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Creative 3D Blaster Riva TNT2-Ultra
and
Creative Graphics Blaster Riva TNT2-Value
Reviews
Reviewed by Vijay Anand (20 July 99)


- The Good
- The Benchmarks
- Super7 Talk
- The Value Card!
- The Bad
- Test System Configuration
- Conclusion
- Rating

- Other video cards reviews


Just barely 2 months back, almost everybody was debating over which TNT or Banshee to buy, now here comes an updated debate, to buy a Voodoo-3 or a TNT-2. To make matters worse, there are 3 varieties of Voodoo-3 boards and 3 varieties of TNT2 boards. Now we have a debate that is three times bigger/harder than 2 months back! In a way, since 3dfx has bought over STB, there are far fewer choices to make if someone wants to go with a Voodoo-3 board and it's only a 3dfx brand with 3 speed grades, V3-2000 (143Mhz), V3-3000 (166Mhz) and V3-3500 (183Mhz). It's pretty straight-forward when buying a V3 as all the grades possess common features except the speed difference which you decide how much $$$ you're willing to part with.

This is not the case with nVidia chipsets as they still manufacture and sell the chips to video-card makers, hence we have a plethora of brands to choose for TNT2-based card. Asus, AOpen, Creative, Canopus, Diamond, Hercules, Gigabyte, Guillemot and Skywell are just some of the board makers who manufactures TNT2 based video-cards. Not to mention, we also have 4 models derived from the TNT2 chipset. They are the Vanta, TNT2-M64, TNT2 and TNT2-Ultra placed in the order of performance. There is one good point in having many versions of one famous product: it is now possible to own the latest technology at an affordable cost.

The TNT2 is nothing more than a 0.25 micron version of the original Riva-TNT with a higher clock and memory speed with the added ability to support AGP-4x. If you can recall long time back, the Riva-TNT was supposed to have a 125Mhz clock speed but was dropped down to 90Mhz nearing its launch due to heat and stability issues. The chipset was manufactured using a 0.35-micron version and this is why the very complex TNT chipset could not have been released with a higher clock-speed as stated previously. During its time, S3 has already been producing 0.25-micron silicon for its Savage3D chipset. You may have asked why didn't nVidia manufacture the TNT at 0.25-microns to attain the 125mhz clock-speed.

The Riva-128 before it was a very successful chipset and their following Riva-TNT was highly anticipated by many people. In order for nVidia to produce large number of chipsets to cater for the market, they had to let a silicon-manufacturing plant company with a high capacity output to help nVidia (nVidia is a fabless company). nVidia chose Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), as their partner to manufacture the TNT chipsets. They had the capacity that nVidia needed to output but they were still manufacturing in 0.35 microns and was still in the process of finalising their 0.25 micron manufacturing process. That is why TNT had a large die made with 0.35-micron process with the lowered 90Mhz clock-speed. If they had wanted to produce in 0.25 microns to keep up with the initial stated 125Mhz clock-speed, they would have to pick a different FAB-company and they might not have been able to deliver the amount of chips required. That would dissapoint many people more than delivering a slightly slower chip!

But this time, TSMC is fully equipped to cater to 0.25-micron chip manufacturing, hence the TNT-2 has much higher clock speeds with less heat output. The standard TNT2 core is clocked to 125Mhz (what the original TNT should have been) and according to nVidia's reference designs, it is to be coupled with 150Mhz memory of either 16MB or 32MB(maximum). The TNT2 Ultra has a 150Mhz core and coupled with 183Mhz memory and by default, many board-manufacturers equipped the Ultra with 32MB ram. There is also a value version called the TNT2-M64. The M64 version is actually a 64-bit memory-bus version of the standard TNT2 which has a 128-bit memory-bus, core speed is 125Mhz with memory at 150Mhz, just like a normal TNT2, but it's much cheaper to manufacture (Just for your info, the M = Model and 64 = 64-bit memory-bus). The Vanta is just like a TNT2-M64 but it's core and memory speeds are 100Mhz and 125Mhz respectively. If you would like to know where the original TNT stands among the four TNT2 varieties, it's much faster than the Vanta but it's a little slower than the TNT2-M64. Below is a summarized table according to performance if you're already confused! :

nVidia's Riva chipset family specs
Model Core clock Memory clock Memory-bus
TNT2-Ultra 150Mhz 183Mhz 128-bit
TNT2 125Mhz 150Mhz 128-bit
TNT2-M64 125Mhz 150Mhz 64-bit
TNT 90mhz 110Mhz 128-bit
Vanta 100Mhz 125Mhz 64-bit

