Original Link: http://www.anandtech.com/show/540



Let's go back in time a bit. The date is August 31st, 1999 and NVIDIA has just announced their next generation video card processor, the GeForce 256. Everything about the new "GPU" looks great: the processor looks like it will be leaps and bounds over any other video card processor on the market. Many consumers are excited to get one, regardless of price. NVIDIA knows that this card will be a winner. The problem is, you cannot find a GeForce 256 card anywhere. Both online and off-line, it seems that no one carries any GeForce 256 cards.

Four months later, in January of 2000, the problem continues to exist. Retail stores claim the cards are on backorder while the manufacturers claim that it is the retailer's fault. Getting a GeForce 256 based card is next to impossible, causing you to throw in the towel. You give up. Not only is the new and impressive GPU not so new and impressive any more, but there are only a few months left before the next generation GPU comes out. You stick with your trusty TNT2 and decide to wait on the new "NV-15".

Fast forward. The date is April 25th, 2000 and NVIDIA has just announced the new, improved, and more powerful GeForce 2 GTS. With a fill rate of 1.6 gigatexels per second, a .18 micron die size, and a core speed of 200 MHz, the GeForce 2 GTS appears to be a large step forward. Once again, you are anxious to get one, regardless of cost. This time, however, availability is of no concern.

Seem like a pipe dream? A product's announcement is usually followed by an implementation period of at least one month, right? Well, in the case of the GeForce 2 GTS NVIDIA, card manufacturers, and retail stores have pulled their acts together in order to deliver. All three know that if a new, better product is due out in a few months the consumer is more likely to wait, hurting sales in all three departments.

It is for this reason that cards are already on their way to store shelves. First out of the gate, an impressive manufacturing feat that usually spells success, is the ELSA GLADIAC, a 32 MB GeForce 2 GTS based card. ELSA cards have consistently received praise for high manufacturing quality as well as superior product support. However, one area ELSA has historically been weaker in is market presence. With the release of the GLADIAC, ELSA has done its homework and seems destined to succeed. The key to this goal: the fact that a mere four days after the GeForce 2 GTS's announcement, ELSA will have their cards on the shelves of Fry's Electronics stores in the San Francisco area, to be followed by shelf space at all Electronics Boutique stores across the country on May 2nd. This market presence will only continue to spread with time, as on the 4th of May all Fry's Electronics stores should carry the card and soon to follow are distributors, meaning that Egghead.com, Computers4sure.com and Outpost.com will all have the cards in a matter of days.

In an effort to help you, the consumer, decide if you should go to your local computer store and buy one of these screaming fast video cards, we are going to take a look and see how the GLADIAC performs, overclocks and rates overall.

Key Features

NVIDIA GeForce 2 GTS GPU (Graphics Processing Unit)
32 MB high-speed DDR SGRAM memory
ELSA 6-year service warranty
ELSA Winman Suite
Optional video-in support
  • Technical Specifications
    NVIDIA GeForce 2 GTS GPU
    350 MHz RAMDAC
    32 MB or 64 MB DDR RAM memory
    AGP 2x/4x or PCI bus systems
    1x video in and 1x video out optional video module
    VESA BIOS 3.0 support
    DirectX 6, DirectX 7, OpenGL support
    200 MHz internal clock speed
    166 MHz memory clock speed (DDR)
    31.5 kHz - 108.5 kHz horizontal SYNC signals
    60 Hz - 200 Hz vertical refresh rate
  • What is Included
    ELSA GLADIAC gaming accelerator board
    Installation CD ROM with on-line users manual
    Hard-copy installation manual
    Software drivers for Windows 95 and 98, Windows 2000, Windows NT 4.0, and Linux
    Windows utilities including ELSA Winman Suite and ELSA Advanced Settings
    6 year service warranty
    Optional GLADIAC video-in and video-out module available on www.shopelsa.com
  • ELSA Software
    ELSA SmartRefresh: Select virtually any refresh rate for your monitor. ELSA SmartRefresh allows you to set the refresh rate to the maximum that your monitor can support for an absolutely flicker free picture
    Elsa SmartResolution: Set your desktop to the highest resolution - horizontally in 32, vertically in 1-pixel steps.


The Card

Unlike ELSA's introduction into the GeForce 256 market, ELSA decided not to use a custom design for the GLADIAC, a decision well made. Although producing a custom card design often-times has its benefits, such as faster speeds and additional features, the advantages gained by having a custom design are many times diluted by the time and money that goes into producing a card design. ELSA knew that there are other ways to impact the market besides having a unique design. One of these ways is to be first to hit the retail market, a feat that ELSA accomplishes with flying colors. By abandoning a proprietary design, ELSA was able to use the already working reference design to allow for fast production of the GLADIAC.

