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Visiontek's GeForce3
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Date: Dec 15, 2001
Section:Graphics/Sound
Author: HH Editor
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Visiontek's GeForce3 - Page 1

The Visiontek GeForce3
Powered by NVIDIA and made in the USA

By Dave Altavilla
5/24/2001
 

"Board Stuffing", that's what the industry affectionately calls what the folks at Visiontek do as their core business unit.  Otherwise known as "Contract Manufacturing", in a nut shell, Visiontek will take a customer's "Bill of Materials" also known as a BOM (lots of new lingo here eh?), procure the raw parts (chips and circuit boards) and then assemble the product.  At that point they may even box it up and ship it to their customer's end customer.  This way, companies like Elsa or Hercules for example, can concentrate on designing and marketing next generation products and leave the manufacturing process to a company that is focused on that one aspect and most likely better equipped for it. 

As you can imagine, being a Contract Manufacturer or "Board Stuffer" is sometimes a tough racket, so to speak.  Margins can be razor thin and the environment cut throat with many competitors in this space.  It's no wonder Visiontek looked to expand into other areas that would help bolster profitability.  As a major supplier of manufacturing services for nVidia based graphics products to OEMs, Visiontek was already pumping reference design boards through their chip shooters at a blinding pace.  As a result, it was a natural for them to take ownership of their own product in this space and bring it to market.

The following is a HotHardware look at the Visiontek GeForce3 Graphics Accelerator.  Made here the USA, let's see what good ol' American ingenuity brings to the table.

Specifications and Features Of The Visiontek GeForce3
A straight up reference design

 

Architecture Features

GeForce3 FEATURES:
  • nFiniteFX engine for full programmability
  • Lightspeed Memory Architecture for unmatched performance
  • Surface engine for high-order surfaces and patches
  • Programmable Vertex Shader
  • Procedural deformations
  • Programmable matrix palette skinning
  • Keyframe animation interpolation
  • Morphing
  • Fog effects (Radial, Elevation, Non-linear)
  • Lens effects (Fish eye, Wide angle, Fresnel effects, Water refraction)
  • Programmable Pixel Shader
  • Phong-style lighting for per-pixel accuracy
  • Dot3 bump mapping
  • Environmental bump mapping (EMBM)
  • Procedural textures
  • Per-pixel reflections
  • HRAA?high-resolution antialiasing
  • Featuring Quincunx AA mode
  • Integrated hardware transform engine
  • Integrated hardware lighting engine
  • DirectX and S3TC texture compression
  • Dual cube environment mapping capability
  • Reflection maps
Continued:
  • Accurate, real-time environment reflections
  • Hardware accelerated real-time shadows
  • True, reflective bump mapping
  • Z-correct bump mapping
  • Phong-style lighting effects on bump maps with reflections
  • High-performance 2D rendering engine
  • Optimized for 32-, 24-, 16-, 15- and 8-bpp modes
  • True-color hardware cursor with alpha
  • Multi-buffering (double, triple or quad) for smooth animation and video playback
  • High-quality HDTV/DVD playback
  • High-definition video processor (HDVP) for full-screen, full-frame video playback of HDTV and DVD content
  • Independent hardware color controls for video overlay
  • Hardware color-space conversion (YUV 4:2:2 and 4:2:0)
  • Motion compensation
  • 5-tap horizontal by 3-tap vertical filtering
  • 8:1 up/down scaling
  • Per-pixel color keying
  • Multiple video windows supported for CSC and filtering
  • DVD sub-picture alpha-blended compositing

 

The box and contents for this board were a little bland.  Only the card, drivers and install guide were included.  Here's what our board looked like.

 

click for full view

 

   

 

As you can see, our board came equipped with a TVOut feature connector.  Most GeForce3 cards you'll see on the market will at least have this feature and/or possibly digital flat panel output as well.  The board is clean with all components neatly aligned in their respective sites and solder connections crisp.  Visiontek's quality manufacturing process is fairly obvious with this well built card.

 

As you can see in the above feature list, the GeForce3 has many new capabilities with its Programmable nFiniteFX Engine, Pixel and Vertex Shaders.  Let's have a look at what these news toys can bring to the 3D Gaming experience.

