Original Link: http://www.anandtech.com/show/479

Gigabyte GA-GF2560 SDR GeForce

by Matthew Witheiler on February 11, 2000 12:16 AM EST


Recently, companies have enjoyed huge success by expanding their product base using NVIDIA graphics card chips. ASUS started this expansion with their TNT based V3400, a transition which effectively allowed them to target not only the motherboard market but also the avid gamer. Around the same time that ASUS made its transition, another motherboard manufacturer that is well known for quality and performance entered the video card market: Gigabyte. Regarded around the lab as one of the top performers in terms of quality, Gigabyte has consistently produced solid products on both the motherboard and video card front. Gigabyte attempts to continue this tradition, once again using an NVIDIA processor, with the GeForce based GA-GF2560.

Some may question the decision to bring an SDR card into the market at such a late date, claiming that the SDR market is a dying breed. Gigabyte hopes to use their late entrance to their advantage by producing a more solid and lower priced card. The GA-GF2560, with a few surprises up its sleeve, could very well provide the push that Gigabyte needs to get its place in a shrinking market.

Specifications (courtesy of Gigabyte)

Key Features

  • NVIDIA GeForce256, 256-bit 2D/3D graphics processor
  • Ultra-fast 32MB SDRAM with 256-bit graphics architecture
  • Integrated transform and lighting
  • AGP 4X with Fast Writes
  • 32-bit color ARGB with destination alpha
  • 32-bit Z/Stencil and 8-bit stencil
  • Cube environment mapping
  • Anisotropic texture filtering
  • 350MHz Palette-DAC
  • DVD and HDTV ready motion compensation for MPEG-2 decoding
  • Industry's first 5-tap horizontal by 3-tap vertical video filtering
  • 8:1 up and down scaling on video overlay
  • Separate hue, saturation, and brightness controls for the video overlay
  • Complete VIP 2.0 video implementation (1x-8x Host, 75 MHz, 16-bit video port)
  • Video DMA for efficient VIP Host operations
  • WHQL-qualified drivers for Windows 2000, Windows NT 4.0, Windows NT 3.5, Windows 98, Windows 95, and Windows 3.1
  • OpenGL ICD for full OpenGL support
  • Fully PC99 and PC99a compliant
  • Optional TV out and Flat Panel display support

     

    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



As what seems to be a growing trend in the video card market, Gigabyte chose to use the familiar (and well established) NVIDIA reference design in the GA-GF2560. Although this keeps costs down and quality high, due to the fact that little research and development needs to be carried out it takes away from the originality that can be implemented in the card. A few features, however, set the GA-GF2560 apart from other reference SDR cards that we have reviewed.

The GeForce core is cooled via a low profile fan and heatsink attached to the GPU with thermal tape and press pins. The fan on the card does deserve mention due to the fact that Gigabyte chose not to use the same generic fan as is found on many other GeForce cards. Instead, Gigabyte uses a fan reminiscent to the old 486 fans commonly found on DX-66s. While it may appear inefficient, the fan choice actually allowed for very high overclocked speeds, as described in the overclocking section.

Also worth noting is the lack of Gigabyte's unique dual cooling system which is used on many other Gigabyte cards. The most obvious reason for this is the fact that the cooling setup found on the GA-GF2560 works fine at the NVIDIA mandated speed of 120/150 MHz. In the past, Gigabyte has used their dual cooling system to allow for a stock overclock, sold as a turbo feature of the card. Because NVIDIA appears to have capped the speed that they will allow manufactures to ship the cards at, Gigabyte had no benefit from using the dual cooling. While this feature would have made for a great overclocking card, Gigabyte could not justify the cost of the system considering that the extra cooling would not result in any stock speed increase (due to NVIDIA's mandated speed).

As with other reference design cards, the GA-GF2560 has a total of 32 MB of SDRAM, achieved by placing sixteen 2 MB 5.5 ns EliteMT SDRAM chips on both the back and front of the card. Rated at 183 MHz, the 5.5 ns RAM is not the fastest RAM we have seen on an SDR card (that title goes to the 5 ns chips on the Leadtek SDR card). It is interesting that all SDR cards reviewed thus far all contain EliteMT RAM chips. This is quite a change from the days of the TNT2 where RAM chips changed not only from card to card but manufactures sometimes opted to switch SDRAM chips on individual cards themselves. With a 183 MHz rating, it is pretty much guaranteed that overclocking will be possible. Just how much the memory clock can be pushed depends on the RAM batch itself, a fact described in the overclocking section.

The available S-Video out option found on our test card is powered by the commonly found Brooktree 869 chip. As is the trend with TNT2 cards with TV-out, it seems that most manufacturers are opting to use this high quality chip in their GeForce cards as well. As described in our Picture This: TV-Output Comparison, the Brooktree chip produces high resolution and allows for the output to be displayed both on an external television as well as the computer monitor (as long as the two resolutions are the same). This feature is a nice addition to any GeForce card, especially as the computer becomes the centerpiece of a home entertainment system.



As described in the card section, the GeForce processor on the Gigabyte GA-GF2560 is cooled via a rather interesting heatsink and fan. Attached to the GPU with a thermal tape, the fan does an exceptional job at cooling. Prior to the arrival of the GA-GF2560, the highest reliable clock speed reached by any GeForce card was 156 MHz, achieved by overclocking the ASUS V6600 and V6800 Deluxe. It came as quite a pleasant surprise to find that, when overclocked, the GA-GF2560 would reach 160 MHz without any stability problems.

