I'm sure many of you are reading this article on a monitor that's being driven by a GeForce 5900 Ultra, or a Radeon 9800 Pro, or a top-of-the-line graphics card from the last generation or two. While your cards run plenty fast, they're also very expensive, and as a result, they don't have too much of a bearing on the direction of the consumer-based 3D graphics industry. That honor belongs to the GeForce 4 MXs, Radeon 9000s, and other budget graphics cards.
Today, I'll be taking a look at the Soltek SL-5200-XD, a graphics card featuring NVIDIA's GeForce FX 5200 graphics processing unit (GPU), and see exactly what your $80 or less will get you. However, that's assuming you'll actually be able to find a Soltek product for sale in the United States, as I was unable to find a retailer that carries the SL-5200-XD at Pricewatch. Soltek seems to have pulled out of the US market completely, so the only folks that will probably ever see this graphics card will be those that live in Europe and Asia.
Soltek Computer Inc. was founded in 1996 and is headquartered in Taiwan. Primarily a manufacturer of motherboards, Soltek's two manufacturing plants are capable of producing over 300,000 motherboards per month. Soltek has service centers located in Mainland China and Holland and sales offices in Hong Kong and Taipei. In addition to the SL-5200-XD, Soltek also manufacturers the SL-5600-XD, which is based on the GeForce FX 5600 and the SL-Ti428X series based-GeForce 4 Ti 4200.
Let's take a brief look at a few of the GeForce FX 5200 features.
NVIDIA GeForce FX 5200 256-Bit GPU
128-Bit Studio Precision Color
CineFX Graphics Engine
DirectX 9.0 with Pixel Shader 2.0+ and Vertex Shader 2.0+
AGP 8X with Fast Writes and Sideband Addressing
Digital Vibrance Control (DVC) 3.0 Technology
Dual 350MHz RAMDACs
Display Resolutions up to 2048x1536 @ 75Hz
250MHz Core Clock Speed
81 Million Vertices Per Second
200MHz Memory Clock Speed (400MHz DDR)
128MB DDR Memory
128-Bit Memory Interface
10.4GB/Second Memory Bandwidth
Soltek's SL-5200-XD isn't one of the ultra-low-end GeForce FX 5200's that use a 64-bit memory interface. The SL-5200-XD has a 128-bit memory interface, which will help ease the strain caused by memory-related bottlenecks. Speaking of memory bottlenecks though, take a look at the memory speed: 200MHz. That seems a bit low to me compared to the GeForce 3 that I had been using, which was clocked at 230MHz.
FIRST IMPRESSIONS AND BUNDLE
Upon removing the graphics card from the box, I noticed that GeForce FX 5200 is physically smaller than my GeForce 3 and a heatsink (passive cooling) is used to cool the GPU. A drawback of passive cooling is that the potential to obtain higher GPU clock speeds from overclocking will be less when compared to the active cooling of a fan and heatsink. On the plus side, the benefit of passive cooling is that the SL-5200-XD will operate silently.
Like NVIDIA's reference design, the SL-5200-XD features three ports: a standard VGA port, an S-Video port for TV-out, and a DVI port for LCD monitors. For those of you without S-Video ports on your television, there's an S-Video to composite adapter included. However, there's no DVI to VGA adapter included, so dual monitor fun is impossible unless you have a DVI monitor in addition to a VGA monitor. Without access to a LCD monitor, I was unable to test DVI output.
The bundle was, as expected, spartan at best. Included in the box were four items: the card, a CD with drivers, a manual, and the aforementioned S-Video to composite adapter. Don't expect any games or software with a graphics card at this low of a price point, because you're not going to get any. The drivers included on the CD were the 43.45 Detonators, but for the purposes of this review, I used the 44.03 drivers.