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Elsa Synergry II 16MB AGP
Reviewed by Samuel Hong (11 September 99)


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

- Other video card reviews

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Elsa, a German based firm we all know for its fine video cards, the most recent launch being the Synergy II, which is available in 16MB and 32MB flavours. Other than the Synergy line of video cards, they also have the Erazor which is quite reknown too. However, recognition only dawned on Elsa when it launched its first card based on the nVidia Riva TNT chipset (I guess this only applies for our local market!).

Elsa was probably the first video card manufacturer to use SGRAM on the Erazor II board, followed by Asus, on its second revision of the V3400TNT. nVidia did not specify the Riva TNT to merely run on SDRAM, but more so it was the choice of the video card manufacturers. SGRAM was intended to boost the performance of the card, despite this the Elsa card did not offer much better performance.

Initial versions of the Elsa Erazor II were quite good boards coupled with a high quality active cooling system (heatsink and fan). This fine tradition was dropped in later batches of the Erazor II in favour of cost-cutting measures to lower prices in view of stiff competition. Likewise, the Synergy II does not come with active cooling, which is definitely a great dismay to users!

First Impressions

They say first impressions last a long time, let's see if the Synergy II has what it takes to make an excellent impression!

For starters the box doesn't look at all impressive, the only thing I can make of it is the Synergy card itself and something like a rat on wheels, yeah a rat, look at the picture carefully. This box doesn't have that X factor, or should I say customer attraction factor!

When I first received the box, it was definitely much more heavier than the big but hollow Diamond box I had earlier. I guess this is probably due to the nice big installation manual and user's manual in more than 2 languages (talk about multi-lingual!).

The Synergy II lies on the top deck wrapped in a anti-static plastic bag. In the lower deck lies the installation guide and user's manual as well as the Elsa drivers, affectionately known as WINNERware. Hmmm... not a bad idea for positive motivation!

The Elsa card comes in an NLX form factor, [NLX is the form factor implemented in 1997, quite like ATX, albeit I've yet to see NLX mainboards around Sim Lim, let alone NLX casings]. The PCB is well made, albeit its edges are also alternately smooth and rough, a queer but interesting trait! The card is made in France, not in Taiwan or China, a very much welcomed change, but take a look at the price tag and trust me, you'll wonder how much a price difference it would make if it was made in Taiwan or China instead :)!

As like all Riva TNT2 cards the heatsink is glued onto the chipset itself, which is a bad point since no fan was attached in the first place.Hopefully, the thermal adhesive used is of a high quality, otherwise the card will prove to be a very bad video experience (freezes etc.).

Hey, enough of babbling, let's get on with the technical specs!

Video Card Specifications

Interface AGP 4x (AGP-2x compatible)
Chipset nVidia Riva TNT2
Ram Samsung 16MB 7ns SDRAM
Data Path 128 bit
RAMDAC 300 Mhz
TV-Output None
Video Playback MPEG-1, MPEG-2, Indeo, & Cinepak
Supported Resolutions 640 x 480 - 1920 x 1440
Supported Refresh Rates 60 - 200 Hz (Vertical Refresh)

These are the contents of the package:   These are the utilities & software
that are given on the installation CD:
  • (1) Elsa Synergy II card
  • (1) Installation guide
  • (1) User Manual
  • (1) WINNERware CD (Elsa)
 
  • Elsa Synergy II Drivers
  • MS DirectX-6.1
  • Elsa WINNERware


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The Good

The Video Card Inspection

Synergy Front(sm).jpg (6901 bytes)

As mentioned, the Synergy II comes in the NLX form factor, which explains the topmost location of the 15pin VGA connector, also look at the somewhat jagged shape, because of this design, I suspect that Elsa was unable to include TV-Out or the Flat Screen Interface. This will not be marked as a flaw because of the NLX form factor.

I do not understand why Elsa prefers to ship its cards in the NLX form factor, this severely limits the features it places on the card, for example, with the little amount of PCB touching the face plate allows only space for a standard 15pin VGA connector, nothing else, the lack of PCB also doesn't allow things like TV-output encoder chips. That's hiding its true colours, a real pity if you ask me!

SGRAM(sec).jpg (5175 bytes)

4 pieces of Samsung 7ns SGRAM are aligned on the sides of the Synergy II. Samsung is known to produce the world's fastest RAM, I'm sure this isn't an exception. A quick check with PowerStrip showed that the RAM was running at 150MHz, which technically, is about 7MHz above its 7ns rated speed. I think the Samsung RAM should be able to safely hit 155MHz without much fuss.

