||eVGA e-GeForce FX 5600 Ultra Review
May 28, 2003 Brandon Bell
Summary: After a disappointing launch earlier this year, NVIDIA has improved its GeForce FX 5600 Ultra core for enhanced clock speeds! In today's review, we take a look at eVGA's e-GeForce FX 5600 Ultra, which is based on this second generation GeForce FX 5600 Ultra core. Does it have what it takes to compete with RADEON 9500 PRO? Find out as we explore its performance with Athlon XPs ranging from 1800+ to 3200+ in this article!
| Introduction||Page:: ( 1 / 18 )|
GeForce FX5600’s roots
NVIDIA’s GeForce4 Ti 4200 ushered in a new level of performance to the mainstream PC graphics segment when it was introduced last year. Ultimately designed to fill the gap between GeForce3 Ti 500 and GeForce4 Ti 4400, the Ti 4200 was an accidental smash hit for NVIDIA. Accidental? We use the term seriously because the GeForce4 Ti 4200 was literally drawn up at the last minute by NVIDIA’s marketing department.
Originally NVIDIA had planned to release two GeForce4 Titanium variants, but when ATI announced price cuts for its RADEON 8500 family, the GeForce4 Ti 4200 was commissioned to take on ATI’s RADEON 8500LE. The rest as they say, is history.
NVIDIA has been riding its Ti 4200 horse for all its worth too. When ATI released its RADEON 9700 PRO, NVIDIA exploited ATI’s weakness in the mainstream segment by introducing the GeForce4 Ti 4200-8X. When ATI countered by filling the gap between RADEON 9000 and RADEON 9700 with the RADEON 9500 series, NVIDIA’s board partners introduced their second generation of GeForce4 Ti 4200-8X cards, driving Ti 4200 prices down even further. Many even introduced Ti 4200 cards at higher clock speeds than default, the ASUS V9280S and ABIT GF4 Ti 4200 OTES were two such cards that we reviewed last year.
Ultimately though, NVIDIA needed a DirectX 9 part to compete head-to-head with ATI’s latest mainstream offerings successfully. Enter the GeForce FX 5600 family.
GeForce FX 5600 makes its debut
First introduced at GDC in March, the GeForce FX 5600 isn’t quite the same as NVIDIA’s previous mainstream introductions in the sense that it’s based on an entirely new graphics core. Previous mainstream cards were simply lower clocked versions of NVIDIA’s flagship, just look at the GF4 Ti 4200 and GeForce3 Ti 200 as the most recent examples. NVIDIA’s strategy with GeForce FX 5600 is to offer a product that supports all the functionality of its flagship product, but with lower performance and that’s cheaper to manufacture.
As the successor to GeForce4 Ti 4200, GeForce FX 5600 has some pretty big shoes to fill. To accomplish this at the lower half of the mainstream segment (the $150 price point), NVIDIA offers GeForce FX 5600. We’ve found that this GPU falls short of carrying out its objective in games that used multi-texturing extensively; the GeForce FX 5600 just doesn’t have the texel fill rate. Once anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering are turned on however, GeForce4 Ti 4200 is quickly left in the dust: Mission #1, surpassing GeForce4 Ti 4200 is accomplished, although it isn’t an overwhelming victory.
For its second assignment, taking on ATI’s high-end mainstream offerings (RADEON 9500 PRO/9600 PRO), NVIDIA relies on GeForce FX 5600 Ultra. This is where the real battle begins, and if you enjoy drama, it’s a very interesting story. You see, NVIDIA initially introduced a 350MHz GeForce FX 5600 Ultra to compete against ATI RADEON 9600 PRO. Benchmarks with these early cards were quite disappointing to many enthusiasts.
Since then, NVIDIA has gone back to the drawing boards, tweaking its GeForce FX 5600 Ultra formula for added performance. We’re here today to provide you with benchmarks of this GeForce FX 5600 Ultra “2.0” so to speak in the form of eVGA’s e-GeForce FX 5600 Ultra. Read on to see how it stacks up against the competition!
