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Installation and Drivers

The card featured in this review is not commercially available - I got sent the card directly from NVidia, which do make some graphics cards - mostly for reviews and trade shows etc... but they don't actually sell them in the shops. Instead, they sell the components to other companies (Creative, Guillemot, Visiontek...) who then build and sell boards based on NVidia's core technology.

Because of this, you'll get a different set of drivers for most cards. However, NVidia have designed their own "Unified Driver Architecture" in the form of the Detonator drivers. These can be downloaded from the NVidia site, and will work for all graphics cards using their chipsets. It is the latest Detonator 29.42 (WinXP) drivers that have been used for the graphics card in this review. If you do buy a GeForce 4 it is probably best to stick with the manufacturers specific drivers.

Installation was fairly hassle-free, once you've stuck one AGP graphics card in you've done them all really. Obviously, if you've not messed with the insides of your PC before then you'll need to pay attention to the product manuals.

Setting up the drivers is as simple as running the installation program, and the drivers do tend to be fairly bullet-proof. Before now I owned a GeForce 256 for 2 years - using the Detonator drivers and very rarely managed to crash the system (except for when I messed up some code!). In writing this review I did have lots of problems getting the card to work properly with a couple of programs, however an updated motherboard driver seemed to fix the problem. With this in mind it is possible that the drivers are not yet perfect for the GeForce 4 Ti series, but given my personal experience for the last two years (and online opinion) I would say that this is an exception.

Benchmarks

3DMark2001 is the standard program used to stretch a 3D card and find out just how well it performs, it also gives us some useful information regarding individual features/test results which can be particularly useful for programmers to know.

Given last months review of the Radeon8500 the following tables include the results listed in that review, the Radeon8500 and GeForce Ti---- series are competing for the crown, so it would make sense. I've also included the results from my older GeForce 256 card - from the outset this does not stand a chance of competing with the newer generation cards, but the comparison is useful given that many people will still be using GeForce 1 & 2 level cards.

Test system:
Gigabyte GA-7ZM Via KT133 motherboard
700mhz AMD Athlon (Thunderbird Variation)
288mb PC100 RAM
15.3gb 7200rpm Maxtor DiamondMax +40 Hard drive
Microsoft Windows XP Professional Edition

Overall score:

Test Resolution GeForce 256 Radeon 8500le GeForce 4 Ti4200
640x480, 32bit 2860 5107 5813
1024x768, 32bit 2440 4725 5383

As you can see, the GeForce 4 Ti4200 already has an impressive 658 point lead over the Radeon. The following table summarizes the individual tests results - which are far more telling than the overall scores.

1024x768x32

Test Name GeForce 256 Radeon 8500le GeForce 4 Ti4200
Car Chase [low detail] 42.8 fps 59.3 fps 68.1 fps
Car Chase [high detail] 12.8 fps 17.2 fps 18.3 fps
Dragothic [low detail] 45.3 fps 94.9 fps 116.0 fps
Dragothic [high detail] 20.3 fps 48.5 fps 62.2 fps
Lobby [low detail] 46.8 fps 62.6 fps 67.3 fps
Lobbly [high detail] 21.6 fps 26.3 fps 27.6 fps
Nature scene --- 35.9 fps 35.4 fps
Fill Rate [single] 229.4 MTexels/s 770.3 MTexels/s 846.7 MTexels/s
Fill Rate [multi] 427.6 MTexels/s 1652.4 MTexels/s 1895.8 MTexels/s
High poly [1 light] 8.7 MTriangles/s 26.1 MTriangles/s 28.1 MTriangles/s
High poly [8 lights] 1.7 MTriangles/s 8.8 MTriangles/s 8.8 MTriangles/s
Env. Bump mapping --- 97.9 fps 103.6 fps
Dot3 Bump Mapping 35.9 fps 78.2 fps 115.5 fps
Vertex Shader 22.7 fps 57.8 fps 55.9 fps
Pixel Shaders --- 72.7 fps 85.2 fps
Adv. pixel shaders --- 58.2 fps 70.7 fps
Point Sprites 6.6 MSprites/s 25.0 MSprites/s 25.1 MSprites/s

note: The 640x480x32 data followed the same trends, so to save space I left it out.

