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Gigabyte GA660 Turbo Vrs. MSI 3DAGPhantom
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Date: Dec 15, 2001
Section:Graphics/Sound
Author: HH Editor
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The Gigabyte GA660 Turbo Vrs. The MSI 3DAGPhantom - Page 1
 

A Tale of Two TNT2s

The Gigabyte GA660 Turbo

Vrs.

The MSI 3DAGPhantom

We brought in the wreckin' crew for this event. Like a Demolition Team with a bad attitude, we decided to mix up a couple of explosive substances and see what kind of reaction we would get. This is a "Bake Off" of sorts between a pair of TNT2 cards from Gigabyte and Micro-Star International. Both boards are from the standard TNT2 vintage as opposed to the Ultra variety. Both cards also are designed with an agressive approach to the standard NVidia Reference Design. You know both Gigabyte and MSI for their exceptional Motherboard products. We decided to get a little insight on their Graphics Accelerators. Let's see what they are made of.

 


Click 'em

 






The Gigabyte GA660 Turbo - TNT2 with a Twist

If you are like me and have a keen sense of the obvious, you'll note that the Gigabyte board is set up dramatically different than any other TNT2 board on the market today. Dig that Metalic Blue Heatsink on the back side of the PCB! It is mounted directly underneath the Ball Grid Pads of the TNT2 chip's BGA package. Since you can't mount other components directly underneath a BGA device, this area of the board is wasted space normally. However, the folks at Gigabyte took a page from the book of us hard core overclocking freaks and decided that they would suck a little more heat out of the TNT2 chip from the back side with this heat sink. Another interesting feature of this board is the "Turbo Mode" jumper on the front side. This jumper allows you to take this board from its standard 125 MHz. Core Clock and 140 MHz. Memory Clock to a more robust 156/156 Core and Memory Speed. We of course were dieing to see if the board was capable of something more since this really is not "break neck" speed for the TNT2. More on that later... :-) Lastly, the memory on this board are the exact same chips that are on the MSI board. Specifically, they are Samsung part number KM32S2030CT-G7. Both boards have 32MB.

 


The MSI 3DAGPhantom - Stealthy Power Under a Modest Exterior

The 3D AGPhantom from MSI is also a very well made board. I actually like the heatsink and fan combo on the front of this board, a little better than the Gigabyte board. The heatsink is a little heavier and the fan is one of those "Turbo-Prop" kinds with a few extra blades. Also, both boards fasten their sinks down with push pins through the PCB. The MSI board use a thermal transfer pad between the sink and the chip. The Gigabyte's sink is glued down in addition to the pins. One of these approaches works definately better than the other. Once again, we'll get to that shortly.

Finally, the MSI board has an additional TV S-Video Out connector and comes with a converter cable. This is an extra plus for the AGPhantom. Other than that, it is true basic reference design. Nothing too special here except for the well designed heat sink and fan. The AGPhantom is clocked out of the box at 140MHz. Core and 155MHz. Memory Clocks.

     

     
OK, so that's the hardware. We are not going to insult your intelligence and re-post the NVidia TNT2 specs here like we have in other reviews. If you need a referesher, check here. I really like the TNT2 Chipset. It is a well rounded platform with full 32bit Color and support for larger textures. Both cards are raised from his solid stock. 
     

Before we break out the Kevlar Impact Vests for our little competition. Let's take a look at a few more odds and ends. In the immortal words of Aerosmith and Steven Tyler....

Walk this way!

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The Gigabyte GA660 Turbo Vrs. The MSI 3DAGPhantom - Page 2
 

Setup, Image Quality and Overclockability

Gigabyte GA660 vrs. MSI AGPhantom

Here is where the REAL differences bewteen these to cards come into play. Although the installation and set up of both cards was very straight forward, the outcome after we had them installed was markedly different. Here's how we set things up.

