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MSI's FX5700-VT2DR256 graphics card

Dual DVI, for real

Price (street)$192

FOR WHATEVER reason, graphics card manufacturers have been reluctant to offer consumer-level products with dual DVI outputs. Back in the day, Gainward had a pretty sweet GeForce4 Ti 4600 with dual DVI ports, but the company hasn't made a dual DVI card since. Last August, Tyan announced a dual DVI Radeon 9600 Pro, but bailed on the product shortly thereafter due to "market forces." More recently, XFX, Asus, and HIS have made some noise about dual DVI, but their cards don't seem to be readily available in North America.

So what's a dual DVI enthusiast to do? One could opt for something from Matrox, but they haven't had a competitive 3D performer in quite some time. Workstation-class FireGL and Quadro products from ATI and NVIDIA generally sport dual DVI ports, but the price premium associated with high-end workstation gear makes FireGLs and Quadros hardly affordable. If only there were a better way.

There is. The MSI FX5700-VT2DR256 graphics card brings dual DVI outputs to NVIDIA's mid-range GeForce FX 5700. And there's more to the VT2DR256 than its digital output ports; the card also sports VIVO capabilities, a remote control unit, and 11-CD software bundle. Best of all, the VT2DR256 is currently available from Newegg and at least one other North American retailer.

I've spent a lot of quality time with the VT2DR256 over the past couple of weeks not only testing the card's 3D performance and dual DVI output ports, but also playing with the latest ForceWare graphics drivers from NVIDIA. Read on to see why the VT2DR256, combined with NVIDIA's latest nView desktop management software, could be the ultimate consumer-level multimonitor graphics solution.

The specs
As always, let's kick things off with a look at the FX5700-VT2DR256's spec sheet.

Core clock425MHz
Pixel pipelines4
Peak pixel fill rate1700 Mpixels/s
Texture units/pixel pipeline1
Textures per clock4
Peak texel fill rate1700 Mtexels/s
Memory size256MB
Memory clock550MHz
Memory typeDDR SDRAM
Memory bus width128-bit
Peak memory bandwidth8.8GB/s
PortsDVI (2), S-Video output, composite Video input
Auxiliary power connectorNone

The VT2DR256 is based on NVIDIA's NV36 GPU, which you can read more about here. Graphics cards based on NV36 have been around for over six months now, so the GPU is nothing new. However, MSI brings a few extra goodies to the VT2DR256 in the form of dual DVI outputs and a composite video input port.

The VT2DR256 is built on a bright red board that's sure to stand out through a case window, but the card is otherwise inconspicuous. Well, until you notice the dual DVI ports.

For those who don't have DVI-equipped flat panel displays, MSI ships the VT2DR256 with a DVI-to-VGA adapter. I suppose one could criticize MSI for not including two DVI-to-VGA adapters (one for each DVI output), but that seems a little petty considering that MSI offers a number of other GeForce FX 5700-based products with analog outputs.

In addition to dual DVI outputs, the VT2DR256 also has VIVO capabilities courtesy of Philips' SAA7115HL video decoder. The decoder is capable of detecting and decoding NTSC, PAL, and SECAM streams, but without an integrated TV tuner, the VT2DR256's multimedia capabilities fall a little short of All-in-Wonder and Personal Cinema products.

On the memory front, the VT2DR256 uses K4D551638D-TC36 DDR chips from Samsung. These TSOP chips are rated for operation at speeds up to 275MHz (an effective 550MHz given DDR's double data rate), which nicely matches the GeForce FX 5700's memory spec.

Unlike most mid-range graphics cards, the VT2DR256 features 256 rather than 128MB of memory. Given that even high-end graphics cards have a hard time taking advantage of 256MB of memory, it's unlikely an extra 128MB will have much of an impact on performance with a lowly FX 5700. Today's applications don't really target cards with 256MB of graphics memory, and the FX 5700 doesn't have the horsepower to handle antialiasing and anisotropic filtering at high enough resolutions to make use of the extra memory.

The card also comes with an IR remote for use with MSI's own Media Center Deluxe II software.

Unfortunately, my VT2DR256 sample lacked the IR dongle necessary for the remote control to work, so I can't comment on its usefulness. However, the remote is only meant to work with MSI's Media Center software, so it's a far cry from ATI's more versatile Remote Wonder. Were the VT2DR256 equipped with a TV tuner or more clearly targeted at home theater PCs, the Media Center-specific remote might make more sense.

MSI's Media Center software comes on one of a whopping 11 CDs bundled with the VT2DR256. With a claimed value of $1,200US, the software bundle is undeniably plentiful, but I can't find a killer app among the 11 CDs. The software bundle includes InterVideo's WinDVD and WinCinema, FarStone VirtualDrive+ and RestoreIt!, MSI's 3D desktop utility, Morrowind: The Elder Scrolls III, Ghost Recon, Duke Nukem Manhattan Project, and a 7-in-1 game CD filled with demos for ancient titles like Serious Sam SE and Oni. There's a lot there, but most of it's filler.

With NVIDIA pushing Call of Duty and ATI bundling Half-Life 2 coupons, the VT2DR256's game bundle looks dated at best. The fact that MSI was bundling Battlefield 1942, Command & Conquer Generals, and Unreal II with select GeForce FX graphics cards last summer makes Ghost Recon and Morrowind look even more antiquated.