IntroductionAbout a year ago now, the nVidia TNT2 M64 graphics card was released for low end budget users; as most of us know this card struggled at high resolutions such as 1024x768 and higher colors, mainly because of the poor 64bit memory bus. Many users were pulled in by the sub $150 AUD price thinking they couldn't go wrong. Budget users have only really had the TNT2 M64 card to choose from, unless they wanted to opt for the more expensive TNT2 Ultra or GeForce 256. Since the advent of the GeForce2 GTS chipset by nVidia, users have seen a wicked price drop in the price of the TNT2 Ultra based cards, many have opted to go with the TNT2 Ultra instead of the GeForce 256 or GeForce2 GTS. That was until nVidia announced the GeForce2 MX chip back in July of this year. Users can now have the performance of a original nVidia GeForce 256 plus some with (some) features of the GeForce2 at much lower price. While the Visiontek GeForce2 MX isn't packed full of features like it's big brother GeForce2 GTS chipset, it certainly, for the price will make any budget user happy. For $108 USD from Universal Computer Distributing you can have your own Visiontek GeForce2 MX. Luckily many OEM manufactures have taken to the low cost, high performance GeForce2 MX chipset and have their own MX cards out, in this review we'll be focusing on Visiontek model in particular...Specifications and Features
Specifications - 0.18 micron manufacturing process- approximately 4 watts active power consumption- 175MHz core clock and 166MHz memory clock (overclocked)- 2 pixels per clock cycle, 4 texels per clock cycle- 350 Mpixels/s fill rate, 700 Mtexels/s fill rate- 20 million triangles/sec- 8-64MB frame buffer- 128-bit Single Data Rate (SDR) or 64-bit Double Data Rate (DDR) memory- Integrated Dual-Link TMDS transmitters- NVIDIA Shading Rasterizer (NSR)- High-Definition Video Processor (HDVP)- AGP 4X with Fast Writes- 32-bit color- 32-bit Z/stencil buffer- Cube environment mapping- DirectX and S3 texture compression- 350MHz RAMDACFeaturesTwinViewTM Architecture- Doubles your desktop workspace using two space saving displays. You can extend one application across two displays or run separate applications on each screen.Digital Vibrance ControlTM- Provides crisp, bright visuals.Second Generation Integrated Transform and Lighting (T&L) Engines- Provides a more powerful and balanced PC platform by offloading graphics-intensive workload from the CPU.Integrated Dual-Link TMDS Transmitters- Connect two digital displays independently without additional cost.NVIDIA Shading Rasterizer (NSR)- Brings natural material properties to life with advanced per-pixel shading capabilities.High-Definition Video Processor (HDVP)- Turns your PC into a full-quality DVD player and HDTV receiver/player.AGP 4X/2X, AGP Texturing, and Fast Writes Support- Takes advantage of new methods of transferring information more efficiently, and allows content developers to use high-quality, 32-bit color textures and high-polygon-count scenes.Microsoft DirectX and OpenGL Optimizations and Support- Delivers the best performance and guarantees compatibility with all current and future applications and games.Unified Driver Architecture- Guarantees forward and backward compatibility. Simplifies upgrading to a new NVIDIA product, because all NVIDIA products work with the same driver software.TV-Out and Video Modules- Gives end users the option of big-screen gaming, digital timeshifting VCR, and video editing applications.Now let's take a closer look at the Visiontek GeForce2 MX card...The VisionTek GeForce2 MX CardThe PCB (Printed Circuit Board) is very bland; with a quick glance over the Visiontek MX card it's easy to see Visiontek have opted to stay with the exact same reference design by nVidia thus leaving a lot of extra PCB room as you can see in the image below...
Although, something had to be done to keep the Visiontek MX card at a responsible cost / performance ratio. What Visiontek have in fact done is include 32MB of Samsung 7ns 143MHz SDRAM, whereas the nVidia GeForce2 MX reference board comes fitted with 6ns 166MHz SDRAM. To make this card a performance competitor against other GeForce2 MX cards, Visiontek have shipped the 32MB (4x8mb chips) of Samsung 7ns 143MHz SDRAM overclocked at 166MHz (6ns). If you plan to buy this card to overclock, keep in mind that it is already out of spec and you'll be overclocking the SDRAM even more then it already is. While the Samsung 7ns 143MHz SDRAM was running at 166MHz we didn't notice any crashes or lockup's. With this being the case, I guess there's nothing really to worry about - unless you want to clock the memory core up even higher.The GeForce2 MX chipset doesn't generate enough heat to warrant a small HSF to be applied. While we didn't experience any heat / crash problems, including a fan header on the PCB would have been handy for us overclockers. Instead of using the fan header on a GeForce2 board you would have to use a fan header on the motherboard instead. While the core was running at the default 175MHz, the core was warm. Visiontek (like the nVidia reference board) have included the 4 holes around the core for those who would like to hook up some active cooling using the fan header on their motherboard or for those who would like to hook up a heatsink. you'll see what I mean in the image below...
