PRICE: $166 (List Online); $199 (List - Retail)
WARRANTY: Life Time (Limited)
AMD K6-2, Intel Pentium II class processor, or higher
AGP 2.0 Compliant Socket (4X Recommended for best performance)
A CD-ROM drive and 10MB available disk space
Windows 95OSR2 (or higher) or LINUX
Xtasy 6564 GeForce 3 Ti200 Video Board with S-Video Out
Driver CD which includes:
Adobe Acrobat 4
Various Software Demos
NVIDIA reference drivers for 95, 98, ME, NT4, Win2K, and WinXP. Driver is Detonator version 21.85 (Unified). Linux drivers NOT included.
Installation guide poster
Installation manual booklet
Graphics Chipset: GeForce3 Ti 200
Graphics Core: 175MHz, 256-bit 2D/3D GPU
Memory/Interface: 64MB DDR/128-bit wide
Memory Clock: 400 MHz SDR Equivalent
Memory Bandwidth: 6.4 GB/sec.
Fill Rate (texels): 1400M/sec.
2D/3D resolution (max): 2048 x 1536 @ 75Hz
Vertex & Pixel Shaders
Lightspeed Memory Architecture
High-Resolution - Anti-aliasing (HRAA)
High-Definition Video - Processor (HDVP)
TV / S-Video Out - Gives end-users the option of big-screen gaming.
DirectX 8.1 Compatibility
AGP 4X/2X, AGP Texturing Support
DirectX and OpenGL Optimizations and Support
Unified Driver Support - Guarantees forward and backward compatibility.
With a new year now upon us, we gamers find ourselves bombarded with new video cards in a pitched battle between NVIDIA and ATI. The latest generation of 3D gaming solutions is easily the fastest yet seen, with powerful pixel pumping technologies that are supposed to yield enhanced image quality and extremely high frame rates in even the latest titles. Both companies are pushing their cards to the OEM and performance sectors quite successfully and the gaming community is stratified like no other time in its history.
ATI opened the most recent skirmish with the announcement of its latest Radeon lines in the 8500 and 7500 series. This announcement was to offset the upcoming launch of the GeForce 3 as well as the rumor of the Ti lineup. What followed for several months was a series of driver releases, revised release dates, and optimistic press coverage.
The war seemingly ground to a halt after major reviews by leading media sites of pre-launch cards and drivers that revealed no conclusive winner. The advocates for both sides declared each other the loser and their card champ, even with no ATI card actually on the market and the GeForce 3 priced into the stratosphere. Shortly thereafter, the Ti and Radeon 8500/7500 lineups finally were released with enthusiastic sales and questions to answer.
In this review, we tackle a part of this question head on by reviewing the VisionTek Ti200 powered 6564 video card.
Founded in 1999, Visiontek has slowly built itself an admirable name in the electronics and PC add-on markets. The consumer products division of Visiontek, dubbed VisionTek (with a capital "T"), has won numerous awards in the last few years, especially for its line of video accelerators; many of its products have been #1 and Top 10 Picks as chosen by enthusiast sites all around the world as well as in leading industry publications. In the last few years, VisionTek brand products have also expanded beyond the OEM and Internet sales channels, showing up in top electronic and gaming stores around the country.
Titanium Arrives on the Scene
The first programmable NVIDIA GPU came in the form of the GeForce 256 just two years ago. The 256 was quickly followed by the GeForce 2, and in 2001 with the GeForce 3. Each processor has traditionally spawned niche versions, nominally in the form of the Ultra and MX lines.
With the coming of the GeForce 3, however, NVIDIA has changed to a unified name in the Titanium (Ti) line, with each variant denoted by a numeral suffix. The VisionTek 6564 Ti200 is one of those.
The Ti Features
The new Titanium GPUs are built using a new production process and the GeForce 3 .15 micron die. This results in less power hungry GPUs with higher clock frequencies, each packing in over 57 million transistors! The new production process also yields more chips with fewer imperfections.
The Ti line also is built on a new PCB with eight layers and incorporates more efficient power management features. Titanium cards run cooler too, adding a "feature" that may influence some of you into experimenting with overclocking. All this adds up to a less expensive and more flexible GeForce 3 solution for the consumer.
Beyond this, there are very few differences between the basic GeForce 3 and the new Titanium line up. The Ti500 (think Ultra) does have a slightly higher core clock speed, but unlike its predecessors, it does not have increased memory bandwidth. The Ti200 series has a slightly lower clock speed than the GeForce 3 and is less expensive than some GeForce 3 offerings.
The Xtasy 6564 is a standard 4X AGP card with massive blue heat sinks. This looks like a card that can be overclocked if you are so inclined. Otherwise, the Xtasy 6564 appears to be of the standard Ti200 reference design.
