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Articles

Hercules 3D Prophet FDX 8500 LE

Thursday, May 16, 2002 by TheDoc || [0 Comments]

System Requirements:

Intel Pentium IV/III/II/Celeron, AMD® K6, K6/2, Athlon/T-Bird/XP
AGP 2X or 4X slot
64MB of system memory
Installation software requires CD-ROM drive
DVD playback requires DVD drive
Windows 98/98SE/Me, Windows 2000, Windows XP Home/Professional

Package Contents:

ATI Powered 3D Prophet FDX 8500 LE 64MB AGP card
S-Video to Composite adapter
Driver CD
Power DVD CD
Video Card Manual
Power DVD Manual and Registration/Serial Card
Warranty Card

Connectors
15-pin VGA connector
S-video/Composite connector
DVI-I connector (with out adapter for 15-pin VGA)

Technical Specifications

  • Truform
  • Smartshader
  • Support for DirectX 8.1 and OpenGL 1.3
  • SmoothVision anti-aliasing
  • Hyper Z II
  • Charisma Engine II
  • Pixel Tapestry II
  • Video Immersion II
  • Dual Display Support
  • Integrated Transformation, Clipping and Lighting
  • Twin Cache Architecture
  • SuperScalar Rendering
  • Single-Pass Multi-texturing
  • True Color Rendering
  • Triangle Setup Engine
  • Texture Cache
  • Bilinear/Trilinear Filtering
  • Line & Edge Anti-aliasing
  • Full-Screen Anti-aliasing
  • Texture Compositing
  • Texture Decompression
  • Specular Highlights
  • Perspectively Correct Texture Mapping
  • Mip-Mapping
  • Z-buffering and Double-buffering
  • Emboss, Dot Product 3 and Environment bump mapping
  • Spherical, Dual-Paraboloid and Cubic environment mapping
  • Fog effects, texture lighting, video textures, reflections, shadows, spotlights, LOD biasing and texture morphing


Hercules does ATI?
This is a good question, and the short answer is, "They do now." This is due in part to the recent flap between Hercules and Nvidia over the marketing of Kyro II based cards like the Prophet 4500. As you may recall, the Kyro II offered up surprising performance for a very low price, forcing Nvidia to respond by slashing prices and creating the MX value series. Nvidia was not happy about this intrusion into the market and the resulting loss of sales, especially since it was sparked by one of its very own top tier business partners.

Although no one has publicly given details of the spat between Hercules and Nvidia, the result has been a very surprising shift in strategic partners by Hercules. This could not have come at a more opportune time for ATI, who is only now taking the plunge and forging strategic alliances with third party vendors to build ATI powered cards. The end result is that Hercules will now be basing the majority of its video card line-up on ATI chipsets.

The FDX 8500 LE from Hercules is essentially an ATI Radeon 8500, built around the popular R200 GPU graphics core, but with a few notable differences. First, the Hercules card has a core clock speed of only 250MHz and a memory speed of 240MHz, which is far less than the 275MHz of the ATI Radeon 8500. Secondly the FDX 8500 LE has only one RAMDAC controller, limiting it to a single display analog device at a time, though you can hook three devices up and switch between them using Hydravision. Finally there are minor differences in package contents, PCB color, and the heat sink.

For this review I thought it would be interesting to pit the ATI and Hercules cards against each other. How does each stack up in terms of performance and features? Let's find out....

Features

The FDX 8500 LE is powered by the R200 GPU, the same graphics processing unit powering the Radeon 8500 series produced by ATI. The Hercules offering looks to be very similar in layout and overall design to the ATI card in a side-by-side comparison, with only some minor clock changes and a few aesthetic differences.

The R200 GPU was discussed in detail only a few weeks ago in our ATI Radeon 8500 review, so I refer you to it for further specifics on this graphics core.

In the box you will find the driver and PowerDVD CDs, a short converter cable, card, and two manuals. It is sort of a disappointment not to have at least a DVI-to-VGA converter for the DVI port so you can support two standard VGA monitors out of the box.



Just like other Hercules' boards, the FDX 8500 LE is built on a neatly colored PCB with a unique heat sink. The card design, pin-outs, and ports are identical to the ATI reference design as far as I can tell. I was a bit surprised by this fact, as Hercules usually improves on manufacturer reference designs to enhance performance.



The heat sink is built like the now famous 'Orb' style coolers seen in some home built gaming rigs. This style of heat sink is supposedly more efficient and has less of a foot print than other styles. Unfortunately, this style of heat sink also has a tendency to trap dust and other airborne material which means it needs frequent cleaning to ensure optimum performance.

With its efficient heat sink and fan combo sitting on the rather unchanged reference design, the FDX 8500 LE is ripe for tweaking. The original ATI offering is clocked at 275 MHz for both the core and memory, and I really think this card should be able to do the same. I would hazard a guess that at similar settings the FDX 8500 LE would be capable of beating out the ATI card at every turn by at least 5%.

As you know, overclocking is not for everyone and it not only violates your warranty, but can put your system at risk if you make a mistake, so I am not actually recommending you do this.

