Months go by without a Gainward card coming to visit us at Hexus then all of a sudden two come along at once. I was lucky enough to take a look at their excellent GeForce3 Ti550 Golden Sample very recently and it turned out to be one of the best video cards I've ever used. Very fast and with the usual Gainward twists.
It also happens that we ran a GeForce2 Ti shootout recently featuring the ageing but still very fast NVIDIA GeForce2 GPU. It's this GPU that the Ti450 is based on and what we'll be looking at today. If you cast you mind back to our recent GeForce2 Ti reviews and the recent shootout, you'll know the features of the GPU and what makes a Ti card a Ti. If you want to refresh your memory on those points, take a look here at the Sparkle SP6600Ti review where we cover everything.
The GeForce2 GPU is still enjoying a healthy lease of life in the Titanuim range of cards from a massive variety of manufacturers and with good reason. While it's not the fastest accelerator on the block anymore and it doesn't accelerate DirectX 8 class features like newer GPU's from ATi and NVIDIA, it is still a very good performer and at the current price point it can't be ignored.
Whether you are upgrading on a budget or are looking for a card to tide you over until the next generation of GPU's, the GeForce2 Ti range of cards are pretty much the ones to go for with competition only really coming from the ATi Radeon 7500.
So it's the GeForce2 Ti that the Gainward is based around and hopefully we'll see the usual range of Gainward twists and additions to make it a standout card. If you notice in the title of the review, the card is another Golden Sample card. Gainward's Golden Sample cards are well known for the extra edge they have on the competition either in an out of the box clock speed advantage, a better overclock or both.
While the Ti450 sticks to the NVIDIA stock clocks out of the box (250/400), many of the cards out there go much faster. If you notice that the stock clocks are based on the old GeForce2 Ultra core clock and the GeForce2 PRO memory clock and then notice that on the box Gainward states the card has 4.5ns memory then you have a fairly good indication the board was built to be overclocked.
Also featured on the very red PCB is a TV-Out port and Gainward supply an S-Video cable in the box. Apart from that, the D-SUB monitor port and memory chips without any active or passive cooling are what really stand out. The memory chips aren't passively cooled presumably on the grounds of cost but it's very simple to do it yourself with some off the shelf ramsinks and some thermal tape.
Here's a quick rundown of the main features on the card.
As you can see, it's standard GF2 Ti fare with TV-Out. Gainward make it stand out from the crowd with the very red PCB and red GPU cooler but apart from that, it's pretty standard. The extras from this card will come in the form of the overclocking.
Single-Chip GPU (Graphics Processing Unit)
Support 4X AGP
Support - 4.5 ns DDR-SDRAM High Speed Memory
Integrated 350MHz RADAC, resolution up to 2048x1536 @ 75Hz
Full acceleration for Microsoft DirectX 8 and Open GL 1.2ICD
2nd Generation Transfer & Lighting Engines
32-bit color &32-bit Z/Stencil Buffer
10 Texels Per Clock with Hypertexel
Order Environment Mapping
31M Triangles/sec through Set-up &1 Billion fill rate
DirectX Texture Compression
Enhanced Motion Compensation for Full Speed DVD Playback
Video acceleration for DirectShow , MPEG-1 , MPEG-2 ,and Indeo
Multiple Video windows with hardware color space conversion and filtering
Support NTSC/PAL TV-OUT with Flicker Filter
Gainward GeForce2 Ti/450 TV Accelerator Card
Driver / application CD-ROM Disc(s)
DVD Player software. (Optional)
GAINWARD EXPERTool for customized performance and desktop management. And provide a Driver and BIOS Internet Update function for "EXPERT Update"
Intel's Accelerated Graphics Port (AGP) technology
Support DirectDraw, Direct3D,Direct Video, DirectX 8 and above.
ActiveX OpenGL 1.2 and above.
WHQL-certified Windows 9X / 2000 / NT (all) / XP / Linux and above.
