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GeForce2 MX Meets Quake 3

By: Mike Chambers -August 6, 2000


Update: August 24, 2000 - I've included results using the Detonator 3 drivers to this guide. A significant increase in performance occurred at resolutions of 800x600 and 1024x768. Especially exciting are the results at 1024x768 using high quality settings. Our initial results at this resolution were 50.7 fps which increased to 66.4 fps with the Detonator 3 drivers. Add in a few tweaks and we end up with 81.1 fps which includes high quality sound enabled. The Detonator 3 results are listed next to the Detonator 2 5.30 driver results which provide a side-by-side comparison.

In our recent GeForce2 MX preview we found that at higher resolutions the MX just can't keep up with the performance offered by the GeForce2 GTS in Quake 3. While graphics cards based on the GeForce2 MX are cheaper than GTS based cards, you'll have to pull out your bag of tweaks to get the MX running smoothly at higher resolutions or in 32-bit color.

This guide takes the GeForce2 MX, pits it against Quake 3, and provides a realistic look at the performance you can expect from NVIDIA's latest offering. Keep in mind that performance will vary based on processor speed.

So sit back, check out the results, and decide if a GeForce2 MX is an attractive upgrade for you existing TNT or TNT2 owners. After all, I did all the work. You just have to read it :)

Benchmark Setup

In our previous Quake 3 Tune-Up Guides (Part I and Part II), we determined the graphics settings that can adversely affect performance in Quake 3. As before, an initial set of benchmark results are determined based on the standard high quality settings. Then benchmarks are run with each individual setting to determine its impact on performance. Finally, all options are combined and a final, or Tuned FPS, benchmark result is determined.

Unlike the previous guides, sound was enabled this time around to provide results which are indicative of actual gameplay. I went with high quality sound since the low quality sound is just that - low quality - and it's pretty bad. If low quality sound works for you, you can expect an increase in performance of around 3-6 frames per second over high quality sound.

The following table is a list of the settings that are covered in this guide. Other settings, which are not listed, are based on the default high quality setting in Quake 3:

Game Options - 32-Bit Color

Setting Value
Marks On Walls On
Dynamic Lights On
Color Depth 32-bit
Lighting Lightmap
Geometric Detail Medium
Texture Detail Level 3
Texture Quality 32-bit
Texture Filtering Trilinear
Gibs - cg_gibs 1 On
Shadows - cg_shadows 1 On
3D Icons - cg_draw3dicons 1 On
Texture Compression On

And last, but not least, ye good olde system specs. Note that the GeForce2 MX core and memory clock speeds have been upped from their default settings of 175MHz/166MHz. No special cooling was used - not even a heatsink:

  • Pentium 3-550E @683MHz
  • Abit BH6 Mainboard
  • 128MB PC100 RAM
  • Sound Blaster Live Value
  • Quake 3 Arena - Version 1.17
  • Vsync Disabled
  • Sound Enabled - High Quality
  • NVIDIA GeForce2 MX
  • 195MHz Core/196MHz Memory Speeds
  • Detonator 2 Version Drivers
  • Detonator 3 Version Drivers

Initial Results

Let's start off by disabling settings, such as marks on walls, dynamic lights, and gibs, all of which will increase performance. Benchmark results were obtained with each option disabled and then a final benchmark, with all settings disabled, was run and is referred to as the Tuned FPS.

Game Options - 32-Bit Color

  640x480 800x600 1024x768
94.3/98.6 78.1/92.0 50.7/66.4
Marks On Walls
103.9/111.8 83.1/100.5 52.4/68.6
Dynamic Lights
100.1/104.2 86.7/98.3 57.5/73.3
99.3/103.2 84.7/97.5 55.2/71.4
98.1/104.2 79.6/95.1 50.9/66.6
3D Icons
97.5/104.1 79.2/94.2 50.8/66.0
126.5/131.9 103.3/120.6 65.5/81.1

Disabling a few framerate intensive options in Quake 3, offers a significant increase in performance of around 30% in each resolution. Keeping in mind that high quality sound was enabled, 81.1 fps at 1024x768 is pretty impressive. Performance at 640x480 was already adequate with the initial settings, and we are getting well over 100 fps at a resolution of 800x600.

Texture Quality

Now that we've toned down some of the eye candy, let's concentrate on image quality. More specifically texture quality. This is where things get a bit hairy due to the options that can be used, but let's see what we can do. Up to this point, 32-bit color and 32-bit textures were used.

Three more settings are added to the mix. The first is using 16-bit textures when 32-bit color is used. The second option is using 32-bit textures with 16-bit color and the final setting is using 16-bit textures with 16-bit color.

The tuned FPS we ended up in the previous section will be the starting point for these results.

Texture Quality Results

  640x480 800x600 1024x768
126.5/131.9 103.3/120.6 65.5/81.1
16-Bit Color/
16-Bit Textures
130.2/132.9 126.2/130.1 105.0/109.9
16-Bit Color/
32-Bit Textures
130.1/132.0 126.0/129.3 102.9/108.5
32-Bit Color/
16-Bit Textures
126.9/132.2 104.8/121.8 66.3/82.2
32-Bit Color/
32-Bit Textures
126.5/131.9 103.3/120.6 65.5/81.1

These results are interesting as it shows that moving from 16-bit to 32-bit textures in either color depth doesn't cause a big impact on performance. So you might as well keep 32-bit textures enabled. Also notice that 1024x768 in 16-bit color is getting well over 100 fps.

Texture Detail

As a final test, image quality is enhanced by increasing the texture detail from 3 to 4. While doing this will result in a loss in performance, we'll find out if the GeForce2 MX has enough horsepower to play Quake 3 at the maximum level of texture detail.

The benchmark results from the texture quality results serve as the starting point here, but we will only show results from 32-bit textures being used at each color depth.

Increased Texture Detail Results

  640x480 800x600 1024x768
16-Bit Color/32-Bit Textures - Detail 3 130.1/132.0 126.0/129.3 102.9/108.5
16-Bit Color/32-Bit Textures - Detail 4 129.9/132.5 124.3/128.1 95.6/100.6
32-Bit Color/32-Bit Textures - Detail 3 126.5/131.9 103.3/120.6 65.5/81.1
32-Bit Color/32-Bit Textures - Detail 4 124.4/131.0 97.9/115.7 61.8/75.8

Increasing the texture quaility offers clear and crisp visuals at the expense of some loss in performance. However, the loss in performance isn't too severe and is well worth the trade-off.


Two options that weren't factored in are geometry detail and texture filtering. The good thing is that trilinear filtering is enabled by default when high quality settings are used and serves as a source for additional tweaking. While it's very difficult to document the performance all of the combintations of graphics settings that can be used in Quake 3, this guide does offer an indication of the performance you can expect with the GeForce2 MX.

By no means is the GeForce2 MX a slouch when it comes to Quake 3 performance. Those of you that own a TNT or TNT2 will more than likely have a slower processor than what I tested with. While your results won't be similar to mine, you will reap the benefits of a second generation transform and lighting processor. Plus, I've been there. My first GeForce based card, which was an Annihilator SDR, was used with a Pentium 2-450MHz and it was like getting a new system. And with prices of GeForce2 MX based cards hovering a little over $110 at PriceWatch, purchasing one definitely won't break your bank.

Oh yea, before I forget, you can squeeze even more performance out of the GeForce2 MX by using a 16-bit Z-buffer :)

Last Updated on August 24, 2000

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