ASUS "Deluxe" mod
el retails at £360-380 with 3D glasses and all that junk. I also looked at Leadtek,Creative, Hercules and other Ti-500 cards. I came to the conclusion that all I wanted was a bare card, hell I didn't even need drivers (I already had Detonator XP drivers from my Geforce 2 Ultra card). The ASUS fitted the bill perfectly, being a simple package of card, drivers, some free games and a manual. Most of the other Ti-500's were in bundles with music software, DVI sockets, twin-head monitor sockets, etc. If you need a DVI socket then get the ASUS Deluxe, if you just want a blindingly fast card with no frills, get the ASUS Pure model. Installation was p*ss easy, drivers included ASUS's hardware doctor and tweaking facility. Free games include Shiny's "Messiah", "Sacrifice" and "Star Trek New Worlds". I was happy to get Messiah as I've wanted to play it for a while but didn't want to pay out for it. The other two games are neither here nor there, but free stuff is always good... In terms of performance, the Ti-500 blows the competition out the water. Much praise has heaped on the Radeon 8500, but the Ti-500 wins back the crown for Nvidia. £280 was alot of cash to spend, especially when I already had a fast Geforce 2 Ultra. But the AA (anti-aliasing) mode on the 2 Ultra wasn't too hot, and performance was starting to suffer on new games like Medal of Honour : Allied Assault. I actually got missold a Geforce 3 before I got my Ti-500 (they claimed the GF3 was a Ti-500) so I had the chance to sample both cards and see what kind of performance difference there was. I use 3D Mark 2001 to test new components, it's a great benchmarking programme written by the developers of the recent "Max Payne" game. 3D Mark 2001 has some Geforce 3 specific tests, a long demo and some extra testing features. The results are shown below. ---------------------
------------------------ GEFORCE HIGH-END GRAPHICS CARD COMPARISON 3D MARK 2001 1024 x 768 x 32 bit x 24 bit Z x NO FSAA GEFORCE 2 ULTRA > 4509 GEFORCE 3 > 5574 GEFORCE 3 O’C > 6006 GEFORCE 3 TI-500> 6777 1280 x 1024 x 32 bit x 24 bit Z x 3 sample FSAA GEFORCE 2 ULTRA > 1973 GEFORCE 3 > 2436 GEFORCE 3 O’C > 2781 GEFORCE 3 TI-500> 3260 Note: GF3 O’C (overclocked) to 240mhz core / 509mhz memory --------------------------------------------- You can see a major jump in performance between the Geforce 2 Ultra and the GF3 cards. This is even more noticeable between the GF2 Ultra and GF3 Ti-500, something like a 66.5% increase in 3D performance according to my results. Switching on FSAA is where you notice the real difference, as full-screen anti-aliasing has a big impact on performance of any card. The GF3 cards are designed to use FSAA whilst maintaining a decent frame-rate. It's interesting that the GF3, even when overclocked to the same core/memory speeds as the GF3 Ti-500, is slower. This is due to the bandwidth difference (GF3 is 7.2gb/sec and GF3 Ti-500 is 8.0 gb/sec), faster memory fitted to the Ti-500 and other revisions. In games, the performance difference is very noticeable. In the past 6 months, I've upgraded all the parts of my PC. This new Ti-500 is the first real, noticeable difference to my PC within 3D games. Even changing my processor from Athlon 900mhz to Athlon 1.2ghz didn't seem to make much difference, except for the speed that Windows 98Se starts up and shuts down. With the Ti-500 card, you can play games at 1280x1024 or 1600x1200 resolutions with FSAA and all detail on, and you still hit 30-50 frames per second. Wow! In Quake III, I'm hitting 175 frames per second at 1024x768x32 bit resolution on low detail settings. Overall, I'm happy with the new card. ASUS has a good
reputation in the motherboard and graphic card markets, and their Pure model is a lower-cost alternative to many Ti-500's. It is very difficult to find Ti-500 cards at the moment, because there is a Geforce 4 out next month, and the performance between the GF 3 Ti-500 and GF4 may be a little bit too close to warranty the price difference. So they withdraw the GF3 Ti-500, when the GF4 comes out it will be much faster than the commonly available GF3 Ti-200. Sneaky really! Prices for the GF4 are expected to be around £500 for stonking 128mb version, and around £400 for a 64mb version. If you shop around, you can get this ASUS Ti-500 for the same price (£280) that many people are still selling GF3 original cards for. It is that bit faster than the original GF3, so well worth getting hold of. Games are being released this year that make the most of the GF3 chipset, such as Medal of Honour : Allied Assault, Return to Castle Wolfenstein, Unreal 2 and Duke Nukem Forever. But even if you only want to play old games, you can turn the resolution up to max, enable all effects, and never get a hint of frame-rate drop or polygon tearing. Lovely! DVD playback is flawless and other multimedia playback is problem-free. Probably the coolest thing is owning a card with 78 Gigaflops of processing power, which is a similar amount of power to those £50,000 Silicon Graphics workstations from 1999. I've actually seen the "Final Fantasy" movie being rendered in real-time on a Geforce 3 card, which gives you a real world indication of how much power it really has...