NVIDIA TNT2 Model 64 card comparison - ASUS AGP-V3800 Magic and Leadtek S325Review date: 5 September 1999.
Last modified 03-Dec-2011.
The NVIDIA TNT2 Model 64 cards are coming thick and fast. Most of the makers of regular TNT2 cards are also making a budget card using this similar but lower powered chipset, and they're selling pretty well, too. Some of these sales are to people who don't know they're not buying a "real" TNT2 and think they're just getting a huge bargain (a Model 64 board with 32 megabytes of video RAM sells for 60 to 80% of the price of a 16Mb full TNT2), but if you know what you're getting, the Model 64 still represents decent value.
I've previously checked out a yum cha "Butterfly" Model 64 card (read the review here), and now I've got a couple from more recognised manufacturers.
Leadtek's WinFast 3D S325 retails for $169 (Australian dollars) for the plain version I tested and $205 for a version with video out.
ASUS' AGP-V3800 Magic is $219 for the plain version, but just $30 more buys you their VR-100 LCD 3D glasses, as well. The Butterfly currently sells for $189.
What you get
All three Model 64 cards have 32Mb of video memory, which is kind of silly, since practically no current games need this much texture RAM. I'm sure many buyers get 32Mb cards rather than 16Mb ones on the grounds that a 64Mb Windows box is faster than a 32Mb one so the same must be true of graphics cards, but it ain't so. I haven't seen any 16Mb Model 64 cards yet, though, so you're stuck with tons of memory.
The ASUS and Leadtek boards both have proper heatsink-and-fan chip coolers on top of the small but warm main chip; the Butterfly only has a heatsink.
The Butterfly board has no bundled software besides its driver CD-ROM. The Leadtek comes with drivers and a DVD player software, which will be of limited use to you unless you also have a DVD-ROM drive. With the more expensive V3800 Magic, you get the games Extreme-G 2 and Turok 2, both of which work with the VR-100 kit, which I also checked out.
I've looked at the VR-100 glasses before (check out the review here) and they're better now than they were then, because the software has been updated so you can adjust the still rather mystifying 3D settings without quitting your game. They still only work with Direct3D games, not OpenGL, and the glasses still can't completely block the view from one eye while the other sees its half of the image, so there's still an inescapable ghosting problem. But for $30, they're a darn good 3D solution. If you don't want the bundled games, though, the V3800 Magic is perilously close to the price of low end full TNT2s like the 16Mb Diamond Viper V770 (reviewed in the comparison here, and currently retailing for $249 Australian).
Installing the Leadtek card was simple enough. Plug into AGP slot, power up computer, install drivers. Its stock drivers worked fine, but for a basic card like this you'll probably do better to download the latest Detonator reference drivers from NVIDIA (here) and use those. You only need the proprietary drivers when you're using fancy extra features like, for example, the ASUS card's 3D glasses.
The V3800 Magic was slightly more complex to install, but only because of the VR-100's adapter board, which takes up a rear panel slot - any slot will do, since the little board doesn't actually plug into a slot on the motherboard, but just hooks to the PC's power supply with an included cable on the inside, and to the V3800 Magic on the outside with a passthrough cable like those used for Voodoo 1 and 2 cards. ASUS' more expensive cards have the 1/8th inch socket for the glasses cable built in, but you need the extra board to use the glasses use it with the simpler cards.
Since all of the Model 64s are AGP cards, you'll need an AGP slot, not to mention an AGP-aware operating system like the final version of Windows 95, or any version of 98.
When upgrading from some other video cards, particularly PCI ones, to an AGP board, you may need to change to the standard Windows VGA driver before yanking your old card, in order to effect the changeover without having to deal with Safe Mode restarts.
Winding 'em up
Like other cards in the TNT family, the Model 64 has two independently set clock speeds, one for the RAM and one for the core. The stock speed for both the ASUS and Leadtek cards was 125 and 150MHz for core and RAM, respectively, versus 125 and 143MHz for the Butterfly board.