The Visiontek MX card we were shipped by Universal Computer Distributing did not come with DVI and S-Video out jacks like we saw on the nVidia GeForce2 MX reference board. No biggie for me as I don't use these jacks, for those of you who like TV Out you'll be at a loss. But, remember this card is a low end budget card, we shouldn't expect features like this.The Visiontek GeForce2 MX is also missing a hardware censoring monitor chip - I guess it's not really needed when you do have a fan to monitor it's RPM's. It makes it hard to measure the exact temperature of the card, that is unless you want to rig a thermal probe to the chipset.I feel the PCB of the Visiontek GeForce2 MX could have been used more effectively, making the card overall cheaper for us all. The PCB of this card is great if you want to hook up a huge HSF like the "big one" on the Leadtek GeForce2 GTS card. Roughly speaking, at least 15% of the PCB could have been "cut off" or removed lowering the total cost of the card, slightly. PCB material is not overly expensive but a save in this production stage of the card would have seen the card being sold cheaper.Our Visiontek GeForce2 MX card didn't come with any manuals or drivers. This is really saying "We have a budget card" but with the latest Detonator 3 drivers are out now, all we need to do is download a 2mb file and install the drivers and your all set. It could have been that Universal Computer Distributingdidn't include a manual and drivers because they thought we are intelligent enough not to need one - hehe! As for no manual, installing a graphics card is not a hard task, simple identify the AGP slot and pop the card in and turn your computer on, and oh it would be a good idea turning your computer off first, unless you want to experience some wicked electrocution effects. Heh, uhh ok maybe not - that's your choice.The next item on the agenda is, overclocking...
VisionTek GeForce2 MX -
OverclockingIt seems now-a-day's everyone who buys CPU's, Motherboards, Memory and Graphics Cards want to overclock them for that little bit extra boost in performance. And who could blame them... We couldn't help ourselves, we just had to overclock our new Visiontek GF2 MX card. Considering these budget card don't have a HSF (Heatsink Fan) the overclocking capabilities were surprising, surprising in a good way. The Visiontek GF2 MX card comes with a core clock of 175MHz and memory clock of 166MHz. First, we overclocked the core to 220MHz and the memory to 210MHz (max overclocking using Coolbits- which allows software overclocking in Windows using nVidia reference drivers) using these settings Windows displayed display errors and 3DMark2000 testing failed. We then lowered the core down to 210MHz and memory to 205MHz and Windows displayed everything correctly and 3DMark2000 testing worked fine apart from a couple "glitches" here and there. To gain maximum stability with no glitches we lowered the core down to 200MHz and memory down to 200MHz, with these settings 3DMark2000 testing was fine and no glitches were noticed anywhere. Here is a quick table of results for quick reference ;
As I said above, we were quite pleasantly surprised with the overclockability of Visiontek GF2 MX. We didn't have any thermal probes laying around to measure the temperature increase when overclocking, our apologies.As for cooling, we used a Card Cooler XT. We would have hooked up the HSF off our ASUS v7700 GF2 but there was no fan header on the Visiontek GF2 MX to connect the fan up to, and our MSI BxMaster motherboard didn't have the correct header to hook the fan up.When overclocking the Visiontek GF2 MX we have to remember that Visiontek have in fact done is include 32MB of Samsung 7ns 143MHz SDRAM, whereas the nVidia GeForce2 MX reference board comes fitted with 6ns 166MHz SDRAM. To make this card a performance competitor against other GeForce2 MX cards, Visiontek have shipped the 32MB (4x8mb chips) of Samsung 7ns 143MHz SDRAM overclocked at 166MHz. So when you overclock the memory core higher than 166MHz you have to remember you are overclocking a already overclocked board. We haven't had the chance to overclock any other GF2 MX cards but we didn't experience any troubles overclocking the memory core above 200MHz.All up, we loved the overclocking capabilities of the Visiontek GF2 MX. Considering no HSF is included and the memory core is all ready "pre-overclocked" (if you like) all overclockers will be impressed indeed.BenchmarkingTEST SYSTEM SETUPProcessor - Pentium III 700MHzRAM - 128mb Mushkin PC150Motherboard - MSI BxMaster i440bxVideo Card - Visiontek GF2 MX, ASUS v7700 GF2, Leadtek GF2 & MSI GF256Operating System - Microsoft Windows MEDrivers - nVidia 6.18Software - 3DMark2000, 3DMark2001Results - 3DMark 2000
