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Gainward FX PowerPack! Ultra/760 XP Golden Sample


The graphics card industry moves along at such a pace that it's virtually impossible to keep up with all the changes and developments. You don't always need the latest and greatest card out there though. For the last year we have used a GeForce 4 Ti4200 graphics card. For the most part this card has been adequate for 95% of the games that we review. However it is starting to show its age so the time will soon come for us to think about replacing it. What options are there though? Well currently you have to go for a DirectX 9 graphics cards. Realistically you only have two choices, ATi or Nvidia. The card we'll be looking at today is based upon the FX5600 Ultra chipset. This, for all intents and purposes, is a mid-range graphics card so we are hoping to see some improvement over our quite old, in graphics card terms, Ti4200.

 

The Gainward FX PowerPack! Ultra/760 XP Golden Sample
Gainward have a well established reputation in the graphic card industry of creating performance leading graphics solutions. The Gainward FX PowerPack! Ultra/760 XP Golden Sample is just one of the latest cards in an impressive catalogue of products. The card is based upon the GeForce FX5600 Ultra GPU and also features 128MB of DDR RAM. The card also supports dual monitor display (one analogue and one digital) and VIVO (Video In/Video Out) and comes with the necessary cables. Also included is a 3-port IEEE 1394 FireWire card for extra connectivity. You also get a copy of Intervideo's WinCinema which includes a suite of programs including the WinDVD software. As an overall package it certainly is impressive especially when you consider it costs around £170. However this review concentrates upon the gaming performance of the FX5600 Ultra.

 

The test setup

Software:
Windows XP Home Edition SP1
DirectX 9b
52.16 Nvidia drivers
Gainward ExperTool
FRAPS 2000

Hardware:
AMD Athlon XP2800+
Epox 8RDA+
1GB RAM PC2700
GeForce 4 Ti 4200/ GeForce FX5600 Ultra
Audigy 2

 

How we tested the card
Now we know that Deaf Gamers is a games website and we wouldn't dream of claiming that we are hardware specialists because we are not. To test the FX5600 Ultra we went for a mix of benchmarks and games. We opted to use four benchmarks (Aquamark 3, Final Fantasy XI benchmark, 3D Mark 2003 and X2: The Threat rolling demo) that are all relevant to gaming and will give an indication of how the card is going to perform with DirectX 9 based games. We also decided to use four games to test the card. Instead of running last years games we went for games that are more recent to test the FX5600 Ultra. The games we decided upon are Max Payne 2, Halo, Chrome and Jedi Academy. All of the tests were run at a screen resolution of 1024x768. The ExperTool that come with the card allows you to run in standard mode (400Mhz GPU clock/ 800Mhz memory) and enhanced mode (450Mhz GPU clock/ 900Mhz memory) so we ran all tests in both modes and have included the results for both. Anyway enough chitchat let's discuss the results.

 

The results

Benchmarks:

Aquamark 3
Aquamark 3 is based upon the same engine as Aquanox 2. We got to look at an early version of Aquanox 2 early last year and it was obvious that it was going to need a very good setup to run the game well. Aquamark 3 is also very strenuous. The benchmark gives an overall score and the score suggests how your PC will run the next generation of games with a score of 20,000+ being sufficient for a high resolution with high details.

Ti4200 = 15,407
FX5600 Ultra (standard mode) = 18,297
FX5600 Ultra (enhanced mode) = 20,392

Well in enhanced mode the FX5600 Ultra manages to pass the 20,000 mark but in standard mode it falls some way short and lies more or less in the middle of the results.

 

Final Fantasy XI benchmark
After a long break the Final Fantasy series returns to the PC but alas it’s for a MMORPG that will probably be totally different from the excellent games on the PlayStation and PlayStation 2. This is an unusual benchmark as it plays out like a rolling demo and shows an ever increasing number in the bottom right of the screen. The higher the number when the benchmark finishes the better the performance of your system.

Ti4200 = 3,510
FX5600 Ultra (standard mode) = 3,378
FX5600 Ultra (enhanced mode) = 3,715

Here the standard mode of the FX5600 Ultra doesn't do too well at all and our trusty Ti4200 outperforms it. We even went back to older drivers but instead of helping it made things worse and the card scored even lower. The enhanced mode scores better than the Ti4200 but can't be considered a major improvement.