Installation

Installing the FDX 8500 LE is very simple: I proceeded to uninstall the old video card drivers on my computer and then deleted the card from the device manager. I then powered down the system and swapped out the cards, followed by a quick reboot.

The FDX 8500 LE was recognized automatically under Windows XP and I installed the drivers from the provided CD. Having had a solid experience with the latest ATI drivers, I downloaded them and did a manual update to drivers to ensure stability and the best performance. Total time for this installation was less than 10 minutes.

Drivers

In recient reviews of the ATI Radeon 8500, previous drivers from ATI have been spotty at best. Only the most recent drivers seem to be stable and with all card specific features enabled.

Software

Besides PowerDVD from Cyberlink there really isn't very much software in the FDX 8500 LE package. On the driver CD you will find relatively current ATI drivers, some standard ATI technology demos, a few Hercules screensavers that are neat but not of much use, and 3Deep. In my opinion this is pretty thin; it would have been nice to have gotten at least a few cool new video game demos or maybe a slightly older full game to try out.

One interesting program included in the package is 3Deep. 3Deep is a color management utility for your PC98 compliant video system that can directly interact with 3D video games and applications, ensuring accurate color gamma settings. This system is rather subjective, based on the user's own judgment in color and presentation, but it seemed easy to use and noticeably enhanced the visuals in the various video games used for testing during the course of this review.

I chose to pit the FDX 8500 LE against its cousin the Radeon 8500 from ATI. The two cards are nearly identical in design and their price points are nearly the same. I refer you to the recent Radeon 8500 review so you can see how this card stacks up against the GeForce Ti200 from VisionTek as a point of reference.

In variance to the Video Review Criteria, thanks to the emergence of XP for home users, the image was not reloaded for each video card. Rather a 2MB PCI video card is installed alongside all normal hardware and a base 'image' is created with a Roll-Back point made in order to allow a restoration to the previous hardware/drivers after testing either video card. All test software and benchmark utilities, as well as test utilities and patches are loaded prior to the Roll-Back point.

This was the biggest surprise of the whole review: The FDX 8500 LE is slightly faster in OpenGL-based Quake III than the ATI Radeon 8500 with its higher clock rates. Image quality was identical, as was stability.

In Unreal Tournament, the Prophet performed only a few frames slower throughout in comparison to the ATI card, as I would expect from the slightly lower clocking of the core and memory. Image quality and stability were once again identical.

3DMark 2001 gives a similar picture to that of UT: the FDX 8500 LE is ever so slightly slower than the ATI card. Image quality appeared identical, and I had no stability issues with either card whatsoever thanks to the latest drivers from ATI.

The venerable 3D WinMark 2000 shows us that the core and memory clock rates, ever so reduced from that of the ATI card, produces slightly reduced frame rates as well. No real surprises here, though I am sure with some tweaking of the core and memory settings you could get the Hercules to meet or exceed the speed of the ATI offering.

WinBench 99 shows us that both cards are essentially neck and neck in performance, both in the High End Graphics and Business Graphics WinMark test.

Conclusions

2D Performance and Quality: I didn't expect much of a difference here between the two R200 Radeon powered cards, and there wasn't. Visual quality in 2D applications, as well as on the desktop, was top notch. Although Nvidia has certainly closed the gap, ATI still excels in this area, as they have for years.

Direct3D Performance and Quality: In various DirectX games I found only solid visuals and rock solid performance. I noticed no difference between the Hercules and ATI offerings in any area, and although the Prophet supposedly runs a few frames behind, the margin is so small you just don't notice it. Either card stacks up well against the GeForce 3 line of adapters, and for less money.

OpenGL Performance and Quality: I got a small surprise here when testing the Prophet with Quake III: The Hercules card performed a few frames per second better in this review than did its Radeon 8500 counterpart. I was so surprised by this that I ran the tests several more times and ensured that my settings in the OpenGL tab were the same as in my past review, but there was no change. The FDX 8500 LE actually exceeds the speed of the higher clocked ATI 8500.

Dual Monitor Support: The Hercules offering only has a single RAMDAC controller, so dual analog monitor support is out. Hydravision still allows you to hook multiple display devices through the three output ports, but you can only use one analog display at a time, unlike the ATI 8500. Without a DVI-to-VGA adapter in the box you will not be able to hook up two standard monitors anyway, and since I do not yet have a digital display, I could not test dual monitor support here with the Hercules card.

Overall: The 3D Prophet FDX 8500 LE is a solid offering from Hercules, though I am a bit surprised at the reduced clock rate, single RAMDAC controller, and the near reference design of this card. Performance is nearly identical to the ATI Radeon 8500, and the potential for tweaking the Hercules is pretty apparent. Given that the cost difference is only around ten dollars right now, I think the choice between the two boils down to which manufacturer you want to buy from and what features you are more interested in. The Hercules card would make a great upgrade for your gaming rig and I recommend it right alongside the ATI Radeon 8500. The choice is yours.

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