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NVIDIA's GeForce FX 5200 Ultra GPU


The little NV34 that could.. sort of
— 12:00 AM on June 13, 2003

WHEN NVIDIA first introduced the GeForce FX 5200, its performance was horrid. Sure the chip supported all sorts of DirectX 9 goodies, but feature compatibility with DirectX 9 doesn't guarantee competitive or even competent performance in DirectX 9-class applications or older games. To cure the GeForce FX line's performance woes, NVIDIA released the Detonator FX 44.03 drivers. Cheats and optimizations for 3DMark03 in the Detonator FX drivers created some controversy. However, the drivers did dramatically improve performance in many applications without degrading image quality or otherwise breaking any rules. And there was much rejoicing.

Thus, I had a renewed interest in NVIDIA's GeForce FX 5200 Ultra. The Ultra bolsters the GeForce FX 5200's core clock speed by 75MHz and memory clock by 150MHz, which makes it look more competitive, on paper, with NVIDIA's mid-range GeForce FX 5600 than with its sub-$70 sibling.

Today we're looking at Inno3D's Tornado GeForce FX 5200 Ultra. Does it deliver on the GeForce FX 5200 Ultra's potential? Is it fast enough to challenge the GeForce FX 5600 or the competition from ATI? The answers might surprise you.

All you need to know about NV34
The GeForce FX 5200 Ultra uses NVIDIA's NV34 graphics chip, which I described in my GeForce FX 5200 review back in April. NV34 occupies the low end of NVIDIA's GeForce FX line, and it offers DirectX 9-class pixel and vertex shader programs. Like NV31, which is used in NVIDIA's GeForce FX 5600 series, NV34 has four pixel pipelines capable of laying down one texture per rendering pass. However, NV34 differs from the rest of the NV3x line in a couple of key ways:

  • Manufacturing process - NVIDIA's other NV3X graphics chips are built using new 0.13-micron process technology, but NV34 is built using older and more established 0.15-micron technology. NVIDIA's use of 0.15-micron technology will set NV34's core clock speed ceiling lower than it perhaps could be with a 0.13-micron chip, which would also consume less power, but 0.15-micron technology makes sense for relatively budget parts like the GeForce FX 5200 and 5200 Ultra.

  • No color or Z compression - Unlike the rest of the NV3X line, NV34 can't do color or Z compression. The lack of color compression should hamper the chip's performance primarily with antialiasing enabled, but the lack of Z compression will hurt across the board. Without advanced lossless compression schemes, NV34 doesn't make as efficient use of the bandwidth it has available, which reduces the chip's overall effective fill rate (or pixel-pushing power).
Those are the basics. You can find a more comprehensive analysis of the chip in my GeForce FX 5200 review and preview of NVIDIA's NV31 and NV34 graphics chips.