THE TWO NEW graphics chips from NVIDIA we're looking at today, previously code-named NV18 and NV28, ought to look mighty familiar. They're essentially chips from the GeForce4 lineupboth MX and Tiwith a new AGP interface grafted on. Oddly enough, these new AGP 8X-capable GeForce4 chips only come in two flavors: GeForce4 MX 440 with AGP 8X and GeForce4 Ti 4200 with AGP 8X. (Catchy names, eh?)
NVIDIA has also taken this opportunity to tweak the clock speeds of these GeForce4 chips, so they should be a little bit faster overall, even without AGP 8X support.
By my count, this newest GeForce4 MX is the eighteenth incarnation of the original GeForce GPU, and the new Ti 4200 is the seventh GeForce3-derived product. Not counting Quadros. Mighty familiar, indeed.
So the questions are: What does the move to AGP 8X get you? What about the additional clock speed? Can these latest revisions of NVIDIA's aging GPUs keep pace with ATI's new Radeons? Keep reading to find out.
The skinny on the GeForce4 chips with AGP 8X
To understand these new revisions of the GeForce4 line, you'll need to understand the previous chips. We previewed the GeForce4 chips for you when they were launched, and we followed up with this review of a GeForce4 MX 440-based product. Essentially, the GeForce4 MX 440 is a GeForce2 MX chip on steroids.
OK, maybe that's not fair.
The GeForce4 MX 440 is more like a GeForce2 hopped up on a cocktail of steroids, Xanax, caffeine, Metabolife, and some sort of fish paralyzer. The GeForce4 MX has two pixel pipelines and a transform and lighting unit essentially unchanged from the GeForce2, but it packs a revamped memory interface, improved antialiasing, and reworked video- and display-oriented bits and pieces. The GF4 MX also runs at a much higher clock speed. In the case of the original GF4 MX 440, the GPU ran at 270MHz with a 400MHz memory clock. The new "with AGP 8X" model runs at 275MHz with memory at 512MHz.
So the new rev of the MX 440 should be a little faster than the last one, especially when it comes to running apps fluidly at higher resolutions. Beyond that, it's still a DirectX 7-era graphics chip, with none of the new abilities of DX8 or DX9-class chips, like vertex shaders or floating-point color datatypes. That puts the MX440 in a tenuous position, because it has to compete with ATI's Radeon 9000, a DX8-class chip with real vertex and pixel shaders. When it comes down to it, the Radeon 9000 ought to be faster and more capable when running next-gen games.
However, leaving out all those features does give the GF4 MX one advantage: it's a very small chip, so it's cheap to make and easy to cool. In fact, NVIDIA's reference card for the GF4 MX400 with AGP 8X has only passive coolingno fan needed. I'd expect many of the retail cards to arrive with active cooling in order to appeal to overclockers, but the MX 440 does indeed work without a fan.
The GeForce4 Ti 4200 with AGP 8X is a different story. You can read our review of the GF4 Ti 4200 to familiarize yourself, if you somehow missed the chip that's dominated the middle of the graphics market for the past six months. This chip needs active cooling, and NVIDIA hasn't bothered to increase the stock clock speed on the chip.
They have, however, bumped up the stock memory speed. Previously, 64MB versions of the Ti 4200 came with 500MHz memory, while 128MB versions came with memory clocked at 444MHz. Our new "GeForce4 Ti 4200 with AGP 8X" reference card arrived with 128MB of memory running at 512MHz. As with the MX440, the extra memory speed should help the chip run smoother at higher resolutions or in games with more intensive texturing and rendering.
The GF4 Ti 4200, of course, is a true DirectX 8-class chip with dual vertex shaders and real pixel shaders. It's a GeForce3 that's been bonging Miracle-Gro.
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