Overall, the reference design used for the GeForce 2 GTS is very similar to the reference design of the DDR GeForce 256 based cards. The DDR SGRAM chips lie in nearly identical positions on both boards, with four chips of 4 MB density residing on both sides of the card. GPU placement and board design remain relatively unchanged. Long gone is the VIP-port as well as PCB space for video out; both have been replaced by vital components of the GeForce 2's advanced circuitry.

The standard heatsink is attached to the GPU with thermal glue. You may have noticed that while the GeForce 256 GPU had a metal plate between the GPU cover and the core to aid in heat transfer, the GeForce 2 GTS does not have such a plate. This is because even at 200 MHz, the GeForce 2 GTS is still running very cool. The .18 micron

process used to manufacture the new chip results in less heat production, and therefore there is less of a need for extreme cooling solutions. Although it would likely be possible to overclock the card even further if metal was used again, NVIDIA had no reason to justify the extra manufacturing cost associated with such a solution. With this in mind, the thermal glue and standard heatsink/fan combination seem to work fine cooling the GPU. Even at the stock speed of 200 MHz, the GeForce 2 GTS was running noticeably cooler than the GeForce 256 running at 120 MHz.

As we have seen in the past, card manufacturers have chosen to use Infineon SGRAM chips to power the DDR memory system. As we saw with the GeForce 256, Infineon is the only company currently producing DDR SGRAM chips for use on a retail market. The SGRAM chips seen on the ELSA GLADIAC are identical to the SGRAM chips found in DDR GeForce 256 cards, both rated at 6 ns. This time, however, NVIDIA decided to crank the performance up a notch, as the memory clock is now running at the full speed rating of the RAM: 166 MHz DDR (for a total of 333 MHz memory clock speed). In the GeForce 256 DDR cards with the same Infineon SGRAM chips, NVIDIA took the cautious route and clocked the memory in at 150 MHz (300 MHz DDR memory clock). As detailed in the overclocking section, it seems that Infineon finally got their act down regarding memory speed and quality, thus making it safe for NVIDIA to sell cards with a memory clock at the full memory speed rating. As far as faster RAM chips on cards go, it is not very likely any time in the near future: Infineon currently only makes DDR chips rated at 6 ns for their fastest chips. The good news is that the current product lineup does call for 5.5 and 5 ns SGRAM chips to be produced.

We mentioned earlier that PCB board space was saved by removing what was the video-out area of the PCB on the GeForce 256. In its place on the GeForce 2 GTS we find additional electronic components as well as a 50-pin header whose placement looks mysterious. As it turns out, it is into this connector that a daughter card goes which can provide video-out as well as video-in if the manufacturer so chooses. A "cute" little device, as it has been known to be called, the daughter card houses the Brooktree 868 chip that was found on the majority of GeForce 256 cards with video-out. The video out quality is identical to the Brooktree 869 chip described in our Picture This: TV-Output Comparison, which means that it should prove to be suitable under almost all circumstances. In addition to the video-out daughter card that ships with the ELSA GLADIAC, ELSA will also be offering a video-in upgrade module. This separate daughter card, which would take the place of the included TV-out only card, will be available for purchase from www.shopelsa.com for a retail price of $25-$35. Called VIVO, the module will use a Philips input chip and will be an upgrade for all GLADIAC cards. This upgrade will result in easy video editing, a plus for many consumers. In addition, the price will not be that high.

As you may have noticed, the GLADIAC does not come with a DVI connector of any sort. In fact, when looking at the reference design, we see that there is no spot for the previously used dual channel TMDS Silicon Image chip. This is due to the fact that the GeForce 2 GTS has a built-in single channel TMDS capable of powering a digital flat panel 1280x1024, a slight downgrade from the dual channel Silicon Image chip, which can power a panel up to 1600x1200. Although maximum resolution is slightly decreased by the single channel TMDS, price is substantially cut. No longer does a manufacturer have to purchase additional chips or electronics for DVI interface; all that needs to be added is the simple DVI connector. Once again, with this in mind, you may be wondering why ELSA does not include such a low cost feature standard. The reason for this omission is time. ELSA wanted to be the first company to have GeForce 2 GTS products on the shelf, meaning that some features and support could not be implemented in time, such as the DVI interface. The good news is that if you go and buy an ELSA GLADIAC now and the card does not have the DVI support that you want/need, ELSA will provide a swap for your card. All you need to do is send your card to ELSA, once DVI support becomes standard, and they will swap your card for one with DVI support in about 2 days. Would it be that bad using your TNT-2 for two additional days?