The Xtasy 6564 comes in an attractive box with solid packaging and an excellent manual. Included inside is a handy poster sized quick-installation guide that includes step-by-step visual instructions to complete a standard installation of the card in most computers. There are no bundled games or applications included in this package.
Installation of the Xtasy 6564 was straightforward and was completed without any notable problems. In less than 10 minutes I had the card installed under Windows XP and the latest Detonator XP drivers installed from the VisionTek website. The card was a tight fit on my ASUS motherboard due to its large heat sink and fan arrangement, but I don't feel that it will be a problem for the system in terms of heat management.
Since this was a new card, I decided to give it a whirl before testing in Return to Castle Wolfenstein. Performance of this game, both visually and in terms of frame rate, had been excellent using the previously installed Hercules Prophet 4500, so I had high expectations for the Ti200 card. Surprisingly, I found that both visual quality and stability were some-what lacking in Wolfenstein, and that the same issues were discovered when running Quake III.
My first step in rectifying this situation was to adjust various settings in the OpenGL driver tab of the Detonator drivers. After a bit of testing and tweaking, I was able to eliminate all of the visual anomalies. The key to fixing the majority of problems came through forcing Anisotropic filtering to the 2x setting (default is surprisingly disabled), and by enabling fast linear-mipmap filtering.
This unfortunately did not end the inexplicable random crashes noted above, so I did some more troubleshooting and research online. This led me to shutting down or suspending any and all un-needed drivers and services. I also rolled the driver set back to the VisionTek driver provided on the install CD (which still included the OpenGL 1.3 ICD unfortunately). I even went so far as to load this card in another XP system, one that had not been exhibiting this problem in OpenGL games; all to no avail however, the crashes still persisted.
After a bit of researching in various newsgroups and hardware sites, I came to the conclusion that this was an area that NVIDIA is still working on in terms of OpenGL performance under XP. The majority of Windows 98 users I talked to online or polled in various newsgroups do not have these problems, but a significant number of XP and Win2K users indicated they had problems in OpenGL games using the Detonator reference drivers. I believe that the NVIDIA Open GL ICD 1.3 driver wrapper included in the Detonator XP release is still lacking in some areas; I found it somewhat disturbing as well that I had to make some pretty major changes to the default OpenGL settings to get the visual problems corrected.
All of the OpenGL issues aside, the Detonator 23.11 for XP drivers are otherwise robust and easy to install, not even requiring a reboot under XP. The interface for manipulating driver settings and functions is the same as seen in previous Detonator releases. There are very few adjustments not available to the user thanks to these comprehensive drivers.
Each new release of the Detonator drivers brings enhanced features to the driver interface and the card, as well as enhanced performance; these drivers are no different. Conspicuously absent from this driver release is the built-in, but hidden, overclocking features found in previous releases of the Detonator drivers. With the exception of the problems I encountered with OpenGL and the NVIDIA 1.13 ICD, I would judge these drivers favorably.
For this review, I decided to use my custom built AMD based computer (see details above). While this computer could now be considered an aging system due to its limited 900 MHz processor, it seemed an appropriate choice given the price point and target audience for the Xtasy 6564 video card.
The base system image, built while using an old generic 2MB PCI video adapter, was loaded and then backed up to CD(s) via Norton Ghost to comply with the Video Review Criteria. Using the various system management utilities found in XP itself, I shut down all non-relevant TSR and boot up programs for these tests.
The comparison cards used for benchmarking tests are the 3D Labs Annihilator GeForce 2 GTS 32MB and the Hercules Prophet 4500 64MB. The VisionTek Ti200 based card is replacing the Prophet in this test computer, while the GeForce 2 seems representative of the previous generation of video cards from NVIDIA.
Drivers: For the Prophet 4500, I downloaded and used the latest driver revision available from the Hercules website (v9.031). Detonator 23.11 drivers were used for both the GeForce 2 GTS and the Ti200 GeForce 3. All other drivers are provided via the Windows XP installation and updates via the Microsoft Windows Update site.
The 3D WinBench 2000 v1.1 Processor test would not run due to the requirement for a DirectX 7 NULL device. This same system scored 2.12 when loaded with Windows 98 with only 256MB of RAM and a 10gig UDMA66 HD.
Unreal Tournament: Visual quality was excellent in this Direct3D game. No visual anomalies were noticed at any time with the Ti200 based Xtasy. Frame rates remained relatively constant and high, even when the screen action was intense.
Quake III: As noted above, both Quake III and RtCW (a Quake III engine powered game) experienced visual quality problems, especially when run in the default driver state. These problems ranged from visual smearing of textures on animated objects, tearing of texture seams on 3D animated objects, to random and full crashes to the desktop for no apparent reason. After some tweaking and testing in the OpenGL driver tab, I was able to eliminate all but the random crashes.
