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Canopus Spectra 2500 AGP Review

Date: 20th December 98
by Vijay Anand

- The Good
- The Bad
- Test System Configuration
- Conclusion
- Rating

- Other video cards reviews

Canopus Corporation is based in US with it's main business and roots stemming from Japan for their famous video-editing products. From the begining when it entered the video-card business till now, they always had something special that other competing products don't and was also tuned towards gamers. They were the first to engineer the original Voodoo board, Pure3D with 6mb ram and with TV-output. Their Total 3D 128V was one of the costliest video-cards of it's day but it had excellent TV-output and Video-capture/editing features + their utilities were top-notch. The following Pure3D-2 fitted with a Voodoo-2 is the fastest V2 card and comes with a fan to cool the main chipset as well as for overclockers to use to their advantage. Not to forget the useful WitchDoctor technology which was first used in The WitchDoctor and now the Spectra 2500 (will be further explained later).

nVidia's first chipset, the NV3 was partially a failure as it was not used by almost any video-card besides the Diamond Edge-3D which didn't become famous but the NV3 did have some unique new features, also unfortunately never used. nVidia went back to redesign and came up with the Riva-128 which became famous overnight due to the fact it was faster than the competing 3Dfx Voodoo graphics chipset and was also the fastest chipset of it's time. But from the very begining, the 3D quality of the Riva-128 was not up to par of all other video-card chipsets. Now the new nVidia Riva-TNT is the fastest 2D cum 3D card and has excellent 3D quality. Prior to the TNT's release, it was over-hyped that it's core clock speed will run at 125MHz with amazing fill-rate numbers but the fabrication plant that manufactured nVidia's chipset was unable to move to the 0.25 micron process as yet. Coupled to the fact that it's core was very advanced, nVidia had to settle for a normal 0.35 micron chipset and underclocking it to 90Mhz so that it can run stablily. It didn't meet the market's expectation due to the initial hype but it's still the fastest chipset available.

Video Card Specifications

Interface AGP 2x
Chipset nVidia Riva-TNT (90MHz clock)
Ram Hyundai 16MB SDRAM 8ns
Data Path 128 bit
RAMDAC 250 Mhz
TV-Output Yes, Composite & S-Video out connectors
Video Playback MPEG-1, MPEG-2, DVD, Indeo, & Cinepak
Supported Resolutions 640 x 480 - 1920 x 1440
Supported Refresh Rates 60 - 150 Hz

These are the contents of the box:

The box design is of course a wonderful match to a powerful product like the Spectra. The card is packaged in an electrostatic bag like most products of it's kind. Here's a snapshot of the board:

These are the utilities & softwares that are given on the installation CD:

  • Canopus Spectra Drivers

  • Media Scope (formerly known as Total Cinema EX)

  • WitchDoctor 1 and 2 s/w

  • Screen Control

  • Canopus Quick Control

  • MS DirectX-6

  • Canopus Application Launcher

  • TV-out utility for DOS

The board is very compact mainly housing the TNT chip behind the nice silver heatsink + fan combo. The fan is sunk into the heatsink so it does not protrude at all. The combo is fastened to the board by 2 tiny screws. That heatsink and fan is so effective that the TNT chip is only very warm to touch when it's running and the board itself is only warm. The fan draws it's supply from the card itself. Surrounding the TNT chipset are 8pc of Hyundai 2MB SDRAM of 8ns type. Other notable features on the board are 4 feature connectors, the Flash-Bios and the Chrontel video decoder. The TNT chipset is large due to it's 0.35 micron die.



Take a look at the nice fan+heatsink construction and the air-outlet vents, COOL!

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The Good

The Explosive TNT

Installation of the card is very straight-forward like many other cards and if you do need any guidance, the manual provides the exact steps to follow. The drivers provided on the CD are the latest ones which incorporates nVidia's latest reference drivers (and their own tweaks) that correct many problems on super-7 systems.

