GeForce FX 5700 and 5950 Ultra - nVidia's return to the top?

nVidia's NV36 (GeForce FX 5700) and NV38 (GeForce FX 5950) cores have arrived. How do they compare to the competition from the 2003 conquering ATI in the 9600 Pro and 9800 Pro. Read on!
Cameron Johnson
Published Tue, Oct 28 2003 11:00 PM CST   |   Updated Tue, Apr 7 2020 12:25 PM CDT
Manufacturer: none

GeForce FX 5700 and 5950 Ultra - Introduction

IntroductionBy now, everyone knows who nVidia is and what the GeForce FX GPU's are. To nVidia hardcore fans it is a "stepping stone to evolution", to ATI fans it is a "monumental failure costing a fortune" but to the hardware community, it is a stepping stone that has failed so far, but shows potential with a high price tag.nVidia finally made a come back of sorts with the 5900 core. This showed just what the FX was capable of; however, its price tag was more than anyone was willing to pay, this let nVidia's biggest threat to seize the market - that being ATI's Radeon 9800 Pro, of course.Since the release of the 5900, nVidia hasn't release any updated core versions. Instead, they decided in putting all its research efforts into the NV36 and NV38 cores, which are now known as the GeForce FX 5700 (Ultra and non Ultra) and the GeForce FX 5950 Ultra respectively. Today we are taking a look at these two new cores and seeing if they are worth the money and are they able to take on the competition with any real force.

GeForce FX 5700 and 5950 Ultra - GeForce FX 5700 Introduction

Introduction to the 5700The nVidia 5700 card is aimed at the midstream PC market, taking on the ATI Radeon 9600 Pro. When the 5600 core was introduced, we were expecting a more advanced core; however, its design was based on the NV30 core, which had proved to be more problems than it was worth. This time, nVidia has done it right. The NV36 core is based on the 5900 technology with all the 5900 features that has made this card much more popular for the high-end users.The GeForce FX 5700 shares the same cost effective solutions that the 5600 series did. The 5700 has only half the pipelines as the 5950, just as the 5600 had half the pipelines of the 5800 Ultra. While it has only half the pipelines, nVidia has left the core speed at 475MHz, which is identical to the 5950. One thing that also has somewhat lowered the overall performance expectations is the 128bit memory interface. This has been cut down from the 256bit interface of the 5950. While cutting the memory bus down, DDR2 modules have been chosen as the modules of choice, so a DDR2 memory controller has been installed into the core in order to give it an extra push in the right direction.
The card itself is extremely large compared to its competition, the ATI Radeon 9600 Pro.
The cooling solution that nVidia has chosen for the 5700 is rather large, however, this unit is virtually silent, making it a fantastic effort on nVidia's part to silence its rather loud cards in the past. nVidia also specified a large passive cooling plate on the back of the card to cool the highly clocked memory chips as they tend to get quite hot. Another feature is the retention plate. This is a cross bar with screw threads, this is what is used to secure the front heatsink to the card - gone are the days of the simple plastic push pins.
Here we see the card in its bare form with all heatsinks removed. This gives us a clear view of the memory modules and the GPU itself. nVidia has taken a page from ATI's book in regards to the core. The chip is packaged in a FC-BGA design which allows for much better cooling than pervious GeForce FX cores. This GPU hasn't been packed with any heat plates like the 5900 series has, which allows for much better cooling on the whole. Unlike ATI, nVidia hasn't used any shims which have proven to be a hindrance to proper cooling which is a credit to nVidia.
As mentioned earlier, the GeForce FX 5700 uses DDR2 memory modules as its weapon of choice. nVidia has used Samsung 2.2ns memory modules in a 128bit memory array. These chips are cooled with ramsinks both front and back of the card for the best possible performance and speeds.

Another feature that hasn't changed over the entire FX range is the power consumption and solution. The 5700 chews up more power than the AGP bus 12v supply can deliver. nVidia solved this by adding a 4 pin Molex connector to the back of the card to allow a supply of over 10amps on the 12v rail that the power supply connectors are able to supply with no hassles.

