NVIDIA GeForce4 AGP 8x Performance Preview October 08, 2002 Chris Angelini
Summary: NVIDIA's annual fall refresh is upon us, NV18 and NV28 are here! Today we're looking at reference boards based on the GeForce4 Ti 4200 (NV28) and GeForce4 MX 440 (NV18) cores. Besides AGP 8x support, one of the cards comes with new clock speeds. Find out how the perform in comparison to their predecessors in today's article!
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Despite overwhelming performance from ATI’s flagship, NVIDIA is still the market leader. Think about that for a second – to lead the graphics market in sales is a prestigious achievement, and NVIDIA has put forth a tremendous effort in its quest. That said, NVIDIA needs to maintain its drive if ATI’s recent challenge is to be staved. NV30 will be the first major attempt to reclaim the performance crown, but the battle has to be fought in the mainstream market as well (we all know that the OEMs sell more GeForce4 MX cards than Ti 4600’s).
In order to gain an advantage over competing products like the RADEON 9000 Pro, NVIDIA is retrofitting its bestsellers with AGP 8x support. Apparently, the feature warrants a new core name, hence the recent announcement of the NV28 and NV18 graphics processors. Think of the new products as technology updates, though, rather than the “refresh” we used to expect every six months. We’ll have to wait for NV30 before the real excitement begins.
The Cards – 128MB Ti 4200 and 64MB MX 440
In moving from NV25 to NV28, NVIDIA has only made one significant addition – AGP 8x. Surprisingly, the GeForce4 Ti 4200 with AGP 8x support operates at 250MHz, just like the currently available NV25. Even the accompanying Thin Small Outline Package (TSOP) DDR memory modules operate at the same 500MHz frequency. Philips’ SAA7104E/V1 handles video output, while Silicon Images’ Sil164CT64 powers the DVI output on the card’s back plate. A VGA output is also present, giving the Ti 4200 AGP 8x dual-monitor capabilities through NVIDIA’s nView 2.0 software. For all intents and purposes, this is the same GeForce4 Ti 4200 you’ve come to know and love, only with AGP 8x capabilities.
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Conversely, the RADEON 9000 Pro seems to have motivated NVIDIA to bolster the GeForce4 MX 440’s performance; again, NVIDIA is only focusing on the “best seller” at first. Our NV18 reference card arrived clocked at 275/512MHz; though NVIDIA claims the actual frequency should be 275/500MHz. Thus, our tests reflect the adjusted 500MHz effective memory speed, which compares favorably against the 270/400MHz NV17 reference card. Most MX 440 boards based on the NV17 core are actively cooled. This is not the case with NVIDIA’s NV18 reference design, though, as a passive heat sink rests atop the GPU. Philips’ SAA7114H provides video input capabilities, with 9-bit analog-to-digital converters (ADC) indicating the possibility of a planned Personal Cinema package with AGP 8x support. Like the Ti 4200, the GeForce4 MX 440 offers both VGA and DVI outputs. However, the NV18’s integrated TMDS transmitter drives the DVI output.
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Overclocking and System Setup
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The GeForce4 Ti 4200 has been known to reach core frequencies in excess of 300MHz, so NVIDIA’s decision to ship reference boards at 250MHz seems mighty conservative. Thankfully, third-party manufacturers will have some freedom to adjust those settings for more aggressive performance. Further, many of the Ti 4200 cards equipped with 3.6ns memory modules have approached the 600MHz mark.
At 500MHz, the 4ns Samsung modules on the reference design were already operating at their rated capacity. Even still, the card performed stably all the way up to 300/570MHz, indicating that the low-end NV28 boards will probably enjoy the same popularity as the current Ti 4200 with the overclocking community.
The NV18 proved even more flexible. At default speeds, the MX 440 with AGP 8x runs at 275/500MHz. With a quick adjustment of NVIDIA’s built-in overclocking utility, the card ran without a hitch at speeds up to 312/580MHz. This isn’t really a surprise, considering four 3.6ns Samsung memory modules reside on the board.
