ASUS AGP-V7700 Deluxe GeForce2 GTS graphics cardReview date: 16 August 2000. Last modified 03-Dec-2011.
It's hard to go past NVIDIA's GeForce2 GTS chipset for top-end Windows PC 3D graphics performance at the moment. But, like other NVIDIA graphics chipsets, the GeForce2 GTS powers a pile of different graphics cards.
They're often not that different, though. They've all got pretty much the same raw performance - some can be wound up a bit further above stock speed than others, but the difference is trivial. They're all AGP cards and capable of the 4X maximum AGP speed mode, too, though the real performance difference this gives over 2X on current systems is very close to zero, and 2X isn't much better than 1X either. And they pretty much all have 32 megabytes of video memory, though some pricey units have 64Mb, which can actually make a difference in games with tons and tons of texture data, but still often doesn't.
But there are differences. Some GeForce2 boards have extra video outputs, some have video input, some have further fancy options. And some have, well, everything.
The ASUS AGP-V7700 Deluxe is a fine example of the whistles-and-bells school of graphics card feature-encrustation. If you just want a plain ultra-fast video card, you don't want this - or any of ASUS' earlier "Deluxe" boards, for that matter, which add similar extras to other NVIDIA chipsets.
But if you want all of the extras at a surprisingly good price, ASUS' flagship card could be just what you're after.
The V7700 Deluxe costs $AU704 delivered. Which is a lot for a graphics card, but not actually all that steep for a GeForce2. Basic GeForce2 GTS cards are hovering around the $AU600 mark - $AU630, for the "Pure" variant of the V7700, which has nothing but an ordinary VGA output. So you're not paying much for all of the extra bits in the Deluxe package. In the past, the price difference between plain and Deluxe versions of ASUS cards has been a lot bigger.
OK, let's get the shiny bit out of the way.
All of the ASUS V7700-series boards sport a neat little round chip cooler. The Deluxe version has a chromed one. It won't work any better, but then again it doesn't need to. GeForce2s run pleasingly cool compared with the earlier GeForce chip, and so pretty much any old chip cooler will do the job.
Most GeForce2 GTS boards exhibit a certain amount of cookie-cutter similarity, because they're all based on the same reference design. Pretty much all of them have 32Mb of RAM, and some have TV out, but the TV out option's part of the reference design, so boards without it just have empty spots.
The V7700D looks significantly different, with plenty of extra componentry to support the extra ins and outs. Which brings us to the back panel connectors.
From right to left, you're looking at the yellow RCA composite video output, the standard "S-Video" Y/C video output for funkier display devices that understand Y/C, the ordinary blue 15 pin monitor output, the combination Y/C and composite video input, and the 1/8 inch connector for the included 3D glasses, of which more in a moment.
The seven pin combination video input works in the same way as similar combination output connectors on other cards. An S-Video lead will plug right in as normal, and a short adaptor cable's included with a plug on one end to match the extra pin-holes and connect them up to a standard RCA composite socket on the other end of the cable.
There's also a pair of video cables - one composite, one S-Video - included. They're not long cables, but most video card manufacturers are too stingy to give you any.
Like other ASUS "Deluxe" cards, the V7700 comes with their big, chunky LCD shutter-glasses, which let you play your games in 3D by very rapidly blacking out each side in turn, in synchrony with rapidly switching images on the monitor. Each eye thus gets to see a view of the game world rendered from a slightly different angle, just as if your eyes really had different lines of sight into the scene. The result is a quite plausible impression of depth.
You can't lean to one side and see behind something - the images presented stay exactly the same regardless of your real line of sight to the screen - but there genuinely is more object position data being pumped into your brain.
Older versions of the ASUS shutterglasses setup - which used the same glasses, but earlier support software - were a big pain to use. Partly because the support software had incompatibilities galore and a lousy interface, and partly because of the clunky glasses, which despite their little foam nose pads tend to be quite uncomfortable, difficult to line up with the eyes, and a lot heavier than Buddy Holly's nerdiest frames.
The specs aren't quite so bad if you have a smaller-than-normal cranium, but they still leave a lot to be desired as comfort eyewear. Especially if you already wear glasses when you're peering at a computer screen.
In its current incarnation, the ASUS 3D system's software is far better. It's easy to twiddle settings while playing a game, and it's got a fighting chance of working with most OpenGL and Direct3D games. Plus, with the brute grunt of the GeForce2 behind it, it's possible to use the visually superior "page flip" mode, and retain a good frame rate.