Unlike other TNT2 cards which come with their own tweaking softwares, the Synergy II doesn't come with any. I guess the good part of this would be that no one tampers with core and RAM speed, because as it is, the Synergy II is very hot!

Synergy Heatsink.jpg (8967 bytes)

I decided to discuss thermal issues at this point of this review because this is where the design is carefully examined for flaws in design which includes what some video card manufacturers love to do... exclude proper cooling systems for its excellent cards!

Notice the holes in the PCB (circled in red), these holes were orginally meant for clip on heat sinks that are easily removed and can be customised to suit thermal needs. Of course there seems to be no harm in buying a 20 odd nice heatsink and fan combo to go with your video card (provided you have enough financial reserves to!). But I guess Elsa should not use some thermal adhesive to glue it. The consolation however is that from the side, I can see that Elsa spread quite a generous bit of this thermal stuff under the heatsink, which is definitely a plus, the heatsink also feels hot to touch which means the thermal adhesive is doing its job! Still, that doesn't give any reason to have no fan on a TNT2. Thus on the overall, this still is a thumbs down!

Synergy Back(sm).jpg (6858 bytes)

"Made In France" is something Elsa can definitely be proud of. The PCB itself is finely constructed except for several sides which are slightly rougher than others. However this back part of the PCB shows an intricate PCB with very refined printing methods. Certainly, Elsa deserves a pat on the back for that! If you can expect them to carefully print the cards, then you can expect them to etch the circuits within the PCB well.

The Installation, Driver feature and Programs

Like any other video card, installing the Synergy II was simple (*yawn*). The same process of sliding in and fastening the screw!. The desktop didn't look much brighter in any case and visual differences too were hard to spot. This I guess is because I am too accustomed to my own TNT card!

Installation of the Elsa WINNERware was also simple too, and within 5 minutes, benchmarking began. The WINNERware wasn't exactly all that exciting to explore considering it was modelled after or rather modified from the nVidia reference drivers, definitely not worth a snapshot anytime! Nothing unusual, no special features, just plain simple, drab and functional. Scores high on praticality but low on design!

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The Benchmarks

Benchmarks were conducted in Windows 98 (Ver 4.10) using the drivers provided by Elsa on the CD itself. On second thoughts, I decided not to conduct overclocked card tests because of the lack of a fan on the Synergy II. A constant reminder flashes through my mind telling me that the Synergy II is sponsored and not mine. I think I can hear groans already, but before I continue, I'd also like to mention that my sound card is directly below the Synergy II and I do not have space to locate a fan, so there!

3D Mark Pro99 hasn't been delievered to me yet, and I'm still waiting, so like my previous reviews, I rely solely on Wintune98 and Final Reality. 3D Winbench 99 doesn't really test the metal of this, so I excluded it this time around. And to make up for the lack of other benchmarking softwares, I took the risk and overclocked my system using 83MHz FSB at the risk of corrupting data on my Deskstar, thankfully it escaped unscathed, the last time I clocked 416MHz, my MP3s returned with full of cracks, hisses and pops, not to mention corrupt directories that took time to repair.

I've indicated my system with the Synergy II as PII-333(Elsa) and compared the results to my Asus TNT, labelled as PII-333(V3400), the previous Diamond Stealth, labelled as PII-333(S540) and as a reference to the 32MB Riva TNT-Ultra cards, the Spectra 5400PE in Vijay's review labelled as C450A (Spectra). Where indicated PII375 and PII416 means that I've overclocked my system to 5 X 75MHz and 5 X 83MHz, with AGP running at 150MHz and 166MHz respectively!

Elsa Synergy II 16MB (AGP) - Wintune98

CPU Configuration (Video Card) Wintune98 Video 2D (MPixels/s) Wintune98 Direct3D (MPixels/s) Wintune98 OpenGL (MPixels/s) AGP Bus Speed
(2X FSB)
PII-333 (Elsa) 65.8379 209.2463 88.47226 133MHz
PII-375 (Elsa) 76.55893 210.399 94.47591 150MHz
PII-416 (Elsa) 81.95554 210.8767 90.03123 166MHz
PII-333 (V3400) 55.32343 64.73641 52.27376 133MHz
PII-333 (S540) 38.5518 58.71464 285.0979 133MHz
C450A (Spectra) 109.1909 256.8559 157.5598 Not Known
All Tests Peformed at 800 x 600 at 16bit colour depth

