Original Link: http://www.anandtech.com/show/477



Entering the video card market in this day and age can be considered some what of a challenge. On top of having to undergo costly research and development stages for the first time around, the competition is fierce and brutal. Facing more established companies such as Guillemont, ASUS, and even the behemoth Creative Labs can be a somewhat daunting task. Rising to the challenge, Absolute Multimedia has produced one of their first products to hit the market: the Absolute Multimedia Outrageous 3D Graphics GeForce.

Most noteworthy of this newcomer to the GeForce market is its price: $265 for the OEM and $285 for the retail. It may seem odd (and strangely exciting), to see a DDR card going for the same amount that many SDR cards sell for. It is exactly this effect Absolute Multimedia is feeding upon. In an effort to outsell and underprice the competition, Absolute Multimedia has produced a video card for the masses, or have they? Let's begin by taking a look at the specifications.

  • Graphics Processor
    NVIDIA GeForce 256 graphics engine
  • Bus Interface
    1x/2x/4x AGP with fast writes, full sideband/execute mode support
  • Memory
    32 MB Hi-speed DDR (double data rate) memory
  • RAMDAC
    Built-in 350 MHz
  • Maximum Resolution
    2048 x 1536 pixels
  • Vertical Frequency
    60 Hz to 240 Hz
  • VGA Connector
    DB-15 analog monitor connector, VESA DDC2B, DPMS, VBE 2.0/3.0
  • TV-Output
    S-Video
    Optional DVI connector for digital flat panel
    PAL + NTSC support
  • High-Quality Video Playback
    30 fps full screen DVD playback
    DVD and HDTV-ready motion compensation for MPEG-2 decoding
    Video acceleration for DirectShow and MPEG1, MPEG-2, and Indeo
  • 3D Performance
    Quad-Engine Design
    Hardware Triangle Setup
    Hardware Transform and Lighting
    32-bit rendering
    AGP 4x texture support
    Alpha-Blending
    Bilinear, Trilinear and 8-tap
    Anisotropic filtering
    Four rendering pipelines capable of delivering four pixels per clock
    Anti-Aliasing
    Bump Mapping
    Cube Environment Mapping in hardware
    Fogging
    Render with geometry instead of texture
    Subpixel Precision
    Transparency
    Gouraud Shading
    Perspective Correction
    32 bit Z + Stencil Buffer
  • 2D Acceleration
    Hardware acceleration for all Windows GDI operations
    Multi-buffering (up to quad buffering) for smooth animation and video playback
    Fast 32-bit VGA/SVGA support
  • Software Support
    Windows 95/98
    Windows NT 4.0
    Windows 2000
  • Package Contains
    Outrageous 3D graphics card
    Install / Driver CD-ROM including Video Install and local language manuals
    Intervideo DVD DVD software
    Software Choice DVD ROM
 

Max Refresh Table

Resolution

Color Depth (BITS)

Max Refresh Rate (Hz)

640 x 480

8/16/32

240/240/240

800 x 600

8/16/32

240/240/240

1024 x 768

8/16/32

240/240/200

1152 x 864

8/16/32

200/200/170

1280 x 960

8/16/32

170/170/150

1280 x 1024

8/16/32

170/170/170

1600 x 900

8/16/32

150/150/120

1600 x 1200

8/16/32

120/120/100

1920 x 1080

8/16/32

100/100/85

1920 x 1200

8/16/32

100/100/85

1920 x 1440

8/16/32

85/85/75

2048 x 1536

8/16/32

75/75/60



In order to keep costs down, the Outrageous 3D Graphics GeForce is based on NVIDIA's reference board design. While not a bad thing, this does cut down on the number of additional features that a card can have. Also, it is often hard to see any real differences between reference design boards. However, these two issues were of no concern to Absolute Multimedia when developing the Outrageous 3D Graphics GeForce: the goal was quite obviously to produce a budget GeForce DDR card. Many other companies also use the NVIDIA reference design and leave off additional features, but none have come close to the price of the Outrageous 3D Graphics GeForce.

