Summary: Leadtek's WinFast A350 Ultra TDH is designed to appeal to the guy (or gal) who just isn't satisfied with stock hardware. For starters let's talk about cooling. Leadtek has implemented a unique system that sports a copper heatsink with dual fans -- one for intake, and one for exhaust! But it doesn't stop there, Leadtek has also made some other improvements. We've gathered up eight graphics cards and NVIDIA's Detonator 45.23s that are being released tomorrow. You'll have to read the review for the full scoop!
For some discriminating consumers, stock just isn’t good enough. In the automotive industry you have custom tuners like Saleen, Ligenfelter, and RUF. These companies take factory cars and tune them into supercars with price tags that are usually the cost of the car itself, if not more. Engines will be bored out, turbo and superchargers installed, transmissions swapped, while the suspension and brakes will be tuned for superior handling and performance. Cost is literally no object. Fortunately for these tuners, their customers have the bank to afford these modifications. After all, if you have to ask how much it costs, chances are you can’t afford it right?
Just below these companies are the factory tuners. AMG, SVT, SLP, BMW’s “M” division, and Toyota Racing Development (TRD) are some of the most famous examples. Cost is definitely a factor to these guys, but increasing performance is still the primary objective. These tradeoffs of price and performance must be weighed heavily into the final product so their ultimate creations can be successful for the company’s balance sheet and at the racetrack.
In the computing world we have our own factory tuners. Companies like Alienware, Falcon Northwest, and VoodooPC have made a name for themselves building custom gaming rigs, while in the motherboard market names like ABIT, Epox, and Soyo have done quite well. On the 3D video side of things custom manufacturers have also thrived, despite the cutthroat nature of the market, and more recently, the strict manufacturing restrictions ATI and NVIDIA have implemented on their high-end products.
Leadtek: Paving the way for better 2D?
Leadtek is one of the oldest of these companies; with products dating all the way back to NVIDIA’s original RIVA 128, making them one of NVIDIA’s senior board partners. Leadtek has come up with all kinds of ways to enhance their products in the past. For instance, back in the TNT2/GeForce days, NVIDIA-based cards from third-party manufacturers were often criticized for their poor 2D display quality. While NVIDIA’s reference boards utilized high quality components and filters, third-party manufacturers utilized cheaper parts in order to cut costs. Consequently, as the screen resolution increased, signal strength decreased, resulting in blurry text and images.
In came Leadtek with its TDH series of GeForce cards. Not only did they resolve the problem, Tuan found that their 2D quality was superior to that of Matrox’s G550 in the WinFast Titanium 500 TDH.
So what advantage does Leadtek have in store for us with its GeForce FX 5900 Ultra card? For starters, it’s plain to see that Leadtek has placed an emphasis on cooling, a tradition they’ve upheld for all of their GeForce cards we’ve reviewed. But they have a few other tricks up their sleeve as well. Let’s take a closer look at the hardware underneath its daunting cooler.
SIDEBAR: ATI ALL-IN-WONDER 9800 Pro Product Webpage
Since we’ve already covered the GeForce FX 5900 Ultra core powering the Leadtek WinFast A350 Ultra TDH MyVIVO at length in previous graphics cards reviews, we won’t rehash all the details here. Please refer back to our preview article from May. But just in case you need a quick refresher, here’s a quick list of the essentials:
NVIDIA GeForce FX 5900 Ultra core
256-bit Memory Interface with 256MB DDR memory
2nd-Generation Intellisample high-resolution compression technology
2nd-Generation NVIDIA CineFX 2.0 engine with 128-bit precision processing
3.6 billion texels/sec fill rate
338 million vertices/sec
27.2GB/sec memory bandwidth
nView Multi-display Technology
Integrated Full hardware MPEG-2 decoder
Dual 400MHz RAMDACs supports QXGA displays with ultra-high ergonomic refresh rates
DVI Support up to 1600x1200 resolution
Integrated Video Encoder
Onboard TV-out support up to 1024x768 resolution
Video capture function supports S-Video and Composite video devices
0.13-micron technology with 130 million transistors
Software bundle includes Ulead Video Studio 7 SE, Cool 3D SE, DVD Movie Factory 2 SE, WinFast PVR, WinFastDVD, WinFox II, Cult 3D, Coloreal Embedded/Visual/Bright, Big Mutha Truckas, and Gun Metal.
Leadtek follows NVIDIA’s clock frequencies to the letter. eVGA is the only manufacturer we’re aware of to deviate from NVIDIA’s specifications so far. Their e-GeForce FX 5900 Ultra operates at 500MHz core/900MHz memory.
Like the reference 5900 Ultra cards manufactured directly by NVIDIA, the WinFast A350 Ultra TDH MyVIVO supports video input/output, hence the “MyVIVO” designation in the product’s name. The card supports this functionality through Philips popular SAA7108AE video encoder/decoder chip internally, while a VIVO cable (the MyVIVO cable) is used to interface with your video device.
Leadtek includes an extensive selection of software with the card. Enthusiasts will probably be most interested in WinFox 2. This hardware utility provides built-in overclocking to the WinFast A350 Ultra TDH MyVIVO with adjustable sliders for the memory clock frequency and core clock frequency. Unfortunately, the copy of WinFox 2.0 included with the card only had settings for adjusting the 2D clocks in its current form, but we’re sure this will be resolved shortly if it hasn’t already. WinFox 2.0 also has built-in hardware monitoring support. Temperatures monitored include the card itself, as well as both the edge and the surface of the graphics core.
