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X-Micro Impact 4 Ultra Review

By: Mitch Foy - April 5, 2001

Introduction

With all the big news about the GeForce3 on the way, a true bargain might just be getting overlooked in the mad dash for technological superiority in the gaming arena. Yes, this could just be the last review of a GeForce2 Ultra card and that's too bad. These babies are dropping down to a bargain price of around $300. Not bad for the wonder card of what - less than three months ago?

X-Micro Impact 4 Ultra

Here's a little secret. If you're planning a graphics card upgrade with in the next six months and want rockin' performance in that price range, you should give the GeForce2 Ultra a look see. Today we take a look at the X-Micro Impact 4 Ultra.

Before we start cranking out the numbers, let's take a look at my system Tech Noir.

  • Pentium III 933MHz
  • 256 MB Micron Memory
  • ASUS CUSL-2 C Motherboard BIOS 1006.3
  • X-Micro Impact 4 GeForce2 Ultra
  • Creative Labs Annihilator Pro GeForce256 DDR
  • NVIDIA Detonator Reference Drivers version 6.50
  • Sound Blaster Live! X-Gamer
  • 20GB IBM Deskstar ATA/66
  • Windows 98SE
  • DirectX 8.0a

Notice that the CUSL-2 C motherboard runs at 4X AGP and just this once we'll do a review where the system isn't overclocked. Everything is stock as all get out and you could even assemble this whole dang system without taking extreme measures. In fact, this might already be your system.

Since I've been using a Creative Labs Annihilator Pro (GeForce256 DDR) with the latest NVIDIA reference drivers, I'll approach this review like an upgrade project. This time I'll even jot down my experiences so you can read along as I journey into upgrade paradise. And just in case you've forgotten how far we've come in the last year and a half, take a look at Mike's review of the Creative Labs GeForce 256. Man, how time flies.

Bundle And Installation

A little about the manufacturer: X-Micro Technology Corp. is a Taiwan based company building a reputation for producing solid boards around the NVIDIA reference designs and offering them in a low priced bundle. No copies of last year's games or blue tinted heatsinks; this package is focused on providing raw value for the consumer. For a more in-depth look at the company and their commitment to quality cards take a peek at Mike's review of the X-Micro Hulk 5 GeForce2 MX from last December.

X-Micro Impact 4 Ultra

Let's take a look at the goods that come in the retail box. First we have the X-Micro Impact 4 Ultra - your basic reference card design. I see that it has both VGA and DVI connectors. Well, unless someone sends me a Flat Panel monitor I'll just have to stick with the VGA using my 19-inch tube. I also get a basic installation manual and an RCA cable for TV-Out.

The installation CD contained NVIDIA 6.31 Detonator drivers for Windows 9x, ME, NT 4.0, 2000, and Linux. The CD also had DirectX 7 drivers along with trial versions of Powerstrip, PowerDVD, PowerVCD, and some wallpaper of X-Micro products. I've been using the Impact 4 Ultra for a couple of months and am quite certain they have updated the software to include the latest versions of the Detonator drivers and DirectX.

Time to drop this bad boy in the wonder box and see what's cookin'. Very nice. The upgrade was a snap. Popped open the case, removed the old card, and inserted the X-Micro GeForce2 Ultra into the AGP slot. Didn't even need to set the system into VGA mode since the Detonator 6.50 drivers were previously installed. Windows found the drivers, re-booted the system, and I was good to go.

I immediately noticed that the 2D image quality was better than the Annihilator Pro. I know it's entirely subjective, but it's worth bringing up that 2D is clearer and somewhat brighter. This was certianly a surprise as I hadn't expected any difference in this area.

Unfortunately, at a monitor refresh rate of 75Hz, the card suffered from the infamous rolling lines problem at a resolution of 640x480. It wasn't an issue since I never use that resolution and if I did, upping the refresh rate to 85Hz corrected the problem.

Specifications

So, what's changed during the past 18 or so months? Damn, that's one big jump at the spec level - looks like almost everything has at least doubled. Wonder if that's gonna' carry over when we bench this bad boy?

X-Micro Impact 4 Ultra Specifications

  GeForce256 Impact 4 Ultra
Process Technology .22 micron .18 micron
Core/Memory Speed 120MHz/300MHz 250MHz/460MHz
Memory Amount 32MB 64MB
Memory Bandwidth 4.8GB/Sec 7.4GB/Sec
Pixels/Clock 4 4
Pixels/Second 480 Million 1000 Million
Texels/Clock 4 8
Texels/Second 480 Million 2000 Million
Polygons/Second 15 Million 31 Million

It's easy to see why at this level of performance the GeForce2 Ultra isn't just a graphics card anymore - it's a video sub-system. And speaking of performance let's twist its tail and see if it squeals.

Direct3D Performance

I don't see the point of testing the performance of 16-bit color. Does anyone really use it anymore? Man, I can remember when 32-bit color was a luxury, but with the power this beast has it's just par for the course. Heh, too cool.

