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Inno3D TORNADO GeForce2 MX400 (PCI)





Author: Fido
Posted on: 10/25/2001
Sponsor: InnoVISION
Discuss: In the forums



Introduction
Even though AGP slots have been around for almost 3 years, there is still a very large portion of the population running OEM systems (from Dell or Compaq for example) with a video system that's integrated onto the motherboard, like those based around the i810 chipset. Upgrading these "older" systems, so they perform better in the gaming world, usually means installing a newer PCI graphics board & disabling the on-board video, or replacing the entire motherboard. Today we're going to look at a PCI video card from Inno3D based on the GeForce2 MX chipset, specifically designed for this type of upgrade. I probably already know what you're thinking, but before you go rattling off the bandwidth specifications between the AGP slot and a PCI slot, keep in mind that this card was designed for people that do not have AGP slots available to them. Just bear with me for a bit, and I'm sure by the time all is said and done, you'll be looking at those PCI slots in a whole new light. To satisfy your curiosity, the PCI model reviewed here has a maximum transfer rate of 133MB/sec, while the AGP model will have a maximum transfer rate of 1,056MB/sec when running at AGP 4x.




Specifications
As we mentioned in an earlier GeForce2 MX article, the GeForce2 MX chipset is based on the more expensive and better performing GeForce2 GTS GPU. There are several similarities AND differences between these chipsets. The biggest similarity is both chipsets use the .18 micron process as opposed to the .25 micron process which was used with the GeForce 256. This .18 micron process allows for less power consumption than the older .25 micron process. Another important similarity is both the GTS and the MX chipsets render 2 texels per pipeline whereas the GeForce 256 only used one. The biggest difference between the GTS and the MX chipset is the number of rendering pipelines. The GTS has four rendering pipelines running at 200MHz each, while the MX only has two running at a toned down 175MHz (or 200Mhz in the case of the MX400's). That means the maximum theoretical fill rate of the GTS chipset is 800 Mpixels per second (200MHz x 4 pipelines) or 1.6 Gtexels per second. On the other hand, the MX chipset has a maximum theoretical fill rate of 350 Mpixels per second (175MHz x 2 pipelines) or 700 Mtexels per second (or 800 Mtexels in the case of the MX400's).

GeForce2 MX
GeForce2 MX 200
GeForce2 MX 400
GeForce2 GTS

Clock Speed

175MHz
175MHz
200MHz
200Mhz
Rendering Pipelines

2

2
2
4
Texels/Clock
4
4

4

8
Texels/Second
700 Million
700 Million
800 Million
1600 Million
Memory Bus
128-bit SDR / 64-bit DDR
64-bit SDR
128-bit SDR / 64-bit DDR
128-bit SDR/DDR
Memory Clock
166MHz SDR / 333MHz DDR
166MHz SDR
166MHz SDR / 333MHz DDR
333MHz DDR
Memory Bandwidth
2.7 GB/s
1.3 GB/s
2.7 GB/s
5.3 GB/s


That should give you a little bit of history behind the GeForce2 MX GPU, but what's with the "MX400" denomination? Both the GeForce2 MX and the GeForce2 MX400 cards come in a couple of different configurations, either a 128bit path to SDR at 166Mhz or a 64bit path to DDR at 333Mhz, with the difference found in the core clock speed. The GeForce2 MX cards run at a core speed 175Mhz while the GeForce2 MX400 cards run at 200Mhz, bringing the texels/second up from 700 million to 800 million, and the pixels/second up from 350 million to 400 million, thus increasing the fill rate.

Now that you know the differences between the GeForce2 MX and GeForce2 MX400 let's continue our specification section with a closer look at what this card has to offer. The specifications are followed up with some information on TwinView Technology and Digital Vibrance Control, two features which are supported (but not included in every card) by the line of GeForce2 MX cards, including the Inno3D TORNADO GeForce2 MX400.

