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MSI GeForce FX 5700 Ultra-TD128

MSI’s FX5700 Ultra addresses the performance concerns of the FX5600 series and is ready to take on ATi’s 9600XT!

[review_ad]Introduction


NVIDIA’s FX series of graphics GPU’s marks a welcome return to sensible naming schemes. After the confusion of the GeForce4 Ti and MX nomenclature, it’s comforting to know that 5200, 5600, 5700, 5800, and 5900 all mean the video card is progressing upwardly. And in keeping with tradition, NVIDIA has added the ‘U’ to the product mix, signaling a performance increase and the end of the line for the current FX lineup.

Our review card is the FX5700 Ultra-TD128 from Micro-Star International (MSI). The 5700U is NVIDIA’s attempt to atone for the under whelming 5600/5600U. The 5700U features the NV36 core at 475 MHz, 900 MHz DDR2 memory speed, and improved pixel shader performance courtesy of CineFX 2.0. While both the 5600/U and 5700U utilize a 128-bit memory interface, the 5700U is the first NVIDIA GPU to be built with IBM’s 0.13-micron manufacturing process. The 5700U sports 3 vertex shader pipelines compared to just 1 on the 5600/U. Anyone who has tried to play “Halo” with a 5600 should appreciate having triple the pixel power! In essence, the 5700U is a scaled-down 5950 Ultra and not in the least a hopped up 5600. And that’s a very good thing!

Features


The cut and paste section:

  • Graphics Core: 256-bit
  • Memory Interface: 128-bit
  • Memory Bandwidth: 14.4GB/sec.
  • Fill Rate: 1.9 billion pixels/sec.
  • Vertices/sec. 356 million
  • Memory Data Rate: 900 MHz
  • Pixels per Clock (peak): 4
  • Textures per Pixel: 16
  • RAMDACs 400 MHz
  • Video out, DVI support
  • Full versions of “Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon”, “Duke Nukem Manhattan Project”, and “Morrowind”
  • Demo versions of “The Sum Of All Fears”, “IL-2 Sturmovik”, “Serious Sam 2 lite”, “Rally Trophy”, “Beam Breakers”, ” Zax The Alien Hunter” and “Oni”
  • MSI Media Center Deluxe II release 2:
    • Multimedia Center II
    • Virtual Drive 7.0 Professional Version
    • Restore It 3 Professional Version
    • MSI 5.1 ChannelDVD Player
    • MSI Live Update Series (Live VGA BIOS and Live VGA Driver)
    • GoodMem
    • LockBox
    • WMIinfor
    • ThinSoft BeTwin
    • MSI Secure DOC
    • E-Color
    • Adobe Acrobat Reader
    • Trend Micro PC-Cillin 2000
    • Microsoft DirectX 8.1

Like its big brothers, the 5700 Ultra requires a separate power connector. Should you forget, or accidentally use a lower voltage connector than necessary, a helpful warning sign will inform you when Windows starts up that you lack power and the card has been underclocked for its protection. Naturally, we did this on purpose as a designed test and not because we had a brain phart (a-hem).

The 5700 Ultra is a full-size card. If you have miscellaneous parts protruding into the space of your AGP slot, be forewarned that this card does not have the smaller form factor of the 5600. It does, however, have a very nice red PCB that just so happens to match the red on my Biostar motherboard.

Unlike the infamous leaf blower first generation FX cards, the MSI 5700 Ultra features a quiet fan. There was no audible noise from the card outside of my Antec case.

Basically what you get in the box is standard fare for video cards these days: Video out cables, a DVI adapter, and some shovelware. Frankly, the software bundle is disappointing. MSI has in the past provided pretty good bundled software. I was reasonably pleased with the bundle I got with my last MSI card, a Ti4800 SE. Unfortunately, it’s the exact same bundle that came with the 5700 Ultra! The worst part about is the inclusion of DirectX 8.1, and no version of DX9. Nothing like dating yourself…

If MSI does not wish to go to the expense of providing current generation software, then they should just drop the pretense of providing value and ship the cards without software at lower price.



Performance


This review marks the debut of a new benchmarking utility at Bjorn3D: Bench’emAll. BenchemAll is a utility that allows the time-constrained reviewer to execute benchmark runs in batch mode. While we’ve used various utilities in the past to batch benchmark a single game, this is the first program we’ve used that lets you queue up many games and programs all at once and let fly. Supported games and benchmark programs include “Halo”, “Call of Duty”, “Unreal Tournament 2003″, “3DMark03″, and quite a few others. While this isn’t a review of BenchemAll, we were nonetheless very impressed with its ease of use, reliability, and results.

