by Alexey Stepin
03/05/2004 | 09:55 PM
We have already reviewed products from Albatron, which usually have high quality served with exquisite elegance. Although graphics cards from Albatron don’t feature any amazing technical innovations, their design is neat, while the cooling system is both efficient and quiet.
Albatron’s products come at a reasonable price, so no wonder that they are deservedly popular among the users. Our today’s review will be dedicated to one more graphics card from Albatron.
Albatron Gigi GeForce FX 5700 Ultra belongs to the mainstream graphics. Like the NV35-based model, this card came to us in a colorful retail box: this time the company didn’t try to take the possible customer by surprise and we have an ordinary paper box rather than a bag that comes with Gigi GeForce FX 5900 PV. Well, that’s a mainstream, not a high-end card, after all.
Anyway, the package catches your eye with its pseudo-holographic relief coating that sparkles with all the colors of the rainbow. The coloring of the box is designed in the aristocratic combination of black and silver. The front side of the package depicts a hi-tech aggressive-looking elven lass called Dusk, rather than her modest sylvan sister Dawn. The leather-wrapped Dusk standing against a sci-fi hangar will surely appeal to many teenage customers. That’s a nice diversion from the traditional fantasy style with its daemons, hellhounds and the rest of the zoo that graphics card makers seem to like so much. Besides other things, the box carries a sticker with the parameters of the enclosed product and the well-known logo “The way it’s meant to be played”. We open the package to find the following:
Albatron Gigi GeForce FX 5700 Ultra comes accompanied with:
The user’s manual is unified for all graphics cards of the Gigi series and covers just the basics. Curiously, its cover still shows Dawn rather than Dusk. The accessories haven’t changed much since Gigi GeForce FX 5900 PV. They haven’t become any fewer, but the games might have been fresher. Anyway, the package and the accessories are just appetizers for the main dish, which we are going to taste now.
The card is really beautiful with the azure-colored PCB matching the silver heatsinks. The PCB is an exact copy of the reference one, save for the color, but that’s all right: attempts of some manufacturers to be original about the PCB design don’t always end up successfully, but sometimes worsen some of the product characteristics, like 2D image quality.
The cooling system is known under the name of Wise Fan II. Here it is, dismounted:
Unlike the first version of Wise Fan, the second one has a more optimal operation algorithm. When reviewing the Gigi GeForce FX 5900 PV (see our Albatron GiGi GeForce FX5900 PV Graphics Card Review for details), we pointed out that the third fan of the Wise Fan system was practically useless. It would turn on when one of the main fans failed, but not when overheating actually threatens the card, which would be of much more help. The second version of Wise Fan has a different heatsink, without the copper coating, and uses faster fans. Besides the standard substitute scheme, the spare fan has now a heat control circuit. It starts spinning up now in two cases: when one of the main fans stops or when the heatsink reaches a certain critical temperature.
The blades of the fans remained translucent and still shine in ultraviolet light. The bright blue LED that highlights the cooling system remains the same, too. I doubt that even modders will like it much since it shines downwards, illumining only the neighboring PCI card.
Wise Fan II is fastened on the card by means of a few plastic spring clips. A little silicon thermal compound lies between the heatsink surface and the GPU die, while the memory chips give their heat away through soft rubber-like pads that are quite good at conducting this very heat. The power connector was made offhandedly in our card – when I removed the heatsink, a badly-wrapped black wire fell off from the connector and I had to solder it up again.
The back side of the PCB carries just two simple heatsinks, each of which covers two memory chips. That’s a questionable solution, as we have GDDR2 memory from Samsung working at 450MHz (900DDR) and heating up a lot.
These heatsinks become as hot as 50°C and more at work. The original cooling system from NVIDIA has a massive heat-spreader for the memory chips on the backside of the PCB, and it’s strange why Albatron limited itself with two small heatsinks only. The memory itself has an access time of 2.2ns and works at its rated frequency. GeForce FX 5700 Ultra GPU works at 457MHz, as usual.
Gigi GeForce FX 5700 may come with VIVO function (the PCB has a landing place for the appropriate chip) as well as with two DVI-I connectors. In the latter case, the card carries an additional TMDS transmitter.
The new Wise Fan is much louder than the first version, at least you can hear the noise from its fans even against the sound from other system components. However, the noise is well-tuned, and the human ear bears it better than the high-frequency squealing from the Volari Duo V8 Ultra, for example.
The fan redundancy scheme works correctly, launching the third fan when any of the two main fans stops. I had no chance to check out the situation with overheating: the temperature remained normal, never exceeding the threshold of the Wise Fan II thermal diode.
