NVidia GEForce2 MX400 (Retail boxed version) 2D/3D AGP Graphics Card; 64MB SDRAM Sit tight & fasten your seatbelts. The technical jargon involved with a graphics card review might prove a rollercoaster of confusion. I'll try to make the ride as easy and comfortable as possible... -- Although QuakeII is my occasional anger management therapist, I'm not a hardcore gamer by any means. Most of my PC based computing is confined to Linux and utilises the assistance of development environments (think: programming), graphics suites (think: gimp/photoshop) and film/video remastering tools (state: the obvious). So, when it comes to a graphics card, why would I need one with 3D acceleration? That's only required for games right? Wrong! More and more media software (inparticular) utilises 3D hardware acceleration thesedays, so it's handy to have a 3D graphics card for even the most general tasks. Besides: the windowing systems of the future - such as E17 under Linux - allow users to interact with three dimensional objects on the desktop, so opting for 3D capable hardware is good protection for the future - assuming companies like Microsoft eventually implement similar technology. "But all graphics cards in stores thesedays are 3D accelerated aren't they?" Aaah...but that isn't really the point! Whatever amount of money you set aside for a graphics card, you'll notice a vast array of competing products. Some good; some not so good. If your budget is tight (£20-£30), there are so many bad graphics cards available, the NVidia GeForce2 MX400 shines out like a light. OH...ERM... WHAT'S A 'GRAPHICS CARD'? Just in case I'm losing less technical readers: take a look at the socket on the back of your computer which the monitor plugs into. On many computers, that is attached to a circuit board (visible only inside the PC case) which slots ea
sily into and out of the computer. That is the graphics card. If you ever isolate performance problems to your graphics card, you can easily replace it with a better model. On some computers, the graphics card is 'integrated' and not removable. However, you can usually still add a new one. IN THE BOX Aside from the NVidia GeForce2 MX400 (AGP) graphics card, you will find upon unpacking: a driver and software CD, a thorough manual (English only) and a dual composite/s-video cable for connecting to a normal television set. SETTING UP Installing the graphics card is a fairly simple process. Once you take the cover off the computer, you merely have to replace the old graphics card with the new one; unslot one, insert the other in it's place. Once the case has been reassembled, and the computer switched on, you only have to install the drivers. All versions of Windows (from Win95 upwards) will detect the new graphics card and request the CD. Linux drivers can be downloaded from NVidia's website. CAUTION: Always keep yourself grounded with an anti-static bracelet when opening up your computer case and/or adding & removing components. BIG SCREEN, TELEVISION OUTPUT Although only really useful for playing games and watching DVD movies, this NVidia graphics card can send it's output to your TV. Attempting to use software like word processors on a normal television is not good for your eyes (or your sanity). Also worth noting is that if your television doesn't have a composite or s-video socket, your VCR probably does. Even in the worst possible scenario, you can buy a SCART adapter (approx. £5) which should fit any video made during the past decade (at least). The TV signal output decoder is both PAL (European) and NTSC (American) compliant so compatibility shouldn't be a problem on either side of the pond. CLEAR & SHARP AT NUMEROUS RESOLUTIONS Thanks to the onboard 35
0MHz RAMDAC, your desktop resolution is more likely to be held back by your monitor. Before I confuse you with a term like RAMDAC, allow me to at least decrypt the acronym: Random Access Memory Digital-to-Analog Converter. In a nutshell, this converts each digitised screenful of data to analogue so that the monitor can understand and display it. The faster the RAMDAC (measured in MHz), the faster the screen will refresh at each given resolution. The RAMDAC on this card is capable of a 2048x1536 maximum screen resolution at a flicker-free 75Hz vertical refresh rate. An absolutely stunning vertical refresh rate of 240Hz is achievable at the following, more commonly used resolutions: 640x480, 800x600 and 1024x768. If you're confused by 'vertical refresh rates', feel free to check out my Hansol 710P review which goes into far more detail. YOU MENTIONED AGP EARLIER. WHAT IS AGP? AGP stands for: Accelerated Graphics Port. It is a slot on the Motherboard (inside the computer case) into which you insert AGP compatible graphics cards. In the old days, graphics cards plugged into PCI slots which (at 33MHz) could only transfer 132MB of data per second. The newer AGP protocol can (at 66MHz) transfer data at a maximum rate of 256MB of data per second. The advantages for highly intensive 3D graphics applications like games and media software are enormous. However, this NVidia card supports further improvements to the AGP protocol - and provided you have a Motherboard capable of AGP 2x or AGP 4x - data transfer rates become astonishing: from 512MB per second to 1GB per second. Other AGP technologies supported are: AGP Texturing and Fast Writes Support. Simplified: This means highly detailed textures in computer games will be dealt with by the graphics card (rather than the CPU). So the CPU can work on other tasks instead and detailed textures will be processed far more quickly and efficiently. HIGH QUALITY