 

3D Mark 2003
Whilst 3D Mark 2001SE was regarded as a superb benchmarking tool the 2003 version has come in for some criticism. However, regardless of some opinions it's a valuable tool in assessing the future performance of you PC and your graphics card in particular.

Ti4200 = 1,561
FX5600 Ultra (standard mode) = 2,866
FX5600 Ultra (enhanced mode) = 3,303

Here we see the Ti4200 trounced and so it should be because 3D Mark 2003 is a DirectX 9 benchmark and the Ti4200 is a DirectX 8 optimised card. Whether this indicates if the FX5600 Ultra will perform twice as well in a DirectX 9 game as the Ti4200 is highly doubtful though.

 

X2: The Threat Rolling Demo
X2: The Threat may have been postponed until 2004 but if this rolling demo is anything to go by we'll need the extra time to save up and upgrade our PC. We ran the rolling demo in benchmark mode and enabled everything except shadows and anti-aliasing. After the demo has finished it gives you the average framerate.

Ti4200 = 45fps
FX5600 Ultra (standard mode) = 49fps
FX5600 Ultra (enhanced mode) = 54fps

Here we have small improvements once more. The standard mode once more lies in the middle of the three results which are a little disappointing.

 


Games:

Halo
It was a long time coming to the PC but it’s finally arrived and bought some serious system demands along with it. The results are puzzling but we repeated the tests with different drivers and it didn't make any difference. We used the in built time demo to benchmark.

Ti4200 = 28fps
FX5600 Ultra (standard mode) = 24fps
FX5600 Ultra (enhanced mode) = 27fps

What can you say? It’s very disappointing as it offers no improvement at all in terms of framerate. In all of the games we have tested the quality of the display was noticeably better with the FX5600 Ultra but we want speed and here it's not being given.

 

Chrome
If the Halo results were baffling then the Chrome results are just humiliating. Chrome looked much better with the FX5600 Ultra but it was not as smooth.

Ti4200 = 34fps
FX5600 Ultra (standard mode) = 19fps
FX5600 Ultra (enhanced mode) = 24fps

Absolutely hideous results and one that we can only attribute to an anomaly with the 52.16 drivers which is strange as Nvidia are recommending them for FX owners.

 


Max Payne 2
With the numerous game release delays that we have had over the last couple of months Max Payne 2 is the first of the great looking games to arrive. Remedy really deserves high praise because despite the high detail in Max Payne 2 it's very framerate friendly.

Ti4200 = 80fps
FX5600 Ultra (standard mode) = 105fps
FX5600 Ultra (enhanced mode) = 115fps

Superb performance from both of the cards. We also see an impressive gap between the Ti4200 and both modes of the FX5600 Ultra. Even on the highest details and with the fancy looking mirrors enabled we couldn't slow the cards down at the 1024x768 resolution.

 

Jedi Academy
Nothing more than a spin-off from Jedi Outcast when it comes to it. Jedi Academy still relies on the ancient Quake III engine but here it's vastly overloaded and you can forget seeing framerate scores in the hundreds.

Ti4200 = 39fps
FX5600 Ultra (standard mode) = 34fps
FX5600 Ultra (enhanced mode) = 41fps

Whilst the enhanced mode score may be disappointing the standard mode score is cause for concern. Whether this is something further driver revisions can sort out remains to be seen.

 

Verdict
Well as we have already mentioned we are no hardware experts and really wouldn't attempt to give the FX5600 Ultra a grade. However what we would say is that if you currently own a GeForce 4 based card then moving up to a FX5600 Ultra isn't really worth it. The FX5600 Ultra handles anisotropic filtering and anti-aliasing without a dramatic performance loss like the GeForce 4 cards but even without these features the framerate isn't that impressive at the modest resolution of 1024x768 There are circumstances were improvements are to be had but it's not worth the asking price. If you own an older graphics card then it may be worth considering but there are many other options out there so it would be best to consider just how much performance you are getting for your money before making a purchase. Nvidia’s latest cards include the FX5700 which might be a better option but again it depends on how much the asking price is.