Unfortunately, we revealed some issues with 2D image quality: the image was fuzzy in 1600x1200@75Hz. The fuzziness was even more visible when the refresh rate was set to 85Hz. You can also see shadows cast by letters and graphics on white background. This problem usually occurs when the monitor cable is poorly screened, but this time it is the graphics card itself that is to blame as RADEON 9800 XT reference board produces a crystal sharp image on our monitor. The quality of 2D image was perfect in 1280x1024@75Hz, but if you own a CRT monitor with a 21” or larger diagonal, you may find this card unsuitable.
Our Gigi GeForce FX 5700 Ultra was surprisingly good during overclocking, allowing to increase the GPU frequency to 600MHz (a very satisfactory result!), and the memory frequency to 1025MHz. Having raised the memory clock rate further, we got all kinds of visual artifacts. Still, the extra 125MHz is a nice speed boost for 2.2ns memory with a rated frequency of 900MHz. Of course we used an additional fan, so you shouldn’t repeat this test without taking care of proper cooling. Considering that the backside of the PCB has just a couple of small heatsinks, such overclocking may be a disaster in a closed system case.
Let’s find out how fast the card is and what advantages our overclocking brings to it. The testbed was configured as follows:
The two versions of ForceWare need a comment of ours. Version 53.03 is not yet approved by FutureMark, probably because of certain “optimizations” implemented by NVIDIA in this driver. 3DMark03 build 340 blocks such optimizations in ForceWare 52.16, but cannot do this with ForceWare 53.03. So we are going to use only the approved drivers with this benchmarking suite.
We used the following games and applications to check out the performance of the card:
First-person 3D shooters:
Third-person 3D shooters:
We removed Deus Ex 2: Invisible War from our list as it doesn’t meet our requirements for producing adequate results. Right now we are considering replacing some other games from our benchmarks list with more advanced applications. We chose the highest settings in each game during the tests to provide the maximum image quality and level of detail.
3D shooters start the testing session – these games account for the biggest share of all 3D games, actually.
Computer games that have the Quake3 engine inside have traditionally favored GPUs from NVIDIA. This tendency is still strong, as you see. Overclocking of Gigi GeForce FX 5700 Ultra is very satisfactory.
The rankings are absolutely the same when we turn on full-screen anti-aliasing (FSAA) and anisotropic filtering (AF).
While Enemy Territory has a strong liking for NVIDIA processors, Elite Force just loves them: look at the diagrams and you will see what I am talking about.
The degree of love doesn’t depend on FSAA and AF. Overclocking brings a significant performance boost. It’s clear that games with the Quake3 engine from ID Software appreciate high fill rate a lot.
Unreal Tournament 2003 sorts everything out, telling us that high frequencies are good, but overall efficiency of the architecture is necessary, too. ATI Technology has already earned its reputation as a developer of classy GPU architectures, so RADEON 9600 XT shows practically the same results as the Albatron card, although NV36 has higher fill rate and higher vertex processing speed.
Antalus is a texture-heavy rather than geometrical test. It constructs open surfaces that require fast graphics memory – that’s why Gigi GeForce FX 5700 Ultra leaves RADEON 9600 XT behind at their nominal frequencies. Overclocking is rewarding here, again.Now we turn on FSAA and AF:
Here is the first surprise: the efficient algorithms for work with the memory and for performing anisotropic filtering do their job and RADEON 9600 XT is on top at normal frequencies. Gigi GeForce FX 5700 Ultra only catches up with it when working at overclocked frequencies. The 1600x1200 resolution is a different story as it puts the highest workload on the memory subsystem and the RADEON 9600 XT loses its ground notwithstanding its excellent architecture. The memory frequency of the RADEON is evidently low (600MHz) compared to that of GeForce FX (900MHz).
Contrary to Inferno, the Antalus test with FSAA and AF doesn’t produce any changes in the ranks: this test abounds in textures, so Albatron wins here. We should acknowledge the work of the programming team from NVIDIA who wrote excellent drivers that smooth out the inherent deficiencies of the NV3x architecture.
It’s all simple in this game: the cards show equal performance, and Gigi GeForce FX 5700 Ultra becomes the leader only after we overclock it.
Tron 2.0 requires fast processing of geometry information – that’s what one thinks looking at the diagrams. There is a clear correlation between the results and frequencies of the GPUs. The game has a small amount of textures, especially complex textures, so the overclocked Albatron Gigi GeForce FX 5700 Ultra is even faster than the more expensive GeForce FX 5950 Ultra.
