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Asus V8460 Ultra Deluxe 128mb GeForce 4 Ti4600
Manufacturer: ASUSTeK Computer Inc. 
Purchasing: GB215 or US$275 (average, subject to change).
Reviewed: 5th September 2002

Introduction

Following on from the other hardware reviews on this site, a look at the great GeForce 4 Ti4600 range will finish off coverage of the 4 main Direct3D8.1 compatible graphics cards. The GeForce 4 range has proven (in the reviews on this page) to be faster than the competition, and this particular revision is the fastest of the lot.

Speed, however, isn't everything. Sure, you need a fairly fast and capable processor - but it's of equal importance the features the card offers, and this product isn't going to let the side down. The number of connectors and cables this unit packs in is quite impressive (more on that later).

For your reference, the Asus v8440 (this cards slightly slower variant) has been reviewed here.

New Generation
As already mentioned, this is a Direct3D8 graphics card - currently the highest specification 3D API available for the windows platform. Apart from speed, this offers two major new features to the graphics pipeline - pixel and vertex shaders.

Given that Direct3D8 has been around for almost a year now, it's quite likely you've heard of these new features, but I'll quickly run over them again. A Shader (currently) is a small set of assembly like instructions sent to and executed by the graphics card's processor. This basically adds a huge amount of control over the way geometry is rendered and presented on the screen, pixel shaders in particular are not possible (in real-time) using the main CPU. Obviously, as the names state, pixel shaders operate on the final pixels rendered to the screen (allowing advanced lighting and texturing effects) and vertex shaders operate on the lowest form of geometry data - the vertices that make up each triangle.

One interesting thing to note straight away is that Direct3D9 is just around the corner, tentatively a November 2002 release date at time of writing. As soon as D3D9 is released this card, and all of it's current generation will become the old generation, and a new set of beasts will be let loose onto the scene (ATI's Radeon 9700 is the first D3D9 compatible unit). Whilst that doesn't mean this unit will be a waste of space, it should give cause for thought - waiting a mere 9 weeks (or so) and two things are likely to happen: firstly, the price of the D3D8 generation products will fall as the new ones hit the shelves and secondly, the new units will enter at a similar price as this unit currently demands. The general idea being that if you wait for D3D9 to appear (along with it's hardware) you'll either get a cheaper equivalent product or a better product for the same price.

V8460 Performance
As already mentioned, the Ti4600 based cards are the fastest D3D8 compatible graphics cards available. Currently they've only been topped by the new ATI Radeon 9700, but that's aimed more at the first-round D3D9 market. It would still be customary for a review of this type to run down the performance of this piece of hardware!

3DMark2001 SE (build 330) is my current choice software for measuring the performance of D3D8 graphics hardware. Given the other reviews I've done that include the data presented by this software, it makes for a good set of comparative data.

For the record, the test system used is the same one I've developed every tutorial/article on this website with. It's a 700mhz Athlon Thunderbird with 288mb PC100 RAM plugged into a Gigabyte GA-7ZM KT133 motherboard.

Resolution Radeon 8500 Ti4200 Ref. v8440 v8460
640x480x32 5107 5813 6095 5897
1024x768x32 4725 5383 5486 5577

Above are the overall 3D Mark 2001 scores for the top 4 D3D8 generation graphics cards. the V8460 takes a small lead over it's slower V8440, but nothing hugely ground breaking. The overall score is heavily weighted towards the 4 game tests, which is not where the Ti4600 really shines. For a more detailed analysis of the results, read on...

Individual Game Tests

The game tests built into 3D Mark 2001 test the entire system with respect to games, this is obviously highly dependent on the graphics capabilities, but is also going to stress the main CPU.

The results shown the the left indicate this can be a problem, in the majority of the tests all of the GeForce 4 family of cards clock in at fairly equal speeds - which shouldn't really be the case. It is therefore quite likely that the CPU in the test system couldn't keep up with the graphics card - it wasn't sending enough data quickly to allow the graphics card to stretch it's legs and show off its full potential. The only case where this isn't so true is with the 4th test - 'Nature' which makes heavy use of pixel and vertex shaders. The other 3 cards all give respectable scores here, but the V8460 is in the mid 40's (peaking at over 50fps in two places). I'd consider 30fps to be the minimum playable level, but if you're into the mid 40's then gameplay should be suitably smooth and fluid. Which, at the end of the day, is all that really matters.

