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Date: Jun 28, 2005
Author: Jeff Bouton
Introduction and Product Specifications

By now you've all probably heard about PCI Express and why it's rapidly replacing the aging AGP slot; there is no need to beat a dead horse. Nonetheless, the AGP market is still going strong with plenty of potential buyers out there who don't want to replace their motherboard just yet to accommodate a PCI Express graphics card.

We can certainly understand where these budget-conscious users are coming from, but we find it difficult to recommend spending money on any high-end AGP cards at the moment.  However, if you're stuck with an older graphics card (think GeForce 4 / Radeon 8500) and are looking for a nominal performance boost, a low to mid-range AGP model is still a viable option.  And luckily, for those looking for an AGP bargain, there are some decent options currently available. If you do have the cash for a $500 video card though, we'd recommend putting some money toward a PCI Express ready motherboard and spending the remainder on a mid-range PCIe based card.  You may go over budget in the short term, but in the long run you'll have a system that'll be much more future-proof.

With respect to those on a budget though, we're going to give you the lowdown on the MSI NX6600GT-VTD128SP AGP graphic card.  This is a competitively priced graphics card with a sweet bundle and adequate gaming performance. If you are an average user that enjoys casual gaming, MSI may have what you are looking for.  Let's take a look to see what MSI brings us this time around.

Specifications of the MSI NX6600GT-VTD128SP AGP
MSI Knows How to Put Together a Decent Package
GeForce 6600GT Chipset Features
•NVIDIA CineFX 3.0 engine
•64-bit texture filtering support delivers full-speed, high dynamic-range (HDR) lighting effects
•Unmatched image quality delivered through new 16x anisotropic filtering and rotated grid antialiasing
•4x shadow processing power with NVIDIA UltraShadow II for next generation games
•Infinite program length allows for a new class of special effects
•Hardware-accelerated MPEG and WMV9 decode delivers smooth, artifact-free video
•Dedicated video hardware reduces CPU utilization and improves overall system performance
•On-chip video encoder and motion estimation engine provides fast, high-quality encoding from TV tuner
•Programmable video engine ensures compatibility with future video codecs
•High-quality video scaling and filtering improves playback quality at any window size
•Integrated HDTV-output brings content from your desktop to your high-definition TV
•NVIDIA ForceWare software delivers unmatched features and rock-solid stability
•High dynamic-range (HDR) rendering
•NVIDIA UltraShadow technology
•NVIDIA Intellisample high-resolution compression technology (HCT)
•NVIDIA ForceWare Unified Driver Architecture(UDA)
•NVIDIA nView multi-display technology
•NVIDIA Digital Vibrance Control (DVC) 3.0
•On-chip video processor
•64-bit floating point texture filtering and blending
•Microsoft DirectX 9.0 Shader Model 3.0 support
•OpenGL 1.5 support
•Superscalar GPU architecture
•128-bit memory interface with advanced memory control•Innovative 0.13 micron process technology
•Operating Systems Support Windows XP / 2000
•Power supply of 350 (and up) watt is highly recommended for system stability
•Memory Interface: 128-bit
•Fill Rate (billion texels/sec.): 4.0
•Vertices/sec. (Million): 375
•Pixels per clock (peak): 8
•RAMDACs (MHz): 400
Bundled Software
The Chronicles of Riddick - Escape From Butcher Bay Director's Cut
Virtual Drive 7 Professional Version
Restore It 3 Professional Version

Bundle MSI developed software
•MSI Live Update Series ( Live VGA BIOS & Live VGA Driver) - Automatically online download & update VGA BIOS & Drivers, reduce the risk of getting the wrong files, and never have the trouble on web site searching.
•GoodMem - Automatically release the system memory space, reduce the risk of system hang-up.
•LockBox - Instantly enter the data lock mode when you must leave your system for a while.
•WMIinfor - Automatically list the detail system configuration, it helpful for engineering service people.
•ThinSoft BeTwin
•MSI Secure DOC
•Adobe Acrobat Reader
•Trend Micro PC-Cillin 2000
•Microsoft DirectX 8.1

One of the major selling points of the NX6600GT-VTD128SP is its inclusion of The Chronicles of Riddick - Escape From Butcher Bay - Developers Cut.  This was one of those surprise titles that appeared on store shelves at a great price and delivers a solid gaming experience.  MSI latched onto that popularity and opted to include the full version as a centerpiece of the NX6600GT-VTD128SP, even giving Vin Diesel prime real estate on the retail package.


Along with the aforementioned gaming title, MSI kept on giving with further software additions such as PowerCinema, Power2Go, PowerProducer, Virtual Drive 7 Professional Version and Restore It 3 Professional Version.  Rounding out the bundle was a User's Manual, a Quick Reference Guide, a Setup CD and accompanying hardware.  Being a VIVO ready card, the NX6600GT included a VIVO block and S-Video cable, while a power splitter was included along with VGA-to-DVI adapter.

