Yet again, NVIDIA season rolls round. There are some whisperings about a new GPU offering from ATi and Matrox will be releasing something this year but here and now, NVIDIA are dominating with their new GPU. All the talk in the consumer graphics space is of the NV25 GPU. GeForce4 Ti has now hit the retail channel in a big way and it seems like people can't keep away. Despite the argument that GeForce3 and Radeon 8500 offer more graphics power than anyone can make good use of at the moment, the GeForce4 Ti looks like another big hit for NVIDIA.
GeForce3 and Radeon 8500 took performance to a new level with programmable effects units, pixel and vertex shaders and other enhancements to make the home graphics experience on your PC that bit better than before. So what does GeForce4 bring to the table over and above that? Taking a look at the hardware specification of the new GPU, the keyword is evolution. It's nothing mind bogglingly different from NV20. Updated shader hardware here, new AA logic there and a sprinking of enhanced memory controller all make for something similar to NV20 but ever so slightly different.
It's obvious there is a bit more horsepower under than hood than before, that much is apparent. NVIDIA would be stupid to release something too similar to the previous product. So there we have it, just how much quicker is the new processor than the old and what does it let us do that we couldn't before?
For quite a while, improving image quality has been the goal of graphics hardware manufacturers. They make GPU's with performance enough to enable the application programmers to introduce new visual effects in their code. Artists get to create better textures and actually have them displayed as they were originally created because the coders have written a new engine that can render the textures in good detail on these new GPU's. Modellers get to use a few more polygons because the hardware exists to render a few more than before at the same speed, increasing detail and therefore image quality. You get to see monsters that aren't so blocky and they are textured a bit more realistically.
These are the things that GeForce4 lets you do over previous hardware. You can run the same games as before but with better visual quality. You can increase the resolution a notch or two and run at the same frame rates as before. You can turn on anti aliasing at the old resolutions you are happy in at the same speed as your older hardware. You can apply anisotropic filtering to your textures and mip map levels now to increase visual detail, whereas before that might not have been possible.
So we saw recently with the Ti4600 reference card and the Ti4400 from Visiontek that the performance at high resolution is a grade above GeForce3 and Radeon 8500. At lower resolutions the performance delta isn't so great because the GPU becomes CPU limited, waiting on the host processor to feed it data. So you use this spare power to up the resolution or turn on some features you couldn't before.
So it's no wonder that MSI, an NVIDIA partner for a while now, have decided to join the race to sell units with the G4Ti4400 card based on the Ti4400 grade of GeForce4 Ti.
They did well with the old GeForce3 card in terms of sales so here they are again with the GeForce4, hoping to add the same twists they do with their motherboards to their graphics cards in a bid to win the consumer over. And when the underlying hardware is this fast, it's the extras and price that catch your eye.
So lets take a look at the card itself.
The MSI G4Ti4400 In The Flesh
As you can see, similar in layout to the reference board and the Visiontek but with a different GPU cooler. The memory modules remain uncooled in any way, just like the previous cards we've seen. The GPU cooler is an interesting affair with fins surrounding the fan area and a transparent plastic top screwed on top of the sink so you can see the sink itself. Whether it cools any better than the stock/Visiontek sink is unconfirmed but it looks nice for sure.
The only other real difference over the reference card and Visiontek is the inclusion of a Philips 7108 TV processor rather than the Connexant affair on the previous two cards we've seen at Hexus. This enables more than simple TV-Out with a full VIVO array of features being available. The card can capture video data as well as output to TV, much like their old GeForce3 Ti500 product and it's this feature that makes it stand out more than the other cards we've seen so far.
As far as bundle goes, the MSI outdoes the Visiontek by quite some margin. You get a whopping 10 CD's with 3 full games and 7 game demos including No One Lives Forever, Aquanox and Shiny's Sacrifice. Also in the box is the card itself, the decent manual (easy to read and follow) and the cables to let you take advantage of the VIVO features.
While I didn't have the time with the card to test the video in features, the video out worked excellently with my test setup of Devil's Advocate and using PowerDVD on the 2nd head of an nView configuration posed no problems at all and let me continue to use my main monitor for windows duties.
Finally before we move onto the formal specification and then the performance figures, a close up shot of the heatsink.
• Dual programmable Vertex ShadersThe highlights on that list are the 8.8Gb/sec of memory bandwidth, more than double that of nForce, a dual 64-bit DDR solution with 4.2GB/sec of potential memory bandwidth and the 4.4 billion AA sample/sec fillrate. The card has serious memory performance and the ability to push around a lot of anti-aliased texels, something we'll cover shortly.
• Advanced programmable Pixel Shaders
• nVIDIA Lightspeed Memory Architecture™ II
• nVIDIA Accuview™ Antialiasing
• 3D Textures
• Shadow Buffers
• 4 dual-rendering pipelines
• 8 texels per clock cycle
• Dual cube environment mapping
• 128MB high-speed DDR RAM memory
• High-Definition Video Processor (HDVP)
• AGP 4X with Fast Writes
• AGP 4X / 2X and AGP Texturing support
• 32-bit color with 32-bit Z/stencil buffer
• Z-correct true, reflective bump mapping
• High-performance 2D rendering engine
• Hardware accelerated real-time shadows
• True-color hardware cursor
• Integrated hardware transform and lighting engine
• High-quality HDTV/DVD playback
• TV-Out and Video Modules
• Multibuffering (double, triple, quad) for smooth animation and video playback
• Microsoft DirectX® and S3TC® texture compression
• 8.8 GB/sec. memory bandwidth
• 125 million triangles/sec. setup engine
• 4.4 billion AA sample/sec. fill rate
• 1.12 trillion operations/sec.
