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NVidia Developer Relations

It's all fine to have an absolutely amazing piece of graphics hardware, but without some background information and developer resources it's never going to be used to it's full potential. When using API's such as OpenGL and Direct3D this isn't going to come from one source, rather a collection of sources - Microsoft (for the D3D API), game development websites, newsgroups, web forums etc...

However, NVidia do provide a very thorough site packed with white papers and downloadable demo's showing how to use the more advanced features available (bare in mind it is usually only the advanced parts they show off). You do have to be at the more advanced/experienced end of the spectrum to make full use of all the white papers and demo's available, but there are still more than enough to get beginner/intermediate programmers up and running with some quality graphics.

NVidia's developer site, and developer relations do stand out in one particular way that no other 3D card manufacturer seems to have managed: It's a big player. This is a bit of a broad term, it encompasses the fact that NVidia's engineers and developers are present for many of the big decision-making processes (they worked closely with Microsoft on Direct3D8, and probably are for Direct3D9), and their developers are often responsible for pushing forward the graphics programming industry.

The latest thing to rock the graphics world (at time of writing) is NVidia's 'Cg' compiler - a truly remarkable piece of software/thinking. 'Cg' is basically "C for graphics" - a high level shader language/compiler to simplify the dark art that is shader programming. Anyone who's looked into pixel/vertex shaders properly will have realized that it is far from a trivial task - even the most simple programs can prove to be rather difficult (unless you're at home with assembly-level programming). When you use the Cg language you can use (as the name states) a subset of the C programming language to write your scripts, and then let the compiler reduce it down to the complicated assembly level instructions. High Level Shader Languages (HLSL) as an idea aren't anything new really - various parties have been working on them for a while now, but NVidia's Cg libraries are the first significant launch.

Programming with Cg is still a tricky business at times, but the alternatives are far worse! NVidia have an 80mb downloadable archive for those interested, and assuming you compile to DirectX8 standards you can still use the compiler for non-NVidia cards (although it won't take advantage of the Radeon's ps1.4 capability). The downloadable SDK comes with a good selection of examples (some of which are very impressive) - ideally you should see them working in real-time to appreciate them, but you can look at the following screenshots (Click to enlarge):

  

Useful Links:
NVidia's main developer website.
NVidia's Cg toolkit page.

Conclusion

From the benchmarks earlier in this review, it would appear that the GeForce 4 Ti4200 is the faster card when compared to the Radeon 8500 - given that the Ti4200 is the slowest of the 3 variations it would be a logical assumption that the Ti4600 would be a phenomenally powerful piece of hardware (although having not tested it myself, I can't guarantee this!). However, there are two things to bare in mind with this comparison; firstly the Radeon 8500 reviewed before was not the fastest Radeon available (read the review for more details), and secondly the Ti4200 on review here is an engineering release from NVidia that you can't buy in the shop - so a Ti4200 you purchase in the shops could well have marginally different performance.

For the Ti4200 the speed increase over the Radeon 8500 is not that significant, but the Radeon 8500 does have a slightly more advanced Direct3D feature set - this, in my opinion, tips the balance slightly. When deciding between a Ti4200 and a Radeon 8500 you should really only be considering features and price, when you start looking at the Ti4400 and Ti4600 will you really start to appreciate the GeForce 4's speed advantage.

Developer support from NVidia is very very good, and given that they are constantly pushing the limits of real-time 3D graphics you can be assured that if you have one of their latest graphics cards you'll be in good hands, and have access to most of the latest and greatest graphical technology.

The Ti4600 (at time of writing) is an expensive piece of equipment, so the Ti4200 may well provide the better price:features ratio for most, but whichever one of the GeForce 4's you get (if you get any!) will not disappoint you - all of them are powerful, and short of the cutting-edge version 1.4 pixel shaders they are a fully featured series of graphics cards.

Good Points Bad Points
the Ti4200 is a fast card, provisionally that would make the Ti4600 an exceptionally powerful card. Possibly some small driver issues lurking around (Although they will be the exception).
Absolutely excellent developer relations department You'll need a fairly recent computer to make full use of the card (bandwidth/processor speed)
A very capable graphics card, given it's features. Doesn't have every single latest feature for cutting edge design/programming
Comes from a very strong company dedicated to pushing the limits of 3D graphics Higher specification GeForce 4's are quite expensive.
Good price:feature ratio for the Ti4200.
nView implementation is an amazingly useful tool if you have two monitors available.  

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

 

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