All power saving options were turned off, as were the Automatic Update and System Restore services. Graphics options under the ‘Performance’ tab were all disabled for maximum performance.
Unreal Tournament 2003 Demo
3D Mark 2001 Second Edition Build 330 – 32-bit color
Quake III: Arena version 1.31 – ‘four’ demo
Serious Sam: The Second Encounter – Beyond3D Maximum quality script, 32-bit color, Grand Cathedral demo
Jedi Knight II ‘jk2ffa’ demo
SIDEBAR: The NV28 reference card is cooled by a small heat sink and fan combination.
3D Mark 2001
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3DMark 2001 - DirectX 8
Lets start with the mainstream GeForce4 MX 440. NV18’s 500MHz memory bus compares very favorably to the older NV17 card from PNY, especially at high resolutions. In fact, at 1280x1024, the NV18 card puts down 12 percent more performance than the vanilla GeForce4 MX 440. Further, the NV18 board overclocked to 312/580MHz delivers nearly eight percent more speed.
The equivalent GeForce4 Ti 4200 NV28 card is an entirely difference story. At 1280x1024, where we’d expect a relatively heavy demand on the graphics card, there is a nearly imperceptible half percent difference between the comparably clocked Ti 4200 cards. At least overclocking is able to boost performance by roughly six percent.
SIDEBAR: The AGP 8x cards will primarily serve to satisfy OEM’s until NV30 debuts later this year.
3D Mark 2001 – Frame Rates
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3DMark 2001 - Car Chase
3DMark 2001 - Dragothic
3DMark 2001 - Lobby
3DMark 2001 - Nature
SIDEBAR: The NV28 and NV 18 cards came from NVIDIA clocked at 250/513MHz and 275/512MHz, respectively. We dropped both memory frequencies to 500MHz to reflect NVIDIA’s quoted specification.
Serious Sam 2
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Serious Sam SE - OpenGL
Serious Sam SE is generally dominated by ATI and sure enough, the RADEON 9000 Pro is even able to best the NV28 card.
Strangely, the NV28 and NV18 cards perform almost identically. Could it be that Serious Sam isn’t utilizing all four of the Ti 4200’s pixel pipelines? At least the NV18 is able to demonstrate an impressive lead over the older GeForce4 MX 440.
SIDEBAR: At 500MHz, the 128-bit memory bus is able to deliver 8GB per second of bandwidth to the NV28 core.
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Quake III - High Quality
Quake III returns results that resemble 3D Mark 2001 SE. Mainly, the NV18 card beats the GeForce4 MX 440 (as well as the RADEON 9000 Pro at high resolutions) and the NV28 card shows very little improvement over the Ti 4200. At 1600x1200, NV28 pulls slightly more than a single percentage point over the NV25 core.
SIDEBAR: NVIDIA uses Samsung memory on the NV28 card. The 250MHz modules are rated at CL 4.
Quake III - Anti-Aliasing
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Quake III – 2x FSAA
SIDEBAR: The NV18 card is equipped with four 16MB BGA memory modules.
Quake III – Quincunx Anti-Aliasing
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Quake III – Quincunx FSAA
SIDEBAR: According to a major motherboard manufacturer, ATI has fixed the AGP 8x bug on the RADEON 9700 with a revision called A03.
Quake III – 4x FSAA
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Quake III – 4x FSAA
SIDEBAR: We are socially programmed to be doing something at all times. Try standing perfectly still in a mall for 10 minutes and see how people react. You might be surprised.
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Comanche 4 – DirectX 8
For the first time, both the NV28 and NV18 cards demonstrate improved performance at high-resolutions. The NV18 card clearly benefits from improved memory bandwidth, as the scores for all resolutions are higher. Even at 800x600, it still looks as though the GeForce4 MX is the bottleneck.