SIDEBAR: NVIDIA recently unveiled a new enthusiast site, the nZone
| Core changes||Page:: ( 2 / 18 )|
GeForce FX 5600 Ultra is based on NVIDIA’s NV31 core, a derivative of the NV30 architecture that was first announced last year. NV31 is composed of approximately 80 million transistors, considerably less than the 130 million transistors in NVIDIA’s GeForce FX 5900. With fewer transistors NVIDIA is able to trim manufacturing costs but at the expense of chip complexity. While the GeForce FX 5900 has four pixel pipelines with two texture units per pixel pipeline (4x2), GeForce FX 5600 has four pixel pipelines with only one texture unit per pixel pipeline. This effectively gives the GeForce FX 5600 half the texturing performance of GeForce FX 5900, assuming equal clock speeds.
One interesting note about the GeForce FX 5600’s transistor count however is that it has been increased over GeForce4: roughly 65 million in GeForce4 to GeForce FX 5600’s 80 million. With more transistors, the increased production cost would normally cut into NVIDIA’s profit margins. However, since GeForce FX 5600 is built on a smaller, 0.13-micron manufacturing process, NVIDIA should be able to yield more chips per wafer, assuming good yields of course. This change should help offset the added cost of incorporating more transistors.
NVIDIA has another trick up its sleeve for the GeForce FX 5600 Ultra in particular. NVIDIA has replaced the packaging on its original design to flip chip on the Ultra “2.0” for its improved signal quality at higher clock frequencies. This allows NVIDIA to hit higher clock speeds than they were able to achieve previously, core clock frequency has been increased from 350MHz to 400MHz on the revised Ultra core. This is the same clock speed as ATI’s RADEON 9600 PRO. NVIDIA has also bumped the memory clock up to 800MHz.
With these changes, let’s see how the mainstream segment now shapes up:
|Mainstream Graphics Feature Comparison
||Core Clock (MHz)
||Memory Clock (MHz)
||Peak fill rate (Mpixels/sec)
||Peak fill rate (Mtexels/sec)
||Peak Memory Bandwidth (GB/sec)
|GeForce4 Ti 4200-8X
|GeForce FX 5600 Ultra
|GeForce FX 5600
|RADEON 9600 PRO
|RADEON 9500 PRO
With its 400MHz core clock, GeForce FX 5600 Ultra matches RADEON 9600 PRO in fill rate. This is important for many of today’s games, which tend to rely on texel fill rate. Thanks to its 8x1 architecture, RADEON 9500 PRO is still the king of the hill in fill rate, despite giving up over 100MHz to the FX 5600 Ultra and RADEON 9600 PRO.
Memory bandwidth on the other hand goes to GeForce FX 5600 Ultra. At 12.8GB/sec, GeForce FX 5600 Ultra holds a 3.2GB/sec advantage over RADEON 9600 PRO; this should give GeForce FX 5600 Ultra a performance advantage at high resolutions, and will also play dividends in situations where anti-aliasing is enabled. Of course, this is all on paper, in the real world other factors will come into play like ATI’s HYPERZ III and NVIDIA’s Intellisample technology, both of which allow the card’s to make more efficient use of their available bandwidth. Driver performance also plays a role.
As far as we’re aware, 350MHz GeForce FX 5600 Ultra cards never made it to retail from any of NVIDIA’s board partners. These cores will instead become 325MHz GeForce FX 5600 cards. If you do come across a 350MHz GeForce FX 5600 Ultra, you should return it immediately.
SIDEBAR: GeForce FX 5600 Ultra’s spec originally offered 700MHz DDR memory.
| The card||Page:: ( 3 / 18 )|
The eVGA e-GeForce FX 5600 Ultra follows NVIDIA’s reference design board to the letter. In fact, we have a strong suspicion that this board was made directly by NVIDIA. eVGA then slaps their sticker on the heatsink and cooling fan and sells the final product directly to the consumer.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, by sticking with NVIDIA’s reference design eVGA is able to bring their GeForce FX 5600 Ultra card to market sooner. In fact, it’s quite common for manufacturers to rely on NVIDIA’s reference board for their initial products, and then offer more inventive solutions at a later date. This keeps the early adopters and the enthusiasts happy, and earns eVGA the distinction of being one of the first with retail samples on the market.
