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Prolink Pixelview 5900XT Golden Limited
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Date: Jun 17, 2004
Section:Graphics/Sound
Author: Robert Maloney
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Introduction and Specifications


For video card manufacturers, the drums of technology beat forever. Today's hot new release is tomorrow's eBay listing, because the hardcore enthusiasts are always looking for the next "big thing". It's a hard to stay on top of the list for very long, so we were interested in the recent arrival of two new GeForce FX 5900XT's in our labs. Originally, our plans were to pit these two together XTs, mano a mano, to see which of the two cards would come out on top. After our initial peek into the boxes and specs for each card, however, we decided to give each card its own day in the sun.

Our first article in this series will cover the Prolink Pixelview GeForce FX 5900XT Golden Limited. That's definitely a mouthful, but it attempts to explain what makes this card different from the rest. Prolink has already had a 5900XT on the market for sometime, albeit a bit on the plain vanilla side. With the "Golden Limited" version, you not only get the vanilla ice cream, but the for fudge and sprinkles as well.  Whereas their original model was a plain looking card using a standard heatsink and fan, the Golden Limited is completely rethought, using an all new cooling method, a digital readout screen, and a mix of blue LEDs here and there. On the flip side, nothing in the architecture has changed, so we'll have to see if these upgrades alone merit your attention.

   
CLICK ANY IMAGE FOR AN ENLARGED VIEW

Specifications of the Pixelview 5900XT Golden Limited
It's new, but is it improved?
SPECIFICATIONS
  • GPU: NVIDIA GeForce FX 5900XT
  • Graphics Core: 256-bit
  • Engine clock:390 MHz
  • Memory Interface: 256-bit DDR
  • Memory Bandwidth:22.4 GB/sec
  • Fill Rate: 3.2 billion pixels/sec
  • Memory Clock: 350MHz
  • Memory Data Rate (effective):700 MHz
  • Memory Included: 128MB 2.8ns DDR
  • Maximum Memory Supported: 256MB
  • Pixels per Clock: 8
  • Textures per Rendering Pass: 16
  • Maximum Resolution: 2048x1536@85Hz
  • Thermal solution: Silent, single-slot heatsink/fan
  • 0.13 Micron Process Technology

2D/3D FEATURES

  • NVIDIA CineFX 2.0 Engine
  • NVIDIA Intellisample HCT Engine
  • NVIDIA UltraShadow Technology
  • MicrosoftDirectX9.0 Shader Optimizations and Support
  • OpenGL1.4 Optimizations and Support
  • AGP 8X/4X including Fast Writes and sideband addressing
  • Integrated Dual400MHz RAMDACs
  • 128-bit, studio-precision color
  • Support for 128/64-bit floating point and 32-bit integer rendering modes
OTHER FEATURES
  • Architected for Cg
  • 64-phase Video Scaler
  • nView Multi-display Technology
  • NVIDIA Video Mixing Renderer (VMR)
  • NVIDIA Digital Vibrance Control (DVC) 3.0
  • True-color 64x64 hardware cursor with alpha
  • Optimized for 32, 24, 16, 15, and 8-bpp modes
  • Multi-Buffering (Double, Triple, and Quad modes)
  • Integrated Full Hardware MPEG-2 Decoder
  • DirectX and S3TC texture compression
  • Unified Driver Architecture (UDA)
     



CLICK TO ENLARGE

Pixelview GeForceFX 5900XT Golden Limited
CORE CLOCK: 390 MHz
MEMORY CLOCK: 700 MHz
FILLRATE: 3.2Mtexels/sec
MEMORY BANDWIDTH: 22.4 GB/s


        

As you may have noticed, nothing has really changed in the specifications listed above.  What we're looking at here is essentially the same 5900XT that has more or less dominated the mid-range video card market for the last few months.  Prolink did have a few tricks up their sleeve, however. Prolink provides a readout device that they call the Plasma Display Fan II (PDF II). It gives real-time feedback on the current temperature of the GPU, as well as fan speed. Although it comes mounted on the heatsink bracket, the display unit can be quickly detached and installed in the front of a case using a 5 1/4" bracket, which is also included. Extra cables are bundled with the PDF II to span the distance from the card to the front of the chassis.  