That point is reaffirmed as the NV28 posts much higher numbers. Moreover, the 128MB card even manages to outperform the 64MB GeForce4 Ti 4200 despite the identical operating frequencies. More so than AGP 8x versus AGP 4x, we’d say this is an issue of memory capacity.
SIDEBAR: Involvement has been cited as one of the most important factors in a student’s decision to persist in college.
Jedi Knight II
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Jedi Knight II – OpenGL
Jedi Knight II is less conclusive than the other benchmarks. It is apparent from the NV28 scores that the processor is a bottleneck all the way up to 1024x768, and even at 1280x1024, the game isn’t really pushing the Ti 4200 as hard as, say, Comanche 4. The GeForce4 MX 440 scores similarly up until 1280x1024, where the NV28 shows a definite advantage. Again, the RADEON 9000 Pro has a hard time keeping up with the NV18 reference card.
SIDEBAR: The Silicon Image Sil164CT64 DVI controller offers between 25 and 165 MPixels per second of bandwidth (enough for anything between VGA and UXGA screens)
Unreal Tournament 2003 Demo
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Unreal Tournament 2003 flyby
Unreal Tournament 2003 botmatch
The Unreal Tournament downloadable demo does not include high-resolution textures, so we wouldn’t expect the game to saturate the AGP bus, or even fill a 64MB frame buffer, for that matter. What the game does do, though, is show that the NV18 card benefits from faster (100MHz to be exact) memory, and that AGP 8x, thus far, does relatively little for the NV28.
Maybe more important, though, is that the NV18 is able to beat ATI’s RADEON 9000 Pro, despite the lack of DirectX 8 features on the NV18. We’ve seen this happen several times already and it’s got us wondering, is the 9000 Pro’s DirectX 8 feature set really doing anything for performance in today’s games?
SIDEBAR: Intel won’t have an AGP 8x compatible chipset until Granite Bay is introduced with support for dual-channel DDR memory. For now, look to the SiS 648 (for the Pentium 4) and nForce2/KT400 (for the Athlon XP).
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For the most part, NV28 and NV18 are directed towards manufacturers like Dell and Gateway that would like to add “AGP 8x” to their specification lists. And why not? It sure sounds impressive. It would probably be safe to surmise that the GeForce4 MX 440 with AGP 8x and the GeForce4 Ti 4200 with AGP 8x will be the only two products NVIDIA officially announces until NV30 arrives. OEM’s want the best of the best, and right now, that’s the RADEON 9700 Pro. There would be little justification for a GeForce4 Ti 4600 with AGP 8x right now, especially since NVIDIA is devoting its resources to finishing up with the next-generation card (which we already know will have AGP 8x support). A few notes on the two GeForce4/AGP 8x processors NVIDIA will be manufacturing, though…
If you came looking for performance, NV28 is likely a letdown. It has the same operating frequencies as the NV25 variant, thus delivers very similar performance. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, it will undoubtedly be a while before we see the 2.1GB per second of bandwidth AGP 8x enables fully utilized. Manufacturers will have some freedom to adjust clock speed, as ABIT has done with the Siluro Ti 4200 OTES, but most will want to focus on NV30 when it arrives.
The road is a little brighter for the NV18-based GeForce4 MX 440. By adding 500MHz memory to the card, NVIDIA is again competing neck-in-neck with ATI’s RADEON 9000 Pro. If NVIDIA can maintain current prices on the MX 440, NV18 will be a compelling purchase. However, the RADEON 9000 Pro does feature support for the programmable vertex and pixel shaders brought forth in DirectX 8, so it is still a technologically superior card. If you were planning to purchase an MX 440 card before now, you may want to consider an NV18 card. Better yet, if you’re patient, wait for NV30 and pick up one of the Ti 4200 cards that will undoubtedly drop in price.
SIDEBAR: Were you hoping for more from AGP 8x? Would you rather hold your breath until NV30 arrives? Let us know!