One final note on the card. Rumors of a purple PCB are floating around. While we have not had this confirmed by ELSA, rest assured that the card reviewed here is the exact same as any purple one that is out there. The only difference is the dye used.



Overclocking

When we first saw the GLADIAC, we were excited about overclocking the card simply due to the fact that the GPU utilizes the cooler .18 micron architecture. The SGRAM chips, on the other hand, did not excite us too much being that they were the same make and speed as the DDR SGRAM chips found on the DDR GeForce cards, where overclocking the memory clock proved to be a very difficult task. The first thing that surprised us was the fact that, regardless of the cooler architecture of the GPU, we were only able to overclock the core an additional 27 MHz, up to 227 MHz total. We always suspected that the GeForce 256 was clocked well under its potential simply due to the fact that NVIDIA needed an additional selling point for the 10 MHz faster Quadro processor. Routinely in our GeForce 256 tests, we were able to overclock the core 30 MHz above stock and our fastest card was able to overclock 40 MHz over stock. Unlike the GeForce 256, NVIDIA seems to have approached the GeForce 2 GTS's limit to a greater extent with a core speed of 200 MHz. With lack of metal on the chip casing to aid in cooling, along with the fact that the heatsink does not seem to get too hot, we are left wondering if the maximum core speed is a limitation of heat or a limitation of chip quality. Only more GeForce 2 GTS cards with alternative cooling solutions will tell.

Although we did not expect much from the Infineon SGRAM chips due to the overall poor success we had experienced with them in the past, we were extremely surprised to find that the memory clock ships at a speed of 333 MHz. In a few of our DDR GeForce 256 cards, we had problems even getting the memory clock from the stock 300 MHz to the rated speed of 333 MHz. Previously, our maximum overclocked memory speed in the Infineon chips was about 350 MHz. When we pushed up the ELSA GLADIAC's memory speed, we were shocked to see it run stable at a blazing 375 MHz (187 MHz DDR). It seems that Infineon may have had some manufacturing problems present in the chips previously used on DDR GeForce cards- problems corrected with these new batches. This is most likely the reason for NVIDIA upping the memory speed to 166 MHz (333 MHz DDR) as opposed to the 150 MHz memory speed set in the GeForce 256 (300 MHz DDR). It is a good thing too: as the GeForce GPU gets faster and faster, the memory bus becomes the real bottleneck. By increasing the memory clock speed from 333 MHz to 375 MHz, performance was able to take a large step forward.



The Drivers

The driver set included with the ELSA GLADIAC is an interesting and useful one. Based strongly on NVIDIA's 5.16 driver set, the Winman Suite was able to add a few features to the reference drivers. The first addition, and perhaps one of the most useful, is the overclocking utility. Unlike the utility present in the reference drivers, the overclocking tool does not need to be enabled in the registry. In addition, by including such a tool, ELSA is essentially begging the user to overclock. With a 6 year warranty, overclocked or not, who could resist such temptation?

The second feature that provides the advanced user with additional tweaking is ELSA's SmartRefresh and SmartResolution utilities. As the name suggests, the SmartRefresh utility allows for any refresh rate to be set, regardless of what Windows thinks your monitor can do. The SmartResolution application allows you to actually set your own Windows resolution by increasing in 32 horizontal pixel steps and 1 vertical pixel step. Both these utilities reflect ELSA's workstation background, as these are power utilities that are most effectively used by a graphics professional. The utilities do, however, appeal to the graphics professional in all of us.

In addition to all these advanced features, we also find that the features of the reference driver set are jazzed up a bit. Screens such as the D3D antialaising screen and the video color screen are enhanced by graphics and descriptions.

The overclocking utility proved very useful.

The monitor screen provided easy access to all the ELSA's advanced driver features.

The info screen provides all vital information.

The D3D screen is essentially the same as the reference version.

The OpenGL screen also looks very similar to the reference driver screen.

Enabling and tweaking the antialiasing features of the GLADIAC was easy.

Color control for video.