MSI NX6600GT-VTD128SP AGP - Closer Inspection
The MSI NX6600GT-VTD128SP AGP Up Close
Closer Inspection

At the heart of the NX6600GT-VTD128SP is NVIDIA's NV43 core.  The NX6600GT is an 8-Pixel Pipeline solution that is natively PCI Express.  To adapt the card to AGP, an HSI (High Speed Interconnect) Bridge Chip is used, which you can see in the pictures below covered with a small copper heatsink.  The core on this card is clocked at 500MHz and it comes with 128MB of 1.6ns Samsung GDDR3 memory clocked at 1000MHz.


The NX6600GT does require a single molex power connector to help drive the card while the PCI Express version doesn't need supplemental power.  A slim heat sink and fan assembly helps keep the GPU and Memory cool, exhausting air to the rear of the card and across the HSI chip.  The fan itself was very quiet overall and should add little to your overall case noise.  The front of the card sports the common VGA, DVI and VIVO port configuration we're used to seeing on cards of this type.

Image Quality with the MSI NX6600GT-VTD128SP AGP
For the Fun of It

To give an idea of image quality capabilities, we lined up a scene from The Chronicles of Riddick - EFBB, taking snapshots with various filtering methods enabled.  As a frame of reference, we included the same series taken with duplicate settings set with a GeForce 6800.

6600GT - No AA / No Aniso NX6600GT - 4X AA / 8X Aniso NX6600GT - 8X AA / 16X Aniso
6800 - No AA / No Aniso 6800 - 4X AA / 8X Aniso 6800 - 8X AA / 16X Aniso

When comparing any quality video card today, it's getting harder and harder to see major variations in video quality.  In the past, it used to be pretty clear which card rendered better images, but even today's mid-range and low-end cards can have many of the same capabilities as the high-end models, making image quality a much more level playing field.  In this case, the variations are there, but they are so slight, it's a tough call.

HotHardware's Test System & 3DMark05
HotHardware's Test System
Not all are created equal...

Athlon 64 3200+ @ 2GHz
Epox 8KDA3+ Motherboard
NFORCE3 250Gb Chipset
Kingston HyperX PC3500 -512MB
ATI X800 Pro 256MB
ASUS V9999 GeForce 6800 Gamer Edition

On-Board 10/100/1000 Ethernet
On-Board Audio
WD 80GB Hard Drive
Windows XP Pro SP2
ATi Catalyst 5.5

ForceWare 71.89

Performances Comparisons With Final Fantasy XI Benchmark 3
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 3 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.

The 8-Pixel Pipeline NX6600GT held its own fairly well against the two 12-Pixel Pipeline comparison cards.  The MSI model fell 400 frames to the 6800 with 256MB while the Radeon X800 Pro added 500 frames to widen the margins further.

Performance Comparisons With 3DMark05
Futuremark's Latest - The Jury is Still Out...

3DMark05 is the latest installment in a long line of synthetic 3D graphics benchmarks, dating back to late 1998.  3DMark99 came out in October of 1998 and was followed by the very popular DirectX 7 benchmark, 3DMark2000, roughly two years later.  The DirectX 8.1-compliant 3DMark2001 was released shortly thereafter, and it too was a very popular tool used by many hardcore gamers.  3DMark03, however, wasn't quite as well received thanks in no small part to the disapproval of graphics giant NVIDIA.  With 3DMark05, though, Futuremark hopes to win back some of its audience with a very advanced DirectX 9 benchmarking tool.  We ran 3DMark05's default test (1,024 x 768) on all of the cards we tested and have the overall results for you posted below...

Here the NX6600GT trailed the GeForce 6800 by almost 700 3DMarks, with the gap growing to around 1400 3DMarks with the 12-Pipe Radeon X800 Pro.  Here we are seeing the advantage of both memory complement and the additional 4 Pixel Pipes of the comparison cards.  Keep in mind, the focus isn't to show how good the comparison hardware is, but rather how the mid-range NX600GT compares to other mid-range models at the top-end of the spectrum.

Benchmarking with Halo
Benchmarking with Halo
Halo - All Patched & Ready To Go!

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 v1.06 patch and ran this benchmark twice, once at 1024x768 and then again at 1600x1200. Anti-aliasing doesn't work properly with Halo at the moment, so all of the test below were run with anti-aliasing disabled.

At both 1024x768 and 1600x1200, the NX6600GT trailed the GeForce 6800 by an average of 7 FPS.  The margins were equally similar with X800 Pro, with the delta averaging 10 FPS.  When we look at the overall performance picture, the differences are fairly reasonable when you consider the additional memory and pixel pipes the comparison cards come with.

