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Chaintech Apogee AA5700U
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Date: Mar 16, 2004
Section:Graphics/Sound
Author: HH Editor
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Chaintech Apogee AA5700U - Page 1

Chaintech Apogee AA5700U
Redefining the meaning of mainstream

By Robert Maloney
March 15th,  2004

When we last checked in with NVIDIA before the holidays with our look at the 5900XT, we were surprised at its performance / price ratio.  Releasing the 5900XT no less than two months after the similarly priced 5700 Ultra raised some eyebrows however, as it seemed to sound an early death knell for the previous released 5700 Ultra cards. Still, some manufacturers are reluctant to completely give up on the 5700 Ultra, adding additional features in an effort to make the card more attractive.  What we've got in store for you today is Chaintech's Apogee AA5700U, a video card targeted squarely at the mainstream market, with some top of the line additions.  The Apogee AA5700U is Chaintech's second card based on NVIDIA's 5700 Ultra, the first being the SA5700U.  The AA5700 is, at first glance, simply flashier with its blue LEDs and twin-fan cooler, and it seems to be a better value when looking at the included software and cables.  What remains to be seen, is if the AA5700 is actually better?  In order to find out the answer to this question (and others), we've put the AA5700U up against ATi's latest and greatest mainstream offering, the Radeon 9600XT, as well as the aforementioned GeForce FX 5900XT.  We'll start with a briefing on the 5700 Ultra specifications.

Specifications & Features of the Apogee AA5700U
A 5700 Ultra by any other name

         

 
NVIDIA GeForce FX 5700 Ultra GPU
  • CineFX 2.0 Engine
  • Intellisample Technology HCT
  • High-Precision Graphics
  • nView Multi-display Technology
  • Digital Vibrance Control (DVC)
  • Unified Driver Architecture (UDA)
  • AGP 8X including Fast Writes and sideband addressing
  • 0.13 Micron Process Technology from IBM
  • Copper vias and wiring
  • 400MHz RAMDACs

     
  • Graphics Core: 256-bit
  • Engine clock: 475 MHz
  • Memory Interface: 128-bit DDR2 SDRAM
  • Memory Bandwidth: 14.4GB/sec
  • Fill Rate: 1.9 billion pixels/sec
  • Vertices/sec. 356 million
  • Memory Clock: 450MHz
  • Memory Data Rate: 900MHz
  • Maximum Memory: 256MB
  • Pixels per Clock: 4
  • Textures per Rendering Pass: 16
  • Thermal solution: Silent, single-slot heatsink/twin-fan
 
  • Architected for Cg
  • Microsoft® DirectX®9.0 Optimizations and Support
  • New 64-phase Video Scaler
  • OpenGL®1.4 Optimizations and Support
  • Video Mixing Renderer (VMR)
  • High-performance, high-precision 3D rendering engine
  • On-board DVI support up to 1600x1200 resolution
  • On-board TV-out support up to 1024x768 resolution
  • Integrated Full Hardware MPEG-2 Decoder
  • Vivid NTSC/PAL TV-out support with flicker filter


CLICK TO ENLARGE

APOGEE AA5700U
CORE CLOCK: 475MHz
MEMORY CLOCK: 453MHz
FILLRATE: 1.9B pixels/sec
MEMORY BANDWIDTH: 14.4 GB/s


         

As we alluded to in the introduction, Chaintech didn't pull any punches when forming the bundle that comes with the AA5700U.  A simple look at the oversized box can testify to that.  We kept taking pieces out and then sorted them into three groups: setup, media, and cabling.  The setup consisted of a thorough manual with accompanying CD-ROM.  It's one thing to simply give the user installation instructions, it's another to go into the "ins-and-outs" of setting it up correctly so that you can get the most out of the card.  Chaintech has also gone the "extra mile" and provided each kind of cable that one could conceivably use when setting up their system.  We found a S-Video cable, a SV to AV cable, a power cable splitter for those lacking an additional plug, and a VGA-to-DVI adapter.  Missing from the picture, there should also have been a composite cable, as well as the Q-Ball, a green spongy ball that Chaintech includes for cleaning your monitor.  What will they think of next?