The Diamond V770 was among the 1st to market the TNT2 board locally, along with Leadtek (very rare locally) but Creative was the first to get an Ultra-TNT2 board in our market named as the 3D Blaster Riva TNT2-Ultra with 32MB SDRAM. Creative also has a standard TNT2 board as the 3D Blaster TNT2 with 32MB SDRAM and finally two TNT2-M64 products which they are retailing as a Value and OEM version with 16MB SDRAM each. Of all the TNT2 products, the Diamond and Creative TNT2s dominate majority of shops when it comes to buying a TNT2. These guys have good links with nVidia and superb planning and marketing to dominate this brand new market. SHZ chose to do the Creative TNT2-Ultra product first as its pricing will appeal to many.

Video Card Specifications

Interface AGP 2x
Chipset nVidia Riva TNT2-Ultra
Ram Hyundai 32MB 5.5ns 183Mhz SDRAM
Data Path 128 bit
RAMDAC 300 MHz
TV-Output Yes, BrookTree-869, S-video and Composite connections
Video Playback MPEG-1, MPEG-2, Indeo, & Cinepak
Supported Resolutions 640 x 480 - 2048 x 1536
Supported Refresh Rates 60 - 200 Hz

These are the contents of the package:   These are the utilities & software
that are given on the installation CD:
  • (1) Creative Riva TNT2-Ultra board
  • (1) Guarantee Card
  • (1) Installation guide
  • (1) Creative Installation CD
  • (1) Colorofic card
  • (1) S-Video to Composite connector/changer

 
  • Creative TNT2-Ultra Drivers
  • MS DirectX-6
  • Creative Enhanced Blaster Control
  • Colorific
  • Creative SoftMPEG Player
  • 3Deep
  • Creative TNT2-Ultra Manual

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The Good

The Video-Card Inspection

All the stuff indicated above is packaged into the big, bright, cheerful box and sandwiched between Grey moulded foams. The manual is useful for those that are not familiar with the installation routine. The following snapshots of the board were taken from iXBT-Hardware as Creative didn't have a picture of the board and I don't have a Digital-Camera.

Ok, here's the board inspection area. It looks very similar or it is using the reference design from nVidia but in any case it's about the same as the old TNT boards. The PCB is of the usual Creative standard but the box says that it's using a newer heat-dissipating design. On using the card for sometime in 3DMark99 testing, I would say it is cooler than many old TNT boards and a remarkable difference from Creative's own Riva-TNT board where PCB gets hotter than many other TNTs. But comparing to an AOpen TNT2-Ultra board (an engineering sample), it's about the same. So I guess most TNT2-board makers could also be using this new heat-dissipating design.

I bet the 1st thing that will catch your eye on any video-card is the heatsink or heatsink + fan combo. Well this one has a nice sunken design which is more expensive than a simple fan screwed on top a cheap heatsink. The blades are well curved to scoop the hot air out. It does do a good job in keeping the chipset at comfortable-warm levels but it won't serve well enough for extreme overclocking as the heatsinks' area isn't adequate. And yes, the fan's power source is derived from the board itself as shown.

A week before I received this Creative TNT2-Ultra for testing, I read Sharky's review and he found a hard-time overclocking it. Well, I had some trouble running only this board when I overclocked my C300A to 450mhz. So I began doubting if this board was using a normal TNT2, though this shouldn't be a problem because at both 66Mhz and 100Mhz FSB the default AGP-bus speed 'should' be 66Mhz. So no-matter the facts, I pried out the heatsink + fan combo using a flat-head driver carefully because it used some kind of adhesive thermal compound to attach itself to the heatsink. Once I popped it out, there I saw the nVidia TNT2-Ultra in all its mighty. It looked exactly like the snapshot shown here. It's made in Taiwan meaning it came form TSMC and had the same markings. But I didn't have the Ultra word printed on mine!? Have I been conned?

