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AOpen TNT2-Ultra PA3020 AGP Review (Retail)
Date: 28th August 99
by Sim Kian Ann

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

- Other video cards reviews


With S3 buying over Diamond and Herculus closing up and big names like 3dfx, ATI, Matrox are not using the nVidia chip set, would Creative be the sole company making the nVidia chip set graphics card? But fear not, companies like Cardex and Asus are entering the market trying to snatch a share of pie from the more well known ones  Now Aopen has recently join in the queue to produce its own line of nVidia Riva graphics card. Although the 'branding' isn't quite as snazzy as the 'Viper' or the 'Dynamite' range, what matters is what's under the hood. 

Now, AOpen is the sister company to Acer, which is one of the biggest PC-machine makers and is the second largest motherboard maker in the world. Both Acer and AOpen manufacture all sorts of components for PCs, just about anything component you can think of are manufactured by them. AOpen (AOpen division) usually produces better components than Acer itself, probably due to the extra R&D that goes behind the scenes (not that ACER isn't up to par but AOpen always does it better!). AOpen has been having manufacturing their own brand video cards but they were mostly produced in a smaller scale, probably to cater to their own clients. Now, starting with the TNT2, they are putting more effort to mass produce them to end users too. The board I've been sent is an retail version of their TNT2-Ultra product. The PA3020 AGP use NVIDIA's TNT2 chip set, which is clocked at the default 125MHz speed. and sport a 32MB SGRAM layout (clocked at 150MHz).  Aopen has stuck to NVIDIA's reference design and other than the heat sink and fan combination, there's nothing too dramatic to report. The UltraTNT2 chip set remains extremely cool and its safe to say that NVIDIA's die-shrink to .25micron was a success. Most UltraTNT2 parts will ship out of the box at 150MHz/183MHz and indeed the AGP3020 falls into this category. They also have some other versions using other TNT2 chip set variations like the TNT2 and Vanta. Let's get on with the product details:
 


Video Card Specifications
Interface AGP 4x (AGP-2x compatible)
Chipset nVidia Riva TNT2-Ultra
Ram SEC 32MB 5ns SDRAM
Data Path 128 bit
RAMDAC 300 Mhz
TV-Output Optional 
Video Playback MPEG-1, MPEG-2, Indeo, & Cinepak
Supported Resolutions 640 x 480 - 1920 x 1200
Supported Refresh Rates 60 - 150 Hz
 
These are the contents of the package:    These are the utilities & software 
that are given on the installation CD: 
  • (1) AOpen TNT2-Ultra PA3020G video card 
  • (1) Installation guide 
  • (1) AOpen Installation CD
 
  • AOpen TNT2-Ultra PA3020 Drivers 
  • AOpen Tools
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The Good

The Video-Card Inspection section
The box for the card has a simple design compared to big timers like Creative and Diamond, It definitely fail to impress me and it looks to me like Aopen is trying to save cost on the manufacturing of the box. Inside was just a thin manual, the installation CD and the AOpen PA-3020 video-card wrapped in the common electrostatic bag. Here's a snapshot of the board taken from AOpen's website:

This retail version looks like the above except there is a fan covering the TNT2 chip and from the snapshot you would have notice that the card also has a Digital-Flat-Panel output (DFP) or the TV-out connection. There is also active coolong on the card, see the white power connect on the PCB. The Heatsink and fan combo on on the card is is not very big about 2cm high 3.5cm wide but I think it is sufficent as the temperasture of the chip during runing never go up to above 45 degree celcius. Rams used are good as the one used were 5ns SEC (Samsung) type. There were only 8 of them, meaning each has a 4MB capacity. I suppose these are more expensive because most of the other TNT2's are equipped with only 2MB pieces.