Another point goes to ATI Technology and to its approach to making graphics processors. RADEON 9600 XT only loses in the 1600x1200 resolution and to the overclocked Gigi GeForce FX 5700 Ultra only!
Next-generation games are a tough nut to crack for the NV3x architecture, I guess it’s no secret for anyone. This simple truth finds another confirmation as the simple and inexpensive RADEON 9600 XT performs at the same level with the GeForce FX 5950 Ultra. Even the overclocked Gigi GeForce FX 5700 Ultra cannot catch up with the leader.
It’s all the same: RADEON 9600 XT is on top, closely followed by GeForce FX 5950 Ultra, and Albatron is the third. Let’s be fair, though: the Albatron card is close to its high-end mate in the low resolutions.
The GeForce FX architecture suffers another defeat in the third demo. The Albatron card receives a nice boost from overclocking, though.
We recorded new demos in this game for more illustrative benchmarking.
The game is not fastidious about the memory subsystem and the number of pipelines in the “pure speed” mode, but it does like high speed of geometry processing, as the diagrams suggest. GeForce FX 5950 Ultra and the overclocked Gigi GeForce FX 5700 Ultra show similar results across all resolutions – this means that the central processor of the system becomes a bottleneck. To my surprise, RADEON 9600 XT performed quite badly. This may be caused by some driver problems or by the fact that RADEON has two vertex units against three in the NV36 and NV38. Well, the release version of the game may have it vice versa.
Albatron goes neck and neck with the RADEON 9600 XT, leaving it behind only at overclocked frequencies. This situation was most likely caused by the resource-consuming algorithms of AF and FSAA implemented by NVIDIA in its GPUs.
This demo is easy on the graphics card, there are no monsters, so all three cards on NVIDIA GPUs are limited by the CPU performance, while RADEON 9600 XT is slow again. In high resolutions, the Albatron card slows down somewhat, but not as dramatically as the RADEON.
Once again, ATI’s VPU takes its revenge as soon as we enable FSAA and AF. And once again, it lacks memory frequency in the highest resolution. Overclocking puts the Albatron card on top.
The third game scene is the most complex in geometry, so the overclocked Gigi GeForce FX 5700 Ultra becomes the leader. Its 600MHz-clocked GPU allows beating even the strongest participant, GeForce FX 5950 Ultra.
This scene is so geometry-heavy that RADEON 9600 XT cannot catch up with the other cards even under high workload, although the gap is smaller than in the “pure” mode.
Splinter Cell has always been a “home field” for ATI VPUs. Overclocking gives Gigi GeForce FX 5700 Ultra a sufficient boost to get closer to RADEON 9600 XT, but not to surpass it.
This game also likes RADEONs. It is only by overclocking that Albatron can reach the leader, RADEON 9600 XT.
RADEON 9600 XT wins this round, too. Albatron’s graphics card refused to turn FSAA on in 1600x1200, which is the usual behavior of mainstream GPUs from NVIDIA. I think the reason is the amount of the graphics memory: the GeForce FX 5950 Ultra with its 256MB of graphics memory passed this test without any problems.
Gigi GeForce FX 5700 Ultra has a small advantage over RADEON 9600 XT, but overclocking makes the gap wider. So the Albatron card wins this test.
RADEON 9600 XT accelerates in Max Payne 2 as it works fast with ver.1.4 pixel shaders, while NVIDIA GPUs do not. However, overclocking helps the Albatron card reach the performance level of RADEON 9600 XT.
FSAA and AF don’t change the picture in the slightest, only the numbers become smaller and the gap to RADEON 9600 XT in low resolutions becomes wider.
Flight simulators demand more graphics memory bandwidth, so Gigi GeForce FX 5700 Ultra looks better than RADEON 9600 XT. The RADEON based card wins in low resolutions, while overclocking puts the Albatron card on top.
The workload on the memory subsystem grows suddenly with FSAA and AF enabled and Gigi GeForce FX 5700 Ultra gets faster. The benefits from overclocking are obvious. It means that the geometry processing is important for this game, especially if you are participating in an air combat with many models of planes involved.
against the competitors’ background. The speed of geometry processing is very important here and we get a tangible performance advantage from overclocking our Gigi GeForce FX 5700 Ultra.
The Albatron card feels the competition from the RADEON 9600 XT until 1600x1200 where its fast 900MHz memory provides the critical advantage. The overclocked Albatron becomes the leader, again.
We have a tradition: NVIDIA GPUs have always been faster in this Formula 1 simulator. Overclocking helps the Albatron card to reach the level of GeForce FX 5950 Ultra in the first two resolutions.