4428 3DMarks = *Visiontek GF2 MX*5770 3DMarks = ASUS v7700 GF258693DMarks = Leadtek Winfast GF239483DMarks = MSI GF256* All cards were clocked at default settings, eg no overclocking in the testing was performed. The GF256 has a Memory Clock of 166Mhz & Engine Clock of 120Mhz. The GF2 MX has a Memory Clock of 166MHz & Engine Clock of 175MHz. The GF2 GTS has a Memory Clock of 333MHz & Engine Clock of 200MHz.The clear winner in this circumstance was the Leadtek GF2, followed by the ASUS v7700 and then the Visiontek GF2 MX which was 1440 odd 3DMarks behind the leader. Considering the Leadtek GF2 has a GeForce2 GTS chipset and 32mb 5.5ns SGRAM the Visiontek GF2 MX stood up to it pretty strongly in my opinion.I get the question asked to me a lot, "Is the GeForce2 MX faster than the GeForce256?" Our tests show the Visiontek GF2 MX is 480 3DMarks faster than the GeForce256. While it's not a big lead, you have to remember that the GF2 MX has many more features then the GeForce256, like you saw on the previous page of this review.it's too be remembered that the MSI GF256 is now out-dated and was once one of the best GeForce256 cards out in it's time. So when you look at the benchmarks keep in mind that the MSI GF256 is older technology compared to other cards which were tested.So in conclusion we have a little equation, the GF2 MX is faster than the GF256, but the GF2 GTS is faster than the GF2 MX. Follow that all ok? We didn't have a GF2 Ultra to include in the testing but rest assure that the GF2 Ultra version would be the speed king out of the cards we included in our testing - but that performance comes at a price. So now your asking, "What are the differences in each card?". Good question, we cover that in the next section directly below...GF256 vs GF2 GTS vs GF2 MXBelow is a comparative table curtsey from our friends at HotHardware comparing the GF256, GF2 GTS and the GF2 MX to each other.
The specifications above show the GeForce2 MX chipset is as good or better in ever section compared to the original GeForce 256, but when it comes to the GeForce2 GST it cannot keep up. The texels / second of the GeForce2 GST are about 60% faster then the GeForce2 MX and the GF2 GTS does 5 million more polygons / second more then the MX chipset. The GeForce2 chipset doesn't sport such features as Digital Vibrance Control or TwinView but personally I can not see a use for them in my current situation - others will too. The GeForce2 GTS is the clear winner here in performance terms, however when it comes to the performance / cost ratio the GeForce2 MX strives in front of both of the other competitors.The GeForce2 MX only has 2 rendering pipelines, but the GeForce 2 GTS has 4 rendering pipelines. The GeForce 256 has 4 pipelines but the GeForce 2 GTS can handle 2 textures per pipeline per clock. The GeForce 256 can handle just one per clock. This means the GeForce2 GTS can handle a total of 8 textures per clock, while the GeForce 256 and GeForce2 MX can only handle 4. The core clock of the GeForce2 MX is 175Mhz, whereas the GeForce2 GTS ships at 200Mhz. That means 700 textures per second for the GeForce2 MX, and a massive 1600 textures per second for the GeForce2 GTS. Oh and if you were wondering GTS stands for "Giga Texel Shading".Another limiting factor with the GeForce2 MX is it's memory bandwidth. The GeForce2 MX, unlike the GeForce2 GTS, can not support 128bit DDR RAM - That is why you'll only see GeForce2 MX cards shipped with 6ns SDRAM and nothing faster. Although some GeForce2 MX cards ship with 5.5ns (183MHz) SDRAM for that little extra boost in speed. A GeForce2 GTS with 333Mhz DDR ram has twice the bandwidth of the GeForce2 MX. The GeForce2 Ultra ships with DDR RAM running at an amazingly fast 400MHz DDR which will blow any GF card out of the water!ConclusionAs we saw in the benchmarking process up above, the Visiontek GF2 MX card is by no means faster than the GF2 GTS. However, when it comes to the price / performance ratio the Visiontek GF2 MX is by far the winner. The Visiontek comes packed full of nice features and while the overclockability (with no HSF) isn't fabulous it is still nice. The inclusion of a HSF would have been nice for us overclockers to tweak around with things a bit more, but considering this is a budget card that would be generally expected. For those that are looking for a new graphics card and don't want to fork out $600 AUD or so for a GF2 GTS, go with a Visiontek GF2 MX which will easily cope with all your latest games such as Q3A, while maintaining a nice frame rate when high quality graphics mode is enabled. Remember though, once you start increasing the resolution in various games over 1024x768 the frame rate diminishes rather quickly. If you are the type of gamer which is happy using 800x600 or 1024x768 you will be quite pleased with the Visiontek GeForce2 MX graphics card speed and quality wise.Rating - 8 / 10
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