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GigaByte GA-660 Series TNT2 32MB AGP Review
Reviewed by Alan Kuik (23 July 99)


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

- Other video cards reviews



Since the establishment of Gigabyte in 1986, they have been manufacturing high quality mainboards, and have earned a reputation for quality and innovation. With main efforts being directed towards bringing high value-added products to the market, Gigabyte is also attempting to provide additional technical support and information in order to stay ahead in the constantly changing industry. Recently we have come across several video cards made by Gigabyte. Do not overlook this Taiwanese made card and dispose it as another inferior quality product compared to US / European branded cards. It incorporates the award-winning RIVA TNT2 3D graphics processor which has continued to receive industry accolades since its introduction at the Game Developers Conference in March 1999. Taking full advantage of its 0.25 micron process and newly optimized graphics pipeline, the RIVA TNT2 delivers unequaled graphics performance that is optimized for the Intel® family of Pentium® CPUs and the AMD-K6® family of CPUs. The following review will bring out the pure power of the TNT2 chipset and prove that brands like "Diamond" or “ELSA” do not always perform better. Having rolled out just a handful of cards, including cards with i740, Banshee and Savage4 chipsets, Gigabyte have just recently launched their flagship graphic card. The GA-660 TNT2 series comes in 2 flavours, the 16MB and 32MB versions.

The card is not really an attention grabber in retail shops because of the low publicity and simple packaging, but the GA-660 proves to be a stunner though. With its helpful instruction manual, amateur upgraders need not fear being lost. In actual fact, the manual even goes down step by step as to which button to click, which not to click during the installation procedure. It is sure a card not to be left out in a battle of the toughest and fastest graphics card around.

With a stunningly eye-catching blue PCB board, this card catches my attention the moment I unwrapped it. Although the dark blue PCB is not a first, it is a good change from the current world of orange and green PCBs.

Gigabyte decided to ship the card at 125/150, but has included a turbo jumper on the board to do some overclocking. The turbo switch cranks up the speed to 156/156 but the system have to be rebooted since the card loads a different BIOS. Therefore, you can’t just hit a button in Windows and power up your top gears. Together with another additional heat-sink at the back portion of the chipset, it makes for great cooling. Good for those overclockers out there. This card can also support the normal additional features, including optional flat panel support, optional TV-out, and priced at an attractive $260++ in Sim Lim Square (as of the date of this review), it sure makes it worthwhile to read this review. Without further ado, let me present to you the GIGABYTE GA-660 Graphics Accelerator Rev 1.2.

Video Card Specifications

Interface
AGP 4x (AGP-2x compatible) with sideband addressing
Chipset nVidia Riva TNT2
Ram Samsung 7ns 32MB SDRAM
Data Path 128 bit
RAMDAC 300 Mhz
TV-Output Optional (GA-660FT)
Video Playback MPEG-1, MPEG-2, Indeo & DirectShow
Supported Resolutions 640 x 480 - 2048 x 1536
Supported Refresh Rates 20 - 240 Hz

These are the contents of the package: These are the contents of the package:   These are the utilities & software
that are given on the installation CD:
  • (1) Gigabyte GA-660 video card
  • (1) Installation guide
  • (1) Gigabyte Installation CD
  • (1) GA-660 brochure and specs sheet

 
  • Gigabyte GA-660 Drivers
  • MS DirectX-6.1
  • Cyberlink CD Wizard
  • Final Reality Benchmark 1.01
  • BIOS flash utility
  • Trend PC-cillin OEM v 4.02
  • HighPoint Xstore pro rev 1.20

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The Good

The Video-Card Inspection section

As I opened the box to find out its treasured contents, it made me wonder why graphic card boxes were always made to be more than half empty. Anyway, the installation CD, colorful instruction manual are all packed in a different partition away from the card itself. Bright blue lights pierced my eyes as I pulled the card out of its packing. With a unique color, its bound to give some exceptional performance (that’s what I hope).

Here’s a low down on the card itself.

click to enlarge

As we can see from the picture, the card is cooled by a normal ball-bearing fan attached to a heatsink. Also, another great feature that it comes with is another heatsink attached to the back of the card where it is the hottest. Although both devices do bring about some cooling effect, the card still tends to get warm during test runs, at least it is hot to the touch.