Performance Comparisons With Aquamark 3
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 followed by 4X AA and 8X anisotropic filtering.

Here, we continued to see the expected trend, with the Radeon X800 Pro taking the pole position throughout. The NX6600GT did keep close pace with the GeForce 6800, with the margins never exceeding 5 FPS at any given time. The X800 Pro kept things separated by closer to 6-8 FPS at 1024 and 18-20 FPS at 1600.

Head-to-Head Performance With Unreal Tournament 2004
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, followed by 4X AA and 8X anisotropic filtering.

At 1024x768, all of the cards were fairly even in the No AA tests, showing a sign of CPU limitation at this resolution.  When we compare the 4X AA/8X Aniso scores, the two Geforce cards were in a dead heat until we increased the resolution to 1600x1200, where the NX600GT lost the most ground.  Overall, the X800 Pro ran strong, posting a signficant advantage with each filtering method turned on.

Benchmarks & Comparisons With Far Cry
Benchmarks & Comparisons With Far Cry
DX9 Effects Galore.

Far Cry
If you've been on top of the gaming scene, you probably know that Far Cry is one of the most visually impressive games to be released on the PC to date.  Although Doom 3 and Half Life 2 have both arrived, Far Cry still looks great in comparison, especially with the new v1.3 patch installed and some special effects turned on.  Far Cry came along and gave us a taste of what was to come in next-generation 3D gaming on the PC.  We benchmarked the graphics cards in this review 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 enabled along with 8X anisotropic filtering.  Geometry instancing and normal map compression were enabled for these tests, but HDR rending was disabled.  The default pixel shader code path was used.

With FarCry, the NX6600GT performed well in the No AA test at 1024x768 but suffered heavily with AA and Anisotropic Filtering enabled.  At 1600x1200, the NX6600GT struggled to break 40 FPS in the No AA test while barely putting up a fight with 4X AA/8X Aniso testing.  The 6800 mirrored the 6600's pattern, keeping a balanced lead throughout the testing.  Once again, the X800 Pro was the best performer.

Benchmarks & Comparisons With Doom 3 - Single Player
Benchmarks & Comparisons With Doom 3 - Single Player
In Like a Lion, Out Like a Lamb.

Doom 3
id Software's games have long been pushing the limits of 3D graphics.  Quake, Quake 2, and Quake 3 were all instrumental in the success of 3D accelerators on the PC.  Now, years later, with virtually every new desktop computer shipping with a 3D accelerator, id is at it again with the release of the visually stunning Doom 3.  Doom 3 is an OpenGL game using extremely high-detailed textures and a ton of dynamic lighting and shadows.  We ran this benchmark using custom demos with Doom 3 set to its "High-Quality" mode, at resolutions of 1,024 x 768 and 1600x1200 without any AA and then with 4X antialiasing and 8X anisotropic filtering enabled.  Note: Doom 3 enabled 8X anisotropic filtering automatically when set to "High Quality" in the game's control panel.

Doom 3 is typically an NVIDIA strong point, but we were surprised to see the NX600GT beat out the X800 Pro in both No AA tests.  Once we enabled 4X AA and 8X Anisotropic Filtering though, the NX6600GT slipped to last position, but by a much closer margin than in previous tests.  Overall, it was the GeForce 6800 that took the top spot breaking triple digits at 1024x768 and coming close to 60 FPS at 1600x1200.

Benchmarks & Comparisons With Doom 3 - Multi-player
Benchmarks & Comparisons With Doom 3 - Multi-player
The Wait Is Over!.

Doom 3
The first round of Doom 3 focused on single-player performance.  In this round we'll run a series of multiplayer tests and see how things unfold.  These timedemos were run with our custom "HH_Frag2" demo, which is a recording of a five-player online match that took place in the "Frag Chamber" map area. We ran benchmarks with Doom 3 set to its "High-Quality" mode at resolutions of 1,024 x 768 and 1600 x 1200 without any anti-aliasing enabled and then with 4X AA and 8X Aniso enabled concurrently.  Note: Doom 3 enabled 8X anisotropic filtering automatically when set to "High Quality" in the game's control panel.

With our Doom 3 Multi-player test, the trend was similar to what we saw in the single-player test.  Once again, the X800 Pro got trounced by the 6800 and the NX6600GT got its licks in too.  The only time the NX6600GT succumbed to the pressure was with the 4XAA/8X Aniso test at 1600x1200.

Benchmarks & Comparisons With Half-Life 2
Benchmarks & Comparisons With Half-Life 2
It Shipped!  And it's GOOD!