There are three key areas to look at in the above results:

1. Transform & Lighting / Geometry Throughput
This is a measure of how much raw geometry can be rendered every second, the higher this value the more detail you can fit into your gaming environments: Higher detail character models and/or more objects/features. Interestingly the Radeon 8500 and the GeForce 4 Ti4200 are almost equal in this area. The Radeon 8500 has a higher vertex shader throughput while the Ti4200 has a slightly higher triangle throughput for 1 light. The differences are negligible, and probably won't be noticed hugely in real-world gaming situations. It is interesting mainly because the Ti4200 is generally the faster card all-round (higher overall score), and the transformation pipeline is one of the most crucial parts of 3D rendering.

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2. Fill Rate / pixel shaders
Once geometry has been transformed it has to be rendered to the screen as pixels (basic 3D knowledge!), Therefore the overall speed of a graphics card is heavily weighted towards fill-rate performance, a card could have the most amazing T&L system, but if the rasterizer can't keep up, then it's never going to work well (the same works vice-versa). It is this area where the Ti4200 makes up any lost time when competing with the Radeon 8500; Fill rate for multi-texturing (the most common form in today's games) is significantly higher (15%). Pixel shaders are the latest technology in this area - the programmable unit executed to determine the final color of the pixel rendered. Games are increasingly going to be using this technology (as will you if you own/buy one of these cards), so performance in this area is crucial. Luckily for the Ti4200 it wins quite easily in this area - with a 12.5 fps increase in both tests.

click to enlarge

3. Overall Game Performance
The first 7 tests listed above indicate real-world performance in various types of game. This in many respects is far more useful to know about than any of the individual tests - the card may be capable of a 1.9 gigatexel throughput, but if that doesn't translate into good playable frame rates then its not important. Also, when you put physics and AI into the mix the work that the computer has to do as a whole increases significantly. In all but the nature scene the Ti4200 is faster (albeit only a marginal performance increase). The score for the nature scene is interesting as it is essentially a game test heavily using vertex and pixel shaders; which the Ti4200 does perform quite well (looking at individual tests), yet in the real-world the Radeon 8500 is equal to, or slightly faster than the Ti4200.

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Programming

Programming through Direct3D8 isn't really any different between the Radeon 8500 and the Ti4200 - this is the whole point of having API's such as D3D8 and OpenGL, they abstract the interface to the hardware. The only difference is in the features/functionality that is available.

When comparing the Radeon 8500 and the Ti series (note, the features are the same for the 4200/4400/4600) there are two important differences. Firstly, the Radeon 8500 has a higher specification pixel shader - version 1.4 (the highest possible under D3D8.1) whereas the Ti series only has version 1.3 available (both have version 1.1 vertex shaders). This will only cause you (as a developer) a problem when it comes to writing cutting-edge graphics engines, for the majority of people who want to use some shader tricks version 1.3 will be acceptable. In the long term (with D3D9 in mind) version 1.4 may well be a better move. The second difference is that the Radeon 8500 has an on-chip tessellator therefore supporting N-Patches (exposed as TruForm) should you want to use them. Either the Ti series doesn't have an on chip tessellator or it's disabled by the drivers because it has no support for any form of patches. This is probably of little concern to most people - patches have been around for quite a while, and it doesn't seem that many people are using them extensively (even though they can be very useful!) - whilst the Radeon 8500 is ahead here it still has very limited patch support.

The GeForce 4 Ti series has a few small features where it strides ahead of the Radeon in features - most of them are noticable only as extensions to older technology. For example, the cards support 4096x4096 textures in hardware (the Radeon could only handle 2048x2048) - why anyone would really want to use such a huge texture is limited, given that a 32bit version would be a whopping 64mb of video/system memory (the total on the Ti4200 reviewed here).

I've uploaded a print-out from the DxCaps program included with the DirectX SDK, which gives the complete details for the graphics cards capabilities. Should you wish to examine this more closely, or check for a specific feature you can read it here.

Programming using a GeForce 4 Ti card is only really possible if you have support/resources from NVidia, and any special tools. This crosses into the area of Developer Relations, which I shall discuss on the next page...


Click here to go straight to the next page...

Or select a page from the list:
Introduction
Installation, Benchmarks and Programming
NVidia's Developer Relations, Conclusion

 

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