The manual looks plain on the outside but it's made out of good thick paper and the manual overall is slim, straightforward with good guidance to ensure smooth installation and a good FAQ. They even show you with illustrations on how to go about connecting the Spectra to a Voodoo or Voodoo2 or their own Pure3D 1 and 2 series. Also they have illustrated on how to set up and connect the cables to use the TV-output function. Many other brands that do include TV-output don't show you how to do it.

The 250Mhz RAMDAC helps make my screen very sharp but it was not as bright as my Riva-128 or the Banshee. Of course just turning up the monitor controls a little bit made it all-right. The 3D quality was of course nothing short of stunning!

The WitchDoctor Technology

This technology comes in very handy when you have Voodoo-1 or Voodoo-2 based cards. You see, the normal setup you'll have once you get a Voodoo card is that you'll loop a pass-through cable which connects your 2D card's VGA output to the input of the Voodoo card. Your monitor cable then connects to your Voodoo card's output. So the video signals from the 2D card goes through 2 cards and 2 cables which degrades the signal a bit and this degradation is noticeable especially at higher resolutions for your standard windows environment.

So what the WitchDoctor technology does is to use the Voodoo-card's output and pass it to your 2D-card. The monitor connects to the 2D-card directly. This means your Windows display will be crisper & clearer than without the the WitchDoctor technology because your main 2D card which outputs 2D information like the Windows environment, is connected directly to the monitor. Of course, the WitchDoctor technology exists only in the Spectra-2500 and the Riva-128 based WitchDoctor from Canopus. Canopus introduced it's own proprietary External pass-through cable to accept the output of the Voodoo cards to it's new input connector called 3Dfx-in, a 9-pin DIN connector. Here's a shot of the back panel of the Spectra 2500. The first connector to the left is the 3Dfx-in connector.





This greatly benefits those who own Voodoo based 3D-add-on cards and need better 2D output either because their monitor isn't so good or perhaps they run at high resolutions. A bigger bonus comes for those who bought the Canopus Pure3D II and II-LX because they can connect to The WitchDoctor or Spectra cards internally through a 14-pin header found on both cards. Canopus has provided a special 14-pin internal pass-through cable for this purpose inside the Spectra's box (the above mentioned External pass-through cable is also provided). This means the signals stay in their purest digital form with no losses in any D/A conversions + there is less clutter at the back of the PC.

Canopus Utilities

Quick Control - Gives users "on-the-fly" keyboard control to simultaneously adjust gamma on their monitor and brightness on the TV screen during game play. It also allows you to quickly adjust the gamma or brightness only in particular scenes that may be dark.

Application Launcher - Provides very useful presets that help to switch screen resolution, color depth, gamma and refresh rate on the monitor, plus brightness, contrast and flicker reduction for TV output. You can save a different preset for each game and with a touch of a button your ready to run any game with your preferred settings. No more adjustments from game to game!

Screen Control - A nifty utility that sits in the tray bar that helps you to change resolution and colour-depth on the fly effortlessly. Also has a refresh rate utility for you to preset the refresh rate for any resolution, even applicable to 3D games! All changes are saved automatically. No more flickering games!

Media Scope - It's a very nice media player with good controls that are easily accessible. It plays Video CDs, Audio CDs, Live-Video and some other common video-formats(MPG, MPV, MOV, QT and AVI).

WitchDoctor - It's the software that allows the WitchDoctor functionality.

TV-output and Upgradability

TV-output is the best available on any video-card with support for desktop-resolutions of 640x480, 800x600 and up to 920x690. Canopus's own Total-3D 128V was the previous best. Both Composite RCA and S-Video connectors are provided for TV-output. What's more is that it's able output to the monitor and the TV simultaneously where as many video-cards with TV-output can only output to either one. Plus the card is clever enough to detect whether the TV or monitor is connected at start-up, and adjust it's display accordingly. Phew!

