NVIDIA's GeForce FX 5600/5200 Ultra Performance Reviewby Anand Lal Shimpi on March 10, 2003 6:36 PM EST
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NVIDIA's DirectX 9 strategy is to be commended, they are delivering DX9 compatibility for cards ranging in price from < $100 all the way up to their $400 flagship. This is a move NVIDIA should have made back in the DirectX 8 days with the GeForce4 MX but failed to do so, at least they are listening to the demands of developers and end users alike.
When looking at the actual products themselves, you can make a couple of generalizations about their performance. For starters, the GeForce FX 5600 Ultra performs much like a GeForce4 Ti 4200 in situations where no anti-aliasing or anisotropic filtering is used. Enabling either or both of those features allow the 5600 Ultra to significantly outperform the GeForce4 Ti 4200, mostly thanks to the NV31's superior memory controller, compression and AA engines.
The GeForce FX 5200 Ultra performs slightly above the level of a GeForce4 MX 460 in situations where no AA or aniso is enabled; but once again, enabling those features causes the 5200 Ultra to perform more like a GeForce4 Ti 4200 than a GeForce4 MX. The reason behind this is obviously not because of any compression algorithms (as there is no color/Z compression in the NV34 GPU), but rather because of the AA and anisotropic filtering engines, as well as a vastly improved memory controller when compared to the GeForce4 MX (not to mention the higher clock speeds).
The NV31 itself has a great deal of headroom left in the part; although NVIDIA is currently only announcing DDR-I based solutions (e.g. GeForce FX 5600 Ultra), the chip should be able to work in a higher speed configuration with faster DDR-II memory. When NV35 hits, NVIDIA could theoretically fill the gap between NV31 and NV35 with a higher clocked NV31 with DDR-II memory, something that could become a reality depending on competition from ATI.
Speaking of competition, factoring in the performance of ATI's Radeon 9500 Pro does make NVIDIA's offering not seem nearly as attractive. The Radeon 9500 Pro with its 8 pixel pipe design is the clear winner here, but because the Radeon 9600 isn't a direct derivative of the 9500 Pro, we cannot immediately assume that the Radeon 9600 Pro will do just as well as the 9500 Pro in these tests. As we mentioned before, the Radeon 9600 Pro has a higher core clock than the GeForce FX 5600 Ultra, but a lower memory clock; this will most likely mean that in non-AA/aniso situations, the Radeon 9600 Pro should outperform the 5600 Ultra. If NVIDIA can fix their anisotropic filtering issues to the point where their performance-aggressive mode is identical to ATI's performance aniso mode (which NVIDIA claims it should be), then the comparison under aniso/AA modes should be quite interesting. One thing is for sure, current Radeon 9500 Pro owners should stick with their cards, and if you can find one, it's not a bad buy.
We'll have to wait on two things before we can truly crown a winner of the mainstream; for starters, we'll need cards from ATI, which for whatever reason are still not available yet (strange considering that they are supposedly done). We will also need fixed aniso drivers from NVIDIA, which we're hoping the team out in Santa Clara is hard at work on. It is disappointing that we're not able to give you a solid recommendation on what to buy just yet, but holding off on any purchases until both ATI and NVIDIA can deliver what we've asked for will help you make a much more educated purchasing decision in the end.