Due to the fact that the card is a reference board, many of the features found on it are the same as other DDR GeForce cards we have reviewed. The GeForce GPU, which runs at NVIDIA's suggested speed of 120 MHz, is cooled via the same low profile heatsink and fan found on almost every reference board. Absolute Multimedia actually did take the higher road in the way that they attached the heatsink and fan to the GPU, as they use a very sparing amount of thermal grease. Providing effective heat transfer between the heatsink and the fan, the thermal grease will help any overclocker on his or her quest.

The RAM used on the Outrageous 3D Graphics GeForce is the same RAM that we have seen in every other DDR board. Having eight 4 MB Infineon 6 ns SGRAM chips arranged on the front and back of the card, the Outrageous 3D Graphics GeForce looks almost identical to the other GeForce cards we have seen. Fortunately for Absolute Multimedia, it also leaves the Outrageous 3D Graphics GeForce running at the same speeds of other DDR GeForce cards, NVIDIA's recommended speed of 300 MHz (150 MHz x 2). As stated before, the reason for lack of variety in DDR SGRAM chips is due to the fact that only Infineon, formally known as SIEMENS Semiconductors, manufactures DDR chips for video card use in mass quantities. In addition, due to the fact that Infineon currently only makes 6 ns chips, we have not seen any other DDR RAM chips as of yet.

Another feature that Absolute Multimedia chose to put on the card is one that we usually think of as a higher-end toy: S-Video out. Powered by the same Brooktree chip that found its home on almost every TNT-2 with video out, the Brooktree 869 chip is also finding its way into many GeForce cards. The reference design allows for easy placement of the chip and required output connector, making manufacture of the S-Video out feature very painless. It was quite a pleasant surprise to find such a feature on such a low cost card, as some more expensive DDR GeForce cards do not have this feature.

I know what many of you are thinking now: with so many good things going for it, why is the Outrageous 3D Graphics GeForce selling for about $25 less than the lower priced the competition? The answer is simple: quality. In this case, we are not talking about the quality of the production or the quality of the included chips, we are speaking of the 2D quality for it is here that Absolute Multimedia has appeared to skimped. Every card has filters between the RAMDAC and the VGA output of a card, in fact these are essential for the card function. Absolute Multimedia has apparently used these filters to cut corners. By cutting costs by using lesser quality filters, Absolute Multimedia has created a problem for itself when in higher resolutions such as 1600x1200. At these resolutions, text becomes unclear, graphics become blurry, and the screen remains almost indecipherable While this may not be a problem for many out there with smaller monitors, the low quality provides a definite draw back for those with larger monitors. In addition, even a buyer who uses lower resolutions may one day encounter this plague. As monitor prices continue to fall and larger screen sizes become more standard, upgrades are likely. It is a bad thought to think that your eyes may be hurting you one day because your DDR GeForce card manufacturer chose to cut corners.



The way that a company chooses to attach a heatsink and fan to a GeForce GPU can make a huge difference in obtainable overclocked speeds. Absolute Multimedia Outrageous 3D Graphics GeForce uses highly efficient thermal grease to match the back of the heatsink to the GPU which results in very effective heat transfer. Thermal grease, a substance that is highly effective at conducting heat, helps eliminate air pockets that may be present between a cards' processor and an attached heatsink. Since air is a very poor conductor of this heat, cards which do not utilize any thermal grease or tape prevent heat being transferred from the GeForce processor to the cooling heatsink. As a result of the addition of thermal grease, the Outrageous 3D Graphics GeForce was able to reach a very respectable overclocked speed of 156 MHz. Many companies skip the use of thermal grease and choose to use a cheaper and less laborious transfer, such as thermal tape, due to the fact that placing thermal grease on a card during production is not an easy task. Other companies simply place the heatsink on top of the processor, resulting in poor heat dispersal with even cheaper labor costs. The fact that Absolute Multimedia chooses to include a somewhat more costly feature onto their card was a wise choice when it comes to overclocking, as a 36 MHz increase over the stock speed of 120 MHz is nothing to be ashamed of.