Speaking of cables, we also found a full assortment to choose from, including an RCA cable, an S-Video to RCA cable, a standard S-Video cable, and lastly a DVI-to-VGA adapter.  Unfortunately, we didn't find the same attention to detail paid on the media side. The only discs we found in the package were a driver CD with Prolink's proprietary Patrolman software, and a licensed copy of PowerDVD 3.0. There's nothing wrong with including a driver CD of course, but we question why Prolink included such a dated version of PowerDVD with a brand new video card like this one. PowerDVD is already up to version 5.0. Perhaps this was a cost consideration, but including a more up to date version of the software would definitely add more value to the bundle.

 

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A Closer look and some screenshots
Closer inspection of the Pixelview 5900XT Golden Limited
Silence is Golden

 

        

        
CLICK ANY IMAGE FOR AN ENLARGED VIEW

The most noticeable difference between this card and its predecessor (or most other manufacturer's 5900XTs, for that matter) would be the full-sized aluminum sheath that covers the entire front of the card.  It fits flush with the mounting bracket, with an opening for the fan over the GPU, and two small openings at the other end of the card for the required power cables. The back side, however, is completely devoid of any components. Prolink's take on this sheath is that it will provide better cooling by creating a thermally conductive surface across the entire length of the card.  The fan, which can spin as high as 5000 RPM, runs whisper quiet for the most part. In addition, the fan's rotation speed is dynamic, which means it runs at a lower RPM when the GPU is not being taxed, but it will automatically spin-up once a certain temperature is reached. Another notable difference is the extra set of pins and cabling that is used to monitor the temperature and fan speed on this card. A short cable runs from the connection on the card to the PDF II. And as we mentioned earlier, Prolink does provide a much longer cable for those interested in using the bracket, which can be installed in a vacant 5 1/4" drive bay.

        

We should also note that both the PDF II and GPU fan are lit up by blue LEDs, which add a little pizzazz to the card.  The PDF II can also be mounted at 0, 45 and 90 degree angles, so the screen can be read whether the card is mounted horizontally or vertically.  We've got some before and after pictures that show the PDF II in a well-lit room, and then again in the dark. Those blue LEDs are sure to turn some heads at the next LAN Party, and they allow for quick monitoring of the GPU temperature and fan-speed. It helps take the guesswork out of wondering whether or not the GPU is getting too hot when overclocking, which is of course something we'll be getting to a little bit later on.

Some quality screenshots
What's playing now?

Benchmark scores aren't the only way to compare graphics cards, comparing their in-game image quality is just as important.  The operative word here is graphics. What good is the fastest video card if the quality isn't up to the same standards as the competition?   We took some screen captures of two new graphically rich games with anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering enabled to give you an idea of what this card is capable of.  For a more exhaustive image quality comparison between the 5900XT and it's main rival, the 9600XT, please check out this link.
Thief - Deadly Shadows Screenshots
1600x1200x32 - Maximum Quality Settings
No AA 2xAA
4xAA 8xAA

Thief - Deadly Shadows revolves around the stealthy career of a master thief, usually slipping in and out of shadows.  Thus, it's hard to find any spots in the game that are very well lit.  The screenshots above are from the first mission of the game. Notice how the light thrown from the guard's torch illuminates the edges of the steps he stands upon.  Without Anti-aliasing applied, or even when only 2X AA is enabled, the jaggedness of the steps is quite evident.  When we increase the level of AA being applied to 4X and 8X, however, the jaggies in the stairs nearly disappear. Obviously, these kinds of optimizations can tax the card's performance quite severely, lowering frame-rates to unacceptable levels.  With the Prolink Pixelview 5900XT though, we found that Thief was still quite playable at 1600x1200 with 4xAA enabled, without any major choppiness. 

 

Splinter Cell 2 - Pandora Tomorrow Screenshots
1600x1200x32 - Maximum Quality Settings

       

For our second round of screenshots, we decided to put up some eye-candy from a FPS called Splinter Cell 2 - Pandora Tomorrow.  Again, we set the resolution to 1600x1200, with 4xAA and 8x Anisotropic Filtering enabled. Except for some occasional slowdowns on the jungle scene, we were also able to move smoothly around these levels. These are superbly drawn scenes, that easily could have gone down as "in-game" cut scenes a couple of years ago.

