||MSI FX5200-TDR128 Review
May 02, 2003 Brandon Bell
Summary: Based on the GeForce FX 5200 GPU, MSI's FX5200-TDR128 is aimed at the enthusiast on a budget. MSI equips the card with the 2nd revision of its T.O.P. Tech cooling solution, 128MB of memory, and a remote control unit! Check out our latest article to see how this card performs!
| Introduction||Page:: ( 1 / 16 )|
As the successor to the GeForce2 MX series, NVIDIA’s GeForce4 MX had some very big shoes to fill. Not only was the GeForce2 MX the poster child of the value segment, it was the first product truly geared from the ground up to attend to the needs of this critical sector. OEMs and gamers alike bought GeForce2 MX cards in droves and while attempts from STMicro and later, ATI, were made to dethrone it, NVIDIA countered by adding additional variants and with price cuts. If there were a graphics card hall of fame, the GeForce2 MX deserves a spot right alongside 3dfx’s Voodoo Graphics chipset, the granddaddy of 3D graphics as we know them today.
Despite concerted attempts by NVIDIA and graphics card manufacturers, GeForce4 MX just couldn’t get off the ground in the hearts and minds of gamers like the GeForce2 MX did. For starters, NVIDIA built GeForce4 MX largely off the same core as GeForce2 MX. NVIDIA implemented a quasi crossbar memory architecture in the sense that the GeForce4 MX utilized dual rather than quad memory controllers.
NVIDIA also added its Accuview anti-aliasing engine from the GeForce4 Titanium family, but the chip lacked the presence of hardware pixel and vertex shaders, features NVIDIA introduced to the world with GeForce3, and then enhanced in GeForce4 Titanium. With its GeForce4 MX designation, many assumed it was a stripped, feature complete version of the GeForce4 Titanium, just as GeForce2 MX had been with GeForce2 GTS. This led many gamers to cry foul, accusing NVIDIA of deceptive marketing.
In fact, due to market conditions, NVIDIA’s flagship of the GeForce4 MX line, the GeForce4 MX460, never really get off the ground. The GeForce4 MX sported a 300MHz clock frequency, making it one of the fastest chips in NVIDIA’s stable at the time based on raw clock speed. In addition, the card was outfitted with more expensive BGA (rather than TSOP) DDR memory. The end result was a product that was very hard for card manufacturers to produce affordably, in fact, we’re not aware of a single GeForce4 MX460 card that was ever sold to the public. Instead, graphics card manufacturers chose to go with NVIDIA’s GeForce4 MX 440.
The GeForce4 MX440 was cheaper to manufacture, allowing card manufacturers to hit the price points they were shooting for the value market. Just as important however, was NVIDIA’s GeForce4 Ti 4200. Due to its manufacturing cost, GeForce4 MX460 was priced closely to GeForce4 Ti 4200, yet the Ti 4200 offered considerably more performance, and hardware pixel and vertex shaders. There simply was no point in purchasing GeForce4 MX 460.
NVIDIA hopes to have another sales success in the GeForce FX 5200 family. This series of chips boast full DX9 compliance, but without the killer price tag you’d expect of a DX9 graphics card. Last month we took a look at the GeForce FX 5200 Ultra, today we’re reviewing MSI’s GeForce FX 5200 card, the FX5200-TDR128.
SIDEBAR: MSI FX5200-TDR128 Product Webpage
| GeForce FX 5200 variants||Page:: ( 2 / 16 )|
Before we discuss the details of the MSI card, we’ll first provide a quick refresher on the GeForce FX 5200 family.
Like GeForce FX 5600, the GeForce FX 5200 is a four pixel pipeline architecture (double that of GeForce4 MX), with one texture unit per pixel pipeline. This 4x1 approach is also used by ATI in the RADEON 9000 series, GeForce FX 5200’s primary competitor. In order to reduce the transistor count of GeForce FX 5200 however, the Intellisample anti-aliasing engine present in GeForce FX 5600 has been removed from GeForce FX 5200.
As a result, the GeForce FX 5200 loses the color and z-compression engines, ultimately hurting anti-aliasing performance. Overall, the GeForce FX 5200 is composed of 45 million transistors, 14 million transistors greater than GeForce4 MX, but nearly half the number of transistors as GeForce FX 5600. This low transistor count helps to keep production costs in check while at the same time keeping heat at bay. Low-end GeForce FX 5200 cards don’t require active cooling; another component that can increase the cost of producing a graphics card.
Three flavors of GeForce FX 5200 to choose from
Three GeForce FX 5200 variants are available for graphics card manufacturers to choose from. At the top of the heap is the GeForce FX 5200 Ultra. This card boasts a 325MHz core clock (for a fill-rate of 1.3Gigatexels/sec) with 128MB of 325MHz (650MHz effective) DDR memory. At $149, the GeForce FX 5200 Ultra matches the $129-$149 price tag the RADEON 9200 PRO will officially list for when it begins shipping.