         

Once the card is up and running, you'll need something to try it out, and that's where the media pack comes in.  There's a little bit of everything thrown into the mix of CDs that we found.  One CD was for WinProducer 3.0, which can be used to make your own VCDs, while another came with WinDVD Player, WinDVD Creator, and WinRip, which is used for ripping music from your CD collection into MP3 format.  The 5-in-1 Game Pack CD provided a few game demonstrations, which would normally be better received had they not been demos of games that were quite dated.  Indeed, Max Payne has already had three years under its belt, and a sequel to boot.  The real crux of the collection then is the full version of Commandos 3: Destination Berlin.  Commandos 3 is a strategy type game that can really benefit from the high resolution output that the Chaintech Apogee AA5700U can provide.  Alas, we found that the Commandos 3 CDs we received would not work correctly.  This might simply be an issue with the ForceWare 56.56 drivers that Eidos will need to look into, but it's something to look out for.  We were able to run it successfully using 53.03 version drivers.

Chaintech unleashes the AA5700U   

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Chaintech Apogee AA5700U - Page 2

Chaintech Apogee AA5700U
Redefining the meaning of mainstream

By Robert Maloney
March 15th, 2004

Closer Inspection of the Apogee AA5700U
Can you say "bling-bling"?

         

         
CLICK ANY IMAGE FOR AN ENLARGED VIEW

We have usually been impressed with Chaintech's attention to manufacturing detail in the past, and the AA5700U was no exception.  The card was quite hefty, weighed down by the large copper heatsinks placed on both sides of the card.  These heatsinks help cool not only the CPU, but are sandwiched firmly around the RAM as well.  Normally, DDR-II RAM runs a bit hotter than standard DDR, and the solid copper should not only keep them cool, but perhaps give us some headway when overclocking the memory.  The AA5700U is also long, make that very long - in fact, probably the longest card we have had in the labs in quite a while.  While this doesn't necessarily pose a problem in most setups, Small Form Factor (SFF) owners may have some difficulty trying to install this into their cramped confines.

         

The main difference between the newer AA5700U and Chaintech's earlier entry, the SA5700U, was the addition of twin fans that are lit up with blue LEDs.  These provide a steady blue glow, but, unfortunately are pointed downwards so the full effect may be lost in most scenarios (obviously, they wouldn't even be seen at all in non-windowed cases.)  Other than the upgraded cooling, the core and memory speeds of the two cards, and thus the performance, should remain the same.  It might not make much sense then to upgrade to the AA5700U unless you are currently using something older, such as a GF4 based card or a current 5200/5600 owner.  For a new builder or someone who is looking to add a little flash to their rig, however, you couldn't go wrong as the card should provide solid performance while appealing to the eye. 

Comparative Screenshots
Fighting for freedom never looked so good
We had originally chosen the Far Cry demo for some reference screenshots in order to compare the quality of the 5700 Ultra versus the most direct competitor, that being the ATi 9600XT.  After slugging it out on the beaches, and getting what we thought would be a prime view of the shoreline, we were disappointed to find that we could not get anything from the demo when using 4XAA.  Thus, we quickly scrounged through our exhaustive collection of games and settled on EA's Freedom Fighters. We took a few shots of the the "freedom fighters" homebase, with and without 4 samples of anti-aliasing and then again after applying some anisotropic filtering.