 

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The Test System, AQ3 & Halo
HotHardware's Testing Setup
Where it all begins

We tested the Prolink Pixelview 5900XT GL and its competitors on an i865PE "Springdale" based Asus P4P800 Deluxe motherboard, powered by an Intel Pentium 4 2.4CGHz CPU (800MHz System Bus).  The first thing we did when configuring this test system was enter the BIOS and loaded the "High Performance Defaults".  Then we set the memory to operate at 200MHz (Dual DDR400) with the CAS Latency and other memory timings set by SPD and the AGP aperture size set to 256MB. The hard drive was then formatted and Windows XP Professional with Service Pack 1 was installed.  After the installation completed, we installed the latest Intel chipset drivers and then hit the Windows Update site to download and install all of the available updates. Next, we installed all of the necessary drivers for the rest of our components and Windows Messenger was disabled and removed from the system. Auto-Updating and System Restore were also disabled, the hard drive was de-fragmented, and a 768MB permanent page file was created. Lastly, we set Windows XP's Visual Effects to "best performance", installed all of the benchmarking software and ran all of the tests.

Video Cards Tested:

Prolink Pixelview 5900XT GL (128MB)
e-VGA GeForce FX 5900XT (128MB)
Chaintech GFFX 5700 Ultra (128MB)
ATi Radeon 9600XT (128MB)

Benchmarks Used:

Aquamark3
Halo v1.031
Unreal Tournament 2004
Splinter Cell - Oil Rig Demo
Final Fantasy XI v2.0
Far Cry
Comanche 4 Demo
Wolfenstein - Enemy Territory

Common System Hardware:

Asus P4P800 Deluxe (i865PE) Motherboard
Intel Pentium 4 2.4GHz CPU / 800MHz FSB
512MB (256MB x2) Kingston HyperX PC3500 DDR
Western Digital 20GB Hard Drive
Lite-On 16X DVD-ROM

 

Software / System Drivers:

Windows XP Professional Service Pack 1
DirectX 9.0b
Intel Chipset Software, v5.1.1.1002
ATi Catalyst Drivers, v4.6
NVIDIA ForceWare Drivers, v61.34

Performance Comparisons With Aquamark 3
DX8 and DX9 Shaders

Aquamark 3
Aquamark 3 comes to us by way of Massive Development. Massive's release of the original Aquanox in 1999 wasn't very well received by the gaming community, but it was one of the first games to implement DX8 class shaders, which led to the creation of Aquamark 2 - a benchmark previously used by many analysts. Since the Aquamark benchmarks are based on an actual game engine, they must support old and new video cards alike. Thus, the latest version of Aquamark, Aquamark 3, utilizes not only DirectX 9 class shaders, but DirectX 8 and DirectX 7 as well. We ran this benchmark at resolutions of 1024x768 and 1600x1200 with no anti-aliasing and again with 4XAA enabled.

One of the main things we noticed right from the start was that the Prolink Pixelview 5900XT and the e-VGA 5900XT put up nearly identical numbers in this and all of the other benchmarks. Of course, this is to be expected, since nothing has changed with Prolink's version; the GPU and memory speeds are the same, and the amount of RAM remains equal as well. This also means we will be seeing the Pixelview 5900XT at the top of the charts for the most part. Based on the same core as the flagship 5950 Ultra, it's hard to beat this kind of performance on a budget.

Benchmarks With Halo
Halo - All Patched & Ready To Go!

Halo
For many gamers, the release of Halo marked the end of a long wait, since it was originally released as an Xbox exclusive a few years back. No additional patches or tweaks are needed to benchmark with Halo, as Gearbox has included all of the necessary information in their README file. The Halo benchmark runs through four of the cut-scenes from the game, after which the average frame rate is recorded. We patched the game using the latest v1.031 patch and ran this benchmark twice, once at 1024x768 and then again at 1280x1024. Anti-aliasing doesn't work properly with Halo at the moment, so all of the test below were run with anti-aliasing disabled.

The two 5900XTs flip-flopped each other in this benchmark, with the Prolink model taking the slight lead at 1024x768, and then giving it right back to e-VGA's entry at 1280x1024. The difference in each benchmark was a less than a single frame, so there's really no major difference between the two. Compared to the 5700 Ultra and 9600XT, however, we're looking at about a 25% improvement in performance.

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Testing with Unreal Tournament 2004 and Splinter Cell
Head-to-Head Performance With Unreal Tournament 2004
Epic's Next Smash Hit!

Unreal Tournament 2K4
Epic's "Unreal" games have been wildly popular, ever since the original Unreal was released in the late '90s. Unreal, Unreal Tournament, and then Unreal Tournament 2003, rapidly became some of our favorites, for both benchmarking, and for killing a few hours when our schedules allowed it! Epic recently released the latest addition to the franchise, Unreal Tournament 2004. We used the demo version of the game to benchmark these cards at resolutions of 1024x768 and 1600x1200, without any anti-aliasing, with 4x AA, and lastly with 4X AA and 8X aniso.