In page flip mode, the monitor runs in its normal progressive scan mode and displays one whole full-resolution scene at a time. The lower-load alternative is interlaced mode, in which lines from the two versions of the scene are one-to-one interleaved down the screen, with the monitor painting them alternately and half of your vertical resolution therefore going west.
The basic limitation of LCD-glasses 3D, though, remains. Because it's impossible to make an LCD blackout shutter that blocks light well enough to completely occlude the view of the monitor, there's always a ghost of the other eye's view reaching each eye when it shouldn't, resulting in a triple-image effect where dark ghosts of objects hover on either side of them. You can reduce this effect by turning down the monitor brightness, but you can't do that too much before darker areas on the screen turn into pools of shadow.
Now, it's not like you're paying a million dollars for this 3D system, and for the money it's excellent. But don't expect miracles.
You can break down the software bundle for every video card into "drivers" and "other stuff", and for many basic cards neither part matters much.
The drivers may be old and/or quirky, but that's OK, because to use the basic features of an NVIDIA-based graphics card, you can just grab the latest reference drivers from NVIDIA themselves.
The trouble with reference drivers, though, is that they don't let you use non-standard features like funny video connectors and 3D glasses - the stuff you're paying for, if you buy a V7700 Deluxe instead of an ordinary GeForce2 GTS board. The V7700 Deluxe will work fine with reference drivers, but some or all of its fancy extras will be lying fallow. So you're stuck with ASUS' drivers. Fortunately, they're OK.
The included driver-and-utility disc that comes with the V7700 Deluxe is version 5.22e; an updated 5.33 driver pack is available for download from ASUS here, and I recommend you install it instead of the shipping drivers. Among other things, the updated driver lets Windows NT/2000 users switch output device properly, so you can switch output to the TV out without, as the v5.22 driver instructions tell you, unplugging the monitor.
In the "other stuff" department, many cheapo cards' software bundles are often forgettable enough that you can confidently slip the discs under the nearest convenient frosty drinks without once looking at the software. The V7700 Deluxe does better than that.
Its game "bundle" is good, because instead of giving you a pile of second-rate titles, it gives you one top-shelf one - Soldier of Fortune. SoF lets you run around in a more-realistic-than-usual game world as a card-carrying Nasty Man tasked with saving the world from terrorists with nukes. It's an excellent game for anybody who appreciates enemies who react properly when you blow their knee apart.
There's also ASUSDVD 2000, which is not the best software DVD playback package in the world, but does the job just fine. Of course, you'll need a DVD-ROM drive in your PC to be able to use it.
You don't need a super-card to do DVD playback, by the way. Any graphics card on the market today can handle playing DVDs, provided you've got a 400MHz-or-faster CPU, by just sitting there and pumping CPU-generated graphics onto the screen, without doing any decoding work itself.
Various graphics cards have some selection of features that can help with the MPEG-2 decoding that DVD playing's all about, but some of these helper features, like hardware motion compensation, actually slightly degrade the image quality. And none of them are necessary, with a decently fast CPU. In fact, the readme file on the ASUS driver disc tells you to disable the "motion compensation" option in ASUSDVD, if it's turned on.
If all you want is a graphics card with a TV out for getting DVDs and games onto your big screen, you needn't buy a GeForce2. There are lots of cheaper cards with the right outputs. And since there's no point using higher resolutions than 800 by 600 when you're outputting to the fuzzy screen of a TV (most TV encoders don't even work with higher resolutions), and the frame rate can't possibly be higher than 60 frames per second (for NTSC) or 50 frames per second (for PAL), the GeForce2's very expensive ability to fill gigantic numbers of pixels per second is completely wasted on such a task.
Back in the software bundle, there's also ASUS Digital VCR, the basic, Win98-only, video capture utility. It lets you grab clips in various formats, or even set the video input to be the Windows background.
If you don't have Win98, you're not stuck. There's a capture driver for WinNT and 2000 included as well. And a TWAIN driver that lets you import single frames into a graphics application, for easy use of a motion video device as an impromptu still camera.
Whatever way you get your video, you can hack it around in Ulead VideoStudio v4.0, also included. This is a quite featureful and easy to use digital video editing package, which looks ideal for beginners. This is not a cut-down, options-greyed-out, Skinflint Edition version of VideoStudio, nor is it nine versions out of date. It's the real deal.
The Video Security program's an oddity. You plug a camera into your PC, you tell Video Security what areas of the image to monitor for movement, and if it sees any, it can save a video clip, run whatever program you configure, send e-mail, or dial a number via your modem and play a warning sound of your choice. You're unlikely to choose the standard sound that comes with the program, which is far too quiet and practically incomprehensible.
