FOR NEARLY a year, ATI's mid-range Radeons have owned the performance crown for mid-range graphics. ATI's dominance started with the Radeon 9500 Pro, continued with the Radeon 9600 Pro, and was most recently refreshed with the 9600 XT. NVIDIA took a stab at the mid-range with its GeForce FX 5600s, but not even a faster respin of the GeForce FX 5600 Ultra had enough punch to take on the Radeon 9600 line, especially in DirectX 9 applications.
Before the Radeon 9500 Pro came along, NVIDIA's GeForce4 Ti 4200 was the most widely recommended graphics card for budget-conscious enthusiasts. NVIDIA knows what it takes to be a mid-range market leader. With memories of the GeForce4 Ti 4200's glory no doubt in mind, NVIDIA is ready to put up a fight for the mid-range performance crown with the GeForce FX 5700 Ultra. The 5700 Ultra is powered by a new NV36 graphics chip and promises more shader power, higher clock speeds, and greater memory bandwidth than its predecessor. On paper, NVIDIA's third shot at this generation's mid-range graphics crown looks pretty good, but does it have the charm to capture the hearts and minds of budget-conscious gamers and PC enthusiasts? Will this be NVIDIA's third strike with the budget-conscious crowd? Read on as we unleash the FX 5700 Ultra on ATI's Radeon 9600 cards to find out.
The GeForce FX 5700 line is based on NVIDIA's new NV36 graphics chip, which is essentially a mid-range version of the high-end NV35 chip found in NVIDIA's GeForce FX 5900 and 5900 Ultra. The NV36-powered GeForce FX 5700 Ultra will replace the mid-range FX 5600 Ultra at a suggested retail price of $199, and is expected on retail shelves starting this Sunday.
NV36 doesn't represent a major redesign of NVIDIA's current GeForce FX architecture, but the chip does have a number interesting characteristics that are worth highlighting.
What's particularly impressive about NV36's fabrication is the fact that NVIDIA was able to get its very first chip sample from IBM up and running Quake just 50 minutes after the chip entered NVIDIA's testing lab. A testament to IBM's mad fabrication skills, the first A01 spin of NV36 silicon is actually being used for retail versions of the chip.
NVIDIA continues to reiterate the fact that its entire GeForce FX line is sensitive to instruction ordering and pixel shader precision. Optimized code paths can help NV36 and the rest of the GeForce FX line realize their full potential, but NVIDIA's new Detonator 50 driver also has a few tricks up its sleeve to improve performance. You can read all about the Detonator 50 drivers in our GeForce FX 5950 Ultra review.
Perhaps to illustrate just how close the GeForce FX 5700 Ultra is to store shelves, NVIDIA sent out retail cards instead of standard reference review samples. The eVGA e-GeForce FX 5700 Ultra that showed up on my doorstep came in a full retail box, shrink-wrapped and everything. Let's have a quick look at the card's spec sheet.
|Peak pixel fill rate||1900 Mpixels/s|
|Texture units/pixel pipeline||1|
|Textures per clock||4|
|Peak texel fill rate||1900 Mtexels/s|
|Memory type||BGA DDR2 SDRAM|
|Memory bus width||128-bit|
|Peak memory bandwidth||14.5GB/s|
|Ports||VGA, DVI, composite and S-Video outputs|
|Auxiliary power connector||4-pin Molex|
The GeForce FX 5700 Ultra is all about high clock speeds and fancy memory. Quite honestly, I didn't expect cards with 450MHz DDR2 memory chips to hit $200 price points this soon, but I'm certainly not going to complain. Profit margins on GeForce FX 5700 Ultras may be slimmer than with other cards, but that's a good thing for consumers looking for the most bang for their buck.
Here's a few nudies of the e-GeForce FX 5700 Ultra to drool over before we get started with the benchmarks.
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