In the middle of the GeForce FX 5200 lineup is the 250MHz core clock GeForce FX 5200. This chip is then paired with 200MHz (400MHz effective) DDR memory of the TSOP variety and is available in 64MB and 128MB configurations. This is essentially the variant NVIDIA announced as the $99 GeForce FX 5200 at their launch event during GDC.
The final piece of the GeForce FX 5200 puzzle is a bit confusing, as it’s also labeled GeForce FX 5200. Physically it uses the same 250MHz chip as the $99 GeForce FX 5200, the primary difference lies in its 64-bit memory interface. Needless to say, this is not the card you’re going to want to be running if you’re any type of gamer, as the 64-bit interface will limit you to very low screen resolutions. We’ve also seen these cards ship with 166MHz (332MHz effective) memory.
Fortunately, these FX5200 cards appear to be limited to the 64MB memory configuration, so if you see a 64MB GeForce FX 5200 card that’s priced too good to be true, chances are it’s one of these cards. This is the $79 DX9 card NVIDIA trumpeted at GDC back in March.
SIDEBAR: The GeForce FX 5200 is built on TSMC’s 0.15-micron process.
| First Impressions||Page:: ( 3 / 16 )|
This brings us to the MSI FX5200-TDR128. In typical MSI fashion, they’ve gone all out with this card! For starters, this card is based on the second GeForce FX 5200 core we mentioned, which features a 250MHz core clock frequency with 400MHz DDR memory. As its name suggests, MSI serves this board up with 128MB of memory. Our review board shipped with 4.0ns memory from Samsung, good for up to 500MHz.
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The board layout itself is pretty spartan, power delivery is limited to a handful of capacitors, hardware monitoring and BIOS chips also adorn the FX5200-TDR128 board. One interesting aspect of the board design itself is its simplicity. Unlike the GeForce FX 5200 Ultra, no external power source is necessary, and as you can see the board isn’t equipped with expensive BGA memory. The MSI card is also shorter than GeForce FX 5200 Ultra, if it weren’t for the massive Orb-style cooler, the FX5200-TDR128 could be built on an even smaller PCB. All of the above will help keep board production costs for MSI, and anyone else building a GeForce FX 5200 card.
T.O.P. Tech II
Speaking of the cooler, MSI has updated its T.O.P. Tech cooling that we loved so much in its GeForce4 cards for GeForce FX. The new design features an Orb-like heatsink with active cooling. We’ve noticed that many card manufacturers have chosen passive cooling designs for their GeForce FX 5200 cards, so the addition of the fan is a good thing if you’re concerned about cooling. We wouldn’t say the fan is substantially quieter than the reference 5200 Ultra cooler, although the pitch of the fan is a little bit higher.
Unlike the GeForce FX 5200 Ultra reference card we received, the FX5200-TDR128 fan operates at the same speed regardless of 2D or 3D operation. We have a feeling this probably has more to do with the driver than anything else, as NVIDIA must have forgot to add dynamic fan speed support for the GeForce FX 5200 GPU like it did with the FX 5200 Ultra, which operates at the same 250MHz clock frequency as the vanilla GeForce FX 5200 in 2D mode but with the fan off.
What really sets the MSI FX5200-TDR128 apart from most other GeForce FX 5200 cards on the market is its bundled accessories. MSI includes the obligatory DVI-to-VGA adapter and S-Video cables, but MSI goes one step further with a TV-out breakout box with remote receiver. This isn’t quite the same breakout box we’ve seen with the GeForce4 cards we’ve reviewed, as this box doesn’t offer video input, just output. The remote receiver is used in conjunction with the remote control unit that also ships in the FX5200-TDR128’s packaging.
SIDEBAR: MSI also has a GeForce FX 5200 Ultra product listed on its website.
| MSI Media Center||Page:: ( 4 / 16 )|
MSI Media Center Deluxe II
You’re probably wondering why MSI chose to include a remote control unit in the FX5200-TDR128 packaging. After all, you don’t need a remote to control your video card. The remote is bundled with a copy of MSI Media Center, which integrates all the functions of multiple software packages into one suite.
With Media Center, you can watch DVDs, play videos on your PC, view pictures, listen to music, and if you have MSI’s tuner card, you can watch TV via the Media Center. The remote has buttons to launch these applications as well as providing functionality. For instance, buttons are available for manipulating DVD menus as well as your standard channel control, rewind, fast-forward, etc. The remote is IR-based, so you will need line of sight with the receiver in order to use the remote, which is a slight drawback.