Since Video Security only works on Windows 98, it's hardly the sort of thing you'd want to trust your life to. As a bedroom door monitor for a 14 year old who's dropped a hundred bucks on a little CCD video camera, or to spot whoever it is that keeps sneaking into your office and pinching your Post-Its, though, this thing's perfect.
There's also E-Color's 3Deep gamma correction software, which gives you more flexibility than usual in tweaking the brightness curves of your 3D games. In English, that means it makes it easier to punch up the apparent brightness of the image, without turning all of your blacks grey or burning out everything light-coloured.
Like the V7700 Pure, the Deluxe also comes with the ASUS SmartDoctor utility. The utility only works in Windows 95/98, and lets you monitor the speed of the chip cooler fan, and the main chip temperature, and automatically reduce the V7700's clock speeds if the card's overheating, or just when nothing that needs full power is running.
SmartDoctor can even monitor your AGP slot supply voltage and pop up a warning if it drops too low, and partially shut down your CPU when there's nothing for it to do, to save power and reduce heat.
I've dealt with SmartDoctor before, in my review of the V7700 Pure here; in brief, it doesn't turn my crank.
It's physically impossible for it to avoid false-triggering on systems where the graphics card gets hot but not too hot, or the AGP voltage is low but not too low, and a much better solution is just to make sure you've got decent case ventilation, and not turn your graphics card clock speed up until electrons are pinging off the inside of the case like rivets in an overcompressed submarine.
In use, the most notable feature of the V7700 Deluxe is that it's a really really really fast 3D card. Every other GeForce2 GTS is also really really really fast, though, (I review the original V7700 Pure here, and the Leadtek WinFast GeForce2 GTS here, and AOpen's PA256Pro here) so this isn't really a Unique Selling Point. But if you're into 3D games, and especially if you've got a big monitor and can thus use higher than 1024 by 768 resolutions without your pixels going fuzzy, it bears repeating that a GeForce2 GTS will give you the serious speed you're looking for.
If you're annoyed by the V7700 Deluxe, it'll probably be by the 3D glasses, which are, as mentioned above, uncomfortable and not as effective as you might think. Getting 3D vision working properly in all of your games will be a bit fiddly at best and may be impossible at worst, as dual-viewpoint graphics drivers still aren't renowned for their compatibility.
In normal operation, though, the V7700 Deluxe is pleasingly quirk-free, and its video in and out work perfectly well.
On modern systems with a reasonably fast CPU and lost of spare hard disk space, it's quite possible to knock together videos of reasonable length, and not far shy of VHS quality, with nothing but a basic video in/out card like this. You can fit an hour of 640 by 480 video into 3Gb or so if you compress it while it's captured - and you won't need a super-new processor to do that. But you lose image quality. The smaller the file, the lousier the quality.
There are various compression "codecs" available for free download which you can fool around with in the ASUS software, but even with a cutting edge CPU you'll have a hard time matching the quality of uncompressed video - which is very bulky.
If you want quality real-time hardware compression of high resolution (which, in this case, means 640 by 480) high frame rate video, you still need a dedicated capture card. If you've got a big and fast enough hard drive, though, you can always go uncompressed, and throw away more than ten megabytes of disk space per second of video.
With 20Gb and larger hard drives now quite embarrassingly inexpensive, you can easily enough get a drive that'll hold half an hour or more of low-compression video.
Apparently, the ASUS video capture utility doesn't work properly if you're running Windows 2000 on a machine with an Abit BP6 dual-Celeron motherboard, but I had no such system on which to test it. And it's still not a professional package - don't be surprised if a frame or three gets dropped every time Windows decides to have a peek at its swap file. But as built-in video capture goes, the V7700's is fine.
Like pretty much every other current video card, you can run the V7700 Deluxe faster than stock speed. ASUS include their usual Tweak Utility with the driver package. It makes it easy to push your memory speed up until you start seeing the white-pixel-snow of RAM chips screaming for mercy, and to increase your core speed until you get the Superman-on-bad-acid graphic glitches that indicate when the tiny plate-juggling goblins inside the card are starting to lose their grip on the china.
Unfortunately, the limiting factor for current cards, at the high resolutions they're made for, is RAM speed. Cranking up the core speed doesn't make a lot of difference, without the RAM bandwidth to push all of those zillion-pixel frames onto the screen.
You can often measure better core overclocking improvements by dropping the resolution, depending on your CPU and the load a given game puts on it, but with a GeForce2 you're then talking the difference between a zillion frames per second and a zillion and twelve. Your monitor can't display anything like as many frames per second as a GeForce2 can generally feed it at 640 by 480, and it's questionable whether your brain could tell the difference anyway.
