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MSI GeForce FX 5600-VTDR128

The MSI FX5600-VTR128 is a quiet card, of reasonable size, which does NOT need extra power or an adjacent PCI slot and it comes with an excellent bundle of goodies.

[review_ad] Introduction


I’m sure many of you are looking for a reasonably-priced DirectX 9 and OpenGL 2.0 capable graphics card, since games like Doom3 and Tron2 are right around the corner. Those are only a couple of the many games (slated for release later this year), which will be able to take full advantage of an FX-class video card.

It’s possible you may have been waiting for prices to come down. If you are looking for something in the under $200 price range (on-line), you’ll definitely want to take a closer look at this card.

The video card came in a great big, heavy, cardboard box. As you will see in a later photo, the box was crammed full of CDs and other goodies. Anyway, here’s what the box looks like:

And this is what the card looks like:

This is a quiet card, of reasonable size, which does NOT need extra power or an adjacent PCI slot.

And now some handy-dandy, new and improved, instant article filler, straight from the manufacture’s web site: ;-)

Specification

FX5600-VTDR128

Video Output Function
TV-out (S-Video connector)
DVI Connector
Video_in (Composite Video)

Chipset: NVIDIA GeForce FX5600 Memory
128MB DDR2 SDRAM

Chipset Features

◊ CineFX Shading Architecture

  • Support for DX 9.0 Pixel/Vertex Shader 2.0+
  • Very long pixel programs up to 1024 instructions
  • Very long vertex programs with up to 256 static instructions and up to 65536 instructions executed before termination
  • Looping and subroutines with up to 256 loops per vertex program
  • Subroutines in shader programs
  • Dynamic flow control
  • Conditional write masking
  • Conditional execution
  • Procedural shading
  • Full instruction set for vertex and pixel programs
  • Z-correct bump-mapping
  • Hardware-accelerated shadow effects with shadow buffers
  • Two-sided stencil
  • Programmable matrix palette skinning
  • Keyframe animation
  • Custom lens effects: fish eye, wide angle, fresnel effects, water refraction

    ◊ High-Performance, High-Precision, 3D Rendering Engine

  • 8 pixels per clock rendering engine
  • 128-bit, studio-quality floating point precision through the entire graphics pipeline
  • Native support for 128-bit floating point, 64-bit floating point and 32-bit integer rendering modes
  • Up to 16 textures per pass
  • Support for sRGB texture format for gamma textures
  • DirectX and S3TC texture compression

    ◊ High-Performance 2D Rendering Engine

  • Optimized for 32-, 24-, 16-, 15- and 8-bpp modes
  • True-color, 64×64 hardware cursor with alpha
  • Multi-buffering (double, triple or quad) for smooth animation and video playback
  • True-color, 64×64 hardware cursor with alpha

    ◊ Intellisample Technology

  • Blistering-fast antialiasing performance
  • Adaptive texture filtering
  • Support for advanced loss-less compression algorithms for both color and z data
  • Fast Z-clear

    ◊ Advanced Display Pipeline with Full nView Capabilities

  • Dual, 400MHz RAMDACs for display resolutions up to and including 2048×1536@85Hz
  • Integrated NTSC/PAL TV encoder support resolutions up to 1024×768 without the need for panning with built-in Macrovision copy protection
  • Video Mixing Renderer (VMR) supports multiple video windows with full quality and features in each window
  • DVD and HDTV-ready MPEG-2 decoding up to 1920x1080i resolutions
  • Dual DVO ports for interfacing to external TMDS transmitters and external HDTV encoders
  • Support for dual-link DVI for compatibility with next-generation flat panel displays with resolutions greater than 1600×1200 without the need for reduced blanking

    ◊ Digital Vibrance control (DVC) 3.0

  • DVC color controls
  • DVC image sharpening controls

    ◊ Rocket Science For a System-Level Solution

  • 0.13u process technology for higher levels of integration and higher operating clock speeds
  • Copper vias and wiring
  • Advanced thermal monitoring and thermal management
  • AGP 8X including Fast Writes and sideband addressing

    ◊ Operation Systems and API support

  • Windows® XP / 2000 / Me / 98 / 95
  • Complete DirectX support, including DirectX 9.0 and lower
  • Full OpenGL 1.4 and lower

    ◊ Performance

  • GPU Core Clock: 325MHz, Memory Clock: 550MHz
  • Memory Bandwidth: 11.2GB/sec.
  • Fill Rate: 1.4 billion texels/sec.
  • Vertices per Second: 88 million

    Here’s a comparison chart of the MSI’s (non-Ultra) GeForce FX product line:


