GAINWARD FX 5200 POWERPACK PRO/660 TV/DVI PCI
The road to cinematic graphics begins with DX9-class 3D accelerators. That's been NVIDIA's catchline and mantra for the past few months. The newest breed of consumer-level graphics cards from both NVIDIA and ATi sport all the features that'll make your friends coo, especially when rendering some demo laden with copious lashings of both vertex shader and pixel shader 2.0. To put it another way, manufacturers and games' developers are looking to make our games-playing experience as realistic and immersive as possible. New APIs and compliant hardware seems to be the way to go.
The appropriately named FX series of cards, all based on NVIDIA's newest GPUs, span an entire price spectrum, just as one would expect. At the top of the range is the GeForce FX 5900 Ultra. Huge core and memory clocks, helped by some clever compression technology and 256MB of on-board RAM make it a performance and wallet-busting monster. Retail examples have even surpassed the £400 mark. As we go slowly down the hierarchy, cards with lower price tags and lesser abilities, by dint of sheer volume, begin to provide the bulk of the respective companies' earnings. And right down at the bottom of NVIDIA's cinematic range lies the FX 5200. The NV34, in a nutshell, is a 0.15-micron part, with 4 pixel pipes capable of a single texture per pass (no 4/8 divide here, folks). The lack of transistors on this budget model, numbering a 'measly' 45 million, means that it sacrifices a number of bandwidth-saving features to the cost gods. There's no intelligent lossless compression for either Z or colour data, which infers that its measly 250MHz core is going to be swamped extremely quickly, especially via the use of the twin bandwidth evils of antialiasing and anisotropic filtering. It may not be screaming fast, but it will be cheap. Current pricing puts this card at around £55.
Gainward, the purveyor of multiple models based on a single NVIDIA GPU, has decided that the FX5200 GPU is ripe for some PCI lovin'. That's right, a PCI-based DX9 card. Given the low bandwidth that a 32-bit PCI bus affords (133MB/s), and the low performance output of the FX5200, it'll be interesting to see how this card performs. More importantly, we feel, is the card's potential uses. Let's now get to the bottom of this unusual graphics adapter.