Freedom Fighters Screenshots
1600x1200x32 - High Quality Settings

Chaintech Apogee AA5700U
Standard                         4xAA                      4xAA+AF
         

ATi Radeon 9600XT
Standard                         4xAA                      4xAA+AF

         

      
At first glance, the pictures may seem kind of drab and gloomy - hey, they are in a sewer don't you know - but closer examination of the lighting effects and certain elements found in the base made for some perfect quality comparisons.  We're going to direct your attention to two sections in particular.  First, check out the railings and the slopes of the structure on the left, especially where they contrast with the background.  The graphics are consistently jagged with both cards without anti-aliasing, but at 4xAA, each card has smoothed out the lines considerably.  Touches like this add to the realism and ultimately the enjoyment of playing the game.  I would be somewhat concerned if the edge of my desk was just as jagged as the initial screens were.  Adding in the anisotropic filtering "cleans" up some sections, most readily noticed in the grating in the lower left.  Try switching between a 4xAA and a 4xAA+AF screenshot, and you will notice blotchy sections at 4xAA that turn into nearly perfect grids.  It's purely subjective here, but we gave a slight edge to ATi in the comparisons.  At 4xAA+AF, the guy standing in the distance seemed to be just a bit more defined on the 9600XT than on the 5700 Ultra. 

The Test System and our first benchmarks  

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Chaintech Apogee AA5700U - Page 3

Chaintech Apogee AA5700U
Redefining the meaning of mainstream

By Robert Maloney
March 15th, 2004

Benchmarks With Unreal Tournament 2003
DX8 Performance In The Mainstream

Epix's Unreal Tournament has consistently been one of the most popular shooters, and by no coincidence is it also one of the most used benchmarks for video card testing.  There are many variants to testing the demo version, one of which is to use a "Flyby", which plays back a recorded tour of one of the levels.  Here in the labs, we use a custom INI file that maximizes the graphical settings, and then displays the average frame rate for three strenuous resolutions.  We chose the 1024x768x32 and 1600x1200x32 scores for our reports, with and without anti-aliasing samples.  We kept Anisotropic filtering disabled here because NVIDIA and ATi aren't doing the same level of trilinear filtering when aniso and trilinear are enabled together.

Unreal Tournament 2003 was the first chance we got to see any major differences between the 9600XT and the AA5700U.  In what appears to be the usual case, the 5900XT moved right to the head of the class, leading in each benchmark except when applying 6 samples of anti-aliasing at 1024x768.  The AA5700U took an early lead over the 9600XT when no AA samples were added.  It fell slightly behind at the lower resolution, but the hit was much less pronounced at 1600x1200, allowing it to maintain a decent 45.19 frames per second.  The 9600XT on the other hand, took a drastic loss in performance, only able to produce 26.71 fps.  We weren't able to get reliable 6XAA scores at 1600x1200 on the GeForce cards, possibly due to an issue with the latest ForceWare drivers.  We'll keep you posted if we find out anything further about this.

Head-to-Head Performance With Splinter Cell
Stealth Pixel Shading Redefined

Splinter Cell's version 1.2 patch includes three pre-recorded demos and incorporates a previously unavailable benchmarking tool.  The demos included with the patch are somewhat limited by CPU performance, however, so we used the custom Oil Rig demo created by the folks at Beyond 3D to test with this game.  Beyond 3D's demo removes two CPU intensive routines while increasing dependence on Pixel Shader performance.  Shaders are used to render the realistic looking ocean water surrounding the Oil Rig in the demo, as well as simulating a night vision effect.  As we've mentioned in the past, anti-aliasing doesn't work with Splinter cell (at least with the current version).  Due to this fact, we do not have any AA scores listed in the graphs below.

The 5900XT claimed this benchmark as its own, no questions asked.  The AA5700U and the 9600XT, on the other hand, are neck and neck at both resolutions.  There's no way to paint either as the victor, so we'll have to call it a tie again this time.  What we would like to point out is that the relative placement of the cards has made changed very little since the first time we paired them up, even with newer Catalyst and ForceWare drivers.