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Physically the board is longer than ATI’s RADEON 9500/9700 series, and even slightly longer than the RADEON 9800 PRO. The e-GeForce FX 5600 Ultra is shorter than GeForce FX 5800 Ultra and GeForce4 Ti 4600 however. As you can see the cooler used is similar to the GeForce FX 5200 Ultra although the 6,000 RPM fan operated with a slightly higher pitch. The heatsink itself is reminiscent of the GeForce4, just half an inch longer.
eVGA has equipped the e-GeForce FX 5600 Ultra with 128MB of DDR memory from Hynix Semiconductor. Of particular interest to overclockers is the fact that these are 2.2ns BGA modules, good for up to 900MHz. With the GeForce FX 5600 Ultra spec calling for 800MHz, this gives end users quite a bit of headroom for overclocking the memory subsystem.
In the upper left corner of the board is NVIDIA’s “feature connector”. Quite frankly, we’re not sure what it connects to, but we did notice it on NVIDIA’s GeForce FX 5900 Ultra board as well, and silk-screened on the GeForce FX 5200 Ultra reference card. On the opposite corner is the Molex power connector. If an external power source isn’t used, the card operates at a reduced 234/501MHz clock frequency.
Typically first generation boards of any brand new GPU are light on connectivity options. The obligatory DVI and S-Video outputs are about all you’ll normally get. eVGA bucks this trend however, offering composite and S-video input and output, which is powered by Philips SAA7114H decoder chip.
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Rather than use an external breakout box, eVGA uses a cable that includes the necessary connections. This implementation isn’t quite as tidy as a breakout box, but the longer cable gives end users a little more flexibility.
eVGA then rounds the package out with an additional S-Video cable, DVI connector, and copies of NVDVD 2.0, CyberLink PowerDirector 2.1, and Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon. Finally, an additional CD includes NVIDIA’s GeForce FX launch demos (including Dawn), a copy of America’s Army, WindowBlinds, and a demo copy of EarthViewer.
SIDEBAR: eVGA was founded in 1999.
| Test Systems||Page:: ( 4 / 18 )|
AMD Athlon XP 3200+
ASUS A7N8X Deluxe 2
512MB Corsair XMS3200 (operating at DDR333) CAS2 SDRAM
ATI RADEON 9600 PRO – 128MB
Sapphire ATLANTIS RADEON 9500 – 128MB
ATI RADEON 9500 PRO – 128MB
Driver version Catalyst 3.4
eVGA e-GeForce FX 5600 Ultra – 128MB
NVIDIA GeForce4 Ti 4200-8X – 128MB
MSI GeForce FX5600-VTDR128 – 128MB
30GB IBM Deskstar DTLA 307030 ATA/100 Hard Drive
Windows XP Professional
3DMark 2001 SE
Quake III: Arena version 1.17
Serious Sam: The Second Encounter (Elephant Atrium demo)
Unreal Tournament 2003
Jedi Knight II
SIDEBAR: eVGA has also announced a GeForce FX 5900 Ultra card, the e-GeForce FX 5900 Ultra.
| Fill Rate Testing||Page:: ( 5 / 18 )|
While the GeForce FX 5600 Ultra comes closer to achieving its pixel fill rate than the ATI cards, we see that the tide turns when multiple textures are applied. The RADEON 9500 PRO and RADEON 9600 PRO achieve 98.6% of their theoretical peaks (the 9500 actually exceeds it). Even GeForce4 is just over 3% from matching its paper spec. This will put GeForce FX 5600 Ultra at a disadvantage to its competitors when texturing performance is important.
SIDEBAR: eVGA is currently giving away a GeForce4 Ti 4200-8X. Just answer a few questions to enter your name in the drawing.
| Serious Sam 2||Page:: ( 6 / 18 )|
Serious Sam 2 - OpenGL
GeForce FX 5600 Ultra puts in a solid second place finish to the RADEON 9500 PRO, falling 10% behind at 1600x1200. Right on its heels however is GeForce4 Ti 4200, could it be déjŕ vu all over again for the enhanced GeForce FX 5600 Ultra?
SIDEBAR: Did you know that NVIDIA still produces TNT chips?
| Splinter Cell||Page:: ( 7 / 18 )|
Splinter Cell - DirectX
Splinter Cell clearly favors ATI’s RADEON DirectX 9 offerings at this point; we were particularly surprised to see the GeForce FX 5600 Ultra fall so far behind the RADEON 9600 PRO, 12% at 1280x1024. Considering both offer similar fill rates, and GeForce FX 5600 Ultra sports considerably greater bandwidth we didn’t expect such a lopsided advantage for the 9600 PRO. Shadows were rendered using projector mode on all cards.