The Installation, Driver features and Programs
As usual from Aopen installation is swift and straight-forward. The given manual looks plain but its contents are what I expect from a video-card manual, so I would rate it average. There is only 1 CD and there is no games package into it which may not be so bad as have games might increase the cost of the card and locally it is quite easy to get games (you all know what I mean). When you load the AOpen-CD, there is a nice long intro to the AOpen Company, all done with enticing PC graphics. It gives a basic insight of the company. I think it is a waste of time as I rather they spent more effort on their product and driver. As for installing the drivers, just click the correct option and the drivers get installed in a flash. The following are some screenshots of it's utilities after driver installation:
 
There are two new tabs in the display properties. Here's the display information page with the additional-properties button bringing up 5 more tabs as the below pictures show:
This is the colour-correction panel with adjustments to Brightness, Contrast and Gamma. You can have different profiles saved and loaded for different usages and occasions.
Open-GL settings.
Here's the Tune section where you can overclock both your memory and core speeds! Cool feature! I suppose AOpen is targeting the card for gamers? However, contary to what VJ think even the retial version refuse to clock more than 5Mhz more than the default 150/183Mhz speed. 
Other-Options, in case you've run into some minor glitches. 
Direct-3D Setting. This is a standard section in all Riva cards. There is an advanced tab which has... 
The important option to disable V-Sync! And a few more standard options. 
This is the final-tab in the main Display-Properties page, the TV-output option and settings The TV-Decoder chip they are using and the quality of the output is quite good when I connect it to my 29 " TV  and it brings relatively good game-play out on the TV. 
3D Quality & Features
What else would you have come to expect from a TNT2? Excellent 3D quality of course (not Matrox style yet)! I used games like NFS3, NFS4 Star-Wars Episode-1: Phantom Menace, Star-Wars Episode-1 : Pod-Racer, Quake-2 and tested the games at 1024x768 with extreme fluency.
 
Here's the complete 3D feature set: 
  • Alpha Blending
  • Anisotropic Filtering
  • Bilinear Filtering
  • Bump Mapping
  • Environment Mapping 
  • Fogging
  • Gouraud Shading
  • Hardware Triangle Setup Engine
  • MIP Mapping 
  • Perspective Correction
  • Specular Highlights
  • Stencil Buffer
  • Subpixel Precision 
  • 12GFLOP Floating Point Geometry Engine
  • Texture Mapping
  • Transparency
  • Transparency
  • TwiN-Texel Engine
  • Z-Buffering
  Since the TNT2-Ultra is a very fast chip set and has a much smaller drop in performance when running 32-bit colour, I decided to run the new NFS4:High Stakes at 16-bit and 32-bit colour to see the difference that so many people try to claim it's better. I've see so many review comparing the 16-bit and 32-bit colour differences and the only was they always show that 32-bit colour is better is by magnifying the snapshot quite a bit! Come on! Nobody in the right state of mind will look at such tiny differences while playing games! The only game that I've seen where 32-bit colour makes a small difference is in Quake-3's special effects, e.g. shooting with whatever gear your carrying and explosions. 

Ok, back to my test system. I didn't try Quake-2 for 16/32-bit colour differences because everything is so brownish! So I loaded my new NFS4 CD for some test-runs and guess what I found? Zero!, Zilch!, Nothing! I mean I tried playing the same track at least 5 times on in either colour resolution and I can't find that 'bit' of difference (and I really looked hard)! So much for the colour talk.

Have a look at the below selected screenshots taken by 3DMark99-MAX test suite for comparisons (to view in full size, click on pictures). I've now included a comparison with the 3dfx V3-3000's image quality which, has yielded interesting results. Carry on to find out:
 

AOpen PA3020 3DMark99
Reference Shots
Description
Texture Resolution

A The quality is just like that of the TNT which is very good and that's one assurance when you buy any new nVidia-based chip set. 

Game-1

Same as the above remark. 

Game-2

Same as the above remark.