Nah! The Ultra word was stuck to the back plate of the heatsink! Phew! Word has it those markings of chips that start with T3... (like mine) were actually manufactured as TNT2 parts but have been well tested by TSMC to run at TNT2-Ultra clock rates. Therefore those that pass their testing will be stamped with the Ultra word and not laser-etched like the other wordings. But chips that start with part numbers T4... are those that were manufactured as TNT2-Ultra parts. These should have the Ultra-word laser etched on to the chipset. This is what I thought when I first saw the Ultra word missing but after scouring for a little more information that led me to these details, it looked like I was right but I hope it's an accurate source (regadring the part numbers).
Ok, since this has been sorted out, back to our 'problem'. I later found out that the AGP-bus was set to 100Mhz which the TNT/TNT2 aren't capable of because they are using the AGP bus at 2x where as my previous card I used was a Riva-128 that uses the AGP-bus at 1x, hence it had no problem running at 100Mhz. I set the AGP divider manually as 2/3 and everything worked fine! Just a silly mistake that I overlooked and wanted to share the 'problem' with you readers.

There were 16 pieces of 2MB SDRAM chips, 8 in front and 8 at the rear. The ram chips used were the same ones as shown here, Hyundai 5.5ns SDRAM chips that have a rated speed of 181Mhz by calculation and is just suitable for this Ultra board whose ram speed is supposed to be 183Mhz as suggested by nVidia. Besides the chipset and memory, there is the seldom-used VMI-connector, flash-bios, TV-out connector and the Brooktree TV-output chip. Remember that the TNT video cards are able to use the extremely affordable Creative MPEG-2 Decoder card for full hardware MPEG-2/DVD playback and allows TV-output and hooks up to an external AC3-decoder for sensational sound output? Since, the TNT2 is basically a faster TNT, I think that it's possible to get the MPEG-2 decoder card and hook it to any TNT2 board if the VMI connector has not changed. Though I've not verified this, as I don't have one, I hope someone is able to try this out and let everyone know.

The Installation & Driver features

The installation involves the fairly standard procedure of switching your display-adapter type to Standard VGA Adapter in Device Manager before powering down to change the video-card and let windows detect the new card and direct it to the location of its drivers, that's it!. The supplied drivers on the CD are old as usual, so I downloaded Creative's drivers from the web for testing its utilities and then downloaded the newer nVidia's Detonator drivers 1.88 for benchmarking and thorough testing. By now, the Creative drivers must have been updated to the latest nVidia drivers. Since the older TNT and the newer TNT2 boards are using the same nVidia driver set, you might think that just swapping your TNT with the newer TNT2 is all you have to do. Well, I tried that at CPU-Zilla's place (he had a Creative-TNT) and that method didn't work. I still had to change the driver to Standard VGA Adapter before changing the driver to nVidia Detonator 1.88 drivers after the reboot.

Upon the next reboot, everything has settled nicely and I was able to see my beautiful Star-Wars: Episode-1 wallpaper in all its glory! Between the TNT2's 300Mhz RAMDAC and the TNT's 250Mhz RAMDAC, there is almost no discernable difference up to 1024x768. Bumping the resolution to 1280x960, you can see it's a little sharper than the old TNT at this resolution. You want to know how 1600x1200 looks like? Beats me! I don't have a 21" monitor you know? Ok, on to the next section to show you what Creative drivers have to offer.

Once the Creative drivers are installed you'll see this icon in the traybar (it's the last icon):  

