The ULTIMATE Video Card Guide
Some of the most dramatic speed
improvements in recent years have come in the video card arena. Just two years
ago, running a first-person shooter at 1600x1200 would make for more of a slide
show than a game on any video card of the day, and even cards a year old have
trouble getting remotely playable framerates at that resolution.
Yet today's most powerful video boards can run
modern games at such resolutions at playable framerates; cards based on nVidia's
GeForce2 GTS chipset can turn in framerates of over 60 frames per second at
1600x1200 at Normal quality settings, which is more than adequate by most
standards. But now even video cards may start suffering from the same memory
speed problems that processors have endured for many years. Not only has the
speed of the video chips themselves increased, but the demands of games and
those that play them have increased as well. New games demand more of video
cards and their memory, needing more and bigger textures, more triangles, and
various other new means of hardware acceleration to look good and still run at
Also, fewer and fewer gamers are willing to
content themselves with lower resolutions like 640x480 and 800x600. 1024x768 now
seems to be the standard resolution, and new video cards can even deliver
playable, though not spectacular, 45+ FPS framerates at 1280x1024 with 32-bit
color. Still, the current Holy Grail of display resolutions is 1600x1200 with
32-bit color, and even the most advanced video cards can't deliver good
framerates at that setting in most games. Some can offer framerates of over 30
frames per second, and while that's playable, it's not very smooth.
Before recently, lack of video chip power prevented
faster framerates, but on the newest cards and probably on future cards, memory
speed is the performance bottleneck. It doesn't matter how fast the video chip
itself is if the memory isn't fast enough to feed it all the textures and
triangle information it needs. Workarounds like texture compression help, but
they aren't enough.
This problem is most evident with GeForce2 GTS
cards. Although it has a standard core speed of 200MHz compared to the 120MHz
core of the older GeForce 256, it's not all that much faster. Of course, it
would be ignorant to assume that simply because the core frequency increased by
66% that overall performance would increase by 66%, since the core frequency
alone isn't all that matters.
Not only has the core frequency been increased, but
the GeForce2 GTS has several new hardware features the GeForce 256 lacks, so
these should provide an additional speed boost over the older GeForce 256. But
have a look at one of the many GeForce2 GTS card reviews and compare the new
chip's framerates to the GeForce 256's. You'll see that, while they are
significantly higher in most cases, they aren't anywhere near 66% higher. That's
because the memory of the GeForce2 GTS isn't much faster than that on the
GeForce 256, or at least the DDR GeForce 256 cards. Most GeForce2 GTS cards have
166MHz DDR memory, which is the practical equivalent of 333MHz standard memory.
GeForce 256 DDR cards use 150MHz DDR memory, equivalent to 300MHz standard.
There are also the cheaper GeForce 256 SDR boards, which use 166MHz SDR memory,
and the speed differential between these and the DDR-based boards at high
resolutions is plain.