Final Fantasy & Gun Metal Tests    

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Chaintech Apogee AA5700U - Page 4

Chaintech Apogee AA5700U
Redefining the meaning of mainstream

By Robert Maloney
March 15th, 2004

Performances Comparisons With Final Fantasy XI v2.0
Chocobos finally make it to the big screen

Final Fantasy is a title that is more well known by console gamers, but it appears that Squaresoft has made a successful jump to the PC, with a MMORPG version of the classic. The demo version is equipped with a built-in benchmark, which displays a score every time it makes a full cycle.  Although the demo is meant the check an entire system's readiness to play the game, the number of frames rendered in the demo scales well with different video cards installed.  Lower scores indicated some frames were dropped to complete the demo in the allotted time.  The scores below were taken with the demo set to "High Resolution" (1024x768), with anti-aliasing disabled. 

The results were much closer in the Final Fantasy benchmark, where only 258 points separated the top performer, the 5900XT from the lowest performer, that being the 9600XT.  The AA5700U fell evenly between the two: 122 points behind the 5900XT and 136 points ahead of the 9600XT.  Price-wise, however the e-VGA 5900XT we used for testing was usually found for less than Chaintech's Apogee AA5700U, which would make it not only better, but cheaper.  One almost wonders if it might have served Chaintech better to have come out with a remodeled 5900XT rather than a 5700 Ultra.

Benchmarks / Comparison With Gun Metal
Well, he's got guns, and he's metal...let's call it Gun Metal!

We continued our testing with the pseudo-DX9 based Gun Metal benchmark developed by Yeti Studios. This benchmark, like all of the others used in this review, is based on an actual game engine. Gun Metal uses Vertex Shader 2.0 and Pixel Shader 1.1 ops in the creation of the game world. This test is heavily GPU limited, and because Yeti's intent was to stress all modern 3D accelerators, anti-aliasing (2X) and Anisotropic filtering are enabled by default, and can't be disabled. We ran this test at 1024x768 and then again at 1280x1024.

Anybody who has regularly checked in with our reviews should not be overly surprised by the results we found with Gun Metal.  The AA5700U's numbers were respectable, usually falling in about 10-15 percent behind the 5900XT.  The 9600XT was nowhere to be found, easily spanked by both of the GeForce FX based cards.  The AA5700U may have scored one against ATi here, but it's real competitor may be one already found in NVIDIA's own ranks. 

Next Up: Comanche 4 & Wolfenstein: ET  

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Chaintech Apogee AA5700U - Page 5

Chaintech Apogee AA5700U
Redefining the meaning of mainstream

By Robert Maloney
March 15th, 2004

Performance Comparisons With Novalogic's Comanche 4
The Performance Battlefield

We used Novalogic's combat helicopter simulator Comanche 4 for our next batch of DirectX tests.  This benchmark uses DX8 class pixel and vertex shaders to produce some of the realistic visuals used throughout the demo.  Unlike the previous tests, this benchmark is heavily influenced by CPU and system memory performance, especially at lower resolutions.  However, when the resolution is raised and AA and Anisotropic filtering are enabled, the current crop of video cards tend to slow down quite a bit

At 1024x768, it seems that each card is very capable when handling the DirectX8 class graphics of Comanche 4.  Since Comanche is quite CPU-limited, we're probably reaching the maximum frame rate that the system can produce out before applying AA.  The 9600XT started out in the lead with 50.13 fps, but applying 4XAA dropped it behind the 5900XT.  Chaintech's AA5700U was a close third at 44.66, only a frame less than the 9600XT.  Anisotropic filtering was the great divider here, affecting the 9600 XT much more than the GeForce FX cards.  We saw a similar decline with the 9600XT at 1600x1200, nearly crippling its output, although the AA5700U was also slowed down a bit.  Applying 4 samples of anti-aliasing cost the AA5700U close to 14 frames, in effect losing about a third of its performance.