SIDEBAR: Like the GeForce FX 5900 Ultra, the fan on the GeForce FX 5600 Ultra operates dynamically.
| Quake III||Page:: ( 8 / 18 )|
Quake III - High Quality
GeForce FX 5600 Ultra is the unquestioned Quake 3 leader, outperforming RADEON 9500 PRO by 16% at 1600x1200. Its predecessor, GeForce4 Ti 4200-8X, is nearly down 20% at the same resolution. With the elder RADEON card and GeForce4 both offering superior fill rate, GeForce FX 5600 Ultra uses its bandwidth advantage to achieve these results.
SIDEBAR: NVIDIA’s auto detect feature for overclocking is really handy. It isn’t 100% accurate, but it saves a lot of time. In our case, it automatically clocked the core at 486/973.
| Comanche 4||Page:: ( 9 / 18 )|
Comanche 4 demo
GeForce FX 5600 Ultra performance is below that of even RADEON 9500, which is particularly surprising considering the Ultra’s fill rate and bandwidth advantage over the 9500. In fact, even the overclocked GeForce FX 5600 Ultra card has its hands full with the RADEON 9500. At max resolution, we’re looking at a difference of 22% between the RADEON 9500 PRO and the GeForce FX 5800 Ultra.
SIDEBAR: We used 3DMark 03 to ensure that the GeForce FX 5600 Ultra card ran stable.
| Unreal Tournament 2003||Page:: ( 10 / 18 )|
Unreal Tournament 2003 - flyby
Unreal Tournament 2003 - botmatch
The clock speed boost isn’t quite enough to allow the GeForce FX 5600 Ultra to finish ahead of RADEON 9500 PRO in Unreal Tournament 2003, but we do see it comfortably ahead of GeForce4 Ti 4200, something which didn’t occur with the original GeForce FX 5600 Ultra reference design. While the 5600 Ultra has a bandwidth advantage over the 9500 PRO, it gives up too much fill rate to the ATI card to finish ahead of it (although it does close the gap slightly by 1600x1200). At 1600x1200 flyby results show the 9500 PRO ahead of the Ultra card by 5%. Meanwhile, the 9600 PRO is behind the 5600 Ultra by 13%.
SIDEBAR: NVIDIA has also incorporated hardware monitoring for all GeForce FX cards in the latest driver.
| Jedi Knight II||Page:: ( 11 / 18 )|
Jedi Knight II – High Quality
The higher level of detail in Jedi Knight II allows the RADEON 9500 PRO to not only catch up to, but actually overtake the GeForce FX 5600 Ultra at high resolutions thanks to its superior texel fill rate. GeForce4 is also able to gain on GeForce FX 5600 Ultra as well. The 9600 PRO is behind by 18% at 1600x1200.
SIDEBAR: eVGA was also an NVIDIA launch partner for GeForce4.
| UT 4x AA/8x Aniso||Page:: ( 12 / 18 )|
Unreal Tournament 2003 Flyby
Unreal Tournament 2003 Botmatch
The RADEON 9500 PRO is able to distance itself from GeForce FX 5600 Ultra thanks to its greater texel fill rate, it even outperforms the overclocked 5600 Ultra card. GeForce4 also boasts a fill rate superior to GeForce FX but since it’s held back by its lower amount of less efficient memory bandwidth. Even the RADEON 9500 and GeForce FX 5600 are able to outperform it.
SIDEBAR: NVIDIA’s latest Mac product is GeForce4 Ti.
| 4x Anti-Aliasing||Page:: ( 13 / 18 )|
Quake III – High Quality
SIDEBAR: GeForce FX is produced alongside the GeForce FX 5900 at TSMC.
| 4x AA/8x Aniso||Page:: ( 14 / 18 )|
Quake III – High Quality
SIDEBAR: We’d wanted to include visual quality comparisons as well, but after running the CPU scaling results, we ran out of time.
| CPU Scaling – Q3||Page:: ( 15 / 18 )|
Quake III – High Quality
The GeForce FX 5600 is more processor dependant than its predecessor, although not by much. Although we don’t have it depicted here, it looks like the sweet spot occurs right around the point the Athlon XP’s bus increases to 333MHz in the Athlon XP 2600+. The XP 2500+ would be a good chip to consider as well, especially since it sports a larger L2 cache than the XP 2600+. The RADEON 9600 PRO is slightly less CPU dependant than both GeForce FX 5600 Ultra and RADEON 9500 PRO.