The Prolink Pixelview 5900XT Golden Limited was the leader in all but one of these benchmarks, routinely beating the evenly matched e-VGA 5900XT. In each test, the difference between the two varied from 2 frames at the lower resolution to 1 frame or less at 1600x1200. We also found closer scores in this test than in the earlier benchmarks, with the 5700 Ultra and 9600XT putting up comparable numbers in each test without Anisotropic Filtering. 

Performance Comparisons With Splinter Cell
Stealthy Combat

Splinter Cell
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 opted for 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 realistic looking ocean water surrounding an Oil Rig in the demo, as well as simulating a night vision effect for a brief period. Also note that anti-aliasing doesn't work with Splinter Cell. Due to this fact, we do not have any AA scores listed in the graphs below.

The Splinter Cell benchmark has the two 5900XTs deadlocked, with a .04 FPS difference in the first test, and then exactly the same frame rate in the second. They continue their mastery over the other two mid-range cards, beating the 5700 Ultra handily by over 10 frames per second at 1024x768 and 7 frames at 1600x1200.  That comes out to somewhere between a 35-40% difference in performance, yet these cards all fall within the same relative price point. The 9600XT put up much more comparable numbers, a much better showing with the newer drivers than what we have seen in the past.

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Final Fantasy XI and Far Cry Comparisons
Performance Comparisons With Final Fantasy XI Benchmark 2 v1.01
A Classic Console Franchise On The PC

Final Fantasy XI
The Final Fantasy franchise is well known to console gamers, but Squaresoft has since made the jump to the PC with a MMORPG version of this classic. The Final Fantasy XI benchmark runs through multiple scenes from the game and displays a final score every time a full cycle of the demo is completed. Although the demo is meant the check an entire system's readiness to play the game, the number of frames rendered scales when different video cards are used. Lower scores indicate some frames were dropped to complete the demo in the allotted time. The scores below were taken with the demo set to its "High Resolution" option (1024x768), with anti-aliasing disabled.

As we've seen in past reviews, there is usually little that separates these mid-range cards, with the difference from top to bottom coming out to 439 points, approximately a 12% delta.  Unlike earlier benchmarks, ATi's 9600XT rose to the upper end of the spectrum here, followed by the 5900XT cards, placed right next to each other, and the 5700 Ultra at the bottom. The difference between the two 5900XT's equates to less then a percent, finishing within 7 points of each other. 

Benchmarks and Comparisons With Far Cry
DX9 effects galore

Far Cry
It almost goes without saying that Far Cry is easily the most impressive game and game engine to be released on the PC this year.  While we peer at leaked versions of Doom 3 and video clips of Half Life 2, Far Cry gives us a taste of what is to come in next generation 3D Gaming on the PC.  We benchmarked the graphics cards in our test with a custom recorded demo run taken in the "Catacombs" area checkpoint, at various resolutions without AA or Aniso Filtering enabled and then with 4X AA, and lastly with 4X AA and 8X Aniso.

In Far Cry, we again saw Nvidia's GeForce FX 5900XTs easily trouncing the competition. Although the ATi 9600XT put up a good showing, the 5900XT was anywhere from 3-5 frames quicker in the standard tests, resulting in an 12-17% difference in performance. Once again, the battle between e-VGA's model and the Prolink 5900XT Golden Limited is a stalemate, with nearly identical benchmark scores.

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Comanche 4 and Wolfenstein: ET Benchmarks
Performance Comparisons With Novalogic's Comanche 4
Combat Helicopter Sim

Comanche 4
To give you sim fans a small taste of what these cards can do, we used Novalogic's combat helicopter simulator Comanche 4 for our next batch of DirectX tests. Comanche 4 uses DX8 class pixel and vertex shaders to produce some of the realistic visuals used throughout the game. Unlike some of the previous tests though, this benchmark is heavily influenced by CPU and system memory performance, especially at lower resolutions. However, when the resolution is raised and anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering are enabled, the current crop of 3D accelerators tend to slow down quite a bit.