Memory wise, the Outrageous 3D Graphics GeForce was almost able to reach the specified operating speed of the SGRAM chips, 166 MHz (6 ns), on each clock cycle (333 MHz total). Due to the DDR nature of the card, this results in an operating overclocked speed of 326 MHz, a full 26 MHz over NVIDIA's recommended speed. This speed is what is expected from a 6 ns RAM chip. Keep in mind, however, that SGRAM quality will vary from batch to batch, meaning that individual models of the card will often times be able to reach a different overclocked memory speed, sometimes higher and sometimes lower. Reaching the 320 MHz mark was almost to be expected, however, due to the fact that this is the speed that Infineon is clocking the chips at. With a memory speed of 326 MHz and a core speed of 156 MHz, the Outrageous 3D Graphics GeForce did not disappoint very much on the overclocking side, as it performs just as well as some of its more expensive counterparts.



Once again we see a feature where Absolute Multimedia had the opportunity to cut prices: the drivers. Rather than spend time and money developing their own driver set, Absolute Multimedia chose to use NVIDIA's reference drivers. While many companies tweak the reference drivers to provide additional power and make the screens more visually pleasing, Absolute Multimedia has chosen to use the reference drivers in their bare form. Some may be critical of this cost saving technique, however it seems to be a wise decision on the part of Absolute Multimedia. While many companies release their own driver sets, the fact of the matter remains that the large majority of them are based on the NVIDIA reference drivers. The fact of the matter is that it often takes time to update NVIDIA's current release of the reference drivers to fit a specific manufacturer's card, which many times results in older and less efficient drivers being used when newer drivers are available. It is due to this lag that many GeForce owners choose to use NVIDIA's reference drivers as their primary video card driver set, as the latest versions are always guaranteed. It is for this reason that Absolute Multimedia did not make a poor choice when opting to use only reference drivers.

One thing that has to be considered are the advantages of companies who make their own drivers and almost fully disregard NVIDIA's reference drivers. One such company, ELSA, is able to add many advanced features to the driver set that NVIDIA's base drivers do not support. Updates may not come as regularly, but the drivers are written card specific meaning that sometimes a performance gain can be found using a proprietary driver set.

While many of you have seen NVIDIA's reference driver set, either through pictures or form your own computer, it seems that pictures of the reference drivers have never been included in a review before. Below are screen shots of NVIDIA's reference driver set, and thus the screen shots from the Absolute Multimedia Outrageous 3D Graphics GeForce.


The taskbar settings do not offer many features, but some are user definable.



The information screen has all the vital stats.



OpenGL settings are easy to find and change.


Direct3D settings are also easy to tweak.


Color adjustment.


The features of the output device are easily set via the output device screen.



 

Windows 98 SE Test System

 

Hardware

CPU(s)

Intel Pentium III 550E
provided by Memman

Motherboard(s)
ABIT BF6
Memory

128MB PC133 Crucial Technology SDRAM

Hard Drive

Quantum Fireball CR 8.4 GB UDMA 33

CDROM

Acer 24x

Video Card(s)

Absolute Multimedia Outrageous 3D Graphics GeForce

Software

Operating System

Windows 98 SE

Video Drivers

NVIDIA GeForce - Detonator 3.68

 

Benchmarking Applications
Gaming

GT Interactive Unreal Tournament 4.04 UTbench.dem
idSoftware Quake III Arena demo001.dm3





It is no question that the true speed of DDR based GeForce cards shines through in Quake III Arena. At the lower resolution of 640x480x16, the difference between SDR and DDR cards is nonexistent. This is due to the fact that the Quake III Arena is going as fast as it can regardless of how much more the video card can do. Compounding this situation is the fact that the memory of the card is not being taxed to any great extent because of the low colors and resolution. When 32 bit colors are enabled, the game speed beings to increase dramatically with the DDR based cards. The Outrageous 3D Graphics GeForce performs about 10% faster at 640x480x32, placing it in pace with the other DDR cards benchmarked. At 800x600x32, the speed difference between SDR cards and the Outrageous 3D Graphics GeForce DDR begins to show, as the speed increase is a noticeable 31% faster. The speed difference is most noticeable in 1024x768x32, as the Outrageous 3D Graphics GeForce DDR card performs 50% faster than its SDR counterpart. At higher resolutions, the 16 bit color speeds also increase due to the fact that the RAM is getting pushed by the high resolutions.

