I'll try to look at some of the features that AREN'T strictly marketing BS.
First of all, card is fast fast fast! I keep teasing about the benchmarks; you'll find them on the next page. GTS, NSR, TnL, FSAA, HDVP, etc aside, this is the fastest card available right now. I'm not quite sure HOW much faster it is over a Voodoo5 5500, since I haven't received one of those yet, but everyone I talk to says it is. So until the 4 chip Voodoo5 6000 comes out, this is as fast a card as you'll get.
S3TC works. As many of us found out when the beta Detonator 2's were 'leaked', S3TC gives you a nice speed boost in games like Quake 3. It does uglify the game a bit, but we want speed, dammit!
DDR is good. There's no doubt that if this card was using regular SDR ram (like the older GeForce 256 did), it would be significantly slower, especially in 32 bit applications.
The drivers are awesome. Who doesn't use Nvidia's Detonator drivers? They are easy to install, uninstall, and upgrade, and unlike typical manufacturer drivers, they don't take control and throw files all over your hard drive. Most manufacturer versions of the Detonators offer nothing new anyway, besides putting their logo in the background. Elsa does include an overclocking util, but with a simple registry hack, you can get the same thing (better, actually) with the reference drivers. And believe me, this is one card that can benefit from overclocking!
This is a VERY stable video card. I've had EVERY Nvidia card, starting with the Riva 128, and every 3dfx card (except the Voodoo Rush, and Voodoo5). 3dfx had better stability over Nvidia, especially when compared to the TNT/TNT2. Starting with the GeForce though, the NVidia cards have been WAY up there in stability. I haven't seen a crash, or any other weird anomaly yet!
It looks great. You have full 32 bit support (is that even an issue anymore?) and the 16 bit still looks awesome. If you want to see how bad 16 bit can get, check out our ATI Rage Fury Maxx review.
The Bad and the VERY Ugly
You knew this was coming... Fortunately, there isn't much to dwell upon with the Gladiac.
The first complaint I would have would be the price. Elsa suggests a retail price of $329 USD (down from $349 a week or so ago). Smart readers will know that you can use awesome search engines like IBuyer to find better prices (how about approximately $260?), but it is still quite a bit for many people.
FSAA sucks. Bad. I'm not saying the idea sucks, I am just saying that it doesn't work right just yet. I haven't seen full FSAA with the Voodoo5, so I can't comment on that, but I have seen it with the GeForce 2, and even when it IS working (very rare with D3D games) it looks like a blurry mess. Want to get an idea of what Half Life would look like on a Nintendo 64? Turn your FSAA all the way up, and have a look. Not only is it ugly, it is SLOW. I mean VERY slow. I didn't fully benchmark the card with FSAA (saving that for another FSAA article) but performance often reaches unplayable levels, even in low resolution.
Disagree with me on FSAA? Head to our forums and flame away! :)
Nothing else really stands out about this card to lower my opinion of it... If you ignore the marketing BS and look at the numbers, you'll see that this is just a good, fast, expensive video card.
How High Can You Go?
Do you like to overclock? Okay sit down and watch, you're in for a good show. First of all, my overclocking procedure only involved one small mod: better heatsink-chipset contact. Have a look:
You can go ahead and click on the image for a nice blurry high res shot of the contact between the HSF and the chipset (sorry, I had full screen anti-aliasing turned on all the way). As you can see, while it may not be as bad as some out there, the contact made on the HSF is not satisfactory for our purposes.
The heatsink is VERY easy to take off, even if it is glued on. All you have to do is slide a credit card under part of the heatsink (to protect the board) and use a knife to pry if off. Even a ferret could do that!
After taking off the stock heatsink, I cleaned the glue off, and sanded down the chipset a bit. I didn't lap all the way to the shiny part, but I did sand enough to even out the chip. I slapped on a Tennmax Lasagna Cooler (which performs well enough, but it's way overpriced) and was ready to go! None of those silly ram heatsinks were used.
I'll make the short story even shorter. We were able to get the card to run stable at a core clock/memory speed of 235/390. This is pretty significant, up from 200/333 (you benefit much more from overclocked ram than you do from an overclocked core), and led to some decent speed increases, as you'll now see. Would those silly ram heatsinks have helped me overclock the ram higher? Who knows, but I'm not exactly dying to find out... I might do if for you guys in the future though (yeah I like you that much). With some extra cooling, I should be able to get the core higher as well.
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