GeForce FX 5700 Ultra and 5950 Ultra
The battle between the graphics giants NVIDIA and ATI is getting more and more fierce with every week that passes. A result of this battle is that this has to be one of the most interesting years in the graphics card industry (ever since 3dfx passed away that is). For us journalists, it was and still is a difficult yet absolutely amazing period. A metaphorical big negative cloud hovered over the NVIDIA buildings where it started raining for a long time with all that has been going on, bad DX9 shader performance, cheating in benchmarks and a competitor that often had the fastest product were the causes of it. ATI must have had a laugh or two seeing NVIDIA's PR trying to save themselves from a nasty situation time after time.
However, NVIDIA is getting back on track. Fortunately for NVIDIA Half-life 2 leaked and it's extremely quiet over at that 'other camp', the game would be bundled with the new XT product yet as it seems now the only pure DX9 title that was to be released this year is delayed until quarter 1 of 2004, likely April. Next to that, over the past weeks I've seen NVIDIA doing some interesting things. They started working on new drivers that have likely been build from scratch. THese drivers fights the slow DX9 Shader performance issues that have been haunting NVIDIA. These new drivers also definitely show improved Image Quality, but the more interesting is fact is the likelyhood of drivers that do not (should not) have illegal optimizations (cheats) anymore. Sure there are many forms of optimizations but as you know by now, an optimization can be a good thing if used properly.
That being said, today the 23rd of October NVIDIA launched two new babies. Last week UPS brought this nice little package from NVIDIA with two new cards in them. Both to be found in the mid- and high end range of products. Yes folks, it's that time of the year, it's the second half of the year, and in the world of pixels that means it's time for the graphics chipset manufacturers to update their product line. This time it's not just a paper launch with huge delays as we saw last year, the high-end product already can be found on the shelves where the new mid-range product will be available in 3-4 weeks already.
I'll start off immediately by saying this, the product reviews you will see today are still based on the NV3x generation. DX9 Shader performance will still be lower than the competition. This is not due to a bug, but simply NVIDIA's initial approach on the DX9 API. The new detonator drivers however include a real-time Shader compiler that boosts DirectX 9 Vertex and PixelShader 2.0 performance a significant amount and undoes a lot of the missing DirectX 9 performance we noticed in the past months. Basically NVIDIA products were not able to run DirectX 9 titles at their full potential. In this review you'll notice that we make use of the almost final Detonator driver with build 52.16. From what I understand, this driver is now awaiting WHQL certification. Whether this will be the final driver released to the public, we don't know. What we do know is that the 52.16 driver is a huge improvement over the 45.23 series of drivers, and it's one of the best drivers that NVIDIA has made to date.
Fortunately, today we can bring you a full blown review on two of NVIDIA's latest products. The GeForce FX 5700 Ultra in the mid-range line-up which you probably know by it's codename NV36. Next to that in the steep 500 USD price range, we can see the GeForce FX 5950 Ultra which was developed under codename NV38. Both products simply have more computing power then their predecessors, and the bigger differences are be found in core, memory clock speeds and the all new cooling solution.
In the next pages, I'll present you an overview of the two new cards with the help of a huge photo shoot, big overview of the new drivers and then of course we'll dig into our benchmark suite where we have tested the cards in both RAW and quality setting 8x Anisotropic filtering + Anti aliasing at 4 levels. That's not it though, in the benchmark part we are going to compare the new cards with almost all other GeForce FX cards and we'll throw in a couple of Radeon 9x00 cards as well. So this will be a very competitive review on where exactly NVIDIA stands with it's new products.
Unfortunately you will not see any results on ATI's 9600 and 9800 XT product. Marketing from ATI Europe is not exactly fast with distributing it's samples at the moment and they did not send out the samples on time to us, in fact we received the 9800 XT today which was too late for this article.
Without further ado, lets start up this review.