THUS FAR, the performance of NVIDIA's GeForce FX line has left something to be desired. The GeForce FX 5800 Ultra is a noisy alternative to ATI's Radeon 9800 Pro, and the GeForce FX 5200 is a slower performer in real-world games and applications than the Radeon 9000 Pro. For enthusiasts, however, the GeForce FX 5600 may be the most interesting card in the GeForce FX line. Powered by NVIDIA's NV31 graphics chip, the GeForce FX 5600 is a mid-range graphics card aimed at ATI's Radeon 9500 and 9600 lines. Like other members of the GeForce FX family, the GeForce FX 5600 is dressed up with enough DirectX 9 goodies to give users a "cinematic" experience, although features alone don't guarantee performance.
Today we'll be looking at NV31 as implemented in BFG Technologies' Asylum GeForce FX 5600 256MB card. As its name implies, the Asylum GeForce FX 5600 256MB packs 256MB of memory, but the card also has a few other tricks up its sleeve.
The dirt on NV31
Before we consider BFG Technologies' implementation of the GeForce FX 5600, it's worth taking a moment to go over some of the key capabilities of NVIDIA's NV31 graphics chip. I'll just be highlighting NV31's more important features here, but a more detailed analysis of NV31's feature set and how it compares with NV30 and NV34 can be found in my preview of the GeForce FX 5600.
Like NV30 and NV34, NV31 supports 64- and 128-bit floating-point precision in its pixel shaders. Of course, programs using 64-bit datatypes run faster than those with 128-bit datatypes. NVIDIA claims developers can be more efficient by defining their variables for the datatypes they need, mixing 64-bit and 128-bit processing as required. ATI, by comparison, splits the difference and offers only 96-bit floating-point precision with the R300-series chips' pixel shaders, although the rest of the graphics pipeline offers a range of datatypes, including 64-bit and 128-bit floating-point formats. Both companies' compromises sacrifice some precision for performance; which is a better choice depends on real-world performance and image quality.
Now that we know what's going on with NV31, let's check out BFG Technologies' take on the GeForce FX 5600.
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