Also, the card comes with a jumper to set NORMAL/TURBO mode for those who intend to run the card at higher clock. In addition, this card uses 4 pieces of Samsung 7ns SDRAM.

click to enlarge

However, I seem to think that they could have incorporated a better designed fan rather than using a standard fan on heatsink combo instead of the quite common sunken fan in heatsink combo. Heat dissipation is well taken care of by active cooling. However, I did not try overclocking the card as I am running on a socket 7 motherboard. Please refer to Vijay’s comments on socket 7 issues with TNT/TNT2s for more information. Meanwhile, I’ll continue exploring possibilities of squeezing more out of the card. However, I expect the slow 7ns Samsung RAM to keep the memory clock down. Therefore, any further increase will probably bring diminishing returns.

The Installation, Driver features and Programs

Installation was simple as expected. I just slotted in the card, launched Windows and waited to be prompted for drivers. Then I inserted the Gigabyte CD and directed Windows to the win9x directory. That’s about it for installation . It was a breeze though strangely enough, I find that NFS3 doesn’t run well on the card and also on DIAMOND V770 and Voodoo3 2000 ALSO!!! Reinstalling drivers and DirectX did not work and the most puzzling thing is that other games, e.g. Star Wars Pod Racer, Half life, Superbike ran without a jerk. A check with Vijay found that he did experience the same situation also. However, reinstallation of Windows solved the problem, as suggested by Vijay. Hmmm.. I'm still wondering what’s the problem. Anyway, any kind soul who could shed some enlightenment would be appreciated.

One good point I would like to bring up is the software that is included in the CDROM. The inclusion of Final Reality 1.01 in it means that people who just bought the card and wants to benchmark do not have to go to the internet to download it! This is especially useful for dial-up users like me. That’s a good thought from Gigabyte.

Documentation on the manual is extra clear, step by step instructions lead even the most computer illiterate users to think that installation is “chicken-feet”. Each and every detail of the check-boxes and radio buttons in the device setup and configuration were explained in the manual. Overall, Gigabyte have done a good job in creating a manual that makes it easy to understand and follow, of course.

Most importantly, Gigabyte has released a version based on the Detonator 2.08 core, right on the heels of the reference release from NVIDIA. The quick response time on Gigabyte's part certainly reaffirms their commitment to having excellent driver support at all times. With this release, Gigabyte has also implemented a new look and, more importantly, included an overclocking utility right in the drivers. Speed settings from 125 to 170 MHz are available for the core and from 150 to 190 MHz for the memory, both in 1 MHz increments. Everything is easily accessible either from the Gigabyte tray icon, or through the standard Windows 9x display properties. Unfortunately, Gigabyte provides absolutely no utilities for Windows NT 4, so you'll be stuck with straight up reference drivers under NT. That's not so bad, but you'll be without gamma correction, acceleration tweaks..etc., as NVIDIA's reference drivers provide absolutely no utilities under NT.

Some snapshots of gigabyte’s drivers and utilities.


After loading the Gigabyte drivers and utilities, you will see the Gigabyte icon on your system tray. Straight forward and self explanatory options make the program easy to use even for beginners as you do not have options for memory timings or core settings for those who are not familiar with them.

Let us now look at the performance of the card under Windows 98 platform benchmarked with 3DMARK 99 MAX and Final Reality.


3D Quality & Features

What type of quality other than superb would you have come to expect from a TNT2? Excellent 3D quality made gameplay look better than when you are in an arcade! I played games like NFS3, Star-Wars Pod Racer, Half-Life and the games ran with extreme fluency and smoothness.

HERE are the features as stated on the brochure.