The Benchmarks
Benchmarking was done in Windows-98 with Microsoft DirectX-6.1 drivers and PowerStrip 2.50 for overclocking. Overclocking is Nil on this engineering sample board... it crashes while testing. This should change in the final version. So all tests were done at the default-speed of 150/183Mhz and using nVidia reference 1.88 drivers (I also have the newer 2.08 drivers but they do no improvement and only slow the results a tiny bit, so I used the older 1.88 version).
Canopus Spectra-5400 PE AGP 32MB SDRAM
Benchmarking Software / Cpu Config Wintune98 Video (2D) / Mps Wintune98 Direct3D / Mps Wintune98 OpenGL / Mps Quake-2 Timedemo1 / fps Quake-2 Timedemo2 / fps 3D Mark99 / 3DMarks
Pentium II 300 (4.5 x 100MHz) (nVidia) 74.25677  200.0813  158.1363  93.5 87.2 4096
Pentium II 450 (4.5 x 103MHz) (nVidia) 108.4567  201.0901  162.2439  94.5 88.7 4196
Done @ 640 x 480 with OpenGL for Quake II V3.05, @ 800 x 600 for 3D Mark99 and @ 1024 x 768 for the Wintune98 tests. Colour depth = 16bit for all tests
 
3DMark99-MAX Results
3DMark Results  CPU Geometry Speed Rasterizer Score
The AOpen TNT2-Ultra performcement loses to Creative by a tiny amount. (You can view the results of Creative from the reviews by Vijay on the engineering sample) Similar to the previous case.  No comments.
Game-1 Game-2 Fill-Rate
No comments. No comments. No comments.
4mb Texture Rendering Speed 8mb Texture Rendering Speed 16mb Texture Rendering Speed
No comments. No comments. At 16MB texture sizes, the Ultras have no problem of what-so-ever.
32mb Texture Rendering Speed Bump-Mapping Emboss, 3-pass Bump-Mapping Emboss, 2-pass
As expected the 32MB texture size is slower than that of the 16MB. No comments. No comments.
Bump-Mapping Emboss, 1-pass 250 Pixel Individual test Notes
As my version of 3DMark99-MAX is not registered, all results are based on an 800x600 resolution at 16-bit colour depth with each processor's proper optimization.
No comments. No comments.

Overclocking

I try to overclock the graphics card PA3020-G but have difficulty doing that. However  I was able to overclock the rams to 190 Mhz and the chip to only a mere 155Mz, i.e. only 5 Mhz more which is not very impressive. However from the web site of Aopen the following document is found and according to it,  the chip was found to be able to clock to 233/170. But I think this is depending your luck when you purphase the card. But I think the success rate for overclocking may not be very high.
 
 

Overclocking for PA3020-G

This high performance PA3020-G graphics card is designed for maximum 150MHz Graphics Chip Core clock and 183MHZ Graphics Memory clock. Our lab test results shown that Core Clock 170MHz and Memory Clock 213MHZ is achievable when proper setting and quality components were presented, we feel quite comfortable overclocking to 170MHZ for Core Clock and 213MHZ for Memory Clock. For your reference, the following configurations are what we feel comfortable at Core Clock 170MHz and Memory Clock 213MHZ. But not guaranty.

Over Clocking Compatibility Test

Purpose: Check Motherboard performance to see if it is acceptable.

Motherboard: AOpen Pentium AX6B
CPU: Intel Pentium III 550 Mhz
Memory: PC-100 LGS (128M)
System BIOS: AOpen R2.10
Floppy Drive: Panasonic 1.44MB 
Hard Disk: Quantum Fire Ball SE 2.1Gbyte
CDROM: AOpen 936E 36X CDROM
CDROM Driver: AOpen 5.10
PS/2 Mouse: Microsoft PS/2 Mouse
VGA Driver Version 1.88

Procedure:
 
  1. Change Memory and Core Clock setting. ( Using AOpen Tuning Utility )
  2. Run 3D WinBench 99 v1.2 under Windows 98.
  3. Check the 3D WinMark result and record it.
Clock Frequency Memory/Core
800x600x16
800x600x32
1024x768x16
1024x768x32
183/150
1100
928
1030
775
188/150
1100
934
1040
784
193/150
1100
946
1040
801
198/150
1100
956
1040
809
203/150
1100
963
1050
822
208/150
1100
968
1050
830
213/150
1110
973
1050
859
213/155
1110
976
1060
854
213/160
1110
976
1070
867
213/165 1110 961 1070 863
233/170 1110 976 1080 870
Super-7 Talk
This section was from VJ review for the engineering sample I think I should include it because there are many enquiries regarding Super 7 motherboard.