Right-click the icon and you'll see a neat menu unfolding. Of them, the most important bunch would be the Safe Display mode (in case you set the wrong resolution and refresh rates and you're stuck), the Virtual Desktop Presets, Windows Desktop Presets and the Shortcut Manager.
If you have your monitor type properly selected, you should see a whole list of resolutions and colour depths that your monitor is capable of in the Windows Desktop Presets. Something similar is also available at the Virtual Desktop Presets. Only item I feel missing is a refresh-rate selection on this menu.
Going to the Shortcut Manager, it looks very similar (function-wise) to a Canopus Launcher. It allows you to link any program or game and set its resolution, colour depth and specific colour settings that you require to run it. You even set a secondary video-card (maybe a V2 or FireGL4000?) to launch your game or any other specific application. After setting your shortcuts here, you can find them by right-clicking the taskbar icon and selecting the shortcuts you've made, above the Shortcut-Manager.
In your display properties, you'll find a new tab called Blaster-Control. There are many sections here, so I'll be highlighting the more important ones and the first one shows the information page as shown to your left.
This section is called the Tweak page. Mainly looks likes a spruced up version of nVidia's Tweak page. Have a look at the snapshot for more details.
Clicking the advanced button from the Tweak page, you get more in-depth options for D3D and OpenGL settings.
This is the TV-output page. You have to manually lower your resolution to 640x480 or 800x600 at 60Hz refresh rate in order to have output to the TV. Fortunately, it can output both to TV and Monitor at the same time.
The information above that Creative TNT2-Ultra can output to both TV and monitor simultaneously was given by an anonymous person at the clinic as he could do output to TV and Monitor. When I was using the TV-output, I was at CPU-Zilla's place and we were using reference drivers at desktop resolution of 1024x768. Both the above factors led us to a blank monitor output but the output on TV was available. Anyway, using the reference drivers, it had enormous amount of TV system settings such as NTSC *country name* and PAL *country name*. Even if you live in Argentina and can't figure out which one to use, the database is so huge it lists out plenty of countries and their supported systems. It's almost idiot-proof! nVidia has done a pretty good job with their reference drivers. After selecting one of them, you'll be given the option of the resolution to output and refresh rate (basically 640x480 and 800x600). We were quite surprised of the TV-output quality! We ran 3Dmark99-Max and it looked like we were playing a console game! Text is not something you want look at for more than a short time of course. That wraps up the TV-out experience.

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 I ran the games at 1024x768 with extreme fluency.

The Main Features of the card as dictated on Creative's web-site are :

  • Peak fill rate of 300 million bilinear filtered, multi-textured pixels per second
  • Over 9 million triangles per second at peak rates
  • Bilinear Filtering
  • 2.9 GB/sec total memory bandwidth
  • Single pass multi-texturing support
  • 2 texture mapped, lit pixels per clock cycle
  • Hardware Triangle Setup
  • Per-pixel perspective correct texture mapping
  • Full scene, order independent anti-aliasing
  • 32-bit Z and stencil buffer
  • Hardware color space conversion (YUV 4:2:2 and 4:2:0)
  • Multi-tap X and Y filtering
  • AGP 2X with sideband support
  • TV output with S-Video connector
  • VESA DDC2B compatible
  • VBE 2.0 compliant
  • TwiN-Textel (TNT) dual 32-bit 3D rendering pipeline
 

Since the TNT2-Ultra is a very fast card 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 seen so many reviews comparing the 16-bit and 32-bit colour differences and the only that 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 you're 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 in either colour depth 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 3D-Mark99 test suite for comparisons (to view in full size, click on pictures):

TNT2 3DMark99
Reference Shots
Description
Texture Resolution

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 chipset.
Game-1

Same as the above remark.
Game-2

Same as the above remark.

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The Benchmarks

Benchmarking was done in Windows-98 (the de-facto PC gaming platform) with Microsoft DirectX-6.1 drivers. While benchmarking, I decided to do some overclocking as the board had good cooling, heat dissipating PCB and fast 5.5ns SDRAMs. I made the jump from 150/183Mhz (core/mem) to 175/200Mhz reliably and I let 3DMark99 run the video card at this speed overnight. When I switched on the monitor in the morning, I was delighted to see the Demo still running. The following night I upped the speed to 180/215Mhz and I watched 3Dmark99 run a little while (quite stable with no artifacts) before I left it overnight again. Next morning I found it frozen at one screen. Too bad the card couldn't do any higher but it did 175/200Mhz extremely well and this was the Hercules TNT2 standard, which is pretty good for what you pay. Ok, all benchmarks were run using nVidia TNT2 reference drivers 1.88.

And a special thanks to CPU-Zilla who helped me to run all the P3-500 related benchmarks, which is quite an important result for a high-end card like the TNT2-Ultra. He also helped me to run tests using his P2-350 to test the card's stability at higher FSB speeds. His own Creative Riva-TNT was able to function very well up to 148Mhz FSB, whereas this Creative Riva-TNT2-Ultra runs stable at up to only 128Mhz or 133Mhz FSB maximum. When I mean stable, it has been tested with a few rounds 3DMark99 and a few games (note: these tests were run after a certain amount of normal usage).