Elsa Synergy II 16MB (AGP) - Final Reality

CPU Configuration (Video Card) 2D Image Processing 3D Performance Bus Transfer Rate Overall Score
PII-333 (Elsa) 3.02 4.19 2.58 3.58
PII-333 (S540) 3.13 3.44 1.11 3.00
PII-333 (V3400) 3.02 3.76 2.50 3.35
All Tests Peformed at 800 x 600 at 16bit colour depth

Benchmark Comments

Wintune98 Scores
Lesson learnt? The Riva TNT is a pretty neutral card, no ultra high scores or low scores (with an exception), hehe. Jokes aside (I mean TNT aside), the Synergy II is a relatively low performing card, maybe because of its 16MB SGRAM, and its non-TNT2 Ultra core, thus I believe the Synergy II loses out to the Spectra5400PE which is techinically not only better equipped, but more well engineered! Nevertheless the Synergy II (TNT2) shows a tremendous improvement over the orginal TNT. Looks like nVidia gave it more than just some sprucing up!

Final Reality Scores
Of course, Final Reality has been around for such a long time, I guess it might no longer be accurate to test video cards using Final Reality anymore. However the Savage4 shows its edge in 2D Image processing over the nVidia based cards, anyway the talk isn't on 2D games anymore, a TNT can handle these games fast enough, added speed would be an added plus, but not a must! The Synergy II scores well in this round, with a slight lead over its predecessor and much ahead of the Savage4 card!

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The Bad

General
The price tag of this card will certainly shock you for a card with its lacklustre performance and little or rather no special features. The card is retailing at SGD$399, which is quite a hefty sum to pay for a mere plain vanilla TNT2 with only 16MB SGRAM, ironically, there seems to be no reason for it to retail so expensively! It's not a TNT2 Ultra, it doesn't possess unique features and its performance doesn't match its price. Little wonder why Elsa didn't really take off in our local market!

Lacklustre Performance
Blame it on ... (the weatherman?), no but seriously speaking, I see no reason for the Synergy II to have such bad performance anyway, 2D is merely about 10 MPixels/s better than the orginal TNT, only the 3D and OpenGL is improved on. Is it probably due to the 16MB SGRAM? There could be a possibility, however I really doubt it! Compare the results between the Synergy II and the Spectra5400PE and you'll be wondering if the 16MB missing really makes that much of a difference!

Thermal Issues
Why do video card manufacturers love to fry the cards they work so hard to make? I have no idea either. How much does it cost to add a small fan to the heatsink anyway? I'm sure many users would appreciate this and buying such fans in bulk would be cheaper than requiring the end-user to mount a fan to the heatsink. The Riva TNT2 is indeed one hot graphic chipset and it is indeed crazy to think how many TNT2 cards are out there without fans. I rest my case!

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Test System Configuration

Test System Configuration

Processor(s) Intel Pentium II 333MHz
Ram 64MB 100MHz Hyundai 10ns SDRAM
Motherboard Abit BH6
HardDrive(s) IBM Deskstar-5 4.3GB
Operating System MS Windows 98 Build 4.10
DirectX Version MS DirectX Version 6.1
Other software used PowerStrip 2.50
Video Card(s) Elsa Synergy II 16MB (AGP)
Video Card Drivers Elsa Synergy II drivers (CD)

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Conclusion

Some comments were posted regarding my last review on the Stealth III S540, and I'd like to thank those which made the comments! I am not new to reviewing hardware, but the previous review was my first for SHZ, so I'd like to say a big "Thank You" to all who have read my review! As you've read this review again, I doubt my organisation has improved much, but I hope to make it clearer to the readers.

And also, I'd like to state that as a reviewer, my responsibility is to help look through the product and write my comments to see if it's a good buy or otherwise. As much as possible, I try to take a neutral stand because the decision of buying a product all depends on yourself! There are good and bad points of every product and I'd like to highlight them, so it may sound a bit confusing initially but its all a matter of time of getting used to!

OK, back to the Synergy II, I have given it only a three star rating mainly because its price does not match its performance, with its price I guess you could get other TNT2 cards from Taiwanese manufacturers that sell it so much cheaper. It doesn't stand out in any way above its competitors and I guess pricing the 32MB SGRAM version at SGD$500+ isn't a good idea, with that kind of cash, I'd get a V3800TNT2 or Spectra5400PE anytime!

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VIDEO CARD RATING

Overall Rating
(Out of a maximum of 5 Star)

Installation *****
Performance ***
Price **
Software Bundle ***½
Material Quality ****
Overall Rating ***

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