Vijay said:
"I've been seeing so many queries regarding Super-7 motherboard compatibility with TNT/TNT2 video cards in our forums (clinics) that I decided to address it in this section. I've been running almost every video card successfully in my Super-7 combo for quite a while now and if there has been any compatibility issue, I would have addressed them in my reviews, but I still see many queries. Ok, if you have a VIA (MVP3, MVP3+) based motherboard your quite safe to use many of the current video adapters like TNT / TNT2. All you have to do is get the all the latest drivers for your motherboard from VIA's website and update your windows. That's about it! It also helps to get proven motherboards like Tyan, AOpen AX59-Pro, FIC-VA-503+ and DFI-P5BV3+/K6BV3+/K6XV3+ which are very stable, well designed boards and can use these high-powered video cards like TNT/TNT2 which draw a lot of power.

If your using the ALI Alladin-V chip set based motherboards, e.g. the most common of them are the MSI-5169 and the ASUS-P5A series, your going to have a tougher time to get your favourite TNT/TNT2 combo to work with this board even with the latest drivers from ALI's website. This chip set itself has gone through many revisions but it still can't rectify the problems completely. Whichever motherboard you have, do update your windows with all the latest motherboard drivers 1st before fixing in the TNT/TNT2 card. Also try not to overclock your video-cards while running on a super-7 motherboard as the TNT/TNT2 card already draws a lot power, you will be straining the system by overclocking. And finally, if you need to buy a new Super-7 motherboard, get an MVP3+ based motherboard because it is technically superior to the ALI-chipset equivalent and it gives you less problems with new video-cards. Bottom-line is, all Super-7 can use TNT/TNT2 video cards but it depends how well your motherboard bios and drivers are updated, not to mention the video-card drivers. Additionally, if you have a lot of expansion cards and are having problems getting the new video card to work, try removing all the cards and plug in the new video-card to see if it works. The progressively add a card at a time to help the board smooth out the resources."

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The Bad

The quality of the board is good but  the overclockability of my board does not look very good but it could be just due to this individual baord.

The fan and heatsink combo provided could have been better! The heatsink is so thin with hardly any fins at all (more like bumps!), how do you expect the fan's forced air to push the heat away as fast as possible? More over, the given fan needs a finger push to get it spinning at many occasions. However this won't pose a heat problem to the TNT2-Ultra chip set as all the TNT2 variants are guaranteed to work without any active cooling and will operate well even with zero-air movement when they are not overclocked. But I am not sure whether this is the cause of the inability to overclock very well.

The card doesn't provide enough utilities or any other nice feature other than AOpen Overclocking utility. I would have preferred at least a software-DVD player. Also it did not provide any game but it is okay as bundling games will incur more cost to the product.

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Test System Configuration
Processor(s) Intel Pentum II 300
Ram 128 MB 100MHz Micron 10ns SDRAM Dimm 
Motherboard ABit BH6 
HardDrive(s) IBM Deskstar-3 3.2Gb
Operating System MS Windows 98 Build 4.10.1998
DirectX Version MS DirectX Version 6.1
Other software used PowerStrip 2.50
Video Card(s) AOpen PA3020-G TNT2-Ultra AGP 
Video Card Drivers nVidia Reference drivers 1.88 

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Conclusion 

From the look of the PA3020's simplicity, I would say AOpen is trying to sell the card to a prospective gamier at very competitive prices. However for those who are diehard overclocker this may not be the most ideal card, however AOpen's website has stated that they've tested a few and have come to a maximum overclocked speed of 175/233 Mhz!! Hmmm... I am afraid both VJ and I have not been able to verify this. Maybe the Aopen can send us a version that can be overclock and we can re-review this card again. But I think apart from the ability to overclock and the lack of software bundled this is a relatively good buy.

VIDEO CARD RATING
Overall Rating
(Out of a maximum of 5 Star)
Installation *****
Performance ***
Price ***
Software Bundle **
Material Quality ***
Overall Rating ***

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Last updated Sep 23, 1999.

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