Where I've indicated I've overclocked the card, it's 175/200Mhz (core/mem) and the default speed is 150/183Mhz, so let's chow down some results, shall we?   (O/C) - Overclocked card

Creative TNT2-Ultra 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
P3-500 (5 x 100MHz) --- --- --- 108.6 102.1 5050
C-450A (4.5 x 100MHz) (O/C) 104.4288 218.5635 174.1447 94.6 84.8 3913
C-450A (4.5 x 100MHz) 99.15589 192.5483 157.5598 94.3 84.5 3970
C-300A (4.5 x 66MHz) (O/C) 72.23923 217.9805 174.9777 64.4 58.4 2680
C-300A (4.5 x 66MHz) 75.01402 196.5101 157.0374 64.7 58.3 2680
K6-2-300 (3 x 100MHz) (O/C) --- --- --- 44 39.8 2424
K6-2-300 (3 x 100MHz) 52.98072 194.4155 154.0225 44.6 40.7 2419
P.MMX-200 (2 x 100MHz) --- --- --- --- --- 1443

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


The dashed results are those I choose not to run. Anyway WT98 isn't very thorough for video-card benchmarking. The following two charts show the complete Quake-2 results for Demo1 and Demo2 respectively. Keep a look out how an overclocked video-card performs in comparison with an overclocked or higher grade CPU.

Quake-2, Demo-1 results

Quake-2, Demo-2 results

Wow! Even a K6-2-300 is playable at 1280x960 resolution! But the sad fact is if you do couple an Ultra-TNT2 with a typical K6-2, you're not utillising your Ultra to it's potential at all. For lower speed CPU's e.g. anything below an AMD K6-2-400 and Intel Celeron/P2-333, there is no point in getting an Ultra-TNT2 because the results will be very close to or similar to a normal TNT2 (I've done some informal testing and the difference is a maximum of just a few FPS) unless, you're going to upgrade soon and don't mind pumping in $50 to $100 more.

Below is a graph comparing the 32-bit colour performance drop compared to 16-bit colour using Quake-2. I've only included the results for the Celeron-450 and using Demo-1 because using any other CPUs and speed grade results in the exact same minor drop. Same goes for the Demo-2 results which reflects the same amount of drop as in Demo-1. If you insist on seeing the results, you can ask me but it's not worth the comparison as u can see (even for the K6-2).

16/32-bit colour performance comparison

The performance drop is quite small as you can see from the graph and this is something you can be assured of with the TNT2. Though this gap will widen when running a more complex benchmark like Crusher (unfortunately I don't have it), but there isn't much to worry as the performance drop will be much less than the previous TNT. The maximum performance drop in games would be 15% to 20% lower than 16-bit scores. Next are the 3DMark99-Max results.

3DMark99-MAX Results

3DMark Results CPU Geometry Speed Rasterizer Score
3DMark Results 3DMark Results 3DMark Results
Since Game-1 and Game-2 scores play a big part in the final score, the KNI-enabled P3-500Mhz has a big lead against the rest of the pack. The P.MMX-200 was used just for fun and comparison. The CPU-3DMarks for the K6-2-300 are very strong, going head on with a Celeron @ 450mhz. This shows how powerful 3D-NOW! can be if games and drivers are very well optimized. Quite impressive. Imagine how an AMD-Athlon will perform in this test! All looks right over here but just note how much gain you get by overclocking your video card
Game-1 Game-2 Fill-Rate
3DMark Results 3DMark Results 3DMark Results
Have a look how the K6-2-300 pulls ahead of the Celeron-300A! And of course don't miss the P3-500 that is all out! But I don't know why overclocking the TNT2-Ultra results in slightly lower performance. All fine over here. The C-300A takes a good lead over the K6-2-300. Nothing Special here.
Fill-Rate with Multi-texturing 4mb Texture Rendering Speed 8mb Texture Rendering Speed
3DMark Results 3DMark Results 3DMark Results
Same as the former test. Looks like overclocking the video-card pays quite a lot, as seen from the rest of the 3DMark99 scores. Similar results here.
16mb Texture Rendering Speed 32mb Texture Rendering Speed Bump-Mapping Emboss, 3-pass
3DMark Results 3DMark Results 3DMark Results
The TNT2-Ultra is still going strong here! Most of them, even the K6-2-300 (o/c) scores 80+ fps :) I could only show you CPU-Zilla's P3-500 score here because I only have 64MB SDRAM while he has 128MB SDRAM. Sorry guys! But the P3-500 scores nearly 60fps! That's very fluent for a 32MB texture. This one and the following 2 tests show Bump-mapping scores.
Bump-Mapping Emboss, 2-pass Bump-Mapping Emboss, 1-pass Notes
3DMark Results 3DMark Results 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.