Detailed Specifications
    3D Features
  • Integrated Second-Generation Transform and Lighting
  • Two independent pixel pipelines
  • 4 texels per clock
  • 20 Mtriangles/sec
  • Hardware Anti-aliasing
  • 32-bit Color, with 32-bit Z/stencil buffer
  • High Quality Texture Filtering, including Antisotropic
  • Advanced per-pixel, perspective-correct texturing and shading
    • Per-Pixel bump mapping
    • Per-pixel lighting and shading
    • Cube environment mapping
    • Projector textures
    • Multi-texture and multi-pass
    • BRDF Support : Bi-Directional Reflectance Distribution Functions
    • Textures modulation
    • Light maps
    • Reflection maps
    • Procedural textures
    • DX7 texture compression (DXTC, S3TC)
  • Fog and Depth Cueing
    • Radial or linear
    • Per-vertex or per-pixel
    2D Features
  • High-performance 256-bit 2D acceleration
  • Optimized for multiple color depths including 32, 24, 16, 15 and 8-bits per pixel
  • True-color hardware cursor
  • Multi-buffering (double, triple, quad buffering) smooth animation and video playback
    Video Features
  • High Definition Video Processor (HDVP) for full-screen, full-frame video playback of all HDTV and DVD and resolutions
  • DVD and HDTV ready motion compensation for MPEG-2 decoding up to 1920x1080i ATSC format
  • Independent hardware color controls for video overlay
  • Hardware color space conversion (YUV 4:2:2 and 4:2:0)
  • 5-tap horizontal by 3-tap vertical filtering
  • 8:1 upscaling and downscaling
  • Per-pixel color keying
  • Multiple video windows with hardware color space conversion and filtering
  • DVD sub-picture alpha blended composting






Twin View
Finally, with NVIDIA's TwinView™ Architecture, multiple displays are supported on a single GPU. Instead of stacking window upon window within the confines of one display, imagine spreading your work across multiple displays. Financial analysts can have a monitor for tracking each data stream. Graphic artists can use an entire screen for palettes, and another for editing. Imagine watching the evening news while catching up on e-mail. Supporting a variety of display options—such as digital flat panels, RGB monitors, TVs, and analog flat panels—provides tailor-made visual solutions for individual needs and increases productivity.

Digital Vibrance Control
Computing environments are as diverse as the people using them: from bright light to low light, from cramped quarters to open rooms. DVC can actually compensate for sub-optimal lighting, reducing the chance of serious physical injury from eyestrain and increasing productivity. You improve all forms of visual output—digital flat panels, LCD projectors, monitors, and TVs—to standards specific to your situation. Today, people spend considerable time on their computers reading email, surfing the Web, watching DVDs, or simply working. Whether you're creating your own graphics, scanning personal photos, or enjoying images on the Web, DVC brings an amazing, enlivening visual clarity. Dry presentations receive a dramatic boost with more visual intensity. Gaming ascends to an even higher level with visually engrossing worlds and characters. Transforming any application into a dynamic experience is simple with Digital Vibrance Control.

System Setup
You should now have a pretty good understanding of what this card is capable of "technically", so lets get down to real world benchmarking and see how it performs. We wanted to test this card in a "moderately powered" system, so we've kept things pretty simple on the bench:
  • Motherboard - Asus A7V133 Bios 1005a
  • CPU - AMD Athlon 850 (6.5 x 133 overclocked FSB)
  • OS - Windows 2000 (SP2)
  • DirectX - 8.0 (4.08.00.0400)
  • Memory - (2) Crucial 128MB PC 133 CAS 2-2-2
  • Storage - 20GB Western Digital 7200RPM ATA/100
  • Sound - Soundblaster Live!
  • Detonator Drivers - 12.90
  • Via 4-in-1 Drivers - 4.31(a)
Finding a worthy competitor for the Inno3D TORNADO GeForce2 MX400 was a pretty easy task. After digging around the backyard a bit, we found two of the most comparable cards we could find, an ASUS 7100 GeForce2 MX (review) and a Creative Labs Annihilator PRO DDR (original GeForce 256). Both comparison cards are AGP based, but we thought comparing AGP cards with smiliar (or in some cases inferior) rendering capabilities to the PCI based Inno3D, would produce some nice results. We didn't want to compare the Inno3D to something that was going to blow it out of the water, nor did we want something that would make it appear to be the fastest card on the market.


