So you want to see how well this low cost alternative board performs when playing? Well so do we! But first we'll look at the testing methods and platform.
With all of the tests available, I try to maintain a small but workable inventory of benchmarking utilities. On top of that, I do my best to make sure that anyone can get these programs at no cost so that they can run the tests themselves on their own systems to gauge their own levels of performance with the test system. This allows us to be able to compare directly and help us when it comes down to making buying decisions. After all, don't we keep up with the latest and greatest in the hopes that it will be in our personal system some day?
Testing will include a trio of programs/utilities that are all available at no cost to anyone with an internet connection. This will include the tried and tested 3DMark2001SE from Futuremark (formerly MadOnion), the two benchmarking utilities available within the Unreal Tournament 2003 Demo and the newly released 3DMark03 from Futuremark. While the 3DMark03 benchmark isn't being weighed too heavily in this article, it is included for comparison sake to help give a more complete picture of the capabilities of the video board being tested.
But before we go any further, its time to look at the test rig.
Motherboard: Soltek SL-75MRN-L (nForce2 chipset)
Processor: Athlon XP 1800+ @ 1870MHz (Thoroughbred)
Memory: 1024MB Crucial PC2700 DDR
Display: Hitachi SuperScan 814 21" CRT
Hard Drive: Seagate Barracuda IV 40GB
Results - 3DMark2001SE
So far it seems that the FX5200 board is falling behind even the older technologies, but remember, this is a budget board so it would be unfair to think that it can beat out everything else out there.
One test that I have grown fond of in this little package is the Nature test. It is one of the best ways to attempt to drown out a video board with sheer data. Considering that many games are coming up with frame rates approaching (and beating) the 300 FPS mark, it is a pleasant surprise to find something that can't go that high simply because there is too much data to display at one time.
So we look at the Nature test and see that while the results still lag behind other boards available, it still ranks at a level that isn't totally beyond the realm of consideration.
Results - 3DMark03
One nice thing about this particular graphics chipset is the native support of DirectX 9. As you'll surely remember, the GeForce4 line didn't support this, not even the highly vaunted Ti4600 boards. So it wasn't unexpected that the lower horsepower of the FX5200 board was still able to achieve a higher overall score in the newest 3DMark utility to hit the streets.
Unreal Tournament 2003 Demo
When you download the UT2003 Demo, it comes complete with a pair of built-in benchmarks. The first is called the Flyby Benchmark and consists of two demos that record a virtual tour of the levels. It is similar to being in Spectator Mode in the Quake series of games. During the virtual tour, it records the frames per second of each map and then gives you an average.
The second test is called the Botmatch Benchmark and consists of another pair of demos, this time with bots having a fragfest. Since there is movement involved with the characters on screen, this test will have a more drastic effect on the frame rates. This particular test also uses the best graphics settings it can to give the board a good workout. After the two demos have run, the program again calculates the average frames per second and displays the result.
Testing with the two methods above will be done at a resolution of 1024 x 768 x 32-bit color depth.
Results - UT2003 Demo Flyby
Here we begin to see what we can expect in an actual gaming environment. While it is obvious that it isn't the fastest thing on the block, it also shows a very playable frame rate during the testing. If you happen to be on a tight budget and still want playable frame rates, there looks to be something to be said for the FX5200.
Results - UT2003 Demo Botmatch
When we began testing with this benchmark, we were seeing that the higher settings and movement on screen was doing a good job of forcing a card to work at its highest level. Considering this concept, we can see that the difference in actual frame rates is marginal at best when we throw the kitchen sink into the mix. The Botmatch benchmark uses all the best settings to make the visual experience everything that it can be. Not too shabby.