- Advanced shading and anti-aliasing facilities.
- Few games currently exploit the GeForce3's new features
The Gladiac 920 from ELSA is the first graphics card we've seen that's based on nVidia's new GeForce3 processor. This gamer's card claims even higher performance than the previous generation of GeForce2 Ultra-based products -- which were pretty fast themselves. To help achieve this, the 2X/4X AGP Gladiac 920 is fitted with 64MB of Double Data Rate (DDR) SDRAM. However, improved performance is only half the story with the GeForce3: equally important are the image quality enhancements, courtesy of the chip's support for new shading and anti-aliasing methods.
The GeForce3 processor runs at 200MHz, slower than the previous GeForce2 Ultra chip, and uses the same 460MHz memory clock. On the face of it, there has to be some great new technology on this chip to beat its predecessors for speed.
The GeForce3 is designed for DirectX 8, and supports hardware acceleration of such effects as volumetric fog, particle effects, reflective bump mapping and animated water surfaces. Unfortunately, games designed for previous versions of DirectX aren't going to see much improvement in either speed or image quality.
nVidia is very keen on the capabilities of its new programmable vertex and pixel shaders, which are key elements of the GeForce3's new nFiniteFX engine. These features, which are supported in DirectX 8, are designed to enable finer levels of detail in scenes, such as changing expressions on characters' faces. The main benefit is that game designers can define different rules for processing vertices and pixels, and the processing rules can be changed at any time. This means that the lighting effects on one object can be different from those applied to another object, for example, making for much greater scene realism.
Quincunx anti-aliasing is an oddly-named new feature on the GeForce3, providing efficient full-scene anti-aliasing (FSAA). nVidia claims that this method produces images of similar quality to competing FSAA schemes, but with much higher performance. The image quality is compared to four times oversampling used on other cards, while the performance is compared to two times oversampling. What the Quincunx algorithm seems to do is make more intelligent use of 2X oversampling to get higher-quality images without doing the extra work involved in 4X oversampling. It also lowers the memory requirements of anti-aliasing, leaving more space for textures in the card's memory.
To take advantage of the GeForce3's fancy new features, games have to be specially written for DirectX 8 -- and at the time of writing, only a handful were available. However, the fact that these features are in the new DirectX means that most future games will exploit the GeForce3 fully.
The Gladiac 920 will also handle DVD playback, as it includes hardware MPEG acceleration -- the ELSAmovie 2000 software DVD player is included with the card too. The TV-out port allows you to watch DVD movies on your TV, providing you can use the S-Video interface provided. The lack of a DVI interface for flat panels may put some buyers off, but that shouldn't discourage this card's target market of hardcore gamers.
Our performance tests show that the GeForce3-based Gladiac 920 is indeed faster than a 64MB GeForce2 Ultra card running in the same test PC (a 1.4GHz Pentium 4 with 128MB of RAM running Windows ME) with the same resolution, colour depth and refresh rate (1,024 by 768 pixels, 32 bits per pixel, 75Hz). Turning on anti-aliasing slows the GeForce3 down considerably, although the Quincunx method does seem to provide a good compromise between performance and image quality.
At £384.68 (ex. VAT) (£452 inc. VAT), the Gladiac 920 is a costly component for your PC -- after all, you can buy a whole Playstation2 for that price. However, early adopters and those seeking to run demanding titles like the recently released Black and White may be content to bear the cost.
GeForce3-based cards like the Gladiac 920 will come into their own once DirectX 8 support is widespread and games developers learn to exploit the chip's programmable features. As far as the wider 3D graphics market is concerned, the GeForce3 should prove to be a worthy competitor to ATi's Radeon, which has been the image quality leader up to now.
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