NVidia sharpens image with GeForce3 Titaniums

Graphics chip manufacturer raises the stakes with the Titanium range - introducing a new high-end GeForce3 and two budget models
Written by Matt Loney, Contributor

NVidia today launched the GeForce3 Titanium range of graphics processor -- including its highest performance chip to date, the GeForce3 Ti 500.

Three graphics processors -- or GPUs -- make up the new range. As with previous revisions, the new top-end GPU is balanced by budget versions; graphics cards built using the flagship GeForce Ti 500 are likely to cost around £300. Two new budget processors -- the GeForce3 Ti 200 and the GeForce2 Ti -- will enable graphics card manufacturers to make cards with some of the same new features at prices that are likely to start at under £150.

NVidia today also launched a new driver that it said would significantly boost the performance of graphics cards based on existing GeForce GPUs, as well as helping to shore up benchmarks for the new Titanium range. Detonator XP, as the new driver is called, adds support for DirectX 8.1 and OpenGL 1.3, the two leading de facto standards used by software writers to access and exploit the hardware features on graphics cards.

With the Detonator XP driver, nVidia claims the GeForce3 Ti 500 is half as fast again as the standard GeForce3 chip when playing Quake III at a resolution of 1600 by 1200 with a 32-bit colour depth. According to nVidia's figures, the GeForce3 Ti 5000 can perform 960 billion operations per second. It contains 57million transistors, compared to 42million in Intel's Pentium 4 processor, and has 64MB of 500MHz RAM memory.

At the time of writing, prices had not been released for the GeForce3 Ti 500, but the chip -- and cards based on it -- are likely to appeal mainly to hard-core gamers who are prepared pay a premium for the high performance. Cards such as the Elsa Gladiac 920 that are based on the previous top-of-the-range nVidia chip, the GeForce3-based graphics cards, cost around £300.

NVidia is catering for those on a tighter budget with the GeForce3 Ti 200, a low-cost version of the GeForce3. This chip will replace what was the top chip in the previous range, the GeForce2 Ultra. Again, pricing has not been confirmed, but nVidia suggested that it would cost about half the price of the GeForce3 Ti 500. The GeForce Ti 200 has a slightly slower memory subsystem, at 400MHz, than the top-end Titanium, reducing the operations per second to 700 billion.

And for mainstream users who baulk at paying even £200 for a graphics card, nVidia has revamped the 64MB GeForce2 Ultra in the form of the GeForce2 Ti which, the company says "will carry a GeForce 2 Pro price tag". Again, this has a 64MB, 400MHz memory subsystem. For the GeForce2 Ti, the company claims more than 100 percent performance boost over the GeForce2MX 400, with Quake III running in 32-bit colour at 1024 by 768 resolution.

According to early benchmarks indications from ZDNet Reviews, the GeForce3 Ti 500 represents an evolution of the graphics chip, rather than a revolution. While figures indicate that the new features in the Titanium range will keep nVidia at the top of the graphics pile, it will be some time before the bulk of games start using them. ZDNet will post a full review of the nVidia GeForce3 Ti 500 on Tuesday.

All three chips get the NfiniteFX engine, which supports hardware shadow buffers. Shadow buffers were notably used in the recent computer-animated film, Final Fantasy: The spirits within. NVidia's shadow buffering uses an unusual method of mapping the lighted areas of a scene, rather than the shadowed areas. This uses some features already implemented in older GeForce chips, such as general render to texture and texture mapping, but requires several extra features only implemented in the Titanium series NfiniteFX engine. One benefit of this shadow buffering is that objects can self-shadow -- a person's arm can cast a shadow on their chest. Also, the shadow mapping uses a proprietary shadow-filtering algorithm with up to 256 discrete levels of shadowing, which can produce soft shadow edges.

Hardware support for 3D textures means the GeForce3 Titaniums can define the interior of an object so that a marble statue, for instance, can have a vein of colour running through it to emerge on the other side.

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