Benchmarks
No synthetic tools were used to benchmark these cards. Instead we chose a collection of very commonly used games: Serious Sam, Quake 3, and Expendable. The results shown below reflect an average between the two times that each test was run on the system. But we should explain some of the settings used in the games in greater detail, before we lay the cards on the table (pun intended). Here's a breakdown of the settings used during each test:
Serious Sam
One of the easiest configurations to explain - the video preferences were set to normal, and the sound was left enabled. The only other changes made, were to the resolution and color depth. Recorded demo Valley of the Sphinxes was run twice to obtain an average - see, I told you it was easy to explain.

Quake III
Quake 3 benchmarks were completed using Point Release 1.17 with a Color Depth ranging from 16-BIT at 640x480 all the way up to 32-BIT color at resolution of 1024x768. The Texture Quality and other applicable settings were first set by changing the video system configuration to Normal and then modifying only the resolution and the color depth. Demo001 was run twice in each benchmark and averaged to get the scores listed below. The sound was left on.

Expendable
We didn't run any 32-Bit color tests with Expendable, but we did crank the resolution all the way to 1600x1200, which should give us a pretty good "high end" point. The standard TIMEDEMO mode was run twice, to determine an average with following settings: SETUP - left all of the video options unchecked and the sound was disabled. OPTIONS - all the video options to on, the detail level was set to high and the shadows set to projected.

Serious Sam (FPS)

640x480
16-bit
Inno3D
640x480
16-bit
Creative
640x480
16-bit
Asus
1024x768
32-bit
Inno3D
1024x768
32-bit
Creative
1024x768
32-bit
Asus
1600x1200
32-bit
Inno3D
1600x1200
32-bit
Creative
1600x1200
32-bit
Asus
Average (Recorded) 68.3 94.4 85.8 42.5 75.1 56.4 12.3 27.3 22.2
Average (No Peaks) 69.6 95.2 85.6 43.2 76.5 57.9 16.4 29.1 22.8
High Peak 151.4 181.3 169.3 77.4 124.7 93.4 30.6 112.7 34.8
Low Peak 41.8 61.3 51.0 29.0 53.4 40.1 4.5 15.4 15.0
High Sustained 112.2 160.1 150.5 59.3 99.2 76.0 na na na
Low Sustained 46.1 67.5 57.9 31.5 60.6 42.9 6.3 19.2 17.5



Quake 3 (FPS)

640x480
16-bit
Inno3D
640x480
16-bit
Creative
640x480
16-bit
Asus
1024x768
16-bit
Inno3D
1024x768
16-bit
Creative
1024x768
16-bit
Asus
1024x768
32-bit
Inno3D
1024x768
32-bit
Creative
1024x768
32-bit
Asus
Demo001 77.7 123.9 111.8 54.4 89.3 84.9 43.5 73.6 59.7



Expendable (FPS)

640x480
16-bit
Inno3D
640x480
16-bit
Creative
640x480
16-bit
Asus
1024x768
16-bit
Inno3D
1024x768
16-bit
Creative
1024x768
16-bit
Asus
1600x1200
16-bit
Inno3D
1600x1200
16-bit
Creative
1600x1200
16-bit
Asus
Average 75.3 85.8 77.4 73.6 84.5 68.3 45.8 69 51.4
Low 47 55 49 48 55 68.2 22 36 51
High 125 138 128 107 130 103 70 105 76




Benchmark Conclusions
Serious Sam - At the lower resolution, the Inno3D TORNADO GeForce2 MX400 really shines with an average frame rate of 68.3, never dropping below 40 frames per second. A moderate resolution also yielded a "playable" result with an average of 42.5, and only dropped below the dreaded 30 frame per second mark on a few occasions. Dropping the color depth down to 16-bit at the 1024x768 resolution should remedy the dips below 30 frames per second and make for a very playable configuration. The highest resolution tested, 1600x1200 literally tore a new one in the backside of all the cards tested. The Creative card may appear to have faired somewhat well, but even it dropped below 20 frames per second on more than one occasion. As for the Inno3D TORNADO GeForce2 MX400 at 1600x1200, let's just say painful!