Before we jump into the benchmarks let's take a minute to cover the testing conditions. All of these tests are being run in 32-bit color using the Detonator 6.50 reference drivers. No tweaking at this point.

Right, since this is like doing an upgrade I'm going to measure the performance of both cards and look at the difference to see what I just bought into. First up is MadOnion's 3DMark2000. I'm sticking with that one for this review since we're all so familiar with the benchmark.

X-Micro Impact 4 Ultra - 3DMark2000

Resolution GeForce256 Impact 4 Ultra Difference
640x480 7050 7980 930
800x600 5913 7559 1646
1024x768 4219 6313 2094
1152x864 3178 5497 2319
1280x1024 2500 4686 2184
1600x1200 N/A 3447 Ultra

Right away we see the enormous headroom the Ultra design affords us. At a resolution of 1280x1024, the Ultra's performance is almost doubled over the GeForce256. The 1600x1200 result was uncontested as the GeForce256 runs out of graphics memory. Game over.

That pretty much sums up the power this beast brings to the table and put the card into a better perspective than the raw hardware numbers gave us. Looks like I'm in high-res heaven.

OpenGL Performance

For the Quake 3 Arena benchmarking section, all tests were done with the display adapter set to default refresh rates and a clean install of the game with the 1.17 patch applied. High quality settings and sound were enabled as was texture compression.

X-Micro Impact 4 Ultra - Quake 3

Resolution GeForce256 Impact 4 Ultra Difference
640x480 115.7 125.0 9.3
800x600 103.4 121.6 18.2
1024x768 71.7 113.8 42.1
1152x864 52.6 101.9 49.1
1280x1024 37.4 82.5 45.1
1600x1200 25.0 56.6 31.6

Oh my gosh! I've read other GeForce2 Ultra reviews, but it's really something to see one in your own machine. This card really, really, and I do mean really, screams. Look at that 1152x864 score - it's damn near double the GeForce256 frame rate. The gap just keeps getting bigger after that.

I've found myself moving from my usual resolution of 1024x768 to 1280x1024 as the new sweet spot. And I'm enabling more graphics options too. Man, on my ViewSonic 19-inch monitor the eyecandy looks just super. In fact I've just about creamed the poor old mouse. (Note to self, buy a new mouse). Heh.

Overclocking

Using the stock fan/heatsink I was able to get the X-Micro Impact 4 Ultra up to a core speed of 265MHz with a memory speed of 490MHz without any screen flake. Remember, each card is different and your mileage will vary. Oh, and remember overclockers: only you can prevent forest fires.

On a side note, I applaud vendors for following the trend of using the pushpin method of attaching the heatsink. This affords the high end gamer to approach mods much more easily and gives the owner the ability to repair a simple fan failure on their own if they so chose. Not that I would EVER drop in a Blue Orb just to crank it a little harder. Heh.

X-Micro Impact 4 Ultra Overclocking - Quake 3

Resolution 250MHz/460MHz 265MHz/490MHz Difference
640x480 125.0 125.4 0.4
800x600 121.6 122.3 0.7
1024x768 112.4 113.8 1.4
1152x864 101.9 104.5 2.6
1280x1024 82.5 89.1 6.6
1600x1200 56.6 62.1 5.5

Another 6+ frames per second at 1280x1024 is icing on the cake. I'll use the extra performance I've gained to enable anisotropic filtering.

Overall Gaming Impressions

The X-Micro Impact 4 Ultra was visually stunning in every game I played. Serious Sam, Quake 3, Unreal Tournament, Counter-Strike, Giants, Baldur's Gate, and Diablo 2. I found the 1280x1024 resolution absolutely stunning in Quake 3 and with enough headroom that even the biggest frag fest couldn't bog it down. It's just that damn good! But be warned that it takes a fast CPU, say a Pentium 3 running at 550MHz+, to really keep this puppy busy.

As sweet as that is, I'm just beginning to scratch the surface in the new abilities the X-Micro Impact 4 has to offer. For example:

Antialiasing. I gave it a shot and the difference in image quality is for the better, expecially at 4X, but in some cases performance becomes an issue. I prefer using higher resolutions anyway, but it's good to know antialiasing in an option and is quite effective in racing and flight sims.

Bumpmapping. Well, I loaded up Giants and gave it a look. Whoa man, that's really nice! This is a trick the old 256 can't come close to producing and the look is awesome.

TV-Out. A nice feature but it's lost on me since the tube is in another part of the house. I'd have to chalk this up to flexibility for the future in my case.

Conclusion

Let's cut to the chase. I love it! It's completely renderific and totally pixelicious!

When you consider that the GeForce2 Ultra is going to drop in price due to new products coming out, I can buy one for the same $300 I paid for the GeForce256 DDR a year and a half ago. And with its awesome rendering speed, the 64MB of on-board memory, and new features, the GeForce2 Ultra may end up being the hot scoop for the next six months.

And that folks will become my new video card strategy. Buy a little behind the curve and then find yourself a great deal.

Thanks for reading - Yur Pal Mitch.

 
Last Updated on April 5, 2001

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