GeForce FX 5700 and 5950 Ultra - GeForce FX 5950 Introduction

Introduction to the 5950The name 5950 gives us the impression that this system is based on the 5900 series technology. From the design of the core, it uses the existing 0.13 micron process technology to produce the die, which is unchanged from the 5900 core. The GPU is also packaged in the same ceramic package, making its physical appearance without any logos on it identical to the 5900. The main feature changes are what we have gone over before and the core memory speed. Core speeds have increased from 450MHz up to 475MHz (only a 25MHz increase). Memory speeds have been increased from 425MHz (850MHz DDR) to 475MHz (950MHz DDR). While increasing speed, it also raises the memory bandwidth up to 30GB/s using DDR2 memory modules; this is definitely the biggest gain on the nVidia front.
The GeForce FX 5950 uses the exact same proportions as the 5900. This means that not only the PCB size is the same, the height of the card remains the same. The 5950, like the 5900, has an extremely large footprint, requiring two expansion slot bays at the back - one for the I/O ports and one for the external heat vent. That's right; nVidia takes a page from ABIT this time around with its version of OTES.
The cooling system is rather large. It consists of a 70mm fan, a heatsink and a shroud. The heatsink is attached with a retention mechanism to the PCB with a clip. Similar to how a CPU heatsink is attached, once again push pins are banned. There is no fan on top of the heatsink but rather in front. This is used to pull air through a plastic shroud that sits over the top of the fan and heatsink allowing air to be pulled in the back of the card, over the heatsink and vented outside the PC. This means that the card will not vent its hot air inside the PC, and will reduce heat build up within the case. While this cooling system is somewhat more effective than the 5900 Ultra, it is still rather loud. It uses the same thermal throttling system that the 5900 Ultra used, which means when the GPU is idle, the fan speed reduces, when under stress the fan speeds up to keep the GPU as cool as possible.Like the 5700, the 5950 also comes with ramsink plates both front at back. This is used to effectively cool the memory modules on the card.
Being top of the line, the 5950 uses 256MB of memory in a 256bit memory array for a total of 30GB/s of memory bandwidth. For the 5950, nVidia has chosen Hynix 2.2ns memory modules. This is rather surprising as we expected nVidia to use the same modules for both cards as they are running at the same speeds. It appears nVidia favors the Hynix modules for its high end cards, possibly due to their better overclocking abilities and reliability.
Due to the power requirements of the FX cards, the 5950 is equipped with an extra power connector, however, the regulators are much larger which might indicate this card requires a lot more power then the rest of the 5xxx series.Onto the benchmarks!

GeForce FX 5700 and 5950 Ultra - Benchmarks - Test System Setup and 3DMark03

Test System SetupProcessor: Intel Pentium 4 3.0GHz (800MHz FSB) (Supplied by Spectrum Communications)Memory: 2x Kingmax 256MB DDR-400 (Supplied by Kingmax Australia)Hard Disk: Western Digital WD80 7200RPM (Supplied by Techbuy)Motherboard: Gigabyte 8KNXP (Supplied by Gigabyte)Operating System: Microsoft Windows XP Professional SP1Drivers: ATI Catalyst 3.6 and nVidia Detonator FX 52.16In the following tests we have put the latest GeForce FX cards against their prospective rivals as well as their predecessors.3DMark033DMark 20003 is the latest installment in the popular 3DMark series. By combining DirectX 9 support with completely new graphics (including the GeForce FX and ATI Radeon 9800), it continues to provide benchmark results that empower you to make informed hardware assessments.
nVidia's new cards make a much better impression at the higher resolutions.

GeForce FX 5700 and 5950 Ultra - Benchmarks - Code Creatures

Code CreaturesCode Creatures is a Synthetic benchmark based on Direct X 8 which gives users the chance to see another highly involved benchmark program. Focusing on 2 elements Grass and Water video cards are stressed to the limit resulting in quite low scoring benchmarks. Users get to see a more intensive side of DirectX 8 thanks to the engine behind Code Creatures.
In DirectX 8 games, ATI is able to take over the lead.