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Super-7 Talk

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 you're quite safe to use many of the current video adapters like TNT / TNT2. All you have to do is get 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 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 you're using the ALI Alladin-V chipset based motherboards, e.g. the most common of them are the MSI-5169 and the ASUS-P5A series, you're 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 webiste. This chipset 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 first 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. Then progressively add a card at a time to help the board smooth out the resources.

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The Value card!

Here's another common question in Clinics: How good is the cheap Creative TNT2-Value or OEM? At their selling price of $165 and $145 respectively, I would say it's the best video card to buy for someone looking for gaming video-card at a budget. Performance-wise, it's similar to the TNT. Why is that so? Even thought the Creative TNT2 OEM and Value cards are using the TNT2 chipset (M64 version), their memory bandwidth has been crippled to 64-bit wide instead of the normal TNT and TNT2's 128-bit memory path. So even though these two cards run at higher core and RAM speeds, the limited memory bus has brought the performance down similar to the old TNT. The good thing is that they use TNT2 core that is a new chipset made from a 0.25-micron fabrication producing less heat output. The PCB boards are also re-designed to be heat dissipating. Here's a snapshot:

Creative-TNT2-Value


The overall products of the Creative TNT2-Value and OEM cards are very simple looking. They use the same PCB as the TNT2/Ultra cards they produce but since the TNT-M64 is a simplified version, there are very few trace lines on the PCB and has only two 8MB Samsung G7 SDRAMs. So the board is quite spacious. The TNT2-M64 chipset is covered by a silver coloured heatsink. All TNT2 chipset variants are produced such that they don't require any active cooling and can even function 100% well with zero air-movement (this is from nVidia). I can verify this also because I was running the AOpen Ultra TNT2 (engineering version) product without the fan activated. The fan they provided wasn't always running, in the sense that I sometimes needed to give it a push to make it spin. So I was using without the fan numerous times for long periods and even in heavy gaming. It never gave any problems even though it was hot to the touch. The amount of heat-output is still less than the older 0.35-micron TNT.

Now, here's some cut down version of the benchmarks to give you an idea how it performs: All benchmarks are done on a Celeron at 450Mhz except for the Creative-TNT which was benchmarked on a P2 at 450Mhz and this was thanks to CPU-Zilla again. D1 = Demo-1, D2 = Demo-2

Creative TNT2-Value comparison


For general gaming, you can see from the scores that it's faster than the TNT but slower than the TNT2-Ultra (the TNT2 brings about scores similar or close to the Ultra level). At its price, it's an excellent replacement for the older Creative-TNT and you really don't need to even think of any other TNT as this TNT2-OEM/Value is much cheaper. If you're in a very intensive spot, the results should be equivalent to a TNT and I don't blame it as the memory bandwidth is halved. The following are 3DMark99-MAX results:

3DMark99-MAX Results

3DMark Results CPU Geometry Speed Rasterizer Score
3DMark Results 3DMark Results 3DMark Results
Eventhough all other variables are kept constant on my test system, it's a little odd to find the end 3DMark99 scores for the CL-TNT2-Ultra O/C is slower than the normal CL-TNT2-Ultra. The only reason I can find is that 3DMark99 gives a lot of importance to Game-1 and 2 sores, even though the O/C card scores much higher in other tests. This is the reason the TNT2-Value scores well overall. Obviously, the P2 is a little stronger than its Celeron counterpart in this section, hence the CL-TNT on the P2-450 system is a pinch speedier on CPU Geometry test. The Rasterizer score depends heavily on the video-card and its speed, hence, the TNT-2-Value which is faster in MHz but slowed down in bandwidth is only a little faster than the TNT.
Game-1 Game-2 Fill-Rate
3DMark Results 3DMark Results 3DMark Results
The Game-1 score is about equal throughout all of them with +/- 1 FPS between them at most. Same results again. Here's where you'll see the true colours of the TNT2-Value whose Fill-Rate is the same as the TNT. The CL-TNT-2 Ultra and O/C card is showing a great difference.
Fill-Rate with Multi-texturing 4mb Texture Rendering Speed 8mb Texture Rendering Speed
3DMark Results 3DMark Results 3DMark Results
With multi-texturing (which nVidia improved a little over here in the TNT2),you can see a nice linear increase between each of them. Ah Ha! The original TNT renders textures faster then the TNT2-M64 thanks to it's 128-bit bus to its local memory. Similar results here.
16mb Texture Rendering Speed 32mb Texture Rendering Speed Bump-Mapping Emboss, 3-pass
3DMark Results 3DMark Results 3DMark Results
Since the CL-TNT2-Ultra is equipped with 32MB of local memory compared to the 16MB in CL-TNT2-Value and CL-TNT, the rendering speed for 16Mb is a little taxing for the latter two. Again, I can only reflect the score for the CL-TNT which was tested with 128MB RAM at CPU-Zilla's place, while the other tests were done at my place with 64MB RAM. The TNT-2 Ultra with its 32MB RAM will be quite capable in this test at churning at an expected 40++ FPS. But the TNT and TNT2-Value with 16MB each will be struggling as shown by the TNT result. This one and the following 2 tests show Bump-mapping scores.
Bump-Mapping Emboss, 2-pass Bump-Mapping Emboss, 1-pass Notes
3DMark Results 3DMark Results 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. Again the TNT trounces the TNT2-Value.
Same comments. Same comments.

