"NVIDIA's focus at this point is NV31 and NV34, after all, that's where the money is. The small percentage of the market that will go after the NV30 will not make or break NVIDIA, but should ATI compete like this in other market segments then there will be cause for worry."

And thus we concluded our performance review of the GeForce FX, and today we're able to bring you the first benchmarks of NVIDIA's NV31 and NV34, to hopefully put to rest whether or not NVIDIA has still got what it takes to be competitive.

Just under one year ago, NVIDIA briefed us on NV30 as well as their DirectX 9 roadmap. What was most intriguing to us was that after NV30's release, NVIDIA was going to quickly transition DirectX 9 compliance from the very high end down to the entry-level segments.

What NVIDIA was going to do was learn from the mistakes they made with NV17 (GeForce4 MX), something that we definitely appreciated when we heard it. If you'll remember, the biggest problem we had with the GeForce4 MX was that it carried the GeForce4 name but was in no way, shape or form, a DirectX 8 part. In fact, the GeForce4 MX was much more like a GeForce2 MX than it was a GeForce4, despite its name.

With the successor to the GeForce4 MX, NVIDIA was promising a direct derivative of the NV30. From this point forward, all market segments would have identical feature sets and would only differ based on performance - the way it should have been to begin with. NVIDIA's GPUs are actually designed a bit differently these days, which is what allows NVIDIA to launch a plethora of GPUs that cover all market segments at around the same time frame with identical feature sets. NVIDIA has componentized their verilog code much more with the NV30 design, which is why we see that even despite NV30's delays, the derivatives of the core (NV31/34) are still on track.

Before we dive into the cards themselves, let's have a few words about what NV31 and NV34 actually are. As confusing as this may be, NV34 is the slower of the two and NV31 is the faster GPU. Consider the NV34 to be the successor to the GeForce4 MX and the NV31 to be the follow-up to the GeForce4 Ti 4200. The reason that the higher number is actually given to the slower part has nothing at all to do with the capabilities of either GPU, instead it is a limitation of one of NVIDIA's tools developed in-house that is used in cataloging all of their GPUs. This tool in particular generates a codename based on the features of the GPU (pipe configuration, manufacturing process, etc…) and because of the way the tool works, the low-end part ended up carrying a higher code name than the high-end part. This obviously doesn't matter in the end, since you won't find NV31 or NV34 on a box anywhere, but it's a bit of behind the scenes trivia that you might enjoy.

With that out of the way, let's first dive into NVIDIA's new mainstream GPU - the NV31.

GeForce FX 5600 Ultra (NV31)
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