As it often happens, RADEON wins in all operational modes with the highest workload thanks to its more efficient architecture and faster FSAA and AF implementations.
This real-time strategy game finds its brake in the central processor of our testbed as the 1024x768 diagram shows you. The overclocked Albatron wins in 1280x1024, but in 1600x1200 RADEON 9600 XT and Albatron show the same performance at their nominal frequencies.
The high frequencies of the GPU and memory help Albatron win in the FSAA + AF mode. Overclocking gives some benefits, too.
Gigi GeForce FX 5700 Ultra is just a little faster than RADEON 9600 XT at its nominal clock rates, but leaves it far behind at overclocked frequencies.
Under high workload, Albatron is slower than the RADEON based solution at their regular frequencies, while overclocking is less rewarding than the “pure speed” mode.
The cards go neck and neck at their nominal frequencies, save for 1600x1200 where fast memory starts playing its role. Overclocking makes Albatron the leader.
When anisotropic filtering and anti-aliasing are enabled, the situation becomes typical for many DirectX 9 games: RADEON 9600 XT is faster, in spite of the high frequencies of its rival.
We installed ForceWare 52.16 for our tests in 3DMark03, as this is the driver version approved by FutureMark, the developer of this benchmarking package.
It looks simple: Gigi GeForce FX 5700 Ultra is slower than RADEON 9600 XT at nominal frequencies, but comes ahead of it after overclocking.
The Albatron card is in the lead in the first, relatively simple, test.
The combination of FSAA and AF slows down GeForce to the level of the RADEON; only overclocking helps to improve the situation. The 1600x1200 resolution is another matter – Albatron has no rivals here.
The second test is more complex, it usies pixel shaders and other graphical innovations, so the normally-clocked Gigi GeForce FX 5700 Ultra loses to the RADEON 9600 XT, which crunches through this test very briskly, in spite of its modest memory frequency.
This modest memory frequency becomes the brake under higher workload.
The third test doesn’t greatly differ from the second one and the story repeats itself: RADEON is faster at the nominal frequencies, but loses to the overclocked Albatron Gigi GeForce FX 5700 Ultra.
Again, when FSAA and AF are enabled, RADEON 9600 XT feels the lack of the memory frequency, while Gigi GeForce FX 5700 Ultra performs well enough, if you don’t look at the absolute fps values, which are very low.
The fourth gaming test is a real trial for the GeForce FX architecture, but overclocking saves the day for the Albatron card.
The same is true for “eye candy” modes. Note that the overclocked Albatron is on equal terms with the GeForce FX 5950 Ultra in low resolutions where the graphics memory bandwidth is of less importance.
Our today’s tests confirm that NVIDIA has improved its standings both in high-end and mainstream sectors and should say big thanks to its software team for that. Graphics cards on NVIDIA GPUs don’t look hopeless against ATI’s RADEONs anymore. However, today’s NVIDIA’s victories mostly happen in OpenGL games as well as in all other applications where you don’t use pixel shaders, anisotropic filtering and full-screen anti-aliasing.
Using FSAA and AF you can easily eliminate all the performance advantages of GeForces over RADEONs. Next-generation games are also more likely to use a lot of pixel shaders and run faster on RADEONs.
In the mainstream sector, RADEON 9600 XT evidently lacks fast memory, and GeForce FX 5700 Ultra is winning. On the other hand, some manufacturers are now offering special editions of their RADEON 9600 XT equipped with fast memory chips. You can learn about one such product in our GeCube RADEON 9600 XT “Extreme” Review.
The particular GeForce FX 5700 Ultra-based card we have reviewed today left an ambiguous impression. On the one hand, this card did excellently in many games and overclocks greatly, but the low quality of 2D and the noticeable noise from its cooling system spoil the overall picture a little bit. The first drawback is not critical for owners of LCD monitors with a digital input, but the noise is a thing that matters to everybody. The small heatsinks on the memory chips at the backside of the PCB are also working at their utmost. I do not quite understand why the engineers decided to use this solution rather than a single large heatsink.
Meanwhile, the card has a stylish appearance and comes with a bunch of good stuff. It may make a good gift like Albatron Gigi GeForce FX 5900 PV did. It will suit overclockers, but I’m not sure that every sample of this card will work at our frequencies without any additional volt-modding. Overall, this graphics card from Albatron deserves your attentive look, notwithstanding its design flaws. According to Price Watch, Albatron Gigi GeForce FX 5700 Ultra comes to us with something like “$190” on the price tag.