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NVIDIA's GeForce FX 5900 XT GPU

The gloves come off

ModelGeForce FX 5900 SE
Price (estimated)US$200

AFTER FIELDING a number of lackluster mid-range graphics chips based on its GeForce FX architecture, NVIDIA finally got its act together with the GeForce FX 5700 Ultra. When we reviewed the 5700 Ultra back in October, the card's performance in DirectX 8-class games was at least as good as—and often much better than—ATI's Radeon 9600 XT. Unfortunately, the 5700 Ultra stumbled in a number of DirectX 9-class games and synthetic benchmarks, casting a shadow of doubt about how the card might handle next-generation DirectX titles.

Not content to bet the mid-range farm on the 5700 Ultra, NVIDIA has added yet another GeForce FX card to its lineup, the GeForce FX 5900 XT. The 5900 XT will share the same $200 price point as NVIDIA's existing GeForce FX 5700 Ultra, and both will compete with ATI's $200 Radeon 9600 XT. This new card's "XT" moniker suggests NVIDIA wants to knock the Radeon 9600 XT off its pedestal. NVIDIA has even whipped up an answer to ATI's much-lauded Half-Life 2 bundle to sweeten the 5900 XT.

Can its pseudo-eight-pipe graphics core help elevate the GeForce FX 5900 XT above the competition? There's only one way to find out.

eVGA's GeForce FX 5900 SE
Don't let its name fool you. eVGA's GeForce FX 5900 SE is very much a 5900 XT. NVIDIA's partners are free to name cards as they please, and most will be using the GeForce FX 5900 XT name. All GeForce FX 5900 XT cards should share the same core and memory clock speeds, and similar board layouts and memory configurations. Here are the specs on eVGA's GeForce FX 5900 SE:

Core clock400MHz
Pixel pipelines4*
Peak pixel fill rate1600 Mpixels/s
Texture units/pixel pipeline2
Textures per clock8
Peak texel fill rate3200 Mtexels/s
Memory clock700MHz
Memory typeBGA DDR2 SDRAM
Memory bus width256-bit
Peak memory bandwidth22.4GB/s
PortsVGA, DVI, composite and S-Video outputs
Auxiliary power connector4-pin Molex
*The NV35 graphics chip renders four conventional (color + Z) pixels per clock, but is capable of performing 8 operations per clock for Z pixels, textures, and stencil and shader ops.

eVGA's GeForce FX 5900 SE is a pretty plain looking card, which is just fine by me. As attractive as colored boards with blinking lights can be, how often are you actually looking at your PC's internals?

In a move that will no doubt delight owners of Shuttle's small form factor XPC systems, the GeForce FX 5900 SE uses a single-slot cooler that gets along just fine with Shuttle's nonstandard AGP slot layout. The 5900 SE's cooling fan is nice and quiet, too.

eVGA uses large memory heat sinks to cool the GeForce FX 5900 SE's memory chips. Incidentally, those chips are only found on one side of the board.

Like just about every other consumer graphics card on the planet, eVGA's 5900 SE has VGA, DVI, and S-Video output ports. The card also comes with a DVI-to-VGA adapter and an S-Video cable.

In addition to a couple of cables, eVGA's 5900 SE comes with a pretty stacked software bundle. For starters, the bundle includes full versions of NVDVD 2.0, America's Army, and Ghost Recon, but that's not all. NVIDIA has also announced an exclusive deal to bundle the recently released WWII shooter Call of Duty with its GeForce FX 5900 XT graphics cards. Just about every one of NVIDIA's partners, including eVGA, will be getting in on the deal.

NVIDIA's Call of Duty deal represents roughly $50 of value for those who were planning on picking up the game, which is a pretty sweet deal. NVIDIA is providing its partners with full-version Call of Duty CDs rather than coupons or vouchers, so the game should come right in the box.

NVIDIA certainly isn't the first graphics chip manufacturer to announce an exclusive, top-tier game bundle for its mid-range graphics cards. ATI announced its Radeon XT Half-Life 2 bundle back in September. Call of Duty might not have the name recognition of Half-Life 2, and it's probably wasn't nearly as eagerly anticipated as Valve's upcoming sequel. But Call of Duty is available today, and there's no telling when Radeon XT owners will be able to redeem their Half-Life 2 coupons. In the end, I'll probably end up spending more time playing Half-Life 2 than I will Call of Duty, but there's only so much amusement I can wring from a Half-Life 2 coupon. Making paper airplanes and origami are fun for the first five minutes, but replay value is pretty weak. (In all fairness, ATI and Valve are offering an interim game pack for Radeon buyers that includes a total of six downloadable Valve titles from years past. They are older titles, though.)