Return to Castle Wolfenstein: Performance was exceptional with the Xtasy here. Frame rates were high, even when at high resolutions and bit depths; with a full server of 32 players there were no frame rate issues. The only issue, as noted, was random crashes related to the 1.13 OpenGL ICD included in the Detonator drivers.
Overall, the test results were as expected. Very few games, if any, exist today that can take full advantage of the new and powerful features of the GeForce 3 GPU with the nfiniteFX engine. Even so, the Xtasy easily outperformed the other two cards in our testing no matter the category, thanks to its powerful and efficient new memory management architecture called Lightspeed. The Prophet 4500, in comparison, fared pretty well, but even so did not match the Ti200 based Xtasy at any point.
I was a bit surprised at the test results for XP overall; even though Microsoft has touted XP as a better and faster operating system, it performed 5 to 15 percent slower in the majority of tests for this review than similar tests performed under Windows98 on this same machine only a few months ago; this is even more annoying since this system has received a significant RAM and drive upgrade prior to this review. You can compare differences by looking at the above results and comparing them to the Hercules Prophet 4500 review tests (note that the RAM on this system has been doubled since the older Prophet review).
Although we here are still relying on the tried and true 3DMark 2000 for some of our benchmark tests, I thought it might be prudent to try out 3DMark 2001 given the recent releases of new hardware, a new version of DirectX, and important new operating systems from Microsoft. Given my time and space constraints, I only did a representative sampling of the tests. The tests were carried out at a 32-bit color depth and a resolution of 1024x768, and each test was performed with a 24-bit Z-buffer using the Pure T&L Hardware option.
The Xtasy performed well here given the extensive nature of the tests and the intermediate speed of the computer. This test suite is far more comprehensive than in the 2000 version, and takes into account DX8 feature implementation as well, making this a far better test for the latest generation video cards. The impact that 4X anti-aliasing has is very noticeable on the overall ratings.
2D Performance and Quality: With all the visual enhancements offered by WinXP, including Clear Type desktop fonts and true 3D effects, desktop visual quality and speed was top notch. Everything was easily adjustable thanks to the extensive NVIDIA driver interface, so color and brightness issues could be addressed from several different angles until the desired desktop image was reached. Unlike previous NVIDIA products, the Ti200 excelled on the desktop with clarity and speed; please note that this may be due in some part to the additional effects and options that XP brings to the desktop.
Direct3D Performance and Quality: Flawless and fast; I can say little else about the performance of the Xtasy in this area. This is a nimble and accurate card under DirectX, easily outperforming the last generation of video cards from not only NVIDIA, but from other manufacturers as well. Stability was exactly where I would want it to be in this area.
OpenGL Performance and Quality: Here I was quite disappointed by the visual quality and abilities of the Xtasy 6564, at least initially. There were a lot of noticeable visual flaws and errors under OpenGL in both Quake III and Return to Castle Wolfenstein at any setting by default. Only with some tweaking and adjustments could I eliminate some of these problems, but they never went totally away.
Making the situation all the more maddening is the fact that RtCW and Quake III both had a tendency to crash to the desktop without warning. This was a problem that never fully went away with tweaks and adjustments to the 1.13 OpenGL ICD provided in the Detonator drivers. Given NVIDIA's relatively timely and complete approach to upgrading their Detonator drivers and addressing user reported issues, one can only hope that an imminent release is on the horizon that will address this issue.
Value Added Features: In terms of performance, given what I estimate to be the target market for this card, this is a hands down winner. The package itself is not overly flashy, but the card is robust in design thanks to solid design feature and the extensive heat sinking. The S-Video Out is a nice addition, though it would be nice if there was a Digital Out for support of newer flat screen displays as well. The only other thing one could wish for with the Xtasy 6564 is the addition of some bundled games or utilities, but given the price point and excellent installation and warranty support included, this really is not much of an issue.
Overall: With the exception of OpenGL performance in XP, this is a fast and nimble card at a very reasonable price point. DirectX support is mature and stable, and the desktop enhancements of Windows XP didn't seem to affect the stability or speed of the system to a very noticeable degree (no more than five to fifteen percent).
I think that the most important feature of the Xtasy 6564 Ti200 video card is the powerful new nfiniteFX engine. Gamers will benefit significantly by future titles that take advantage of the many performance and image enhancing features built into the nfiniteFX engine. Even without the majority of the nfiniteFX features being utilized by a given game, consumers will easily receive a boost in overall video performance thanks to the efficient design of the Lightspeed Memory Architecture system. This is a solid product with some very innovative features that should keep this card competitive far longer than the previous generation of GeForce powered offerings.