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NVIDIA GeForce FX 5950 Ultra Preview - Page 1 Of 8

INTRODUCTION

NVIDIA recently announced the availability of two new graphics chipsets based on their GeForce FX architecture. In March of this year, NVIDIA formed a strategic alliance with industry heavyweight IBM to manufacture their next-generation GeForce graphics processing units (GPUs).

The new GeForce FX 5700 Ultra is a result of this alliance and will supplant the GeForce FX 5600 Ultra in the mainstream market. The high-end of the GeForce FX lineup is also getting a refresh as the GeForce FX 5950 Ultra will be replacing the GeForce FX 5900 Ultra.

NVIDIA's GeForce FX 5950 Ultra
NVIDIA's GeForce FX 5950 Ultra

NVIDIA provided us with a GeForce FX 5950 Ultra for this preview, which has the following key specifications:

GeForce FX 5950 Ultra

  • 0.13-Micron Technology (TSMC)
  • 475MHz Core Clock
  • 475MHz DDR Memory Clock (950MHz Effective)
  • 256-Bit Memory Interface
  • 30.4GB/Sec Memory Bandwidth
  • 3.8 Billion Texels/Sec Fill Rate
  • 356 Million Vertices/Sec
  • AGP 8X

GeForce FX 5700 Ultra

  • 0.13-Micron Technology (IBM)
  • 475MHz Core Clock
  • 450MHz DDR2 Memory Clock (900MHz Effective)
  • 128-Bit Memory Interface
  • 14.4GB/Sec Memory Bandwidth
  • 1.9 Billion Texels/Sec Fill Rate
  • 356 Million Vertices/Sec
  • AGP 8X
  • Single Slot Fansink

RELEASE 50 DRIVERS

Also making an official debut were the long awaited Release 50 drivers, which are being released as ForceWare version 52.16 for Windows and are WHQL certified by Microsoft.

Version 52.16 Graphics Driver Control Panel
Version 52.16 Graphics Driver Control Panel

A major feature of the Release 50 drivers is NVIDIA's GPU-specific Unified Compiler, which is used to optimize application performance. NVIDIA's Unified Compiler operates in a similar fashion as compilers that cater to AMD's 3DNow! and Intel's MMX special purpose CPU instruction sets.

There are many new and useful features in the Release 50 drivers including:

  • 64Bit Support for the AMD64 and IA64 operating systems
  • Dynamic memory mapping adds support for 256MB graphics cards for video, display, and OpenGL drivers
  • Rotation support added for the Windows 98 and Windows ME operating systems
  • Support for user-defined custom resolutions via a new control panel
  • A screen editing feature that allows removal of infrequently used screens
  • Support for special panels and devices
  • Frame lock and edge blend functionality for the Quadro FX
  • VMR support for full-screen video and Microsoft's DirectX Video Acceleration (DXVA)
  • PowerMizer dynamic peak power control and thermal protection version 2.0
  • Many improvements in the user interface
  • Many new nView features (action toolbar, resolution per desktop, Internet Explorer pop-up prevention, monitor grids, NVManagement, new setup wizard)
  • DirectX - Floating point render targets, multi-element textures, improved antialiasing compatibility, improved shader handling and stability, improved render-to-texture performance
  • OpenGL - New supported extensions, faster vertex processing, improved geometry processing and display list support, faster vertex and fragment program compilers, faster texture downloads

Further details on the Release 52.16 driver can be found at NVIDIA's Windows XP/2000 driver download page. The documentation available consists of the following publications:

  • Release Notes
  • Display Properties User's Guide
  • nView 3.0 Desktop Manager User's Guide

TEXTURE FILTERING

NVIDIA's texture filtering methods have been the subject of scrutiny as the behavior of application controlled texture filtering on the GeForce FX is continuously examined. In fact, highly respected forum moderator StealthHawk has put together informative forum threads based on filtering quality and driver settings.

Armed with a GeForce FX 5900 and the Release 52.16 driver, StealthHawk completed an examination on texture filtering. His investigative report revals reveals that while OpenGL appears to be providing trilinear filtering, texture filtering continues to improve under Direct3D, but is still based on a hybrid mixture of bilinear and trilinear filtering. 3DCenter also has an article on this subject.