The MSI 5700 Ultra was compared directly to a new Sapphire ATi RADEON 9600XT. The 9600XT is the 5700U’s closest competitor in ATi’s lineup, and it boasts a core speed of 500 MHz. It must be noted that this particular 9600XT uses passive cooling (a heatsink) and thus its memory core is clocked at 600 MHz as opposed to a fan-cooled Sapphire XT, which is clocked at 650 MHz (600 is the ATi spec, but Sapphire bumps it up a notch). This will lower the scores of the 9600XT Ultimate, but not by a substantial amount. It’s a given that the 5700U will wallop the old 5600, but how will it compare to a direct competitor?

Test System:

  • Motherboard: Biostar nForce2 M7NCD Pro
  • Processor: AMD Athlon XP 2500+ (Barton)
  • Memory: 256MB Corsair XMS PC3200 DDR SDRAM, 256MB OCZ PC3500 DDR SDRAM
  • Hard Drive: Western Digital 120GB ATA100 HDD
  • Operating System: Microsoft Windows XP (with Service Pack 1)

Video Card Drivers:

  • ATI Drivers: Catalyst 4.1
  • NVIDIA Drivers: ForceWare 53.03
  • DirectX Version: 9.0b

All tests were run with maximum settings!

Benchmark Programs

AquaMark3

Video Card
FPS
1024×768 – NoAA / NoAF
MSI FX5700 Ultra 29.5
Sapphire RADEON 9600XT 27.9
1024×768 – 4xAA / 8xAF
MSI FX5700 Ultra 16.8
Sapphire RADEON 9600XT 22.5
1280×1024 – NoAA / NoAF
MSI FX5700 Ultra 24.6
Sapphire RADEON 9600XT 23.3
1280×1024 – 4xAA / 8xAF
MSI FX5700 Ultra 11.9
Sapphire RADEON 9600XT 16.8
1600×1200 – NoAA / NoAF
MSI FX5700 Ultra 19.7
Sapphire RADEON 9600XT 18.5
1600×1200 – 4xAA / 8xAF
MSI FX5700 Ultra 9.1
Sapphire RADEON 9600XT 10.8

AquaMark3 is Massive Development’s commercial benchmarking program that utilizes the game engine from the eye candy games “AquaNox” and “AquaNox 2: Revelation”. It’s a beautiful demo and obviously a real silicon buster. Both cards performed similarly, although neither one was particularly awesome.

Games

Splinter Cell (version 1.2b )

Video Card
FPS
1024×768 – NoAA / NoAF
MSI FX5700 Ultra 33.9
Sapphire RADEON 9600XT 35.5
1024×768 – 4xAA / 8xAF
MSI FX5700 Ultra 31.9
Sapphire RADEON 9600XT 34.2
1280×1024 – NoAA / NoAF
MSI FX5700 Ultra 28.7
Sapphire RADEON 9600XT 29.5
1280×1024 – 4xAA / 8xAF
MSI FX5700 Ultra 26.7
Sapphire RADEON 9600XT 27.4
1600×1200 – NoAA / NoAF
MSI FX5700 Ultra 23.3
Sapphire RADEON 9600XT 23.5
1600×1200 – 4xAA / 8xAF
MSI FX5700 Ultra 21.8
Sapphire RADEON 9600XT 22.1

The cards were extremely close in this real game competition, with the 9600XT winning out by a few FPS. They were taxed, but not beaten down like they were with the benchmarking program.

Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness (version 49)


Video Card
FPS
1024×768 – NoAA / NoAF
MSI FX5700 Ultra 18
Sapphire RADEON 9600XT 35.6
1024×768 – 4xAA / 8xAF
MSI FX5700 Ultra 11.8
Sapphire RADEON 9600XT 17
1280×1024 – NoAA / NoAF
MSI FX5700 Ultra 12.3
Sapphire RADEON 9600XT 21.5
1280×1024 – 4xAA / 8xAF
MSI FX5700 Ultra 7.8
Sapphire RADEON 9600XT 10.3
1600×1200 – NoAA / NoAF
MSI FX5700 Ultra 9.7
Sapphire RADEON 9600XT 15.5
1600×1200 – 4xAA / 8xAF
MSI FX5700 Ultra 4.4
Sapphire RADEON 9600XT 14.5

How about some more controversy? The v49 patch of the latest installment in the life of Lara Croft introduced a benchmarking demo. It was promptly pulled out of the subsequent patch a few weeks later. No official explanation was given, but the rumors on the Web were that NVIDIA cried foul over the scores its cards received. Given the relative parity of our tests, NVIDIA was probably right to complain. Whether it was intentional or not, this particular demo isn’t very useful for measuring NVIDIA cards. The fact that the game sucks is another strike against it, too.

