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Reviewed by: Carl Nelson [09.23.00]
Manufactured by: MSI
MSRP: $150


Bargain Hunters Rejoice!

By now, you know that there are about 3 million companies making their own card based on Nvidia's GeForce 2 MX chip.  And why not? We know that the GF2MX is an easy contender for the ultimate "wallet friendly" gaming video card! The problem with having so many manufacturers making the same card, is you will see a lot that are basically the same thing.  I don't think many companies have strayed from the reference design of ANY graphics chipset since Canopus with its Pure 3d II Voodoo2 card.  That may have been the best (albeit most expensive) Voodoo2 card ever available! I had one myself though, so I know the problems Canopus had with getting drivers out... They blamed 3dfx (then 3Dfx) for not helping them with the drivers, and 3dfx, well, I don't recall ever hearing a response from them at all!

Either way, you can see why video card manufacturers want to stick to reference design... It makes them infinitely easier to support and create drivers for.  More often than not, the drivers from the manufacturer are nothing more than the reference NVidia drivers with a new logo and an overclocking utility!

This is the first GF2MX that has hit the hardCOREware labs, so I can't personally attest, but from what I've seen, most of the GF2MX cards, no matter which company manufactures them, perform pretty much identical to one another.  None of them offer much of a software bundle, and the only thing that ever really sets them apart is a TV-Out port.  Some may offer VIVO (Video In Video Out) in the future, and the GF2MX chipset does support "TwinView" (similar to Matrox's DualHead - allowing two monitors on one video card), but so far I haven't seen any offering that.

The only thing really setting them apart seems to be the speed of the SDRAM used on the card (GeForce2 MX's use SDR ram by the way).

Reference Ram - or - I Really Need a New Camera

First of all, let me sincerely apologize for the crappy quality of the pictures used in this review (and others, if you look around).  My 2 year-old-model sub-1-megapixel Olympus Digital Camera just isn't cutting it... I think from now on, I'll head down to Moto's office and use his $1000 Olympus camera... Well, at least until I get my own :)

Until then, though, I guess we'll have to put up with this for now... Check out the ram on the StarForce 816:

If you look really carefully, you can see that MSI is using 6 ns. ram.  This is just right for the specified 166 Mhz clock speed.  Why bother mentioning it then? Some manufacturers are using 7 ns. ram, which will run just fine at 166 Mhz, but who knows how much further it will go if it is already overclocked? As you'll see, the MSI did quite well in that department :)

I Have To At Least MENTION The Specs

I know just as much as anyone how much you hate it when hardware reviewers use up an entire page (or TWO!) just to show you the specs you can easily check out yourself.  I will list a couple things though, and move on, just in case you aren't entirely familiar with the GeForce 2 MX.

The GF2MX is actually based on the same core as NVidia's current flagship product, the GeForce 2 GTS.  The difference though, is that the GF2MX only supports 2 rendering pipelines (the GF2GTS has 4).  Why not just stick with the original GeForce then? It also supported 4 rendering pipelines as well, right?

That's true, but the one of the big improvements the GF2 core had over the original GF was the ability to process 2 textures per pipeline in a single clock, where the GF could only process 1.

Long story short: The GeForce 2 MX, because of its enhanced chipset features and clock speed, has a higher fill rate than the original GeForce card.  Because it uses only SDR ram though, it will still be hampered by the low memory bandwidth, like the original SDR GeForce.  This means that the GeForce 2 MX is a replacement for the GeForce chipset.  In fact, I don't think you will be able to find an SDR GeForce card in stores for very long, if at all.  Nvidia now has basically the entire market covered: Low end, high performance graphics - GeForce 2 MX.  Middle end, high performance graphics - GeForce DDR.  High end, high performance graphics - GeForce 2 GTS.  And the ultimate for hardcore gamers: GeForce 2 GTS Ultra (coming soon).  3dfx who?

Back to the specs: here are some of the features of the GeForce 2 MX chipset:

  • It supports the NSR - Nvidia Shading Rasterizer - just as the GF2 GTS does.
  • Same T&L Engine too (though it will be slightly slower because of the lower clock speed)
  • Texture Compression (although we all know what that looks like!)
  • AGP4X Fast Writes
  • Etc Etc... That's all that's really important.

The Numbers

Curious exactly how the GF2MX compares to the GF2GTS and even the original GeForce on paper? Here's a small table for you.  These stats are all official from Nvidia.

GeForce 2 MX GeForce 2 GTS GeForce 256
Core Name NV11 NV15 NV10
Rendering Pipelines 2 4 4
Texels/Clock 2 2 1
Fill Rate (Texels/sec) 700 Million 1600 Million 480 Million
Core Clock Speed 175 Mhz 200 Mhz 120 Mhz
Memory Clock Speed 166 Mhz SDR 333 Mhz DDR 166 SDR/333 DDR
Memory Bandwidth 2.7 GB/sec 5.3 GB/sec 2.7 GB/4.8 GB/sec

There are the numbers for ya.   I highlighted the Fill rate numbers, because those are probably the most important overall.  This is of course forgetting about memory bandwidth, which is very important particularly in 32 bit applications (and who doesn't run 32 bit applications).

And Now - The Card Itself

Now it's time to throw some real numbers at you - BENCHMARKS! First off, here are the system specs, and our benchmarking process.  I'll make this real simple for you (again, no page wasted on showing you OUR specs!):

The System

Pentium 3 800 (100 Mhz Bus)
Asus CUV4X Motherboard (Via Apollo Pro 133z - reviewed here)
128 MB Mushkin PC150 Ram (review coming soon)
13.8 GB Maxtor 7200 RPM ATA/66 Hard Drive
Soundblaster Live! Value

The Software

Windows 98 SE
Via 4-in-1 4.24
NVidia 618 Detonator 3 Drivers
Mad Onion's 3DMark 2000
Quake 3 1.17 Timedemo 1 - ALL default settings at High Quality.  After that, only the bit rate and resolutions were changed

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