Nvidia GeForce 210 and GeForce GT 220: Family Portrait
You can see the specs of the new graphics cards based on the 40nm GT216 and GT218 graphics cores in comparison with Nvidia’s earlier solutions as well as with products from AMD.
The GeForce 210 is indeed a very entry-level solution only capable of offloading the CPU when playing high-definition video (as opposed to Nvidia’s earlier GPUs, the new 40nm ones offer hardware acceleration of entropy decoding and bit stream processing for VC-1 format). It also supports audio-over-HDMI although the card still has no integrated sound core. It receives audio via PCI Express, and this is itself a great improvement over the earlier implementation, especially as the new method supports HDMI 1.3a, i.e. High-Definition Audio formats. The GeForce 210 is not a gaming card with its 16 shader processors, of course. The best it can do is to run simple and undemanding games like The Sims. It is not even declared to support PhysX due to such poor computing resources.
The more advanced GeForce GT 220 is somewhere in between the GeForce 9500 GT and GeForce 9600 GT in terms of shader processor count. Yet considering the TMU and RBE subsystems as well as the graphics memory bandwidth, the GeForce GT 220 is closer to the GeForce 9500 GT than to the other. With its support for DirectX 10.1 and the fourth-generation PureVideo HD, the GeForce GT 220 can indeed compete with the ATI Radeon HD 4670 for a place in an advanced HTPC. It can also serve as an inexpensive discrete PhysX accelerator, unlike the GeForce 210.
AMD’s Radeon HD 4500, 4600, 4700 and 4800 series had the technical ability to output 7.1 audio (192kHz/24 bits per sample) with a bit rate up to 6.144Mbps in AC3, DTS, Dolby True HD, DTS HD, DTS HD Master Audio, LPCM (Linear Pulse Code Modulation) and other advanced formats, they did not support a protected audio path and could not reproduce lossless audio tracks in formats other than LPCM due to limitations on the side of software players. The lack of PAP means that Dolby True HD and DTS HD Master Audio cannot be transferred for decoding to an external receiver while the software limitations make it impossible to output the highest-quality audio by the computer itself. Nvidia’s GeForce 210 and GT 220 have the same limitations.
The newest ATI Radeon HD 5700 and 5800 series cards offer full support for PAP and bit-streaming of Dolby True HD and DTS HD Master Audio to an external receiver whereas the capabilities of the GeForce 210 and GT 220 correspond to what the previous-generation Radeons could do. Technically, the new GeForce cards can output 7.1 audio (196kHz/24 bits per sample) with a bit rate up to 6.144Mbps in various formats via HDMI but the lack of PAP and the software limitations make it impossible to reproduce lossless audio streams (in all formats other than LPCM) recorded on Blu-ray discs. On the other hand, the audio output capabilities of the GeForce 210, GT 220 and Radeon HD 4000 are satisfactory for 90% of HTPC users. Only the few owners of external receivers are going to complain at the lack of PAP in Nvidia’s new products.
Summing it up, Nvidia’s new entry-level cards seem to be good enough for their class, but you cannot expect anything from them in 3D applications. The GeForce 210 and GT 220 are designed for home HTPCs as their enhanced HD video processing capabilities and HDMI 1.3a support clearly indicate. Now let’s take a closer look at the actual products.