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GeForce2 Quake 3 Shootout - Introduction

By: Mike Chambers - November 18, 2000

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It's been a while since we pitted all three of NVIDIA's GeForce2 based graphics cards in head-to-head 3D performance. In this article we will take a look at the cost-effective GeForce2 MX for gamers on a budget, the middle-of-the-line GTS for the avid 3D gamer, and the top-of-the-line Ultra for those who demand the fastest performance, all duking it out in Quake 3 Arena. Prices of graphics cards based on the GeForce2 can be checked out using our Price List.

With beta Detonator drivers being released at such a frantic pace, it becomes time consuming to measure the changes in performance with each new version. However, since the release of the official Detonator 3 drivers, performance in Quake 3 has remained about the same. Fortunately, we used a relatively new version of the Detonator 3 drivers for our testing.

NVIDIA GeForce2 Ultra
Outrageously Fast & Totally Expensive

Click to enlarge - 150K

Before diving into the benchmarks, let's first take a look at the specifications of the contenders:

GeForce2 Specifications

  GeForce2 MX GeForce2 GTS GeForce2 Ultra
Core Speed 175MHz 200MHz 250MHz
Polygons/Second 20 Million 25 Million 31 Million
Texels/Clock 4 8 8
Texels/Second 700 Million 1600 Million 2000 Million
Memory Amount 32MB 32MB/64MB 64MB
Memory Config. SDR/166MHz DDR/333MHz DDR/458MHz
Memory Bandwidth 2.7GB/sec 5.3GB/sec 7.4GB/sec

Note: Performance of the GeForce2 Pro is not included in this article.

All three GeForce2 based cards contain a powerful graphics processing unit (GPU) capable of performing billions of specialized operations per second necessary for three dimensional graphics and animation. Many of the calculations involve the processing of matrices during the transform, lighting, and setup stages of the graphics pipeline.

3D Graphics Pipeline

Click to enlarge - 26K

The four rendering pipelines on the GeForce2 GTS and Ultra give it an edge over the MX during the rendering stage. All three cards can perform multi-texturing operations, as they are capable of processing two textures in one clock cycle. Even the MX is able to achieve a respectable texel (textured pixel) fill rate of 700 million texels per second.

The type and speed of graphics memory is a critical factor in the performance of modern 3D applications. Because a significant part of graphics memory is used to store the frame buffer, the continuous manipulation of texture data results in a huge amount of data being processed from frame to frame. In fact, memory bandwidth is now measured in terms of gigabytes per second and the higher the bandwith, the better the performance.

Dual data rate memory (DDR) can process twice as much data as single data rate memory (SDR) in a clock cycle and is used on the GeForce2 GTS and Ultra. The GeForce2 Ultra contains 4 nanosecond rated DDR memory which allows clock frequencies to scale up from its default speed of 458MHz up to 500MHz.

Testing Configuration

Quake 3 is an excellent application to measure the 3D performance of a graphics card. At lower resolutions, performance will increase with a faster processor. At higher resolutions you find that processor speed is not a factor as each GeForce2 will run into memory bandwith limitations at a certain resolution and color depth. The other reason we like Quake 3 is that it runs great on GeForce based cards and we have a heck of a lot of fun playing it on the nV News Quake 3 server.

Unfortunately, the achilles heel of GeForce based graphics cards has been the sub-par image quality of the sky and water associated with texture compression in Quake 3. Texture compression decreases the amount of texture memory and can compress data at a ratio of 6:1. As part of the benchmark results in this article we will measure the performance of all three GeForce2 cards with texture compression enabled (faster performance) and disabled (slower performance).

And finally, we know that many of you tweak the graphics settings in Quake 3 in order to maximize frame rates. That's why we also include performance results by disabling two of the biggest frame rate killers in Quake 3 - dynamic lighting and gibs.

Here's the testing setup that was used. To squeeze out a few extra frames per second, we overclocked the memory speed of the Ultra by 7% and the MX and GTS by 10%.

  • Pentium 3-700E @840MHz
  • 128MB Mushkin PC150 RAM
  • Asus CUSL2 Mainboard (120/120/40)
  • NVIDIA GeForce2 Ultra - 490MHz Memory
  • NVIDIA GeForce2 GTS - 366MHz Memory
  • NVIDIA GeForce2 MX - 183MHz Memory
  • Default Core Speeds
  • Detonator 3 Driver Version 6.31
  • Vsync and Sound Disabled
  • 75MHz Monitor Refresh Rate
  • Windows 98 First Edition
  • Quake 3 Arena Version 1.17

Let's rock! (oops, wrong game...heh)

Next Page: Low Resolution Performance

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Last Updated on November 18, 2000

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