Benchmarking With Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory
New Game, Better Effects, Old Engine

We also ran through a batch of timedemos with the OpenGL game Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory.  Wolfenstein: ET is a free, standalone multiplayer game that is based on the original Return to Castle Wolfenstein, which was released a few years back. It uses a modified Quake3 core yet exhibits plenty of CPU scaling and platform variation, which also makes it a good benchmarking tool.  We created a custom demo and used the built-in timedemo feature to check each card's frame rate.  The tests below were run at 1024x768 and 1600x1200, with out anti-aliasing, once with 4X AA, and then again with 4X AA and 8X anisotropic filtering.

Our last benchmark was won, more or less, by the 5900XT and 5700 Ultra based cards.   The 5900XT took a commanding lead, but the AA5700U was no slouch either, hitting over 90 fps at 1024x768.  It outperformed the 9600XT by just over 16%, and maintained a healthy lead at 4XAA and 4XAA+AF as well.  While the 1600x1200 benchmarks started off in the same fashion, the AA5700U and 9600XT flip-flopped when enabling the driver optimizations.  ATi's implementation of AA and Anisotropic Filtering was simply better at the higher resolution, as the 9600XT took much smaller performance hits than that seen with the 5700 Ultra or 5900XT.

Overclocking & The Conclusion  

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Chaintech Apogee AA5700U - Page 6

Chaintech Apogee AA5700U
Redefining the meaning of mainstream

By Robert Maloney
March 15th, 2004

Overclocking the Chaintech Apogee AA5700U
We turned the dial to 11

   

Chaintech has provided a utility on the driver CD called GOSU, short for Graphics Overclocking System Utility.  Seen in the screenshots above, two dashboard-like gauges are used to display the GPU and DRAM speeds, while the buttons below are meant to call up specific driver settings.  We were not able to get these to work as we believe they were intended, however, as clicking on any of the buttons simply brought up the Display Properties window.  We still had to manually click on 'Advanced', go to the correct tab, and make our modifications.  The real beauty of the GOSU software is the ability to simply click on the 'MAX' button to achieve a tested, stable overclock of the AA5700U.  No fiddling with the GPU and DRAM speeds individually, and supposedly no worrying about whether or not the card can handle the new speeds.  Just click the 'Max." button and then click 'GO' and watch the frames scream by.  

Using our Gun Metal results as a frame of reference, we found we were able to add an additional 2.5 frames at GOSU's "Max." setting (546/1041), which came out to roughly a 14% increase in performance.  We weren't satisfied with the "Max." setting, however, and tried our hand at overclocking the AA5700U even further, reaching as as high as 580/1060. With our additional tweaking, we were able to surpass the 5900XT by an additional 3%.  Chaintech promised high overclocking results with the AA5700U, and they definitely delivered.

 

We were really impressed with the Apogee AA5700U.  It's not often that we find a mainstream card that has all of the looks of a high-end card without the major hit in the wallet.  Fittingly, the package contents are also well thought out, providing a full set of media, cables, and other extras that other manufacturers often skimp on.  If anything, we may have to qualify the Apogee AA5700U as an upper-end mainstream package - not quite as lacking as some mainstream offerings, but nowhere near the performance (and accompanying price) of a heavy hitter.  We can't find any fault with Chaintech for providing such a package except for one major concern.  One can easily find a 5900XT from not only a competitor, but from Chaintech themselves, that goes for less than the price of the Apogee AA5700U.  Couple that with the steadily declining prices on ATi's 9800 Pro, and we might find a relatively short life-span for the AA5700U, and all other 5700 Ultras as well.  One saving grace, and it's enough to keep our rating towards the higher end of the scale, was the great overclocking potential, and the ease of putting it to use with the GOSU utility.  The Apogee AA5700U overclocked well enough that we were able to overtake the 5900XT, at least when testing Gun Metal.  It might help make up the difference in the long run.  As it stands now, we'll give the Chaintech Apogee AA5700U an 8.5 on the HotHardware Heat Meter. 


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