After having taken a long hard look at GPUs last fall, it is time, once again, to see what the graphics card vendors have to offer the world. We wanted to get our hands on as many cards as possible in order to put together a roundup of epic proportions.

There is more to buying a graphics card than an IHV's chip, and the tender loving care that the OEMs give their cards is where much of the end user value comes from these days. In this review, we will take a look at each card and what it has under the hood, along with its GPU. Beyond the gaming experience, we will be looking at fan noise and heat dissipation as well as which memory modules the vendor decided to use. Some of the cards are even pre-overclocked for our gaming pleasure.

We will see everything from two-fan cooling solutions to LCD temperature and fan speed readouts. After looking at what each card has to offer above and beyond the performance, we will put them all to the test. Obviously, if the cards all run at reference speeds, they will all perform similarly to earlier tests that we have already completed. We've got something more special in mind.

We are going to overclock each card to its highest stable core and memory speed, and then run a few select benchmarks to cover the most recent few DirectX releases as well as OpenGL. All told, 23 cards were benchmarked, so we didn't have the ability to run a whole suite of tests on each one.

Keep in mind, when looking at overclocking, that every single card is different. We are only hoping to get an idea of what a particular vendor's cards can do. Heat sink and fan selection are very important to overclocking, as is RAM cooling and board layout. Though these issues impact overclocking a great deal, they, alone, do not dictate success or failure at any given clock speed. Each GPU, RAM module, capacitor, etc. has different limitations, which can only be determined experimentally.

Beyond understanding what the vendors are doing, we will be able to glean a little more information about the IHV's GPUs. Hopefully, our tests will tell us what kind of speed increases we can expect from each core, and what impact core and memory clock speed have on performance. But that's enough talk. Take a look at the cards in our lineup.

UPDATE: As the performance tests in this article place a heavy weight on overclockability, it is important to note that the Radeon 9800 (R350/R360) based cards are fabbed on a 150nm process and will have a little more trouble overclocking than the 130nm parts that make up the rest of the cards we tested. Also, NVIDIA GPUs underclock themselves when running in 2D mode, so their idle temperatures will be lower on average than the ATI based solutions. We appologize for having omitted this information from initial publication.
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  • vss1980 - Wednesday, March 10, 2004 - link

    I'm surprised there weren't more DirectX9 games tested.
    I must admit its annoying when review sites test with only 1 or 2 older games and focus on just 3Dmark and new game tests, but considering all those cards are DX9 cards the lack of DX9 testing isn't right.
  • anthonyv - Monday, March 1, 2004 - link

    please recheck the charts on p.25... I think the charts, chart titles, and text are mixed up.
  • Atlas5 - Sunday, February 29, 2004 - link

    I'm not sure that a comparison of such limited depth is all that useful to someone trying to figure out if upgrading to a new card is worthwhile. Try this review...

    ...if you're looking to compare more than what's hit the streets in the last 9 months.
  • mkseidl - Thursday, February 19, 2004 - link

    You can d/l the coolbits reg edit which will add a tab to your display settings to overclock the video card with simple sliders. Just to compare with your FFXI my score was 3800 :)(I haven't run the benchmark with my card oc'd)

    I have

    Asus a7v8x
    xp1700 @ 2.25ghz
    evga geforceFX 5900se
    1gb pc2100
    sata raid 0 array 240gb
    dvd +/- burner
    lian li case

    I have a question, on hot hardware they got their evga up to 471/871mhz

    But I can only gt mine up to 429\820
    which is about a 50mhz diff? is that average for cards? I know not all cards/procs can oc the sae. but shouldn't it be closer?

  • mincheng - Wednesday, February 18, 2004 - link

    Can anyone tell me how to overclock the video cards??? I know that when you OC a cpu you gotta go to BIOS, but I just don't understand how Video Card overclocking works? I currently own a PNY FX5600 Ultra and a P4 3.06Ghz/533L2Cache - overclocked to 3.45Ghz and a 1Ghz of PC800 RDRAM. Scored 3437 on FFXI benchmark ver.2 . I really want to OC my video card so I can get better speed. And if you know how to OC then can you please e-mail me at THANKS!
  • mkseidl - Wednesday, February 18, 2004 - link

    Just out of curiosity, how did you guys overclock the video cards? I can't find anything in my drivers or bios to overclock my card. After reading your benchmarks, I purchased a evga 5900se. I upgraded from Gefoce2 Ultra

    3dMark01 - Geforce 2 was 5013 and my Fx was 9109
    Is that a big jump?
    And in the FFXI benchmark I went from 1900 to 3800

    But I want to overclock the crap out of it like my proc ;)

  • Pete - Wednesday, February 11, 2004 - link

    Last nitpicks: box shots and bundle listings would have been useful, and part numbers and stock speeds should have been mandatory on each card's page. Considering most vendors offer multiple versions of each product, not clearly marking which card was tested in this overclocking roundup seems like a rather glaring omission. NewEgg now seems to offer a High Tek (HIS) 9600XT, but I can't tell if that's the same one as in your review, or even if stock memory speed for HIS cards is 600 or 650MHz. Your only mentions of memory speeds are at the ends of pages 15 and 16, somewhat removed from each card's product page. I think it would have much clearer and more helpful if you had mentioned that both Sapphire's and HIS' 9600XT's ship with their memory at 650MHz either in their product pages, or directly under the memory overclocking graph.
  • Pete - Sunday, February 8, 2004 - link

    Derek, Indig0's reply is slightly worying. I hope people aren't getting the wrong impression of anyone's performance based on a single sample's overclocked performance in only three benchmarks. If the samples were sent to you by each AIB, that's even more worrying, as who's to say they weren't cherry-picked?

    In fact, not indicating both the clock speeds and the fact that the cards were overclocked on each benchmark graph seems like a gross oversight. If the Flash format is preventing you from doing so, then changing it should be a priority. But if you can add two lines of description for each card (which it looks like you have plenty of room for), I'd amend the review.

    For future overclocking reviews, I think it'd be much more useful to at least show the percentage improvements in both clock speed and framerate in the game benchmark charts. Sure, you've covered this earlier in the article, but it's a long article, and there's no point in forcing people to continually flip back and forth when it's relatively simple to add this data to the graphs. Ideally, I'd have liked to see two graphs for each card, one for stock and one for OC'ed speed, with the clock speeds in the card title and the percent improvement over stock speed right after the OC'ed speed bar. I think you can cram a lot more useful data into those graphs. :)
  • Stlr22 - Sunday, February 8, 2004 - link

    I would love to see benchmarks at 1600x1200. That's the sweetspot that I always play games at so I'd would like to see what kinda CPU/GPU combo it's gonna take to get smooth game play at that level.
  • Nemesis77 - Friday, February 6, 2004 - link

    This review is getting alot of flack from the folks at Beyond3D:

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