GeForce FX 5700 and 5950 Ultra - Benchmarks - Comanche 4

Comanche 4Comanche 4 is a helicopter simulation using the DirectX 8.1 graphics interface. It is used to test the memory and 3D sub systems of a motherboard and video processor. Any weaknesses will show up through this intensive benchmark.
Again ATI takes the lead.

GeForce FX 5700 and 5950 Ultra - Benchmarks - Quake 3 Arena

Quake 3 ArenaQuake III Arena is a real-world OpenGL benchmark that we have been using here at TweakTown for quite a while now because it has proven itself to be one of the best gaming benchmarks around to compare a wide range of different products. Quake III is getting very old, but is still the best way of testing video and PC systems for any instabilities and best performance.
Under Quake 3 Arena at the top of the field, ATI just takes the lead.

GeForce FX 5700 and 5950 Ultra - Benchmarks - Aquamark 3

Aquamark 3Aquamark 3 is Massive Development's latest creation. This is the first time we have actually used any Aquamark benchmarks in our reviews. Aquamark 3 is designed to run on the new DirectX 9 API's.
In the higher resolutions, the FX 5950 is able to just beat out the 9800 Pro, while the 5700 and 9600 Pro tie it up.

GeForce FX 5700 and 5950 Ultra - Benchmarks - Halo PC

Halo PCHalo is another real world game/benchmark that is based on DirectX 9 API's.
Here the results between the competitors are that close it's impossible to really give one card a definite lead over the other.

GeForce FX 5700 and 5950 Ultra - Benchmarks - Jedi Knight II

Jedi Knight IIJedi Knight II, Jedi Outcast is an OpenGL game that many have been waiting for. It has much improved graphics over its predecessor. It fully supports advanced shaders, as well as very high texture resolutions and effects. There is one demo included in the multi-player section that is good for benchmarking use.
Again the competitors are too close to call.

GeForce FX 5700 and 5950 Ultra - Benchmarks - Unreal Tournament 2003

Unreal Tournament 2003
The 9800 Pro is able to just beat out the 5950 with the 5700 scoring the same as the 9600 Pro.

GeForce FX 5700 and 5950 Ultra - Benchmarks - High Detail

High Detail BenchmarksAll tests were run with 4 times FSAA and 16 times Antistrophic Filtering enabled with the screen resolution set to 1024 X 768 @ 32 Bit.When running these aggressive detail settings in 1600 x 1200, games really do become unplayable and if people are after image quality they will have to drop the resolution back down to reach playable levels. 1024x768 was chosen as it is still the preferred playable resolution with these settings enabled.Aquamark3
Here the ATI cards are able to totally remove nVidia from the equation.Halo PC - Combat Evolved
Again the new ATI cards are able to outperform the nVidia competition.Unreal Tournament 2003
Here we see that the 9800 is still able to keep ahead in DX 8.1 based games. It seems the NV36 and 38 are still a bit lacking on legacy compatibility.

GeForce FX 5700 and 5950 Ultra - Conclusion

GeForce FX 5700 ThoughtsThe GeForce FX 5700 is one of the biggest jumps in terms of its predecessor. Compared to the 5600, the new replacement has it all - a good price, great performance and no compatibility and image distortion units.Compared to the 9600 Pro, it is a definite competitor. Designed with all the features that made the 5900 Ultra a winner, it has merged into a card with a reasonable price tag for once.GeForce FX 5950 ThoughtsThe GeForce FX 5950 in retrospect is only marginally faster than the 5900 Ultra. As far as cost goes, its introduction price is set at the same price we have seen the 5900 Ultra cards at, which makes it hard for us to really justify the purchase of such a card.On the technology side, this card is more than capable for future games and applications.With this all said, does this mean these cards are ultra powerful or just another card for more dollars? Really we haven't seen any cards from manufacturers to determine the final end products but one thing is for certain, these new cards will make buying 5900 series cards much easier, how you say? When a new, more powerful card is added to the market, prices on the older models prices are pushed down.In all we really will have to wait for the adoption of these new GPUs by nVidia supporters. As of late nVidia has lost Leadtek and Visiontek and even its biggest retail market, ASUS. If this has the ability to bring all the manufacturers to nVidia then the job will be done.

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