    Feature FX 5900
    FX 5800
    FX 5600
    FX 5200
    CineFX Engine Yes
    Yes
    Yes
    Yes
    Intellisample Technology Yes
    Yes
    Yes
    N/A
    DirectX 9 Yes
    Yes
    Yes
    Yes
    AGP 8X
    8X/4X
    8X/4X
    8X/4X
    UDA Yes
    Yes
    Yes
    Yes
    Process 0.13u
    0.13u
    0.13u
    0.15u
    Pixel / Clock 8
    8
    4
    4
    Memory DDR
    DDR II
    DDR
    DDR
    RAMDAC 400
    400
    400
    350


    The Card


    I really like the 2-speed fan. This board is very quiet in 2D (regular Windows use). It’s fairly quiet in 3D (not loud enough to be annoying). Still I wonder how useful the 2D setting will be in the future, when Microsoft releases “Longhorn”, the 3D version of Windows. I assume all of NVIDIA’s high end boards will need to run full blast all the time. In which case, the MSI FX5600 is a much better choice, compared to a “leaf blower” model.

    The board size is reasonable; it’s not extremely long and it does not take up the adjacent PCI slot. The board is sturdy too. (Don’t try the following “test” at home!)

    While helping Bryan test the OCZ ULTRA II thermal paste, I somehow did not properly re-attach the CPU heatsink, which fell off a few days later! The heavy, all-copper cooler fell directly onto the FX5600; luckily the heatsink hit the copper heat spreader on the back of the video card. No damage was done. I was using the system at the time, heard the THUNK, and saw MotherboardMonitor jump to 60° C, when my system turned itself off. Also, as luck would have it, my Biostar M7NCG motherboard has built-in thermal protection, which saved my Athlon 1900+ from burning up.

    The MSI FX5600 even has a TWIN BIOS feature to let you recover from a bad Video BIOS flash and includes a Windows BIOS Flash program to make this task easier. (Still, I would hope no one would ever need either of these features, but it’s nice to have the added safety of a back-up BIOS, just in case something awful happens like the power goes out while you’re flashing the card.)


    I like the quiet, all-copper cooler.


    Notice all the yellow QA (Quality Assurance) stickers on the back of the card.


    The Bundle


    I was shocked at the amount of goodies that came with this board: 11 CDs, DVI-I / VGA Adapter, TV-Out / Video-In 1-to-4 Connecting Cable and Infrared Remote Receiver, a remote control, and even a case badge. Several of the games are ones I am actually interested in, but never got around to buying, as opposed to the games (if any) that included with most video cards. The CDs came packed in 2 CD folders, but since the folders are very flimsy (and the CDs tend to fall out), you’ll want to put the important CDs in some other (more protective) container. Also, a piece of double-sided tape would have been useful for the remote IR receiver, so that it could be more easily mounted.


    Look at the size of this bundle!

    You can find a list of what’s on the 11 CDs, in addition to a lot of other info, on MSI’s product page

    The manual is quite thick, but it covers MSI’s entire line of FX cards and much of the manual is devoted to describing the specifications and package contents for each card. The hardware section is decent, although the remote control is not covered and the paragraph on the video-in/video-out dongle does not document the “Safe / Work” switch. The software section only covers driver installation and use; the software on the other 10 CDs is not covered.

    Unfortunately, the only game I’ve had time to play (so far) is the Duke Nukem Manhattan Project game, which crashed on me numerous times. It crashed even on the GeForce4 Ti4200, so it must be a problem with the game (or the Detonator drivers) and not a problem specifically with the MSI FX5600.

    Testing


    Video-Out Test

    The MSI FX5600 has greatly improved video-out, when compared to the output from an MSI nForce1 motherboard with an internal GeForce2 MX. In 640×480, Windows text is not exactly readable, but it was clear enough to be able to navigate to the Start button and run WinDVD.

    I did run into an anomaly while hooking up the system to a LCD TV projector. Each time I connected RGB, S-Video, or Video-out to the projector, the computer would reset. I’m assuming that it’s a grounding problem and has nothing to do with this card, but it’s not reassuring. Later I noticed that there is an undocumented switch on the video dongle, labeled Safe / Work T-BIOS, which perhaps should have been in the “safe” position, instead of “work”. Unfortunately, due to publishing time constraints, I am unable to retest with the switch in the other position.

    There was a solid black rectangle in WinDVD where the video image should be, when using S-Video or Video-out. (Everything was fine when the LCD projector was hooked up to the VGA connector.) I’ve had the exact same problem with an ATI product in the past (which turned out to be a simple Display Settings issue). I searched the MSI website and found this notice in their FAQ, indicating that I may need to flash the card’s BIOS.