 

 

Drivers, Features, Screenshots and Demos

 
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Visiontek's GeForce3 - Page 2

The Visiontek GeForce3
Powered by NVIDIA and made in the USA

By Dave Altavilla
5/24/2001

 
Along with a solid hardware redesign, typically comes a software overhaul as well.  Although the latest revision of the nVidia Detonator drivers look somewhat familiar, there are few new features to play with.  We were using the 11.01 Detonator drivers, as suggested by nVidia, while evaluating their new product.

Drivers, Features Screen Shots and Demos
nVidia's GeForce3 comes to life

Click images for full view
    

 

As you'll note, there is a more simplified Anti-Ailiasing control panel with this version of the Detonator drivers.  Here you can select between the different 2 and 4X modes and also the new Quincunx mode.  Quincunx mode is a new "Multi-Sampling" versus legacy "Super-Sampling", method of AA and the result is near 4X AA quality at close to 2X AA speed.  Our man Marco went into some detail here on the subject, if you would like more info.

Here are some screen-shots which should give you a good idea of the quality in each mode.

 

Click images - All shots 32bit color
Set desktop color depth to 32bit to avoid banding

NoAA                                      2X AA
 

Quincunx AA                              4X AA 
 

 

 

Anti-Ailiasing, as the saying goes, is in the eye of the beholder. In our opinion, 2X AA in this Space/Flight Sim hybrid game "Echelon", does a nice job of cleaning things up.  However, you can notice things do look a little smoother in the Quincunx and 4X shots.  We also noticed that Quincunx mode does blur textures slightly.  Again however, you make the call here.

 

Skipping back for a moment to driver functionality, with the GeForce3 you get Digital Vibrance Control as an added feature.  Historically, this was only available on GeForce2 MX cards but now makes an appearance for the GeForce3.  DVC actually turns up the color saturation on your desktop and within games.  If you want things bright but not washed out, this just may do the trick for you.

 

Finally, we'll throw in some shots from Aquanox a new next generation game that takes advantage of the GeForce3's new features like pixel shading etc.

 

Click images - All shots 32bit color
Set desktop color depth to 32bit to avoid banding

   

 

 

Perhaps even more impressive is Inevitable's "Evolution" demo that was developed specifically to show off the power and features of the GeForce3.  We were absolutely stunned when we saw this.

 

Click images - All shots 32bit color
Set desktop color depth to 32bit to avoid banding

   

 

What you are looking at here folks, is the future of 3D Gaming.  Console fans have something to envy here for sure.  This is a rolling demo and you should see it live.  It is simply amazing and the frame rate is silky smooth.

 

Speaking of frame rates, why don't we get to some testing here

3DMark 2001, Quake 3, FSAA, Aquanox and Dronez Testing

 
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Visiontek's GeForce3 - Page 3

The Visiontek GeForce3
Powered by NVIDIA and made in the USA

By Dave Altavilla
5/24/2001


It's seems odd to classify the Quake 3 engine as "old".  However, its usefulness as a benchmark is just now beginning to show its age.  Although Quake 3 really doesn't show off the capabilities and power of the GeForce3, we realize most of you would be left with an "empty" sort of feeling, if we were to omit this benchmark standard.  We also used it in our over-clocking tests.
 
Quake 3 Arena Testing GF2U Vrs. GF3
It's all about fill rate...

 



At high resolutions, where fill rate counts, the GeForce3 does pull away handily from the GF2 Ultra.  We then decided to see what our Visiontek sample was capable of with respect to over-clocking.

Overclocking The Visiontek GeForce3
Decent gains

 

With 3.8ns DDR SDRAM on board, we were fairly impressed that we were able to realize a stable 530MHz. memory clock with no artifacts.  We didn't do any long term stress testing here however, so your results could vary somewhat.

Anti-Ailiasing Tests


Here the GeForce3 shows us how it is done.  4X AA at 1024X768X32 is simply gorgeous and totally playable at 50 fps.  We would also challenge you to tell the difference between Quincunx mode and 4X during game play.  At almost 70 fps, Quincunx is now my favorite way to play.

 

Real next generation gaming engines and real world performance, next.