Halo (version 1.03)


Video Card
FPS
1024×768 – NoAA / NoAF
MSI FX5700 Ultra 37.7
Sapphire RADEON 9600XT 36.9
1024×768 – 4xAA / 8xAF
MSI FX5700 Ultra 34.3
Sapphire RADEON 9600XT 26.9
1280×1024 – NoAA / NoAF
MSI FX5700 Ultra 26.9
Sapphire RADEON 9600XT 26.5
1280×1024 – 4xAA / 8xAF
MSI FX5700 Ultra 23.3
Sapphire RADEON 9600XT 18
1600×1200 – NoAA / NoAF
MSI FX5700 Ultra 19.2
Sapphire RADEON 9600XT 18.7
1600×1200 – 4xAA / 8xAF
MSI FX5700 Ultra 16.8
Sapphire RADEON 9600XT 11.98

Halo cut off the original 9600 at the knees, especially with slower CPUs. The demo included in the game uses game engine-generated cutscenes and isn’t quite as brutal as the game itself, but it still packs a punch. The 5700U performed respectably well and managed to take every test, albeit by a few FPS.

Unreal Tournament 2003 Botmatch (version 2225)


Video Card
FPS
1024×768 – NoAA / NoAF
MSI FX5700 Ultra 57.5
Sapphire RADEON 9600XT 57.2
1024×768 – 4xAA / 8xAF
MSI FX5700 Ultra 52.1
Sapphire RADEON 9600XT 50.4
1280×1024 – NoAA / NoAF
MSI FX5700 Ultra 60.3
Sapphire RADEON 9600XT 58.7
1280×1024 – 4xAA / 8xAF
MSI FX5700 Ultra 38.8
Sapphire RADEON 9600XT 35.7
1600×1200 – NoAA / NoAF
MSI FX5700 Ultra 50.5
Sapphire RADEON 9600XT 47.7
1600×1200 – 4xAA / 8xAF
MSI FX5700 Ultra 24.8
Sapphire RADEON 9600XT 18.5

Going back to a somewhat older game like UT2K3 gives the cards a chance to breathe and churn out some frames. Neither disappoints, even with all settings maximized. Again, the 5700U comes out slightly on top.


But wait, there’s more!

If frames per second were the only measure of success, then the 5700 Ultra would be the winner by a slight margin. However, we must also take into account driver stability and visual quality. I’m pleased to report that both cards performed flawlessly during testing and casual use. There were no compatibility issues or funny pixel happenings going on.

Visually, however, I was quite surprised to detect a difference between the two cards. This is the first RADEON card I’ve tested, and while I’ve read in other reviews that ATi often has a slight edge in visual quality, I didn’t really expect to notice it. However, back-to-back comparisons clearly showed a small, but appealing, difference in image sharpness and color depth with the 9600XT. Colors were more vivid and deep with the ATi card. The 5700U certainly looks nice, but the 9600XT wins the visual prize.

Conclusion


The FX5700 Ultra is certainly successful in addressing the shortcomings of the FX5600 cards. It fits nicely in the middle ground between the price leader FX5200’s and the top end FX cards. As usual with NVIDIA graphics cards, it is ultra-stable and compatible. Head-to-head tests with the ATi 9600XT confirm that essentially the two cards are even in terms of performance. The 9600XT has a slight visual edge, however, at least to my eyes.

MSI is less successful with the bundling options. It does come with the requisite cables and connectors, but the bundled software is of little value. It appears the buyer is paying a premium for this bundle, because a quick Pricegrabber search revealed that the MSI was the most expensive of the five FX5700 Ultras available.

Regardless of price and software reservations, the MSI FX5700 Ultra-TD128 performs very well for its class and against its competition. We award it 8 out of 10 Bear Paws.

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