You can also upgrade the Spectra 2500 to get video-capture/editing, Audio pass-through and still-image capturing functions through Video/Audio-in connections that is offered through a panel that will sit in a 5.25" drive bay to face you! It's called the VideoPORT-600 and will connect to the Spectra-2500 through a 26-pin header and cable. This is also very innovative because the previous Total-3D 128V had all those connectors at the video-card's back panel which is very uneasy to access because you'll have a hard time trying to plug those connectors at the back of the PC.

3D Quality & Features

The 3D quality looks fabulous! I seem to like it better than the G200. I tested games like NFS3, Star-Wars: Shadows of the Empire, Quake-2, Ultimate Race Pro & I ran the games at 800x600 and they never looked this defined before! (Note: I had problem getting the card to work with Rogue Squadron 3D, it may need a patch from Lucasarts or Canopus.)

These are the 3D Features as stated on Canopus's web-site :


The Benchmarks

I have benchmarked the Spectra in Windows98 with DirectX-6.

So here they are :

Canopus Spectra 2500 AGP 16MB SDRAM

Benchmarking Softwares / Cpu Config Wintune98 Video (2D) / Mps Wintune98 Direct3D / Mps Wintune98 OpenGL / Mps Quake-2 Timedemo1 / fps Quake-2 Timedemo2 / fps
K6-2-300 (3 x 100MHz) 88.12 105.10 86.58 34.4 31.4
K6-2-350 (3.5 x 100Mhz) 92.10 106.30 87.28 37.4 34.0

Done @ 640 x 480 with OpenGL for Quake II V3.05 and @ 1024 x 768 for the rest of the other tests.

 

2D performance is exceptional! While the 3D can improve but this is due to the Super-7 motherboard and K6-2 chip used. Using a P2 system of the same speed, you'll see much higher performance. From the results, a super-7 system is better off buying s Banshee card unless one is buying a video-card to keep for sometime to come, in which the more powerful TNT can be better utilised when the super-7 owner upgrades later on. For a P2, the TNT must be a serious consideration unless the price is a hinderance and especially after seeing all the nice features the Spectra has, it's a wonderful buy for many systems.

For overclockers, you can push up the core speed up to 110Mhz and the ram up to 125Mhz using Power-Strip. It's stability is fair at this speed. Beyond this speed for either the ram or core, your games will crash very quickly. For those who don't want to download Power-Strip or for other reasons, Canopus has provided a slider to overclock the Spectra to a certain extent but not as much as Power-Strip. How thoughful Canopus is!

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The Bad

What's not to like about a Top-Notch card? Well just minor details like not including a manual on the CD, no software DVD player and no demos or games provided to feel the power of the TNT. The price is fine according to other TNTs sold and that the Spectra provides far more features. But dropping the price a little bit will get a larger crowd!

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Test System Configuration

Processor(s) AMD K6-2-300
Ram 64MB 100MHz LGS-7J SDRAM Dimm
Motherboard AOpen AX59-Pro
HardDrive(s) IBM Deskstar-3 3.2Gb
Operating System MS Windows 98 Build 4.10.1998
DirectX Version MS DirectX Version 6
Other software used Power-Strip 2.29 (for over-clocking)
Video Card(s) Canopus Spectra 2500 AGP
Video Card Bios Ver: 1.03.01
Video Card Drivers 1.10.04.

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Conclusion

It's a card for everybody! It has the fastest 2D and 3D for a 2D cum 3D card, best TV-output and best 3D-output, top-notch utilities, upgradable to get video-editing functions, it's THE card to get if you want many functions with great performance and if you want a card to keep for a long time to come.


VIDEO CARD RATING

Overall Rating (Out of a maximum of 5 Star)

Installation *****
Performance ****
Price ****
Software Bundle ****
Material Quality *****
Overall Rating ****1/2

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Copyright 1998, Singapore Hardware Zone. All rights reserved.
Last updated December 22, 1998.

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