This feature could really come in handy for those of you with small form factor (SFF) PCs. With the FX5200-TDR128 and MSI Media Center, you could easily have a way to interface with your PC from the couch, launching games or your Internet browser from the Media Center console, in addition to the aforementioned functions it provides. MSI happens to be working on small form factor PC of their own, the Mega PC. Wouldn’t it be great to see MSI provide a limited edition bundle of the Mega PC with the FX5200 TDR128 (or one of their FX5600 cards for that matter) at a discounted price?
If you don’t want the remote control unit, MSI does list the FX5200-TD128 on its Taiwanese website. At this point, the only models available for the American market are the FX5200-TDR128 (i.e. with the remote) and its 64MB counterpart, the FX5200-TD64. Hopefully we’ll see the non-remote variant hit US shores shortly, as there are certainly those consumers who may want the additional cooling provided by T.O.P. Tech II but don’t want or need the remote control unit.
Editor's Note: It has come to our attention that MSI will be shipping the FX5200-TD128 to the North American market. This card ships without the remote control unit for a lower cost.
Software bundle and overclocking
You can’t discuss the software bundle of an MSI graphics product without first discussing MSI’s Live Update series. This utility is useful for those of you who don’t like keeping up with the latest drivers, Live VGA driver and Live VGA BIOS will ensure that you have the latest BIOS and video driver for your FX5200-TDR128 card.
For overclocking, MSI also provides its 3D! Turbo Experience tool, but as we’ve discussed in the past, this Flash-based tool pales in comparison to NVIDIA’s Coolbits utility. MSI also bundles copies of Virtual Drive 7, Restore It 3, MSI 5.1-channel DVD player, Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon, Morrowind, and Duke Nukem: Manhattan Project. There’s also a 7-in-1 games pack, which includes demos taken from a selection of games.
As far as overclocking the card is concerned, we weren’t able to get anywhere. If you recall our GeForce FX 5200 Ultra preview, we’d only overclocked the core clock 10MHz and the memory 20MHz before the card would automatically reset itself back to default clock speeds. We have a strong feeling that the FX5200-TDR128 was doing the same thing, as no matter what settings we tried, performance was always similar to default clock speeds. Even a 5MHz memory boost had no effect on performance.
Overclocking has been a concern of ours ever since we tested the GeForce FX 5800 Ultra, and is largely dependant on driver quality. For instance, with earlier (unreleased) drivers the FX 5800 Ultra would actually underclock itself in some situations, resulting in performance below default clock speeds! Hopefully NVIDIA can get everything sorted out with its next driver release so we can get back to overclocking the GeForce FX boards with the same aggressiveness we’ve had with previous NVIDIA products.
SIDEBAR: The remote control unit does come with batteries.
| Test Systems||Page:: ( 5 / 16 )|
Intel Pentium 4 3.06GHz (Hyper-Threading enabled)
512MB Mushkin PC3200 (operating at DDR333) SDRAM
ATI RADEON 9000 PRO
Driver version CATALYST 3.2
MSI FX5200-TDR128 (GeForce FX 5200)
NVIDIA GeForce FX 5200 Ultra reference card
NVIDIA GeForce4 Ti 4200-8X reference card
VisionTek Xtasy GeForce4 MX 440
NVIDIA GeForce2 MX 400 reference card
Driver version Detonator 43.45
30GB IBM Deskstar DTLA 307030 ATA/100 Hard Drive
Windows XP Professional
Quake III: Arena version 1.17
Serious Sam: The Second Encounter (Elephant Atrium demo)
Unreal Tournament 2003
SIDEBAR: The part number for the FX5200-TDR128 is the MS-8907.
| 3DMark03||Page:: ( 6 / 16 )|
You’re probably wondering how the GeForce FX 5200 Ultra finished ahead of the GeForce4 Ti 4200. Remember, 3DMark 03 includes the test results from all four game tests, since the GeForce4 lacks 2.0 shader support, it isn’t capable of running test 4, mother nature. Lets look at the frame rate results.
SIDEBAR: MSI has also announced a 256MB GeForce FX 5600 card!
| 3DMark03 – Frame Rates||Page:: ( 7 / 16 )|
3DMark03 – Wings of Fury
3DMark03 – Battle of Proxycon
3DMark03 – Troll’s Lair
3DMark03 – Mother Nature
SIDEBAR: FutureMark has released a patch for 3DMark 03 with DX9.0a support.
| Serious Sam 2||Page:: ( 8 / 16 )|
Serious Sam 2 - OpenGL
The RADEON 9000 PRO really performs well in Serious Sam 2, outperforming both GeForce FX 5200 cards, finishing second only to GeForce4 Ti 4200. We see that the MSI card trails the FX 5200 Ultra board by roughly 25-30% at 1024x768 and up.