WinFast PVR is used to capture video; this software supports MPEG1/MPEG2, AVI, Windows Media, VCD and DVD video formats as well as the ability to burn videos directly to DVD. Leadtek also boasts picture-in-picture and timeshifting support, but this simply refers to WinFast PVR’s ability to display live video while recording in PIP mode and the ability to view, rewind, or stop the playback of recorded video while recording.
Ulead’s VideoStudio 7 SE is used for video editing, while DVD MoveFactory 2 SE is used for burning home movies onto DVDs or CDs. Full retail copies of Big Mutha Truckas and the recently released DX9 game Gun Metal are also included in the software bundle, which is valued at over $260.
SIDEBAR: The hardware monitor has a histogram feature, so you can monitor temperatures over time.
Twin Turbo-II cooling
The first (and most obvious) part that stands out on Leadtek’s A350 Ultra TDH MyVIVO is the extreme cooling system Leadtek has implemented for this card, which Leadtek has appropriately named Twin Turbo-II. The Twin Turbo-II cooling system starts with the copper heatsink Leadtek uses to cool the NV35 core the GeForce FX 5900 Ultra is based on. Leadtek uses one large copper heatsink that not only covers the core, it extends all the way to the top of the video card for increased surface area. This copper heatsink is flanked by an aluminum heatsink, which is located above the memory modules. As you can see in the picture above, the aluminum heatsink is no slouch in size either. This two-piece cooling design forms a formidable 1-2 punch to draw heat off the GPU and its memory.
From here, Leadtek has integrated an ingenious dual fan design for cooling the GPU. See the fan on the left, near the DVI and VGA connectors? That fan is the intake fan. It draws in cool outside air which is then brought inside the enclosure Leadtek has grafted. The fan on the right is the exhaust fan. It grabs the hot air off the GPU and memory heatsinks, and blows it outside at an angle opposite of the intake fan. This cycle is repeated constantly with one fan supplying the cool air, while another fan ejects the hot air. Think of it as a poor man’s heat pipe.
Leadtek claims Twin Turbo-II is the result of extensive wind tunnel testing borrowed from the aerospace industry. Whether it really is or not, we don’t know, but we certainly saw that it works. Core temperature readings on our card were about four degrees Celsius cooler than NVIDIA reference (measured by the hardware monitoring built in to the NVIDIA display driver) although the card itself would get hot to the touch after extended testing while the card was overclocked. Clearly Twin Turbo-II was working overtime though, as the exhaust fan was cranking out more hot air than a politician during re-election. We actually wish Leadtek offered an “extreme cooling” setting for end users who wouldn’t mind really cranking up the RPMs for added cooling. Acoustically the WinFast A350 Ultra TDH was a little bit louder than the other dual fan solutions we’ve tested from ASUS and MSI, but it was still nowhere close to the unbearable levels of GeForce FX 5800 Ultra. We’d rank it a hair below NVIDIA reference when both cards are operating at full tilt during overclocking.
As an added bonus, Leadtek even includes dust covers for the fans for easier cleaning!
Besides the added cooling, Leadtek also uses better AGP bus filters for increased motherboard compatibility (although it should be noted that we’re not aware of any compatibility issues with 5900 Ultra) and overclocking as well as higher quality video filters. This results in cleaner video signals. Finally, Leadtek has done something we wish every 5900 manufacturer would do: they’ve mounted the Molex power connector parallel to the edge of the card rather than perpendicular. This makes installation so much easier, as you don’t need as much cable to feed your card with juice.
NASCAR Racing 2003 Season (Bristol custom demo)
IL-2 Sturmovik: FB
Quake III - OpenGL
Unreal Tournament 2003 – Direct3D
Splinter Cell – Direct3D
Splinter Cell – Direct3D
The following numbers were taken using Reverend’s custom Chinese Embassy demo. Rev and Dave have been using this demo in their reviews on Beyond3D and it is not the Oil Refinery demo that was released to the public earlier this summer.
IL-2 Sturmovik: FB
Unreal Tournament 2003
Unfortunately, the latest Detonator driver still performs the same quasi-trilinear filtering we mentioned in our ASUS V9950 Ultra review. We’re not so much upset that it’s there (as ATI also selectively uses trilinear filtering in Unreal Tournament 2003) as we are that this mode is forced on us, even when we use the “Quality” and “Application” settings in the display driver. After all, what’s the point of having an application setting in the control panel if the driver will override it anyway? In the future we may just stick to testing with AA only.
Unreal Tournament 2003
Price: The Leadtek WinFast A350 Ultra TDH MyVIVO retails for $499, this is the same MSRP other board vendors charge for their GeForce FX 5900 Ultra products. $500 is a lot to pay for a graphics card. Fortunately street prices are already down to $470 but the WinFast A350 Ultra TDH MyVIVO won’t be a cheap purchase for some time to come.
FiringSquad’s Editor’s Choice Award was conceived to reward those products that embraced ingenuity. Simply slapping your name on a reference board just won’t cut it; no matter how inexpensive the card is, how high you overclock it, or how many games and goodies you throw in the package. Synonyms like inventive, pioneering, and groundbreaking come to mind.
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