 Aquanox, Dronez and The Heat Meter

 
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Visiontek's GeForce3 - Page 4

The Visiontek GeForce3
Powered by NVIDIA and made in the USA

By Dave Altavilla
5/24/2001


Two very real game engines, that utilize the full potential of the GeForce3, have recently been developed.  Dronez, developed by Zetha,  is an OpenGL benchmark that utilizes the Pixel Shader, vertex programs and heavy duty T&L along with some fancy skinning.  Aquanox is a DirectX 8 game that is being developed by Massive Development (no small pun there either).  It also, utilizes Vertex and Pixel Shaders.

Let's fire them up and check the numbers.
 
Dronez and Aquanox Benchmarks
Where old technology falls behind...

 

Now that is quite and eye chart, eh?  Here we see the GeForce3 in the blue color bars and GeForce2 Ultra in yellow.  In the "Gen HQ" setting, we are not exercising the nFiniteFX engine of the GeForce3 but rather all settings are configured for a "Generic" graphics accelerator.  In "GF2 Bump" mode, we are not using Vertex or Pixel Shaders or any part of the nFiniteFX engine of the GeForce3 but rather the game is optimized for max performance on a GeForce2.  Finally, the "GeForce3 Bump" setting utilizes the nFiniteFX engine of the GeForce3 and its Vertex/Pixel Shaders, that are supported in the GPU itself.  This setting, in the case of the GeForce2 Ultra, forces the system to do all of these new features in software on the host CPU.

You can see where things are headed here.  For next generation 3D gaming, the Visiontek GeForce3 really shows its muscle.   Here are a couple of screenshots from this game to give you an idea of the visuals a GeForce3 brings to the table.  These were all taken in GeForce3 Bump mode.

Click images for full view of Dronez screenshots
   

You saw the Aquanox shots early in this article, now let's look at the numbers.  "Aquamark" is a stress test of sorts, based on the Aquanox game engine.  It is designed to really crunch on the graphics subsystem.

The first thing that comes to mind here is that even the GeForce3 can't break 50 fps.  There is more to this picture than meets the eye however.  At 800X600, the GF3 is 2X the performance of the GeForce2 Ultra.  Also, it is pretty obvious that the GeForce2 Ultra is basically capped at around 20 fps.  Again, we would have liked to see this benchmark/game engine post snappier numbers on the GeForce3 but we need to emphasize that this is a "stress test" benchmark. 
 
Here is a snap from the Aquamark read me that says it all...
 
"AquaMark is a stress test for DX8 drivers and hardware. The underlying krass- Engine floods any(!) graphics card that is currently available, with data. We use AquaMark mainly as a stability test. We work closely together with all major gfx card vendors in order to fix problems within our technology and within their  drivers.  The krass-Engine is the first engine available that fully exploits DX8
Vertex Shaders and Pixel Shaders. However the engine does not rely on Pixel Shaders  which can be emulated at some extend through the automatic usage of the DX7 Texture Stage pipeline. So, you will NOT need a P4/1.5GHz and a GeForce3 to play AquaNox, our recommendation for AquaNox is a PIII/Atholon 500MHz and a GeForce2."

And so boys and girls, the actual game itself will run significantly faster than the scores you see here in our tests.  All told, it's easy to see from our benchmark run, how the Visiontek GeForce3's nFiniteFX engine powers the DX8 3D action.  Again, the folks at Massive talk about "emulation" of Pixel Shaders versus doing it in hardware like the GeForce3.  When these new titles come to market, they may run with all the eye candy on a GeForce2 but the GeForce3 cards will really fly, the way the game is meant to.

 

We've done our best to cover all aspects of this new GeForce3 based card from Visiontek.  For a good general comparison of GeForce3 technology, be sure to check out BigWop's review of the Gigabyte GV-GF3000 as well.  We're very much impressed by the somewhat untapped power of the nVidia GeForce3 chipset and this Visiontek card is quality piece of hardware. 

In addition, kudos to the folks at Visiontek for offering one of the lowest cost GeForce3 cards on the market.  You can find one of these currently on Pricewatch for $343.  For those of you looking to upgrade from a GeForce2 Ultra, it may make sense to wait for the prices to come down a notch more, before taking the GeForce3 plunge.  However, if you are taking two or three upgrade steps and want a card that will power next generation 3D Gaming to its fullest, you simply can't do better than a GeForce3 card. 

The Visiontek GeForce3 scores a Heat Meter Rating of....

Are you talkin' ta me?  Get into the HotHardware Conference Room!

 
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Visiontek's GeForce3 - Page 5
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