Card Installation and Drivers
Card installation couldn't have been simpler. Remove the old card from the system and screw in the new one. The operating system was freshy installed as always but if you were coming from an old card, make sure to uninstall the old cards drivers first. WindowsXP identifies the card as a GeForce2 DDR and pointing device manager at a freshly unzipped copy of the 22.40 Detonator XP drivers correctly identified the card as a GeForce2 Ti. As you know, a stipulation for calling the new cards Ti's is that they run the new DetonatorXP drivers which expose some new features as well as exposing some extra speed.
A reboot later and everything is working perfectly.
We'll be looking at the card from two angles. The first will be standard out of the box clocks and then we'll look at performance when overclocked. Like our Gainward Ti550 review, we'll present both datasets in the same graph where possible to let us present all the same information without you having to scroll through loads of graphs. This is still a new review format for us here at Hexus so if you like the old style of seperate stock and overclocked sections then let us know.
Before we look at the test system, I'll just go over briefly how I overclocked the card. RivaTuner RC8 was used and for the first time in overclocking an NVIDIA card I used the new low level overclocking feature it introduced in RC8. This sets the clocks directly without reinitialising the card and seems to work perfectly well.
When we overclocked the Sparkle and Prolink cards in our shootout, the clock range they managed to achieve was around 266/466 so I was looking for a bit more from the Gainward since a few cards that I've seen or heard about overclocked very well. The maximum overclocked speed that managed to run the full suite of tests was 280/515 and you can see the clocks in the following screenshot. While the card went higher for Quake3 and also UT, it was the lowest common clock that ran all the benchmarks.
Lets take a look at the test system.
- Gainward GeForce2 Ti/450 TV
- Soyo Dragon Plus KT266A Motherboard
- AMD Athlon XP1800 Processor
- 256Mb Crucial PC2100 CAS2.5 DDR memory @ CAS2
- Adaptec 39160 PCI SCSI Dual Channel U160 controller
- 2 x 73Gb Seagate Cheetah U160 10,000rpm SCSI disks
- Plextor 12/10/32S SCSI CDRW
- Soundblaster Audigy
First off, we'll take a look at 3DMark 2001 performance. 3DMark 2001 is our first DirectX 8 benchmark and makes full use of the new DirectX 8 features like the pixel and vertex shader to get the best performance. The Nature test in 3DMark 2001 is the only test that cannot be run on the GeForce2 due to the lack of rendering features and everything else runs fine. On GF2 cards, increasing the core and memory clock of the card helps a lot when increasing performance on 3DMark so we should see our score jump up a fair bit when we overclock the card.
- Windows XP Professional Build 2600.xpclient.010817-1148
- DetonatorXP 22.40 NVIDIA drivers
- Aquamark v2.3
- Quake3 v1.30
- 3DMark 2001 Professional
- Unreal Tournament Build 436
Here we see a 650 point increase from the overclock and over 500 marks ahead of either Prolink or Sparkle cards out of the box. However, the Sparkle and Prolink cards were run on a 1.7Ghz Pentium4 with DDR memory which is slower than our KT266A and XP1800 so if we compensate for the platform disadvantage the other cards had, we can estimate that out of the box performance would be very similar to the other cards. The Prolink would have the advantage due to its higher out of the box memory clock of 444Mhz. However, overclocked the Gainward is the best performer. It overclocks a fair bit higher than either Prolink or Sparkle card and the 650 point increase just from overclocking the card is very welcome as the performance is effectively free.
Next up we have Quake3, our lone OpenGL benchmark. The engine is fairly old and doesn't need a DirectX 8 class accelerator to perform very well. The engine was designed for this GPU initially so performance on a platform like the KT266A with a fast XP is obviously very good.
The Pentium4 is a strong processor when running Quake3 but still the KT266A and XP1800 give the Gainward a speed advantage over the other 2 cards. Obviously given identical platforms the cards would perform roughly similar. However, like we saw with 3DMark, the clock speed advantage the Gainward has when overclocked makes it the leader out of the three cards. Performance increases handily at all resolutions, especially as the resolution is increased.