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The Bad

For TV-output, we have to manually lower the resolution and refresh rate to output on to TV. Creative should automate this in their drivers though nVidia's latest drivers automates it.

Creative only bundled a MPEG-1/VCD player but no MPEG-2/DVD player or does Creative want us to buy their MPEG-2 Decoder Card, if it's compatible with the TNT2? Regarding software, a few free games or at least a playable version of an upcoming game like Draken and some cool demos.

I suggest Creative should make smaller boxes like Diamond which has also learnt that the big boxes are wasteful in space, money and trees! The box is so big that you open eagerly to find only a small PCB, CD, manual and others which gives you a feeling that you might have over-paid or have something missing!

Creative is selling the card as a 2x AGP part but I'm hoping it's also designed to be 4x AGP capable when the i820 chipset-based motherboard is out. So as of now, Creative is staying on the safe side and selling it as a 2x AGP capable only.

Note that all my comments in this section are mainly aiming at the Creative TNT2-Ultra rather than the Creative TNT2-Value. At the Value's and OEM's pricing, I've no complaints against it.

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Test System Configuration

Processor(s) AMD K6-2-300 / P.MMX-200 / Intel Celeron-300A
Ram 64MB 100MHz LGS-7J 10ns SDRAM Dimm
Motherboard AOpen AX59-Pro / AOpen AX6BC-Pro
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) Creative 3D Blaster Riva TNT2-Ultra AGP
Video Card Drivers nVidia Reference drivers 1.88

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Conclusion

The Creative 3D-Blaster Riva TNT2-Ultra is the cheapest TNT2-Ultra video-card, retailing for S$343 and its nearest competitor is selling at S$370 with many nearing the S$400 mark. That's quite a good buy if you ask me (for now)! If you're thinking of buying a Hercules Dynamite TNT2-Ultra (if it is available locally), it will take quite a while before you can buy one and it won't be cheap. Remember that the Hercules TNT is only just available! So if you need one with similar capability on the cheap with the same kind of performance (after o/c) or as a matter of fact, any TNT2-Ultra, don't hesitate and pick this Creative TNT2-Ultra. What have you got to lose? It's branded, it's a well done board with good cooling and chances of hitting 175/200Mhz is high with some people driving it at even higher memory speeds, it has TV-output and finally, if you need anymore features than those I've stated, you'll require a Spectra-5400 PE!

As for the Creative GB Riva TNT2-Value (and OEM), I can only say it's a true budget video-card for Gamers! This card should be the number one choice if you only have a budget for a Banshee or TNT. Don't worry about the 16MB RAM limitation because as of now, you won't find good use for it and when it does get useful, it might be time to change to the next generation of graphic cards. It's sure a win-win situation with this card because you fork out minimal cash for the newest generation of video-cards, it supports 32-bit colour and you should know the similarities it has with the rest if the TNT2 family for features.

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VIDEO CARD RATING

3D Blaster Riva TNT2-Ultra
Graphics Blaster Riva TNT2-Value

Overall Rating
(Out of a maximum of 5 Star)

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

Overall Rating
(Out of a maximum of 5 Star)

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

 

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