SIDEBAR: While we were preparing tests for this article, we tested the hardware monitoring present in Barton with the nForce2 Ultra 400 motherboard – it’s pretty good!
| CPU Scaling – UT||Page:: ( 16 / 18 )|
Unreal Tournament 2003
SIDEBAR: The Athlon XP 3000+ is already nearing the $250 mark, making it a tempting upgrade. At $90, the XP 2500+ is still hard to pass up though!
| Ballistics Report||Page:: ( 17 / 18 )|
Performance: The GeForce FX 5600 Ultra is no slouch when it comes to performance. Thanks to its revamped 400MHz core and 800MHz memory, the GeForce FX 5600 Ultra establishes new levels of performance for the mainstream segment. Sure, it isn’t the homerun performance hit the GeForce4 Ti 4200 was last year, but our results indicate it’s more than capable of putting up a fight with RADEON 9600 PRO.
The RADEON 9500 PRO will soon become extinct so if you planned on purchasing one of these cards, you better get it now while you still can. ATI has no plans to continue to produce these cards since margins on RADEON 9600 PRO are higher, these chips will instead become RADEON 9700s.
DX9 The way it’s meant to be played: Card manufacturers and system OEMs will sell you on the fact that cards like the GeForce FX 5200 are DX9 compliant, but lets face it, DX9 gaming at 8 frames per second isn’t fun. If you really want to enjoy the first crop of DirectX 9 games, cards like the GeForce FX 5600 Ultra and RADEON 9600 PRO should really be your starting point. If you want a little more performance, go up from there. Remember, you always get what you pay for.
Video editing: eVGA’s e-GeForce FX 5600 Ultra ships with a Philips decoder chip and VIVO cable, making it a viable solution for the enthusiast that enjoys making home movies. This is even more surprising since it’s a reference design. Typically in the rush to get products to market as quickly as possible card manufacturers will skimp on features. It’s good to see that eVGA was able to throw something extra in the mix.
900MHz RAM: If eVGA is the only manufacturer equipping their GeForce FX 5600 Ultra cards with 900MHz memory, they really should let the world know, overclockers would go crazy for their card if this is the case!
Software bundle: Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon is a fairly new title, although if eVGA plans to continue offering game bundles we hope they’ll be able to replace it soon with something newer. Ubisoft’s more recent shooter, Splinter Cell, would certainly be an excellent candidate. NVIDIA’s NVDVD 2.0 and CyberLink PowerDirector are the other highlights of the software bundle.
Availability: We’re knocking on wood as we say this, but availability of GeForce FX 5600 Ultra cards like the e-GeForce FX 5600 Ultra should be more immediate than the rest of the GeForce FX launches have been. Of course, if you consider that this product was initially announced in March, you could say it’s already two months late, but the product we’re reviewing today is considerably faster than the offering that was announced a couple of months ago.
Price: We’ve been told that the e-GeForce FX 5600 Ultra will retail for $299. With NVIDIA quoting us an estimated street price of $200 for the GeForce FX 5600 Ultra, that puts the eVGA card $100 over a base GeForce FX 5600 Ultra board. NVIDIA doesn’t directly set board prices, so they may have been a bit optimistic at $200, but lets face it, history has shown that they have a pretty good history of working with board partners to ensure that certain price points are met.
If eVGA sticks with its plans for the e-GeForce FX 5600 Ultra, we’re not sure how many consumers will be willing to fork over $300 for a card that’s based on a mainstream graphics core. Is video input really worth $100? Maybe to some early adopters, but we have a feeling that many gamers on a budget will go with one of the cheaper vanilla GeForce FX 5600 Ultra cards based on NVIDIA’s reference design.
Editor's Note: It has come to our attention that the $299 price we were quoted is the MSRP of the e-GeForce FX 5600 Ultra, not the price you will pay at retail. eVGA will determine the final price just prior to the product's availability.
SIDEBAR: GeForce FX 5600 Ultra hasn’t hit Price Watch yet, but the GeForce FX 5800 has -- $315.
| Final Verdict||Page:: ( 18 / 18 )|