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Skywell Magic MVGA-NVTNT2A 32MB AGP Review
Reviewed by Alan Kuik (26 August 99)


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

- Other video cards reviews

Here we go again. Is this another one of those numerous TNT2 cards that have already been introduced long into the market? Skywell Technologies launched this card several months ago.

With a lack of specification in the Skywell website, it is queer that in today's emphasis on after sales services, Skywell have yet to look seriously into that area. Without a user friendly manual, without any information about this newest card that they have, it's hard to commend them on marketing strategies.

Having lost track of the number of Taiwanese graphic cards with the Nvidia's chipset, let's now quickly take a look at how this card is slightly different from the other sheeps....

Video Card Specifications

Bus Type
AGP 4x (AGP1x/2x compatible)
Controller
nVidia Riva TNT2
Ram
32MB SDRAM
Data Path
128 bit
RAMDAC
300 Mhz
Video Playback
Direct Show, MPEG-1, MPEG-2, Indeo
Supported Resolutions
640 x 480 - 2048 x 1536
Supported Refresh Rates
60 - 200Hz

Package contents

These are the contents of the package:   Software & Drivers included
  • (1) Skywell Magic TNT2 card
  • (1) Installation guide
  • (1) Installation CD
  • NVidia's Detonator 2.08 drivers
  • PhotoEx

As Skywell lacked a specs sheet for this particular card, I figured that I could put out the specs as printed on the box. They are listed below:-

3D Features:

100% hardware triangle setup Backbend blend
Twin texel (TNT) 32-bit graphics pipeline 32-bit ARGB rendering with destination alpha
2 texture-mapped, lit pixels per clock Point sampled, bilinear, trilinear and 8-tap anistropic filtering
Single pass multi-texturing Per pixel perspective correct texture alpha
Bump mapping 24-bit or 16-bit HW Z-buffer (fixed or floating point precision)
Texture modulation Texture Blend support : procedural textures - 2048 x 2048
Light Maps Full scene anti-aliasing

2D Features

High performance 128 bit 2D acceleration

DVD sub-picture alpha-blended compositing, 30fps full screen DVD playback
Hardware acceleration for all win GDI operation Fast 32-bit VGA/SVGA support
Optimized for multiple color depths (32, 24, 16, 15, 8 bits per pixel) Multi-buffering (up to quad buffering) for smooth animation and video playback
True color hardware cusor, hardware color dithering  

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The Good

The Video-Card Inspection section

Packed in a dark colored box, it is good to see that the box is more sturdy and thicker than normal video card packaging (who knows what might happen on the way home). Like a typical Taiwanese made card, the manufacturers scringe on package contents. Besides a meagre 10 page thin manual and a CD-ROM, there's nothing much more to look at in the box other than the card of course. Perhaps it's time they learned how to package a product to make it look more attractive then it actually is.

The card is huge in size. Much bigger than the other numerous TNT2 cards that I've reviewed. It gave me a shock when I ripped it out of the box. Packed with 8 pieces of SEC 7ns RAM, it didn't look like a great deal. However, its power lies uncovered. With an active cooling fan / heatsink combination, temperature during runtime is kept down to a warm level. TV-out is optional. A snapshot of the RAM is shown on the left.

The Installation, Driver features and Programs

Installation of today's modern graphic cards are chicken-feet to most of us since 90% of them come with almost automated installation or idiot-proof manuals. It wasn't much difference with the Magic's case. However, it was indeed a shame that besides the detonator drivers, the CD-ROM came with nothing else that was useful. There are no bundled softwares here. Driver installation was easy and simple though, with step by step instructions stated in the manual. There is not much to grasp about except for the performance of the card itself.

The lack of programs like Powerstrip , Incontrols99 (Diamond) or other similiar functionality programs discourage users from clocking the card to higher speeds easily. However, you'll notice that the Magic card itself is clocked at 150mhz, instead of Nvidia's recommended 125MHz. Memory was clocked at the normal 150MHz though.

Here's a screen capture that you will see after installation.

You'll notice that besides the Nvidia's icon on the deskop after installation, there's no other places for you to tweak the card.

3D Quality & Features

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

Magic TNT2 3DMark99
Reference Shots
Comments
Game-1

Picture quality was near perfect reproduction. Graphics were smoother then the other normal TNT2 cards. (probably of the higher clock)
Game-2

Not much noticable difference in picture reproduction compared to the reference picture.

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The Benchmarks

Benchmarking was of course done on Windows98.

Wintune 98 results :

Video(2D)
53.78163 MPixels/s
Direct3D
202.8639 MPixels/s
OpenGL
129.0188 MPixels/s

3D mark 99 Max results :

As you can see by the benchmark scores, OpenGL performance is high.

Test runs on Quake2, Half-Life ran along nicely as expected. Even at the higher resolutions of 1024 x 768 x 32bit there was nothing to complain about in terms of performance from any of these "MiniGL" titles. Of course, I tested the card on Quake 3 too. Of course I ran along happily without any hiccups. Overall performance was solid. Though not as fast as an UltraTNT2, the game remained playable with the highest detail settings in 32bit, even up to and beyond 1024 x 768. Direct 3D performance was also great, Expendable was actually quite playable at 1600 x 1200 at 16bit. With 32bit rendering enabled however the game wasn't quite as fluid. However, when we are playing games, we usually prefer speed and fluidity over resolution. I bet you can't really tell the difference between 24 and 32 bit when the enemy is just on your tail!

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The Bad

On the whole, the Skywell card is not a disappointment at all! With its performance and pricing, it could easily beat the other TNT2 cards in the market. Of course comparing it with the TNT2 Ultras would leave it in their shadows since it is of a lower clock. What I feel Skywell should do is package customized clocking utilities which are getting more and more common these days with the introduction of AOpen's new TNT2 Ultra card with their own set of utilities as well as Diamond's V770 Ultra also doing the same thing with InControls99.

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Test System Configuration

Processor(s) AMD K6-2 450 w/ 3D-Now!
Ram 128MB 100MHz Siemens 8ns SDRAM Dimm
Motherboard Tyan Trinity S1598 ATX (1mb cache)
HardDrive(s) IBM DS14 10.1GB 7200rpm
Operating System MS Windows 98 Build 4.10.1998
DirectX Version MS DirectX Version 6.1
Other software used Wintune, 3d Mark99 Max
Video Card(s) Skywell Magic TNT2
Video Card Drivers Nvidia's Detonator drivers provided in CDROM

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Conclusion

Giving a mention on DVD Playback, it is becoming increasingly popular, partly due to the fact that these days you don't have to go out and buy an expensive decoder kit in order to get high-res DVD movies to play fluidly on your PC screen. While the TNT 2 chipset doesn't offer many features that aid DVD playback (it doesn't have motion compensation for example) it does do overlay rendering and video scaling quite efficiently so with a fast CPU and a good DVD player you can play movies just fine. Therefore, once you get this card, there you go! A DVD player on your computer! However, it is funny that Skywell took out the DVD player software that was originally bundled with Magic TNT.

The Skywell Magic TNT 2 is a nice board based on the TNT 2 chip that is ever so famous. The higher clocked core and memory clock for a non-Ultra board together with its low price of about S$250, it is definitely a good buy for those who do not want to invest in a TNT2 Ultra. If you're contented to buy a cheaper TNT2, minus all the frills of a pretty box and brand name, then the Skywell Magic TNT2 is solid as a rock.

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VIDEO CARD RATING

Overall Rating
(Out of a maximum of 5 Star)

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

Any comments/remarks? Submit your views to this review here.

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