TESTING CONFIGURATION

At this point, I'm going to dive right into the heart of this preview which includes synthetic benchmark performance, gameplay performance, and image quality analysis. Additional information on the GeForce FX architecture can be found here and here.

System Specifications

  • AMD Athlon XP 3000+ @ ~2.2GHz
  • ASUS A7NX8 Deluxe nForce2 Motherboard w/DualDDR Memory
  • Corsair PC2700 DDR CAS2 RAM - (2) 512MB DIMMs - 1GB Total
  • IBM 80GB Deskstar 120GXP 7200RPM ATA-100 Hard Disk Drives (2)
  • Sony Multiscan E540 CRT Monitor - 21-Inch
  • NVIDIA GeForce FX 5950 Ultra - 256MB - 475MHz/950MHz
  • NVIDIA Forceware Graphics Driver Version 52.16
  • ATI Radeon 9800 Pro - 256MB - 378MHz/351MHz
  • ATI Catalyst Driver Version 3.8
  • 32-Bit Color / Vsync Disabled / 75Hz Refresh Rate / 60HZ at 2048x1536
  • Windows XP Professional with Service Pack 1 / DirectX 9.0b

BIOS Settings

  • Aggressive Settings
  • Expert System Performance
  • 166MHz Front Side Bus
  • Memory Timing 4-2-2
  • CAS Latency 2.0

Synthetic Benchmarks

  • 3DMark03 - Build 330 and Build 340
  • AquaMark3

Games Tested

  • Call of Duty Single Player Demo
  • Command and Conquer Generals
  • Halo Combat Evolved
  • Morrowind The Elder Scrolls
  • Neverwinter Nights Demo
  • Serious Sam The Second Encounter
  • Vietcong Single Player Demo
  • Quake 3 Arena
  • Unreal Tournament 2003
  • Unreal 2 The Awakening Demo

Notes

  • All applications tested were patched to their latest version.
  • Antialiasing and anisotropic filtering were always configured using the driver control panel.
  • Gameplay tests were conducted with in-game sound options set to their highest quality. Hardware assisted sound and EAX was used when available.
  • Gameplay tests were conducted with in-game graphics options set to their highest quality. Exceptions are noted below.
  • FRAPS was used to capture minimum and average frame rates.
  • FRAPS logging was disabled while waiting to re-spawn in Battlefield 1942.
  • Real-time shadows were disabled in Morrowind.
  • Halo does not support antialiasing.

ABOUT THIS PREVIEW

This article is intended to be a general purpose preview and should be used as a supplement to previews that are published at other web sites. The features in modern graphics chipsets have resulted in an increase in the amount of time needed to thoroughly review a graphics card. The work effort increases substantially when comparing features, image quality, and performance to competing graphics cards.

This is my first preview of an NVIDIA based reference graphics card where I compare image quality and performance against a competing product. Although the Radeon 9800 Pro was recently overtaken by the Radeon 9800 XT as ATI's high-end product, I am using it in this preview. While on the subject of image quality, the Radeon 9800 Pro is regarded as having a higher quality antialiasing solution than the GeForce FX. You can form your own opinion by viewing this interactive comparison.

Driver Performance And Quality Settings
Detonator 52.16 Drivers

NVIDIA recommends that the GeForce FX 5950 be tested at a resolution of 1600x1200 with 4X antialiasing (referred to as AA) and 8X anisotropic texture filtering (referred to as AF). Using NVIDIA's recommended settings, I found that performance in many older and some newer games to be acceptable for an enjoyable gaming experience. I did learn that NVIDIA has removed the 4XS antialiasing setting from the drivers due to incompatibility problems. Although the performance hit associated with 4XS AA limited its use to resolutions of 1024x768 and below, it was a high quality solution that worked best with flight and racing simulations. Note that third party utilites such as ATuner continue to allow 4XS AA to be set.

Next Page: Synthetic Benchmarks - 3DMark03

Last Updated on November 11, 2003


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