It's very easy to crank up the clock speed on TNT cards of all flavours with several tools, my favourite of which is TNTClk. The amount of cranking they'll stand depends on their build quality, the kind of RAM they have and how well cooled the main chip is.
The Butterfly card may have a low stock RAM clock speed, but it can tolerate an outrageous RAM overclock - I took it to 240MHz, and only stopped there because that's as far as TNTClk will go (the slider goes to 243, but TNTClk hangs if you do that).
Since the V3800 Magic has the exact same 6nS LGS SDRAM chips as the Butterfly board, I immediately gave it the same hyper-overclock - and instantly scrambled my screen. On the Butterfly board, that RAM can run stupidly fast; on the ASUS one, it can't. When you've slightly over-overclocked your TNT card's RAM, you'll see little twinkly pixels on various surfaces in your 3D games. When you've massively over-overclocked it, your computer will just need a dashed good rebooting.
Trial and error revealed that in an adequately ventilated case on a cool day, the V3800 Magic showed no glitches at a rather more modest 170MHz RAM clock, and the decent cooler on the main chip made it stable at a core speed of 160MHz - versus the lousy 140MHz which was all I could wring out of the fan-less Butterfly board.
As usual, I checked only 5MHz speed increments, and I could probably have managed a megahertz or three more on both figures. The difference between 160MHz and 163MHz, though, is unlikely to be better than 1%, and so I can't be bothered hunting it. It's a good idea to sit a little down from the redline, anyway, so that an unusually warm day doesn't give you a crashing PC.
The S325 board has a different make of RAM from the other two. It showed small glitches at 170MHz but was fine at 165MHz. Which, coincidentally, was also the top speed the S325's core clock could be set to for reliable operation. A bit more core speed and a bit less RAM speed than the ASUS board; both the ASUS and the Leadtek lose by a mile to the Butterfly in RAM overclockability but beat it handily in core speed, no doubt because of their superior chip coolers.
The ridiculous RAM speed the Butterfly board was happy with does not indicate a proportionally better benchmark score, but it does still win in the WinTune tests, on a 450MHz overclocked Celeron machine running at 1024 by 768 resolution, 75Hz refresh rate, 16 bit colour. The Butterfly's unusually low stock RAM speed means it loses to the other cards before overclocking, but afterwards it's significantly ahead.
The Quake 2 frame rate tests, run with the cards overclocked on the same machine at the same resolution, show little difference between the three boards. There's nothing in it between the Leadtek and ASUS cards, and the Butterfly is marginally faster for the less demanding Demo2, and a shade slower for the more complex Massive1 and Crusher benchmark demos. The difference is slight, and all three cards turn in a perfectly acceptable performance; none of them are in the same league as even a non-overclocked proper TNT2 board for anything except Crusher (which tests the CPU more than it tests the video card), but all of them deliver perfectly playable frame rates at 1024 by 768, when driven by a faster-than-400MHz processor.
All of these cards deliver roughly the same performance, although the Butterfly would probably win by a decent margin if you stuck a fan on its heatsink (which is easier said than done). They don't, however, offer amazing value for money, possibly because they've all got the not-very-useful 32Mb of RAM. By the time games can routinely make use of this much video memory, NVIDIA's recently announced GeForce super-card will be out, possibly along with similarly specified offerings from 3Dfx and other makers. There'll probably still plenty of Model 64 cards on the shelves then, but I wouldn't be surprised if they'd been pushed to half their current price by superseded TNT2s and Voodoo 3 boards.
The V3800 Magic with the VR-100 add-on is the cheapest way to get into LCD 3-D tinkering that I know of; the VR-100 glasses might not be very good, but you really can't complain, for the price. If exploring your headache threshold isn't all that important to you, though, there's no reason not to buy the cheaper Leadtek or Butterfly boards instead.
If you've got to buy a video card right now, the Model 64 is decently fast and not too expensive, but a proper TNT2 with 16Mb of RAM is somewhat better value. If you don't have to buy right now, don't; everything gets cheaper all the time, and the Model 64 is not going to get any more exciting as time goes by.