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ULTIMATE Video Card Guide
New games demand more of video cards and their memory; bigger textures, more triangles, and various other new means of hardware acceleration to look good and still run at playable speeds.
Filed under: Video Cards Published:  Author: 
External Mfg. Website: Various Jul 18 2000   D. Dee  
Home > Reviews > Video Cards > Various

NVidia's chips

NVidia's chips aren't the only ones suffering from lack of memory throughput, although theirs feel its sting most acutely. Several other PC hardware sites have demonstrated that while overclocking the core of the GeForce2 GTS results in modest speed improvements, overclocking the memory helps much more. Sadly, it's not easy to overcome the limitation of memory speed. The problem is different from that of main system RAM in several ways. First, the memory chips are integrated onto the video card, and the physical distance between the chips and the video chip is rather short. (The video chip itself contains the hardware which controls memory, so it doesn't need a separate chipset like processors do.)

This means that they don't have to deal with bulky memory modules, which cost more to fabricate and integrate because of the extra PCB and connection mechanisms (e.g. DIMM slots). Each chipset can also have basically any type of memory and datapath width that's practical, since compatibility across multiple platforms isn't an issue. For example, the GeForce2 GTS uses DDR memory on a 128-bit datapath, while 3dfx's Voodoo5 5500 uses two channels of 128-bit SDR memory, one per video chip. This allows the memory subsystem of video cards to be less expensive to implement than main memory, but it also needs much faster memory, so that offsets the reduced fabrication costs quite a bit. It's still expensive to have really fast memory with wide datapaths, but at least it's easier to do on video cards than with main system RAM. Still, increasing bandwidth is not easy, and there are basically four ways to do it: increase the frequency of the memory, use wider datapaths, use multiple channels of memory (or multiple video chips, each with its own memory), and use other techniques that increase throughput by other means (like DDR).

Each of these methods has its drawbacks. High-frequency memory is very expensive and hard to find in quantity. Wider datapaths mean high pin counts and more complicated controller circuitry, which add to design complexity and fabrication costs, thus increasing the overall cost substantially. Using multiple channels seems to be easier than using wider datapaths, but it still adds considerably to the complexity of the design. New types of memory tend to be rare (and thus expensive) for a while, simply because they initially have small support bases and few, if any, chips or chipsets can support them.
I should note here that cost is a big concern, more so these days than it used to be. While today's video cards are much faster than those of last year, the newest ones are also much more expensive than their year-old counterparts were when they debuted.

I remember paying $211 for my brand-new Diamond Viper V770 Ultra, a TNT2 Ultra board with 32 megabytes of 183MHz SDR memory, only last spring. Upon its release, the TNT2 Ultra was arguably the most powerful desktop video chipset available. These days, the biggest contenders are GeForce2 GTS cards with 32 and 64 megabytes of DDR memory and Voodoo5 5500 cards with 64 megabytes of SDR memory. These cost upwards of $250, and the more feature-laden GeForce2 GTS cards can be well over $300. Today's most powerful cards, based on the GeForce2 GTS and carrying 64 megabytes memory, start at about $330 for the cards themselves, while some full retail boxes can be over $400. While $211 might not seem like too much to pay for one of the best video cards around, Gamer Joe can't afford to dump $400+ on a new video card, and even $300 is pretty steep for many. But increased performance demands faster and/or more components, thus increasing cost and thus retail prices.

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Contents of Article: Various
 Pg 1.  ULTIMATE Video Card Guide
 Pg 2.  — NVidia's chips
 Pg 3.  Diverging Paths
 Pg 4.  Present and future hardware features
 Pg 5.  More present and future hardware features
 Pg 6.  Interfaces
 Pg 7.  Keeping up
 Pg 9.  More players

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