 


Full Tower ATX Case w/ 300W PS, Pentium3 -450 Overclocked to 558 MHz. w/ a 124MHz. FSB and also clocked to 517MHz. with a 115MHz. FSB, Abit BE6 Motherboard, 128MB PC133 HSDRAM from EMS, WD Expert AC418000 7200 RPM ATA66 Hard Drive, MSI 3DAGPhantom 32MB AGP and Gigabyte GA660 Turbo 32MB AGP, Toshiba SDM1202 3rd. Gen. 4.8X DVD/32X CDROM, Win 98, NVidia Reference Drivers Version 2.08, DirectX 7.0
We installed both boards with their included drivers just to get a feel for the "out of the box" set up. We then set both boards up with the latest NVidia reference drivers just to level the playing field. We used Entech's Perftune to overclock these cards as well as check their current clock settings.
     

 

MSI AGPhantom

We installed the AGPhantom in our test bed machine without a hitch. The card had no problem handling the 124MHz. front Side Bus and the 82MHz. AGP Bus that the Abit BE6 generates at that setting with a 2/3 divider. The card was clocked at a standard 140MHz. Core and 155 Memory Clock. It was perfectly stable at this setting. We were also able to overclock the card up to 165 MHz. Core and 160 MHz. Memory clocks without one lock-up or visual artifact. I was surprised that the memory had such a limited margin but as soon as we took it up past 160MHz., "snow" would occur in 3D games. In general, this card was a stable and competent overclocker and it handled the higher AGP bus speeds well.

One somewhat bothersome issue was the Windows Desktop or 2D image quality. The desktop image was noticably more fuzzy and less crisp in all areas vrs. the GA660 Turbo. This was prevalent with both the stock MSI drivers and the latest reference drivers, so it seems to be a hardware issue. Those running 1024X768 desktops or smaller resolutions, should not have a problem. It was only at 1152X768 or above that the image became unstable.

 


Gigabyte GA660 Turbo

The Gigabyte GA660 Turbo was a "horse of a different color" all together. Perhaps it is because of it Electric Blue FR4 Material that they make the PCB out of but it goes a little further than that. As you noted in the previous page, the GA660 Turbo comes with two distinct features, the excellent FAN/Sink Combos on both front and BACK sides of the board and the "Turbo Jumper" for the Core and Memory clocks. This is where our fun began. For almost a day and a half I was pulling my hair out on why the GA660 would lock up in Quake2 and Quake3 but boot and run the Windows environment without a hitch. We tried everything including running the card at its standard 135/140 clocks without the Turbo Jumper. Everytime it locked. Then light dawned on our marble heads and we set the FSB clock on the Abit BE6 to 100MHz. which put our Pentium !!! 450 back to its specified speed. Like magic the GA660 ran all apps. without fuss. This allowed the AGP bus on the motherboard to run down at its specified 66MHz. clock. We then bumped up the FSB and left the divider on the BE6 at 2/3. We made it up to 115 MHz. FSB or 76 MHz. AGP bus speed without lock-ups. If we took the GA660 any higher, it would lock. However, we were able to run the board in "Tubo" Mode which allowed for a 156MHz. Core and Memory Clock, once we set the FSB clock back to 115 on the motherboard. Also, the board would not handle a higher core or memory clocks higher than "Turbo Mode" without locking up. Here is a shot of the Gigabyte Clock Slider Drivers in action...

This was a little dissapointing to say the least since we were so impressed by the GA660's excellent cooling solution. I get the feeling the thermal junction between the heat sink and TNT2 chip is not adequate for the application. Finally, the Desktop Image Quality for the GA660 Turbo was superb. It does a great job at displaying crisp text and rich graphics like most TNT2 based boards.

     
 
 
 
That's enough talk. Let's wire these puppies up, punch the button and watch the fire-works!
 

TNT2s Combusting here!

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The Gigabyte GA660 Turbo Vrs. The MSI 3DAGPhantom - Page 3
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