As you increase the resolution the card has to work harder and the fillrate performance of the card comes into play a lot more. Therefore the increased core clock and increased memory clock giving more memory bandwidth help the card a lot here. Performance at all resolutions is excellent and you'd have no problems at all using a KT266A, 1800XP and the Gainward to play at 1600x1200 with all rendering features enabled.
Unreal Tournament is our DirectX 7 based benchmark and so doesn't require any new rendering features. Like we've discussed a lot before, Unreal Tournament is heavily CPU bound and the performance figures appear to be low. However the performance is fine with the lowest and highest frame rates during the runs we do with the Thunder demo not differing by very much. Performanc is very smooth with little deviation from the average frame rates shown in the graph.
As we can see, the performance is fine at all resolutions with the lowest average frame rate being just a shade under 50fps at 1600x1200. The three cards would perform pretty much identically out of the box on the same platform with the Gainward winning out when overclocked. However with UT, overclocking the card does very little since the engine spends most of its time on the CPU. Nothing really exciting to see here sadly.
Lastly we have Aquamark. Aquamark is based on Aquanox, the underwater shooter from Massive Development. It's heavily dependant on a DX8 class accelerator for the best performance and traditionally on the GeForce2, overclocking the card doesn't do very much since the game spends a lot of its time on the CPU since the card doesn't do the pixel and vertex shader in hardware.
On the Pentium4 1.7Ghz and DDR (VIA P4X266 chipset), the Prolink and Sparkle cards struggled to break 20fps even when overclocked. However on the KT266A the Gainward has no such problems with the scores both in the upper half of the 20-30fps range. Balancing out the platforms and the Gainward would win due to it's higher overclocked speeds. However the performance delta would be so small since on the GF2 the underlying CPU performance is the deciding factor in Aquamark performance. You really need a DX8 class card to get the most from Aquamark and the Ti's struggle at the test resolution of 1024x768.
Out of the box performance is excellent on the non DX8 games and even on 3DMark it wouldn't be too hard to break into the 6K range with some tweaking of the the driver and a little overclock of the processor. Aquamark is the only benchmark on which the cards struggle and it's to be expected given the age of the GPU and the features it supports. It simply doesn't do enough in hardware for the benchmark to perform well and a drop in resolution would be needed for Aquanox to play well. In a game like Quake3 the performance is stellar and high framerates are easily achieved with all rendering features turned on. Maybe it's time for a new OpenGL benchmark since performance, even on lowly accelerators in the £100 price range are capable of playing Q3 at massive framerates.
In future reviews we'll hopefully be showing Serious Sam 2 as another alternate OpenGL benchmark alongside Quake3 to give you an idea of OpenGL performance in current game engines.
Overclocked, the Gainward is simply the fastest GeForce2 based card we've seen at Hexus and the overclock was comfortable. Many cards go even higher and ramsinks are a worth edition to the 4.5ns memory and are a recommended modification if you are that way inclined. It beats both Prolink and Sparkle cards easily when overclocked.
So what do we think of the Gainward overall? Lets look at the features first. It's on a par with the other GF2 Ti's that we've tested in that they all feature TV-Out in addition to the monitor outputs and none of the 3 cards actively or passively cool the memory chips. However the Gainward goes that little bit further than the other two when overclocked. Bundle wise, all 3 are very similar with DVD player software and a TV-Out cable being all that's bundled with all three cards.
They really are competing on price alone and with the Gainward available in the UK from a number of retailers for around £110, given that it overclocks a fair bit more than the others, I can't help but recommend it over the other two. If price is crucial, the Gainward may not be the best choice, especially if you wish to run at stock card speeds. The only other choices at this price point are other GeForce2 Ti's and the Radeon 7500 which also offers excellent performance and also dual display capability and class leading DVD playback.
I'm a fan of this little card and for the price you can't really go far wrong. Excellent card from Gainward, again with their twists, especially when overclocking. If it matches your budget, I recommend it whole heartedly. A DX8 class card however is recommended if you can afford to purchase one.