Color control for the desktop



The Test

 

Windows 98 SE Test System

 

Hardware

CPU(s)

Intel Pentium III 550E
provided by Memman

Motherboard(s)
AOpen AX6BC Pro
Memory

128MB PC133 Crucial Technology SDRAM

Hard Drive

Quantum Fireball CR 8.4 GB UDMA 33

CDROM

Acer 24x

Video Card(s)

ELSA GLADIAC 32 MB DDR GeForce 2 GTS

Software

Operating System

Windows 98 SE

Video Drivers

NVIDIA GeForce - Detonator 5.16 for ELSA GLADIAC
NVIDIA GeForce - Detonator 3.68 for all GeForce 256 cards

 

Benchmarking Applications
Gaming

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

The reason that 3.68 drivers were used on all GeForce 256 cards is because NVIDIA is not currently offering 5.16 or greater drivers for download from their web site. It seems that the performance gained by upgrading to 5.16 drivers is too much for NVIDIA to gamble with, thus they chose not to make these drivers available for download yet. Therefore, it is only fair that we test the GeForce 256 cards on the only drivers that are legitimately supported for use in the GeForce 256: the Detonator 3.68 drivers.



Quake III Arena Performance- demo 001

It is not really until the resolution of 1024x768x32 that the power of the GeForce 2 GTS becomes apparent. Below this resolution, the bottleneck is not the video card, as the ELSA GLADIAC performs almost identically to the GeForce 256 DDR cards. At and above the magic resolution of 1024x768x32, the GLADIAC shows what it is made of. The difference is subtle at first, with the GLADIAC only edging over the DDR GeForce 256 by 24%. When at 1600x1200x16 the speed increase to be gained is a large 64% over that of a DDR GeForce. When overclocked, this deference only gets larger with the GLADIAC performing 83% faster at 1600x1200x16.

The difference between the GeForce 256 and the GLADIAC is more readily seen at 16-bit color due to the fact that at 32-bit color the memory and not the core serves as the bottleneck. True, the GeForce 2 GTS does perform faster in 32-bit color, however the difference between the GeForce 2 GTS and the GeForce 256 is always larger when in 16 colors. The GPU can only move as fast as the memory will let it, thus the GLADIAC is held back by the relatively slow memory clock, as are all GeForce 2 GTS cards at high resolutions and colors.



Quake III Arena Performance- Quaver

Under the heavy strain of Quaver we find that the DDR GeForce takes a big hit due to the lack of texture compression found in the 5.16 drivers. The 3.68 drivers used to test the GeForce 256 based cards (as described in The Test section) do not have the S3TC compression found in the 5.16 drivers. Therefore, the GeForce 2 GTS is left with only one opponent, the 64 MB GeForce. Once again we find that the differences between the GeForce 2 GTS and the GeForce 256 start to become noticeable at 1024x768x32. At resolutions and colors higher than this, we find that the GeForce 2 GTS dominates the GeForce 256 simply due to the raw power present in the GLADIAC. We also find that once again that 32-bit color seems to be a limiting factor due to memory clock speed: the GeForce 2 GTS really out performs the GeForce 256 when in 16-bit colors because less data needs to be transferred over the relatively slow memory bus.

Under the most stressful of Quake III Arena situations, modeled by Quaver, we find that the GLADIAC is able to perform well at resolutions as high as 1280x1024x32. At 44.2 FPS, the speed is still fast enough to be played by many (a debatably fact) and the card is going 25% faster than it's older sibling. When overclocked, the game becomes even more playable at this high resolution and color depth, achieving a 42% speed increase over the GeForce 256.



Unreal Tournament Performance

Not much can be said of the Unreal Tournament performance. It seems that the game scales much more with CPU speed than it does with video card speed, most likely due to the engine's rather old design. The only noteworthy difference comes at 1280x1024x32. It seems that at this high resolution and color depth, cards with less than 64 MB of RAM are crippled. Unlike the improvement seen in Quake III Arena with 5.16 drivers with S3TC compression, Unreal Tournament does not incorporate this compression method, thus the card is forced to texture swap with any memory less than 32 MB at 1280x1024x32.



Conclusion

Being the first card on the shelf has its advantages as well as its disadvantages. As far as advantages, you could be the first person on your block with a GeForce 2 GTS- what more could you ask for? The disadvantage is the high premium you will pay to be that kid on your block. With respect to GeForce 2 GTS cards, the ELSA GLADIAC seems to be a very strong and powerful card. Although it lacks some advanced features found on soon to be released cards, such as extraordinary cooling like on the new Guillemont card, it makes up for these lost features by not only being the first GeForce 2 GTS card available but also including other perks, such as a 6 year warranty and a neat video-in upgrade. Also, as was the case with the ELSA ERAZOR X series, the 2D image quality of the GLADIAC is very good.