Fill Rate tests are a very important aspect of the 3D pipeline. Once all the transformation is out of the way it is this function of the graphics card that actually draws the textured triangles on screen. Given the current complexity of 3D gaming scenes, a fill rate of 2000 mega-texels can easily be chewed up, particularly now that the majority of engines make use of layered textures and/or pixel shaders. In the results shown above the V8460 is plenty fast enough - a good 9.7% faster than the V8440 and 21.9% faster than the Ti4200 reference board, which fits in perfectly with the product literature. As seen above, the difference between the Ti4200, V8440 and V8460 is almost equal - documents from NVidia state that each one is 10% faster than the previous one.

Above is the final round of test results exposed by 3D Mark 2001 - these are all testing only one main feature, which makes for interesting viewing. In all but one (pixel shaders) the V8460 pulls slightly ahead, with the biggest jump being nearly 20fps in the DOT3 bump mapping tests. The anomaly shown by the lower Pixel shader score is odd - the results shown here are consistent over 5 separate benchmarks, so it's not really a one-off result. However, the increase in Advanced Pixel Shading would tend to indicate that it's an isolated case.

V8460 Features

The V8460 reviewed here is the 'Ultra Deluxe' version - it's the top dog of ASUS' 3D card range. This particular unit has a total of 7 usable connectors attached to the back plate - quite impressive for what is essentially a non-professional/'home-user' issue unit.

The graphics card itself is actually physically big, as was the V8440 - which could cause problems on smaller/compact PC cases. Take a look at this image:


Left to Right: 50 sterling, ATI Radeon 8500, ASUS V8460
the 50 note is 15cm long.

The GeForce 4 Ti4600 is quite a powerful piece of equipment, and as such generates a fair amount of heat - hence the rather elaborate heatsink (for processor and memory). However, you'll still need good general cooling/air-flow if you intend to overclock the graphics card (a utility to do this is included).

The above photo shows the main outputs for the v8460graphics card. What's not shown on the image though, is the TV in/out controller box. As shown on the diagram there is a TV In/Out port, but this actually goes to an additional routing box with 4 further connections on it (designed so you can stick it to your desk and hot-swap it). In particular, the connection box has an S-Video in/out port and a Composite in/out port - covering all the basic needs for TV in and out. The only connection that's missing from this impressive bundle is an IEEE1394/Firewire port - as this is commonly used by digital video cameras (you can get add-in cards to support it though). As per standard with the GeForce 4 cards comes support for dual monitor aided through the 'nView' software.

As far as a relatively cheap (by professional standards) graphics card goes this has more than enough bells and whistles to keep most people happy. TV in/out allows you to do basic video editing and use your computer as a digital VCR (software is included to help with this). The ability to use a dual monitor setup is an amazing benefit for all professional end-users, it does often mean the system runs a bit slower, but I regularly plug my second monitor in when engaging in a lengthy development session.

The only rather pointless add on for this card is the 3D-Glasses, a nice idea, but really just not worth the hassle. To be brutally honest, I can't think of a better way to look like a complete idiot while using your computer (for that reason I won't include the photo of me wearing them!). If you do want to use them, and they do do what they're supposed to do, you'll need a high quality monitor and not a TFT flat panel (like I use). To use them properly requires at least a 100hz refresh rate at one of the supported resolutions (800x600 will probably be used by most). On a development note, you don't need to change your games at all to work with 3D glasses, likewise, you don't need special in-game support to use them in ones you already own.

Conclusion

The Ti4600 is a great processor to have in your machine, if you're at the cutting edge of technology then it's no longer the king it once was, and will rapidly (before xmas) fall behind the current leaders. Hopefully for us consumers this means that it'll only be getting cheaper. The Radeon 9700 are the first attempts at D3D9 compatible graphics cards and the NV3x cards are due to arrive in time for Christmas. Given that the there are currently very few games available that would really stress the v8460's power, and there are unlikely to be any for a while yet, it's still a safe choice.

Good Points Bad Points
Very strong set of external connectors, should be more than enough for most professionals / semi-professionals. You really need a 1ghz+ processor with a decent AGP/memory system to make good use of this card.
Full complement of video memory (128mb) No longer top-dog, the D3D9 cards are already starting to steal the show.
Should be slightly better for clocking than other ASUS 3D cards. Still quite expensive given it is no longer the best-of-the-best.
Chipset is from nVidia - a good company to be using. No Firewire support for in/out on the graphics card.
Dual-Monitor support out-of-the-box is brilliant.
Good price compared with rival products.  

 

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