Quake 3 - All the cards tested faired surprisingly well in the Quake 3 benchmarks, even when you take into consideration that this is an average result (with a low point being 50% of the result shown, and a high point being 150%). At a resolution of 1024X768 with 32bit color mode enabled, the Inno3D TORNADO GeForce2 MX400 really starts to show signs of weakness and "playability" becomes an issue.

Expendable - Again the cards all appear to have tested well on Expendable, but when we do the same type of analysis we did on Quake 3, looking at the low and high peaks, we find ourselves looking at a measly 22 frames per second with the resolution set to 1600X1200. The sweet spot for the Inno3D TORNADO GeForce2 MX400 is again found around the 1024X768 mark, with 16bit color enabled.


The final test
Since the beginning of this review, we've discussed how the PCI based Inno3D TORNADO GeForce2 MX400 could benenfit a large portion of the market, by providing people with an alternate upgrade path - especially systems based around an integrated video system such as the 810 chipset. Our final test of this card involves one of these types of systems, a Dell Optiplex GX110. We're not going to go into the same amount of detail as we did on the tests shown above, but it should be enough information to show you exactly what type of performance increase this card can give you when it's used in the type of system it was designed for. We ran Expendable with the same settings listed in the tests above at a resolution of 1024x768 with 16-bit color enabled to obtain these results:
  • Motherboard - Dell Computer Corportation 82820e 810e Chipset
  • CPU - Intel PIII 733Mhz
  • OS - Windows 2000 (SP2)
  • DirectX - 8.0 (4.08.00.0400)
  • Storage - 20GB Maxtor 7200RPM ATA/100
  • Video Drivers
    • 810 - Dell Intel 810 Series Integrated Video, v. PV 5.1.1 Kit 3140, A01
    • Inno3D - Detonator Drivers 21.83

Expendable (FPS)

1024x768
16-bit
Inno3D
1024x768
16-bit
810
Average 51.7 23.6
Low 26 10
High 94 33



I think these benchmarks pretty much speak for themselves! We've nearly doubled the frame rates on this system by using the Inno3D TORNADO GeForce2 MX400 instead of the onboard 810 controller, essentially transforming this "office worker" computer into a moderately powered gaming machine.


Overall Conclusion
After going over the benchmarks of the Inno3D TORNADO GeForce2 MX400, it's pretty safe to say it has found a home in the gaming world (even though it's a small one). With a resolution of 1024X768 and a color depth of 16bit, you should be able to get some very playable results from a moderately powered system. Lower resolutions will yield higher frame rates during times of trouble, and higher resolutions may be possible to those of you who like to "camp in the rafters" with little or no power required to render intense head to head battles. Overall, I think we've seen some pretty good 3d performance from a PCI based video card when it's kept within the constrains of the market it has been designed for.

The bundled software that came with this model is of little interest to me personally, but is often a selling point to a large portion of the population. Adobe PhotoDeluxe, WinDVD, and MidnightGT all shipped with this particular model, so if you're one of those people that won't buy a new video card unless it comes with some "free stuff", you're in luck.

At the time this article was published, the Inno3D TORNADO GeForce2 MX400 could be found at prices ranging from $100 to $125 USD. And when you consider the amount of money required to replace an 810 chipset based motherboard on top of buying a new video card, the Inno3D TORNADO GeForce2 MX400 becomes even more appealing.

So what didn't we like about this card? The 2D image quality has some problems due to the poorly designed / implemented RF filters that appear to be restricting the videobandwidth. The result of this flaw (in this particular model) are some very faint one centimeter wide vertical "stripes" in the output at high resolutions. Remember though, this problem is NOT isolated to this card. There are many other cards in the GeForce2 family, from a variety of different manufacturers that have the same problem (a design flaw in the RF filters). Some of them may have the vertical striping defect like this particular model did, while others may be blurry at all resolutions, and there are also some that have no known problems to speak of. Keep these thoughts in mind when you're out shopping around, know what your requirements are, and read as many reviews as you can find before purchasing and you'll be fine.

The only thing worse than making a wrong decision about a new video card, is making an uneducated decision.









Copyright © by LWD All Rights Reserved.

Published on: 2004-02-20 (51608 reads)

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