Advanced 3D features

o Hardware triangle setup engine
o Optimized for Direct3D acceleration
o Complete directX 6.X support
o TwiN Texel(TNT) 32-bit graphics pipeline
o 2 texture-mapped, lit pixels per clock
o Single-pass multi-texturing
o Texture blending support
o Backend blending
o 24-bit or 16-bit Z-buffer and 8-bit stencil buffer
o Anti-alising (full scene and order independent)

2D Acceleration

o 128-bit graphics engine, optimized for single cycle operation
o Execution of all 256 Raster Operations
o Multi-buffering (double, triple and quad) for smooth animation

Flat Panel Option (GA-660F, GA-660FT)

o Silicon Image PanelLink Sil-154 digital transmitter
o Auto-expansion and centering for VGA text and graphics modes.
o Support for resolutions up to 1280 X 1024
o Drivers Support for Windows 9x, NT4.0 / 5.0


Have a look at the below selected screenshots taken by 3D-Mark99 test suite for comparisons (to view in full size, click on pictures):

GA-660 3DMark99
Reference Shots
Comments
Game-1

Difference is almost non-existent here during game play.
Game-2

No difference seen in these brown and dark colors.

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The Benchmarks

Benchmark was done in Windows98 , the de facto gaming platform, using 3Dmark99 MAX, Final Reality and Wintune98. Due to the inaccuracy of Wintune, I decided not to publish the results. Due to slow processor speed, the benchmark results are close and don’t differ by much. This again brings out the point that folks out there still using AMD K6-2 350 and below or a slow Pentium II should consider whether or not they can truly unleash the power of a TnT2. Therefore, I’ve decided to upgrade my system after this review. Looking for sponsors though (joking). Let us take a look at the end results. In addition, I managed to get hold of a Voodoo3 2000 to add in the benchmark test also. Just nice for those who are wondering whether to get a Voodoo3 or TnT2.

Final Reality Benchmark results:
Performance difference on GA660 @ 156/156 matched with Diamond Viper 770 TNT2 Ultra

GA-660 Final Reality Performance

Category
Score
Reality Marks
Radial Blur
34.09 rips
4.715
Chaos Zoomer
50.93 rips
2.475
25 Pixel
96.12 kpps
3.072
Robots
33.69 rips
8.728
Fillrate
173.88 MBps
37.636
City Scene
44.14 rips
10.954
Video Card Bus Transfer
40.22 MBps
1.281
Direct3D Bus Transfer
40.17 MBps
3.433
Overall 3D
4.078 Reality Marks
Overall 2D
3.595 Reality Marks
Overall Bus Rate
1.926 Reality Marks
Overall Score
3.610 Reality Marks

GA-660 3D Mark99 Overall Score

As you can see from the benchmarks, surprisingly, this card performed faster then the TNT2 ultra when clocked at turbo mode, 156/156. This is compared to a Diamond V770 TNT2 ultra at normal clock. 3dmark placed it behind Voodoo3 2000, which clocked a score of  2635.

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The Bad

There is nothing really bad about this card. Being sold at about $260++ at the current moment, it makes it one of the most affordable video cards based on nVidia’s TNT2 chipset. Coupled with its excellent performance, thanks to the TNT2, it makes it a good buy for those considering upgrading their current video card or those getting a new one. However, judging by the close performance that it is when placed side by side with a Voodoo3 2000, one wonders if it is worth it getting a TNT2/TNT2 ULTRA based card when compared to a Voodoo3 2000, the performance difference on a slower machine is minimal and the latter is retailing for only S$172 (oem).

Another thing is perhaps high performance cards like these should include TV-out jacks as standard items instead of a separate option.

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Test System Configuration

Processor(s) AMD K6-2 350 w/ 3D-Now!
Ram 64MB 100MHz Hyundai 8ns SDRAM Dimm
Motherboard FIC VA503+ MVP3 w 1mb cache
HardDrive(s) Quantum CR 8.4GB 5400rpm
Operating System MS Windows 98 Build 4.10.1998
DirectX Version MS DirectX Version 6.1
Other software used Final reality, 3d Mark99 Max, Wintune 98
Video Card(s) Gigabyte GA-660 
Video Card Drivers Gigabyte GA-660 drivers (latest)

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Conclusion

Well, that wraps up the review that I’ve been doing for the past week. Overall, I think that this is a very good card worth all the applause that you can give. With dual heatsink implementation and excellent driver support and being the only manufacturer to provide drivers for Windows 2000, it sure makes it a good buy at S$260++. No harm giving this fella a try guys!

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VIDEO CARD RATING

Overall Rating
(Out of a maximum of 5 Star)

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


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