SIDEBAR: As far as we can tell, GeForce FX 5200 and FX 5200 Ultra cards are now available, FX 5600 cards are also available, but the 5600 Ultra is still a no show.
| Quake III||Page:: ( 9 / 16 )|
Quake III - High Quality
Quake 3 is a different story than Serious Sam, now we see the MSI FX5200-TDR128 finishing ahead of RADEON 9000 PRO, although we see it nearly 30% behind the FX 5200 Ultra reference card at 1280x1024 and 1600x1200.
SIDEBAR: Doesn’t look like there will be much Doom 3 to look forward to at E3 this year.
| Comanche 4||Page:: ( 10 / 16 )|
Comanche 4 demo
Comanche 4 really wasn’t the FX5200-TDR128’s favorite application, it finishes behind the GeForce4 MX440, but remember that the GeForce4 MX lacks hardware pixel and vertex shaders, so it’s running in a lower detail mode.
SIDEBAR: If I recall correctly, the Comanche is capable of flying up to 90 MPH sideways.
| Unreal Tournament 2003||Page:: ( 11 / 16 )|
Unreal Tournament 2003 - flyby
Unreal Tournament 2003 - botmatch
We see the RADEON 9000 PRO and the FX5200-TDR128 running neck and neck in testing with Unreal Tournament, with the GeForce FX 5200 Ultra ahead of the MSI card by 25% at 1280x1024.
SIDEBAR: I wonder which Blazers team is going to show up against the Mavs tonight. The team that is making this into a real series or the Blazers that are known for early playoff exits.
| UT 4x AA||Page:: ( 12 / 16 )|
Unreal Tournament 2003 Flyby
Unreal Tournament 2003 Botmatch
The RADEON 9000 PRO utilizes super-sampling for AA, so it’s no surprise to see the GeForce FX 5200 cards ahead of it in UT 2003.
SIDEBAR: Epic may also have some UT news for E3.
| 2x Anti-Aliasing||Page:: ( 13 / 16 )|
Quake III – High Quality
SIDEBAR: We’d wanted to include RADEON 9000 scores, but we just couldn’t underclock our RADEON 9000 PRO card without artifacts appearing.
| 4x Anti-Aliasing||Page:: ( 14 / 16 )|
Quake III – High Quality
SIDEBAR: MSI is one of Taiwan’s largest motherboard manufacturers.
| Ballistics Report||Page:: ( 15 / 16 )|
Price: A quick search of Price Watch yields prices for the MSI FX5200-TDR128 starting as low as $115 and as high as $125. Unfortunately, there are only six listings so price competition hasn’t really settled in just yet. At first glance, this may seem a bit high, as 128MB GeForce FX 5200 cards are listed as low as $78 currently, but when you consider the added cooling, software bundle, and remote control unit, $115 doesn’t seem like a lot to ask. As additional retailers begin to carry the FX5200-TDR128, prices will drop even further.
Cooling: With multiple GeForce FX 5200 cards shipping with passive cooling, it’s good to see the T.O.P. Tech II cooling solution adorning the MSI FX5200-TDR128 card. Since the GeForce FX 5200 doesn’t run as fast as our GeForce FX 5200 Ultra reference card (which can get pretty toasty under load during extended testing), we can’t definitively say that it’s a more effective cooling solution, but the card definitely remained cool under pressure.
T.O.P. Tech II is also quiet, although we believe the plastic enclosure present on the original T.O.P. Tech cooler was responsible for absorbing some sound -- T.O.P. Tech II was just a hair louder than T.O.P. Tech to our ears.
Remote control unit: The remote control can be a benefit to some users, and an added cost to others. We really see the benefits for small form factor PC owners, or anyone else who would like to integrate their PC with their home entertainment system.
Performance: While the GeForce FX 5200 won’t break any speed records, it still provides excellent performance for the segment it is in. It’s predecessor, GeForce4 MX440, is left in the dust in the vast majority of tests.
DirectX 9 game performance: Of course, just because the FX5200-TDR128 supports DirectX 9 and the 2.0 pixel and vertex shaders it delivers, doesn’t mean it’s an ideal graphics card to play DX9 titles on. Lets face it, with only 1,300 Megatexels/sec fill-rate, and less than 10GB/sec of memory bandwidth this card only has enough horsepower for DX8 games, DX9 games will be way too demanding for any of the graphics cards currently available in the value segment.
If you really want a DX9 card, you’ll need to upgrade to the next performance bracket.
Price: Again, in relation to other FX 5200 cards, the MSI FX5200-TDR128 its pricey at $115. MSI really should offer a stripped version of this card without the game bundle, remote control unit, and breakout box, but keep the T.O.P. Tech II cooling. Call it the Professional Edition or something, as there are tons of enthusiasts out there that want a card with good cooling but don’t want to pay a lot for it.
SIDEBAR: MSI recently introduced its own line of optical drives.
| Final Verdict||Page:: ( 16 / 16 )|