When overclocked, the Outrageous 3D Graphics GeForce performs a maximum of 10% faster than the stock card at 1024x768x16. This increase is most definitely due to the faster core speed, as it is at these lower resolutions, where the memory clock is not as crucial, that the extra core clock cycles really pay off.






The disappointing fact is that the Unreal engine can not take advantage of such fast video card speeds, as can be seen in the graphs above. It appears that the Unreal engine has hit a limiting value at each resolution and it can not surpass these values without a CPU upgrade. Running on the test Pentium III 550E, Unreal Tournament performs almost exactly the same in every instance, including the overclocked and SDR cards. Until the actual game engine is updated, it is quite unlikely that any significant speed increases will come from GeForce based cards.



A GeForce DDR card for $265? Having such an attractive price tagged onto it, Absolute Multimedia's Outrageous 3D Graphics GeForce seems like a no brainer no matter how you look at it. It is not until the details of the card are inspected do we find the true reason that Absolute Multimedia can produce a DDR GeForce card at such a bargain price.

First there are the good aspects of the card that we normally associate with more costly video cards. There is the addition of a thin layer of thermal grease between the GeForce GPU and the heatsink, which provides for very effective heat transfer and thus high overclocked speeds. Being able to reach a core speed of 156 MHz is a very respectable trait, as this is close to the highest speeds we have been able to get on any GeForce core. Also nice is the S-Video out feature powered by the quality Brooktree 869 chip. This is a welcome addition to any video card and should provide clear DVD playback on an S-Video television.

This brings us to the software package that Absolute Multimedia includes. For the great $265, no software is included with the package, often called the OEM version. This should not really be a big upset to the consumer, for more times than not the included software in a package is useless. The things that lack here are DVD decoder software (which often times comes with a DVD drive itself) and games. If you want these features, the price rises up to $285, a price that is still not too wallet crunching. For the added $20, you get Intervideo's DVD decoding software as well as what Absolute Multimedia calls Software Choice. This neat feature is actually a DVD-ROM filled with some of today's more popular games, such as Unreal Tournament and Heretic II. Software choice allows you to play demos of the games before you buy, then choose 3 games that you want your card to include. Absolute Multimedia then, upon receipt of your requests, gives you a "unlock key" that allows for full game play. Not a bad idea at all as far as software bundles are concerned, but those of you without a DVD player are out of luck because the CD-ROM version of the games do not come included with the retail package.

The not so good aspects of the card must also be taken into account. The fact that pure reference drivers are used in place of proprietary or even customized reference drivers may deter some people from buying the Outrageous 3D Graphics GeForce. In addition, as with every time a purchase is made from a newly formed company, the quality control and product support may not be as well formed as more established companies. It is too early in Absolute Multimedia's game to say yet. By far, the largest drawback of the Outrageous 3D Graphics GeForce is its poor 2D output at 1600x1200. The low quality filters used between the RAMDAC and the VGA output may cut costs, but it could also leave the consumer with an unusable card. It may seem that the number of people using their video cards at this resolution in 2D is not significant, but the dropping prices of large monitors may place an upgrade opportunity in the hands of many users. It would be quite a shame to have to pass up a good deal on a 19" or 21" monitor due to the fact that your video card will not produce good 2D text or graphics at higher resolutions.

What has Absolute Multimedia attempted to do with the Outrageous 3D Graphics GeForce? The answer is simple: to produce a video card for the masses. By allowing the price of a DDR GeForce card to dip down into the mid $200 range, the upgrade path to a DDR GeForce card seems obtainable to many users. Is it the best video upgrade for the price? Well, it appears to be. If you have a smaller monitor and can be positive that you will upgrade your video card before upgrading your display, the Outrageous 3D Graphics GeForce makes perfect sense. Be wary, however, of being stuck with a 17" monitor because the producer of your video card cut costs by cutting quality.

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