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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  
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Matrox: Matrox is all about image quality, and isn't as focused on gamers as 3dfx or nVidia. Unfortunately, it's a bit behind in the speed department, but its cards do have dual-monitor capability, which is pretty neat.

G400 MAX: This card is now a year old and far from competitive with newer cards, some of which are less expensive. It's overall not quite as fast as nVidia's old TNT2 Ultra. Its unsurpassed image quality and dual monitor capability are its only saving graces, and once the GeForce2 MX arrives, there will be little reason to get one of these cards unless image quality is your paramount concern. Price: $180-$200.

G450: Apparently this will be a glorified G400, shrunk to a .18 micron fabrication process for a smaller die and higher frequencies, with 64-bit DDR memory. It's already months behind schedule and I've heard no mention of it recently, so it might still be months away. It certainly won't be a performance champ, but it'll at least be faster than the G400 MAX for those who want the best possible image quality. Price: Probably between $200 and $300, but that's just a guess.

G800: This board will apparently have a triple pixel pipeline and, like ATI's Radeon 256, be able to render three textures per pixel per pass, giving it a theoretical fill rate of 1800 megatexels per second with a 200MHz core. It will also use 250MHz DDR memory, giving it a theoretical bandwidth of 8 gigabytes per second- nothing to sneeze at. However, 250MHz DDR memory will cost a pretty penny. Additionally, Matrox will also jump on the T&L bandwagon by integrating its own transform and lighting unit on the G800. I'm guessing it'll be at least competitive in speed with the Voodoo5 5500 and GeForce2 GTS, and will almost certainly maintain Matrox's image quality crown. But it could also be months away, and by the time it comes out might not be so great. Price: Unknown, but surely not cheap. Another guess: $350+

NVidia: nVidia is trying to increase practical scene complexity with its hardware transform and lighting (T&L) and speed with raw fillrate and other features. They also have very good workstation 3D performance, so their cards are great for those who need game speed as well as low-end 3D modeling power. All their new cards are respectable. However, some claim that their image quality, particularly in high-resolution 2D, is lacking. Note also that nVidia, unlike other video chip makers, doesn't make its own retail cards, so there will be a variety of cards with each chipset from different manufacturers. Make sure you compare features and prices among cards using the same chipset before you buy.

TNT2 Vanta: If you need a really cheap video card, this is the one for you. These are stripped-down TNT2s with between 4 and 16 megabytes of memory, but the only ones I've seen have 8 megabytes and are cheap as dirt. I haven't seen any benchmarks for them but I'll bet that they're good for their price. Price: $35-$50. TNT2 M64: This is a TNT2 with a weaker 64-bit memory subsystem. At lower resolutions its performance should be similar to a standard TNT2, but as resolution increases and bandwidth becomes a bottleneck, its performance will drop off. Price: ~$65.

TNT2: The standard TNT2 (125MHz core, 150MHz 128-bit memory) is obsolete, so don't bother with one unless you get it really cheap.

TNT2 Pro: This is a TNT2 made with a smaller fabrication process (.22 micron instead of .25 micron), so it runs at a higher frequency (142MHz). It also uses 166MHz memory, so overall TNT2 Pro cards cost as much as or less than standard TNT2 cards, which is why the standard TNT2 isn't worth bothering with. The cores on these cards should be highly overclockable, but the memory probably isn't.

TNT2 Ultra: This is the fastest version of the TNT2 chipset, running at a base 150MHz core with 183MHz memory. Many TNT2 Ultra cards could be overclocked significantly. My Viper V770 Ultra can get up to at a 175MHz core speed and 200MHz memory speed. Still, even an overclocked TNT2 Ultra is slower than a GeForce 256 SDR, and since they start at $150 their high price makes them obsolete.

GeForce2 MX (unreleased, but will be out very soon): This is nVidia's new budget card, but its performance is very good for its price. Its core is a like stripped-down GeForce2 GTS running at 175MHz, and it uses either 64-bit DDR memory or 64- or 128-bit SDR memory. Overall its performance is very similar to that of a GeForce 256 SDR, but it comes at an even lower price. It can also support multiple monitors, so it'll be good for business users who need large desktop spaces to work with. Lastly, there will be PCI versions for those who need or want them. Price: < =$120.

GeForce 256 SDR: These cards are slower than their DDR counterparts, particularly at high resolutions, but are still respectable performers for their price. When the GeForce2 MX is released, these will become more or less obsolete, so if you want an nVidia card in the sub-$200 price range immediately, this is the one to get. Price: $120-$150+

GeForce 256 DDR: Although it has a slower core, its memory is still faster than that on a GeForce2 MX, so it's still faster at high resolutions. However, it's not all that much cheaper than some GeForce2 GTS cards, so if you're willing to shell out a little more, just get a GeForce2 GTS. The GeForce 256 DDR is slower than a Voodoo5 5500 in most things, but most such cards are also cheaper. Some have 64 megabytes of memory, which increases the price substantially, but only enhances performance significantly at very high resolutions or when FSAA is activated. Price: about $200 to $300+, depending on features, quality, and memory quantity.

GeForce2 GTS: This is the current speed champ in most games. If you want the best frame rates possible, it's usually the GeForce2 GTS that will deliver them. In the coming months there will be GeForce2 GTS cards with faster DDR memory, and their performance will be noticeably higher than that of current cards. As with the GeForce 256, there are some GeForce2 GTS cards that have 64 megabytes of memory, and they understandably cost quite a bit more than their 32-megabyte counterparts. I've read that some companies plan to make PCI cards based on this chipset, but have heard nothing about any of them so perhaps nobody is bothering. Price: about $250 to $350 for 32-megabyte cards, $330 to $400+ for 64-megabyte cards, depending on features and quality. "NV20" (next-generation chipset, hopefully to be released at the end of 2000): I haven't seen anything but rumors about this chip, and don't know what feature additions to expect. These will probably compete with 3dfx's Rampage cards for the speed crown.

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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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