    Video-In Test

    I’m sorry that the subject matter of the video-in test leaves much to be desired, but every VCR tape I tried to snap a shot of has a big white bar running down the middle of the frame. (It looks perfectly fine on-screen.) However, both video and still frame captures have the white bar. (I think it’s some sort of VCR tape copy-protection scheme.) I could capture TV signals without the bar, but my TV reception is poor (and therefore unsuitable for a quality test), so I continued search for a better solution. I discovered that I actually could capture video from the VCR, as long as the movie has not yet started. Here’s a couple of sample frames:


    Click for full-size image


    I think the white bar is some sort of VCR copy protection. Click for full-size image.

    With the exception of the white bar that blocked half the image, I would rate the video capture as good, since it looks about the same on my TV. If you have higher quality video sources, compared to my ageing VCR, I’m fairly certain that your image quality will be better than my sample above.

    Infrared Remote Test

    There’s a nifty infrared remote that comes with this (and many other MSI cards). Unfortunately, I was unable to get it to work properly. I think it’s because I’m running WinMe. I got an error while installing the MSI Media Center Deluxe II program, which (even though the manual fails to mention it!) is required for using the infrared remote control. The Media Center software installation failed, since the WINDEx.dll failed to “properly self-register” and then I got another error message, which indicated that the version of Microsoft Media Player 9.0 included was only compatible with WindowsXP and Windows2K.

    Since I run WindowsMe, I guess I’m out of luck. I tried it anyway. Whenever I press a button on the remote, I get the following error message:

    That’s exactly what happens when I try to run the MSI Media Center Deluxe II program as well. I’m going to test this (in the future) on a WindowsXP machine. Check back later for an update (here in this article).

    Benchmarks


    Test System Configuration

    • AMD AthlonXP 1900+
    • Corsair 512 MB 3200 CAS2 DDR
    • FX5600-VTDR128 – 128 MB
    • NVIDIA reference GeForce4 Ti4200 – 64 MB
    • Drivers: 44.03 (DetFX drivers)

    I ran a few benchmarks on the GeForce4 Ti4200 to make sure that the DetFX (ver. 44.03) drivers were not slowing down older architecture boards. In some cases, the 44.03 drivers were nearly twice as fast (on the Ti4200) as the older 41.09 drivers were.

    There’s been a lot of discussion about “cheating” in the DetFX (version 44.03) drivers, especially when it comes to the 3DMark2003 benchmark, so while I’ve done limited testing of this board using that benchmark, I’ve chosen not to publish the results. I also ran a lot of other benchmarks, like Quake3 and ChameleonMark; I only tested at one or two resolutions (just to make sure they ran correctly on this board). However, I chose to omit those results for brevity, since the results are quite similar to the other scores I’m presenting here. (I’m getting tired of endless benchmarks in reviews, aren’t you?)

    One thing I did notice, is that the 44.03 drivers fixed a shadow bug in UT2003 Demo. On the outdoor level, sometimes the bots had shadows projected upwards into the trees instead of downward onto the ground. I consistently saw the bug with the version 41.09 drivers, but it’s now been fixed.

    If you’re constrained by your CPU, like I am, antialiasing and anisotropic filtering can be practically free with the MSI FX5600, since the video card is waiting around for the CPU to “catch up” anyway. That means you might as well turn on the high quality settings, and perhaps even lock to V-Sync to remove “tearing” artifacts. One older game I still play (Parsec) looks great at 1024×768 8xAA 2xAF. I get 100 fps, with V-sync ON. I still like to test with Parsec because it makes tearing obvious and therefore looks MUCH better with V-Sync enabled. It also benefits greatly from antialiasing.


    3DMark2001SE – Build 330

    Setting: Default – NoAA, NoAF, Quality Mode
    Setting: 4xAA, 8xAF, Quality Mode
    Setting: NoAA, NoAF, Quality Mode
    Setting: 4xAA, 8xAF, Quality Mode
    Setting: NoAA, NoAF, Quality Mode
    Setting: 4xAA, 8xAF, Quality Mode
    Setting: NoAA, NoAF, Quality Mode
    Setting: 4xAA, 8xAF, Quality Mode
    Setting: Default – NoAA, NoAF, Quality Mode
    Setting: 4xAA, 8xAF, Quality Mode
    Setting: NoAA, NoAF, Quality Mode
    Setting: 4xAA, 8xAF, Quality Mode

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