More shocking was the memory speed that the 183 MHz rated SDRAM chips were able to reach. In the past, we have found that the memory clock on GeForce cards was rather picky, allowing only a slight overclock over the rated memory speed. The 183 MHz EliteMT chips found on the GA-GF2560 broke this mold completely, coming in stable at the very high memory speed of 204 MHz. At 38 MHz over the stock clock speed, the GA-GF2560 did not disappoint. Keep in mind that speeds such as these are quite rare in GeForce cards, and it is quite possible that the SDRAM chips in our card came from a very good batch. This goes to further prove the point that maximum memory speeds vary from batch to batch, as we have seen 183 MHz RAM chips go anywhere from a maximum speed of 186 MHz to the 204 MHz speed found in this card.

Having a card that clocked in at a final speed of 160/204 MHz resulted in an SDR card that could topple almost all of the competition. The fast core and memory speeds helped in every resolution and color, providing an SDR card that flies compared to its stock 120/166 MHz competition.



Varying from manufacturer from manufacturer, we have seen quite an array of driver sets. Some companies choose to disregard the NVIDIA reference drivers, such as ELSA , and add new and powerful features to the card. Other companies choose to modify the NVIDIA reference driver set and add some useful features of their own into the package, such as ASUS did. Gigabyte took the road that many lower end manufacturers are taking: using the NVIDIA drivers in almost their pure form.

The only notable difference between the Gigabyte driver set and the NVIDIA reference driver set is the taskbar icon and an overclocking utility. Otherwise, the screens remain the same, pictures remain identical, and usability remains debatable. Gigabyte did choose to add their name to the icons present, but however the NVIDIA logo remained in the background of the driver screens. One of the most useful feature that Gigabyte includes is an overclocking utility. This utility, which can also be enabled in the reference driver set via a registry hack, allows for quick changes to be made to both the core and memory clock speeds. This very useful feature is likely a product of the fact that Gigabyte knew they that their card could go above the NVIDIA regulated speeds of 120/166.


The taskbar utility has the same features as the reference utility, with the addition of the Gigabyte logo.

 


Overclocking made easy with the Hardware Options screen.

 


The information screen shows a few of Gigabyte's additions, such as the "GIGABYTE on the Internet" button.

 


The same Direct3D settings found on almost all GeForce cards.

 


The OpenGL settings also remain identical to the reference design.

 


Output from the Brooktree 869 chip can be controlled via the above screen.

 


Color adjustments are easily made.



 

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)

Gigabyte GA-GF2560

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








As can be seen in the benchmarks, SDR card speeds do not vary much from card to card. This is a result of two things: the identical clock and memory speeds between the cards and the use of the reference design. Even cards that are not reference designed, such as the ASUS V6600 Deluxe and the ELSA ERAZOR X, do not show much difference in pure speed. Compared to a DDR GeForce, the SDR GA-GF2560 performs a maximum of 49% slower at 1024x768x32 due to the large reliance of memory at this resolution. When overclocked, this difference drops to 17% slower. Compared to the stock speeds, the overclocked card (160/204 MHz) performs a maximum of 27% faster at 1024x768x32, a welcome speed improvement for any gamer. In fact, the GA-GF2560 when overclocked actually beats one of our fastest DDR cards tested: the ASUS V6800 Deluxe. The difference of 1%, however, will rarely be seen.




 


Once again, all cards benchmarked on the Unreal Engine show almost no performance difference. As stated in pervious reviews, this is a product of an engine that is 2 years old. When the system was being developed, the CPU had a better ability to handle the complex calculations that the game needed to perform. The graphics card did not have the power to perform these processes, thus the engine was written to hand the code to the CPU. In modern day, the majority of the GeForce processor is basically unused by the Unreal Engine, leaving no noticeable performance differences between SDR cards and DDR cards.



The question that still looms is if Gigabyte has done too little too late. In a time where many companies are actually phasing out their SDR cards and opting for only DDR models, will Gigabyte be able to survive in a changing market. To find the answer, the abilities of the card must be examined.

Gigabyte seems to have done a good job on the GA-GF2560 card itself. While it does use the generic reference design, a few features set the GA-GF2560 apart. First is the high overclocked speed that the card is able to reach. While the fan and heatsink may seem like an old model CPU cooler, it does an excellent job at keeping the GPU at optimal temperatures and thus provides a very high overclocked speed. The extremely high memory clock speed that the card was able to reach was also exemplary. It is quite astounding to find memory that performs this well on any SDR GeForce card. Whether this is a function of a great RAM batch or of the card itself remains to be unanswered, but the card performed like a champion.

As far as drivers are concerned, the GA-GF2560's use of reference drivers may reduce cost but it brings down quality when compared to other companies that produce their own driver set. The addition of an overclocking utility is a big plus, as this is an excellent way to push the GA-GF2560 to the high speeds it can tolerate. 2D graphics and text remain sharp all the way up to 1600x1200, which means that the card will work well with 21" monitors.

The package of the GA-GF2560 includes the standard games and utilities that many companies try to tack on to make their card more attractive to the consumer. In the case of the GA-GF2560 Gigabyte includes three full game titles, Populous, Future Cop, and Superbike World Championship, all of which are mostly useless to the avid game player. Also included is a software driven DVD and VCD decoder which can come in very useful if the TV-out option is included on the card.

The question that remains is if the SDR card market is a dying breed. It seems that the answer to this is no. While the DDR market is expanding, DDR cards still cost a noticeable amount more than their SDR counterparts. For many gamers, the difference between DDR cards and SDR cards will remain small to the performance gained by upgrading to one of these cards from a TNT or comparable card. By making an SDR card, Gigabyte hopes to gain an upper hand on the lower level of high performance cards. With its high overclockablity and quality manufacturing, the Gigabyte GA-GF2560 is a strong purchase as far as SDR cards go, especially if the price is right.

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