DVD PLAYBACK Not only does this graphics card come bundled with Intervideo WinDVD (for watching DVD movies) but the onboard High-Definition Video Processor (HDVP) is useful for those who have problems with 'frame skipping' and lipsync. Two annoyances which all too often degrade playback on PCs. Be warned though, any computer with a processor slower than a Pentium 350MHz, is likely to have problems playing back DVDs without a dedicated DVD decoder (but that's a whole other product to review). With DirectShow, MPeG-1, and MPeG-2 (DVD) acceleration, it's not just DVDs that benefit from the NVidia hardware, but VCDs and Windows media files (asf, wmv, etc.) too. For the record, the HDVP is pretty astonishing for a graphics card in this price range. DVD playback is not only flawless on my computer, but there is no pixellation of the picture whatsoever. Lipsync simply does not occur. GAMERS GALORE Remember my earlier confession? I'm not a hardcore gamer. But I am aware of this graphics cards potential and I'll start with the bells and whistles. Considering ATI originally pitched their Rage 128 Pro graphics cards against the NVidia GeForce2 range, the latter performed a lot better and got rave reviews as a result. Unlike ATI's competing card, it has so much more to offer. For example: The Integrated Transform and Lighting delivers 2 to 4 times the triangle rate for more detailed 3D scenes by freeing up the CPU cycles normally used for this task. Transformation, lighting, setup and rendering are all produced by separate engines allowing the delivery of 25 million triangles per second and giving applications the possibility of representing 3D characters and environments with the highest degree of complexity possible. With 64MB of SDRAM, video memory can be transferred at astonishingly high speeds of 2.7GB per second. All NVidia GeForce2 cards support DirectX and OpenGL - so the rendering and ac
celeration of most games should be well supported indeed. In a nutshell: OpenGL and DirectX are high-end graphics libraries which make it easier for software developers to produce high quality 3D applications (such as games) that can be accelerated with the correct hardware (such as the NVidia GeForce2 MX400). ON THE GROUND Playing the game is the real test and Quake II (using OpenGL for rendering) achieves a frame rate of 250 fps at a resolution of 1024x768. Again, less technical readers might wish to note that 24fps is required to successfully fool the eye into thinking we are seeing continuous motion. So the result in this case is fantastic and incredibly smooth gameplay. Even DirectX based games that I consider intensive perform particularly well. Midtown Madness II for example can be a nightmare on some computers. Particularly when driving a car across complex, highly detailed areas like the city-side of the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco. Although it's not possible to get fps information whilst playing this game, it is fast and smooth and - at a resolution of 800x600 - I estimate the framerate runs at between 60-120 fps - depending upon the complexity of the scene. 3D IN 3D! One feature I'm particularly blown away by is the 3D Stereo Driver. Thesedays, gamers can buy stereo headsets and glasses to play their chosen game in virtual reality. Aside from supporting such hardware, the NVidia GeForce2 range (and more recent) allows you to use your old paper 3D glasses (one blue/one red lens) to achieve the next best thing at low cost. Most DirectX & OpenGL games are supported by the stereo driver and - although not perfect with paper 3D glasses - it is a really cool and worthwhile feature to have! CONCLUDING The interesting thing about the NVidia GeForce2 MX400 is that it's a fantastic, low budget, 2D/3D graphics card which benefits both Windows and Linux users equally well. NVi
dia are one of the few graphics card manufacturers to provide supported Linux drivers and for users of this cliquey Operating System - it is a godsend. NVidia deliver faster framerates on Linux than any other manufacturer and additional features (such as TV-Out and DVD acceleration) are all supported too. Windows users benefit from so much more besides. Good DVD playback, good 3D acceleration, stereo drivers (gimmick or not, it's cool), native OpenGL and DirectX support and NVidia constantly release new drivers - even for older cards. If you're spending approx. £25 on a graphics card then yes, you can buy quality in this price range. And the NVidia GeForce2 MX400 should do you nicely. NOTES: Performance tests above all carried out on an AMD AthlonTB 1.13GHz PC with 512MB SDRAM. REFERENCES: NVidia: http://www.nvidia.com Intervideo (WinDVD): http://www.intervideo.com Hansol 710P review: http://www.dooyoo.co.uk/computers/monitors/hansol_710p/_review/410693/
I have used several graphics cards based around these chip-sets, Althpough I am not interested in overclocking/benchmaring or other techie type pursuits this is what I have found in general use. Many manufacturers offer cards based on the MX. The brand should make little difference to performance, the only real consideration is if you need extra features, e.g. TV out. The Nvidia G-Force 2 MX now covers a wide variety of graphics cards so it is important to understand exactly what you are buying. The original Geforce MX was a cut down version of the Geforce 2. These original MX's offered excellent performance at a very reasonable price but are now hard to find. The MX range has been divided into two, the MX200 and MX400. I have seen cards advertised which do not make it clear which version they are. It is important to know this as the performance of the MX200 is decidedly lacklustre whereas the MX400 is acceptable for the price (£50-£60). All modern 3d games that I have tried on an MX400 run at decent refresh rates with reasonable detail settings. Don't worry too much about the amount of onboard memory supplied with the card. Not many applications seem to make much use of 64Mb as opposed to the 32 MB often found. It is far better to get a 32 Mb MX400 than a 64 MB MX200. In short a Geforce MX400 makes an excellent choice for a PC gamer who cannot stretch to the more expensive options, a doddle to install with Nvidias drivers that I have yet to have a compatabilty issue with. AS an upgrade from an older Voodoo or TNT based card they are well worth it. If you have got a few more pounds to spend it may be worth shopping around for a Geforce GTS card or even a Kyro II based card.