Half Life 2
Thanks to the dedication of millions of gamers and a huge mod-community, the original Half-Life became one of the most successful first person shooters of all time.  So when Valve announced Half-Life 2 was close to completion in mid 2003, gamers the world over began chomping at the bit.  Unfortunately, thanks to a compromised internal network; the theft of a portion of the game's source code; a couple of missed deadlines; and a tumultuous relationship with the game's distributor, Vivendi Universal, we all had to wait until November 2004 to get our hands on this gem.  We benchmarked Half-Life 2 with a long, custom- recorded timedemo that takes us along a cliff and through a few dilapidated shacks, battling the enemy throughout.  These tests were run at resolutions of 1,024 x 768 and 1,600 x 1,200 without any AA or aniso and with 4X anti-aliasing and 8X anisotropic filtering enabled concurrently.

The Half-Life scores at 1024x768 were in favor of the X800 Pro, but all three cards easily broke triple digits, even with AA and Aniso turned on.  At 1600x1200, the test was somewhat more taxing, least of which on the X800 Pro.  The GeForce 6800 managed to just break 60 FPS with AA and Aniso testing, while the NX6600GT almost halved that score.  With No AA testing, the 6600 came within four FPS of the GeForce 6800.

Benchmarking With Chronicles of Riddick
Benchmarks with Chronicles of Riddick - Escape From Butcher Bay
Riddick & The D3 Engine

Chronicles of Riddick
Starbreeze Studios is responsible for creating this season's surprise hit (at least on the PC), The Chronicles of Riddick - Escape From Butcher Bay.  Those familiar with movie will recall Butcher Bay was one of the prison options on tap for the main character.  While the movie never actually made it to Butcher Bay, we find the main character right at home in this surprisingly good game.  Not only does it boast excellent game play with very good visuals and a mature story line, the Chronicles of Riddick proves to be a tough challenge, and a game worth buying. It also happens to bring most of today's video cards to their knees through the use of a modified version of the Doom 3 engine, making it an excellent candidate for benchmarking.

Rounding out the benchmarking segment, we used our custom timedemo with The Chronicles of Riddick.  When running at 1024x768, the NX6600GT did a fine job competing with the faster comparison cards.  Like we saw in Doom 3, the NX6600GT competed well, knocking the X800 Pro to the third spot with No AA testing.  At 1600x1200, the NX6600GT trailed the X800 Pro by 4 FPS on average while the GeForce 6800 was the strongest all-around performer.

Overclocking the NX6600GT-VTD128SP & Final Thoughts
Overclocking the NX6600GT-VTD128SP
Pushing the Limits 'Cause You Want Us To

Before wrapping things up, we spent some time overclocking the NX6600GT to see what kind of clock speed headroom was left in its core and memory.  To get the job done, we used PowerStrip to find the peak frequency the core and Samsung GDDR3 memory were capable of.

Overall, the NX6600GT overclocked like a champ, peaking at a 600MHz core, while the memory topped out at 1075MHz DDR.  We managed to tack on an additional 100MHz to the core while the GDDR3 memory yielded another 75MHz over stock speed.  This resulted in the GPU running 20% faster, which pushed our Half-Life 2 scores up 12% or 4.31 FPS.

For those on a budget looking for a decent AGP card, the MSI NX6600GT-VTD128SP would not be a bad choice. The NV43 GPU at its heart offers respectable performance for an 8-Pixel Pipe part and the retail bundle is excellent, including a newer gaming title in The Chronicles of Riddick - Escape From Butcher Bay (Developer's Cut).  Factor in the VIVO capabilities of the NX6600GT-VTD128SP and you end up with a potent, well rounded package.

To get an idea of this card's value, we weighed it against some other options that are available today.  The NX6600GT-VTD128SP retails in the ballpark of $200-210, whereas a non-SP version falls in around the $180 mark, but the non-SP version doesn't come with all of the extras.  Both of the 12-Pipe cards we used solely for reference sell closer to the $280 mark, but that's for version with twice the memory of the NX6600GT.  If we looked up the 128MB equivalents, the pricing fell in around $195 for a 128MB GeForce 6800 or $190 for a PCIe X800 Pro.

In the end though, if AGP is a must, the NX6600GT-VTD128SP is a decent buy for the price.  You'll be able to play most games at 1024x768 with Antialiasing and Anisotropic filtering enabled, and will even be able to run a few at 1600x1200.  The VIVO bundle was a solid addition for those looking to do more than just game with the card.  And, of course, we think the included copy of Chronicles of Riddick was a definite plus, that will surely help MSI sell a few more of these cards.  However, for a few dollars more, the X800 Pro offers better overall performance for only a little more money and 128MB 6800s are available for a few dollars less.

We give the NX6600GT-VTD128SP a Hot Hardware Heat Meter of 7.5

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