Duh Voodoo Man's GeforceFX 5900XT Review



MSI GeforceFX 5900XT-VTD128

No, I'm not referring to springtime, even though it is my favorite season. I'm talking about that period of time when the latest and greatest new video cards are about to hit the shelves, and you start to see some really good deals on the last generation of 3D video technology. With the imminent appearance of ATI's Radeon X800 and Nvidia's GeforceFX 6800 video cards, prices have been coming down on the Radeon 9800 and Nvidia 5900 series cards. Models that were pushing the $300 mark a few months ago are now tickling the $200 threshold....and even lower!

The case in point is a relatively recent addition to the Nvidia product lineup, the GeforceFX 5900XT. The $200 price point is considered a critical one in the 3D video adapter market, separating the higher volume mid-range cards from the more expensive high-end cards typically favored by the hardcore gamer with sufficient financial means to pay the price of admission. For the past several months, the mid-range market was dominated by the Radeon 9600 and GeforceFX 5700 series of cards. Typically priced in the $150 - $200 range, these cards offered solid 3D performance at a reasonable cost. While not up to the performance standards of their higher priced brethren, they would still run almost any game at reasonably high resolutions and visual quality settings and could satisfy the needs of most gamers.

But things have changed recently, with the appearance of the 5900XT. Basically a "downclocked" version of the pricier 5900/5950 Ultra cards, these cards would appear to offer extraordinary value. Several of the "big names" manufacture them, and they are widely available in the $175 - $200 price range, depending upon brand name and features. They use the same NV35 core technology and same memory bus architecture, but at somewhat lower clockspeeds, especially for the memory. These cards typically ship at 390MHz core and 700MHz memory, compared to 475/950 for Nvidia's current flagship cards, the 5950 Ultra. Slower, to be sure, but also at about half the price!

I saw an interesting comparison made at The Firing Squad between the old Geforce4 Ti4200 and the 5900XT, with regard to their relative positions in their respective product lineups. Without a doubt, the Ti4200 was a worthy "little brother" to the then-top-of-the-line Ti4600, really differing only in the core and memory clockspeeds. And I think it's very safe to say that the Ti4200 was a highly successful card, as value-conscious gamers bought them in huge numbers, often overclocking them to near Ti4600 speeds or even higher. If the 5900XT is capable of that same kind of "bang for the buck", then it's good news indeed for the 3D enthusiast on a budget!

So that's really the question on the table here: in the sub-$200 price range, does the 5900XT have what it takes to become the new "king of the mid-range vid cards"? Well, let's see if we can provide some answers....

   WHICH 5900XT TO TRY??   

When I started playing around with the idea of buying one of the 5900XT cards, I naturally headed over to my favorite online reseller, NewEgg.com. I quickly located a Chaintech card that was on sale for a mere $161, a very attractive deal. But I wasn't quite ready to move on it that day, and when I went back a couple of days later, the same card was up to $168. But what REALLY caught my eye was a refurbished MSI 5900XT that was being offered for $147. The Firing Squad article I'd read highlighted MSI's impressive and quiet cooler, plus the card included video-in capability, a rarity among the various 5900XT models. Another attractive feature was the very extensive software bundle (multiple games, applications & utilities) that MSI offers with the card. Taken all together, it was easy to understand why NewEgg listed the retail box MSI 5900XT for $191, making it among the most expensive of the 5900XT's they stock.

However, the refurbished card I had seen for $147 specifically said "OEM, Barebone", indicating that it was ONLY the video card itself, with none of the extras. Hey, fine by me! It was really the card itself I was interested in, and the $44 cost savings was a more than generous trade-off for the lack of bundled goodies. Even though refurbished cards are a bit riskier from the standpoint of potential problems, I felt experienced enough with PC hardware that this really wasn't a big concern for me. So I ordered it.

Imagine my surprise a couple of days later when I opened the FedEx package from NewEgg to find that it contained a COMPLETE RETAIL BOX MSI 5900XT-VTD128 video card, with the full array of bundled extras. Man, what a deal! Based upon markings on the box, the card had definitely been factory-reconditioned, but this was certainly no "OEM, Barebone" card! See photos of the card, accessories, and retail box below (courtesy of NewEgg.com):

MSI GeforceFX 5900XT-VTD128
(Click on individual photos to see larger version)

Top view
Angled view, showing backplate connectors
Bundled accessories & software
Retail box

Installation of the card was routine; the video drivers I installed were the currently available 56.72 release version of the Nvidia "ForceWare" reference drivers, available at the Nvidia driver download page. After confirming that all was well and the card was running smoothly and stably, it was time to start crankin' through the benchmarks....


Time to start bangin' out some numbers....