We'll take a look at the performance in the same way we did with the Visiontek board with a comparison against a Ti500. I used the same Detonator 27.42's that I used with the Visiontek but 27.70's offer improved performance on GeForce4 Ti's so download them if you have one!
All benchmarks for both cards were done on the same motherboard and same driver revision (27.42 Detonator XP) for parity. All benchmarks were run 3 times and the top and bottom results discarded. If any results deviated by more than 1% either way, they were discarded and another set of runs done to get a good set of 3 to work from.
V-Sync was forced off in both OpenGL and Direct3D but all other driver options were left at default to highlight out of the box performance without tweaking. Finally, a reboot was done between each game test to be fair.
I used RivaTuner RC10.1 to overclock the card using the low level overclocking feature that doesn't need to reinitialise the driver to set the clocks. The maximum clock achieved that ran all benchmarks flawlessly was scarily similar to the Visiontek and ended up being 305/682. Slightly higher on the core and a touch lower on the memory. We'll see what effect this has on scores shortly.
For all intents and purposes however, the cards performed identically with little variation in performance from the Visiontek card. Before we hit the graphs, here's the test bed.
• EPoX 8K3A, KT333 Chipset, Socket A AMD DDR Motherboard
• Unlocked AMD Athlon XP1500+ Processor (1.33GHz, 10 x 133)
• 2 x 256Mb Samsung PC2700 DDR Memory Modules (CAS2)
• MSI G4Ti4400-VTD (MS-8871) GeForce4 Ti4400 128MB
• Gainward Ti550 GeForce3 Ti500 64MB
• Adaptec 39160 PCI SCSI Dual Channel U160 controller
• 2 x 73Gb Seagate Cheetah U160 10,000rpm SCSI disks
• Plextor 12/10/32S SCSI CDRW
• Pioneer 6x Slot-load SCSI DVD
• Creative Soundblaster Audigy Player Retail
• Windows XP Professional Build 2600.xpclient.010817-1148On to the numbers! We'll start with Aquamark for a change. Aquamark 2.3 makes heavy use of DirectX 8 features including pixel and vertex shaders and so it should perform like a champion on the MSI.
• DetonatorXP 27.42 NVIDIA drivers
• Aquamark v2.3
• Quake3 v1.30
• 3DMark 2001 Professional Second Edition
• Serious Sam: The Second Encounter Demo
As you can see, the MSI does excellently in this benchmark. Given a quicker host processor to feed it, performance would rise accordingly. My little XP1500 doesn't really do the card justice.
Onto Quake3, a benchmark that traditionally flies on NVIDIA hardware. It's OpenGL based and doesn't need DX8 class rendering features to run well.
As you can see, not much difference in performance to the Visiontek. At 1024x768, the Ti500 keeps up with the MSI since we are CPU limited at that resolution. The card just sits and waits for data for the most part and has plenty of headroom.
As we move up to 1600x1200, the MSI really slips into top gear and outruns the Ti500. Nearly double the performance of the GeForce3, a card that isn't slow by any stretch of the imagination, and you know you have a quick card.
The card has mammoth fill rate at high resolution and it shows here. Running these cards at 1024x768 or lower is a crime. For those with smaller monitors the card has enough performance to enable 1024x768 with 2X FSAA and anisotropic filtering and still run well, improving image quality.
Onto the fans favourite, 3DMark 2001 SE. 3DMark 2001 is a full system bench with some tests being reliant on graphics horsepower, some on CPU speed, some on system throughput and memory bandwidth. It uses DX8 features like pixel and vertex shader to run well so the MSI should do very well here.
The MSI beats the Visiontek by a shade so the extra few MHz on the core clock seem to have helped. The lower memory clock doesn't seem to have affected performance that much at all.
The NV25 really does shift in 3DMark and 9000+ out of the box on an XP1500 is amazing performance. Max Payne, based on the same engine used to run 3DMark 2001 will perform exceptionally.
Finally Serious Sam: The Second Encounter Demo. The Valley Of The Jaguar demo that we run here is a good test of graphics card performance and we'll see just how well the MSI does.
As you can see, we are slightly CPU limited in all resolutions here. The NV25 runs exactly like an overclocked GF3 would given the same clocks. We saw that trend back when I looked at the reference Ti4600 so it seems that SS2 needs some tweaking in its setup to take advantage of the hardware properly. Performance in SS2 is more than acceptable however and it doesn't flinch while running it.
Performance as you can see is very very similar to the Visiontek board sharing the same GPU. It simply annihilates the Ti500 at high resolution. The brute force fillrate of the card is huge and high resolution gaming becomes viable, even on a lowly XP1500!
You can't fault the MSI for its performance that's for sure. It will run anything you throw at it with aplomb and often with AA turned on and aniso filtering (a real performance killer on NVIDIA hardware usually).
Slow is not a word in the MSI's vocabulary. The NV25 products we see at Hexus continue to impress and the MSI is no different.
Like the Visiontek, the MSI has performance in spades. Where the MSI pulls away from the Visiontek is the bundle and card features. 3 full games and VIVO facilities coutesy of the Philips processor give the MSI an edge over competing Ti4400's.
It overclocked to the same performance level as the Visiontek and there was still some headroom left when running certain applications. All that hinders the card is price. Komplett are stocking the card as we speak for just over £260 including delivery. There are cheaper cards out there but the feature set is a bit more extensive than most.
Just like the Visiontek, fast but expensive. MSI have added their usual quality to the overall package which we always appreciate. If you can afford it, I recommend it providing the feature set is what you are looking for. If not, a cheaper, less featured card is what you should be aiming for. Don't spend more than you have to!
• High performance
• VIVO features
• DVI output
• Bundle contents
• It's expensive