You can usually safely squeeze the 333MHz RAM on a GeForce2 up to more than 380MHz without sacrificing stability, and so it is with the V7700 Deluxe. But this only adds up to about 10% more speed, tops, at high resolutions. And often less than that, depending on the task. Frankly, it's not really worth the effort.
NVIDIA have just announced the GeForce2 GTS Ultra, which is to the plain GTS as the old TNT2 Ultra was to the TNT2 - the same thing, but with a higher clock speed. Believe the NVIDIA press release artists and you'd think it came with warp drive and dual reciprocating cancer cures, but in reality it's just got a faster core and higher rated RAM.
The Ultra has a stock core speed of 250MHz and a stock RAM speed of 230MHz (Double Data Rate doubled, to 460MHz), versus the 200MHz and 166MHz (333MHz, thanks to DDR) of the plain GTS. This is a worthwhile increase, particularly the extra RAM speed; at 1600 by 1200, a GeForce2 GTS clocks in at about 70% of the speed of an Ultra. The lower the resolution, the smaller the Ultra's advantage.
Geforce2 Ultra benchmarks
NVIDIA have a couple of pretty little benchmark graphs up in which they show the Ultra to be more than twice as fast as the plain GTS for Quake III, and almost 80% faster for 3D WinBench 2000. But there's not even a sniff of the actual numbers, and no information on the test system, beyond a strangled "16x12x32" legend that, I presume, means the tests were run in 1600 by 1200 in 32 bit colour.
You're actually required by the WinBench license agreement to publish test system information, but I guess it doesn't count when you're just making numbers up, as the NVIDIA marketing people obviously are.
But according to NVIDIA's press release, Ultra boards will only come with 64Mb of RAM, which is bad news for anybody who doesn't normally have trouble squeezing their wallet shut around their giant wad of cash.
Even 166MHz DDR SGRAM's pricey enough at the moment that 64Mb GeForce2 GTS cards sell for $AU900. So the Ultra boards, when they hit the streets in September, will be quite alarmingly expensive. $US500's in the right ballpark for "basic" Ultra cards, which translates to well over $AU1000.
When the Ultras are out, a plain GTS board will cost less than half as much - heck, it'll probably cost less than half as much even if GTS prices don't drop at all. 45%, say, of the price for 70% of the speed even at ridiculous RAM-straining resolutions is an attractive deal.
So you'd, frankly, have to be a tad nuts to consider an Ultra, unless you're definitely running 1600 by 1200 for all of your games. Remember that you can't clearly display 1600 by 1200 on any monitor smaller than 21 inches. Even then, it's a stretch; you need about a 0.19mm dot pitch to clearly display the hundred or so pixels per inch that 1600 by 1200 adds up to on a normal 21 inch tube, and monitors that fine-grained aren't common.
So don't get too excited about the Ultra. Noticeably faster than the GeForce2 GTS it is, but at the resolutions you're probably going to be using, its advantage will be small enough to make the price difference ridiculous.
Forget the Ultra. The big news recently for most TNT-series card owners, is the arrival of NVIDIA's "Detonator 3" drivers, less dramatically known as version 6.18.
The Detonator 3 drivers debuted with the GeForce2 GTS Ultra announcement, but like previous Detonator driver sets they work with every NVIDIA-based card from the original TNT onward.
NVIDIA make grandiose claims about the new drivers, as well, saying they can provide "up to 50%" performance increases. Hey, "up to 50%" includes 0%, so they're safe enough. But, as it turns out, the new drivers actually are quite a bit faster than the last officially-released ones - on which ASUS' current drivers are based - and less troublesome than the various unofficially leaked intermediate versions that came out in between.
In the real world, speed increases from the new drivers, which include some clever bandwidth-saving features among the usual forest of tweaks and bug fixes, vary from a few per cent to about 25%. The new drivers may also fix some compatibility problems, and they're a free download from NVIDIA here, so what the hey.
But install them with a V7700 Deluxe and the 3D glasses stop working. The TV in and out ought to be OK, I think, but I'm not placing any bets.
All mod cons, good software, surprisingly reasonable price. What's not to like?
Well, the "surprisingly reasonable" price is still well out of reach of most shoppers. The GeForce2 GTS remains very much a top-end card, and the fact that this ported and polished model isn't as much more expensive as you might expect isn't going to make any difference to that.
But if you're looking for a video-in, video-out card with OK video editing software, a good pack-in game, and 3D glasses as a bonus, and the price won't force you to sell relatives you actually care about into slavery, then the V7700 Deluxe could be the all-singing, all-dancing upgrade board for you.