An additional perk that is very pleasant to see is the way that the software bundle works. Rather than package essentially useless games into the box, ELSA has decided to take the route introduced by Absolute Multimedia. ELSA will offer the "Best Select" software bundle with the GLADIAC, which is a custom software bundle. Upon purchase of the card, you are presented with coupon that entitles the user to 2 of the 10 "hottest titles of the season" as chosen by ELSA. In addition, up to 3 additional titles can be purchased at OEM cost, ranging from around $5.50 to $7.50 a game. We are yet to see which games will be chosen for the Best Select package, but we have been told to expect a few EA Sports games as well as games featuring advanced T&L scenes. Sounds good to us, as long as the software choices are actually useful in nature. The only downside is the fact that the games will be shipped, via snail mail, to the consumer. If you are going to be the first one to rush out and buy this card, you are probably not too happy about waiting too long for anything.

One feature of the GLADIAC that ELSA continuously harps upon is the fact that it will support their 3D REVELATOR glasses right out of the box. While this may seem like a selling point, we have yet to be impressed by this feature. First off, the VR effect created by the glasses is not extremely remarkable. Secondly, while ELSA claims that REVELATOR support for the GLADIAC will be great, the truth of the matter is that after 2 weeks every GeForce 2 GTS card on the market will be able to support this feature.

By the time you are reading this, Fry's Electronics in the San Francisco area should have the ELSA GLADIAC cards on their shelves. By the 2nd, 1 day from today, the card should be available at all Electronics Boutique stores nation wide. All this power for a retail price of $349 (hey, they did say it would be "under $350). Although it is the first card to hit the market, the ELSA GLADIAC neither lacks features nor sacrifices quality for speed. Any company willing to put a 6-year warranty on their cards is certain of the strength of the card. . The VIVIO TV-input option is very attractive, being that it will only cost about a one tenth of what the card costs. Unfortunately, this upgrade will most likely not be available until early June. By increasing their market presence, being the first to hit the market, and remaining feature and quality rich, the ELSA GLADIAC makes for a very strong buy. If you are in the market for the fastest card available, the GLADIAC is currently the one to choose, even if simply due to the fact that no other GeForce 2 GTS cards are on the market yet. You can rest assured, however, that the ELSA GLADIAC will continue to be one of the top GeForce 2 GTS cards.



How It Rates

Please note that the score given is a comparison between the ELSA GLADIAC and other GeForce 2 GTS cards on the market. This is not meant to reflect how GeForce 2 GTS cards compare to other video cards on the market processor wise. To find this information, please see our NVIDIA GeForce 2 GTS review. Also keep in mind that a score of five indicates standard performance. To learn more about our rating system, please click here.

AnandTech Video Card Rating

 
Rating (x/10)

Performance

When comparing the GLADIAC to other GeForce 2 GTS cards, we see no reason why the GLADIAC will perform better or worse than others. The use of the reference design essentially makes that a promise.

5.0

Price

Due to the fact that the GLADIAC is currently the only GeForce 2 GTS card on the market, price may run a bit high. On the other hand, the suggested retail price of the card, $349, is the same as what other manufacturers are quoting.

5.0

Drivers

Even though ELSA essentially uses the reference driver set, they did a good job implementing a few additional features. The SmartRefresh and the SmartResolution, along with the built in overclocking utility, make this driver set rather attractive.

6.0

Features

Including standard video-out and an option for a video-in upgrade, the GLADIAC has a nice feature set. The standard DVI (which will be made standard via a card swap if the card you get does not have it) is also a plus. Now if we could only get a better heatsink on there.....

6.5

Retail Availability

Wow, not only first to market but first to market with a dominating force. If you do not live on the west coast you may have problems picking the card up at a Fry's Electronics, but unless you are living in the North Pole you have a Electronics Boutique somewhere near you. And if all else fails, the cards should hit the e-stores in no time at all.

9.0

Documentation & Software Bundle

The manual included with the GLADIAC is what we have come to expect from ELSA, detailed and comprehensive. The Best Select software choice is a good idea, a road we wish more manufacturers took. The downside to this is that the consumer remains at the mercy of the manufacturer due to the fact that the possible games are preselected. In addition, having to wait until the games come in the mail is a downfall.

6.5
 
Overall Rating
7.5

Note: The Overall Rating is not an average of all of the categories

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