At 1024x768, all four of the cards are matched up quite evenly, with the only exception being the 9600XT when 4XAA and Anisotropic Filtering were enabled. It's only at 1600x1200 that we really begin to see some major differences. Originally, the cards all seem to be on an equal footing once again, with only a 3 FPS difference between the two 5900XTs and the 5700Ultra, and then another 4 frames before we get to the 9600XT. 4XAA take its toll on the latter two cards, however, especially for the 9600XT. The hit is less pronounced on the 5900XTs, whose 4x2 architecture and memory bandwidth advantages help to keep the framerates from dropping too far. 

Benchmarks / Comparisons With Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory
Q3 Engine Based Freebie

Wolfenstein: ET
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 excellent Return to Castle Wolfenstein, that was released a few years back. It uses a heavily modified version of the Quake 3 engine, which makes it a very easy to use benchmarking tool. We created our own custom demo and used the built-in timedemo feature to check each card's frame-rate. The tests below were run at 1024x768 and again at 1600x1200, without anti-aliasing, with 4X AA, and with 4X AA and 8X anisotropic filtering enabled concurrently.

In our last benchmark, we've almost got a clean sweep by Nvidia once again, as the 5700 Ultra and 5900XT based cards outpaced the ATi 9600XT at both resolutions, with or without anti-aliasing being applied. The sole exceptions to this would be at 1600x1200 when AA and aniso were enabled, where the 9600XT does at least manage to outpace the 5700 Ultra. The 5900XTs are the leaders here, and the two models are evenly matched, with less than a frame per second the difference in any of the tests.

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Overclocking and the Conclusion
Overclocking the Pixelview 5900XT Golden Limited
Limited in name, but not in speed

One of the main reasons behind the aluminum housing on the Pixelview 5900XT Golden Limited was to provide better and more even cooling of the GPU and memory. Thus, it should allow for higher overclocks than other cards that us more standard cooling methods. Prolink has also provided their own monitoring and overclocking utility called Patrolman.  It clearly lists the current GPU and DRAM speeds, as well as the GPU temperature, Fan speed, and voltages. Overclocking the card is similar to using the Coolbits registry hack for Nvidia's driver control panels. Choose the desired new speeds, test them for stability, and then click on 'Run' to apply the changes.


We had some success using the Patrolman software, at least at lower speeds. However, we found increased instability when we reached higher speeds, that would manifest as corrupted graphics, the inability to minimize the application, and interminable refreshing of Windows. After a few sessions in which Windows became almost completely unusable, we decided to stick with changing the speeds from the control panel. In this manner, we were able to get the GPU up as high as 480MHz and the memory all the way to 882MHz.   That amounted to an impressive 23% increase in the core speed and a 27% boost for the memory.  To see how this translated in real-world performance, we ran another AquaMark 3 test at 1600x1200 with 4xAA applied, and compared the overclocked result to our original results. 

By overclocking the card, we increased the original benchmark score of 16.28, already right at the top of the pack in AquaMark 3, to 18.19 FPS.  While 1.91 frames might not sound like much, it has to be taken into context.  The percentage difference is actually close to 12%.  It's quite possible that we won't see this kind of difference in every game we play, but kudos has to be given to Prolink for achieving such levels of overclocking.  It should be noted as well that we did not see any artifacting at these speeds, nor any system crashes.

 

We didn't expect to be wowed by the Prolink Pixelview 5900XT Golden Limited, since it appeared to be simply another card based on an established GeForce FX GPU.  However, we were intrigued by the Plasma Display Fan II, with its real-time temperature and speed readouts, pleased with the level of performance that the 5900XT provided, and a bit surprised by the high-overclocks we achieved, especially with the 882MHz memory clock speed.

What we would like to see from Prolink is a better software component to the bundle on two levels.  For one, we would like to see something more recent to use with the card, like either a current game or a more up-to-date version of WinDVD or PowerDVD.  Our second peeve has to do with the Patrolman software.  Sure, it worked fine for monitoring the card and for minor tweaks, but the instability we received when trying to overclock the card to more extreme levels was a bit disappointing.  We spent many hours trying to get this software to work correctly, rather than working with the hardware itself.  This was especially bothersome since the Coolbits registry hack is easy to find, and works without a problem.

With all that being said, we're left with a very competent card that can handle most of the everyday user's needs.  It's capable of handling 2D and 3D applications with ease, and the card can be further overclocked to give an extra boost to game frame rates.  Priced at the higher end of the mainstream scale, the Pixelview 5900XT Golden Limited lived up to its name, and proved to be worthy of the extra monetary investment. We're giving the Prolink Pixelview 5900XT Golden Limited a 8.5 on the HotHardware Heat Meter.

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