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CARDEXpert TNT AGP Review

Date: 14th February
by Vijay Anand

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

- Other video cards reviews

CARDEXpert (commonly known as Cardex), the no.2 video-card producer Taiwan is working hard to displace the top Video-Card manufacturer in Taiwan, Leadtek. They have leap-frogged over the time, expanding their contacts and broadening their product line to cover the most popular chipsets produced. In the beginning they were usually associated as a cheap video-card maker because they used to produce mainly those low-end Trident and S3 products. But Cardex has done it's homework well and has since produced very good products based on the Riva-128, Riva-128ZX, S3-Savage3D, Voodoo Banshee and now the Riva-TNT.

nVidia's 1st chipset, the NV3 was partially a failure as it was not used by almost any video-card besides the Diamond Edge-3D which didn't become famous but the NV3 did have some unique new features, also unfortunately never used. nVidia went back to redesign and came up with the Riva-128 which became very famous overnight due to the fact it was faster than the competing 3Dfx Voodoo graphics chipset and so was the fastest chipset of it's time. But from the very beginning, the 3D quality of the Riva-128 was not up to par of all other video-card chipsets. Now the new nVidia Riva-TNT is the fastest 2D cum 3D card and has excellent 3D quality. Prior to the TNT's release, it was over-hyped that it's core clock speed will run at 125MHz with amazing fill-rate numbers but the fabrication plant that manufactured nVidia's chipset was unable to move to the 0.25 micron process as yet. Coupled to the fact that it's core was very advanced, nVidia had to settle for a normal 0.35 micron chipset and under-clocking it to 90Mhz so that it can run stable. It didn't meet the market's expectation due to the initial hype but it's still the fastest chipset available. But very soon it's going to face a fierce competition from ATI-128 chipset and some price-slashes can be expected :)

Video Card Specifications

Interface AGP 2x
Chipset nVidia Riva-TNT (90MHz clock)
Ram Hyundai 16MB SDRAM 7ns
Data Path 128 bit
RAMDAC 250 Mhz
TV-Output Optional
Video Playback MPEG-1, MPEG-2, DVD, Indeo, & Cinepak
Supported Resolutions 640 x 480 - 1920 x 1200
Supported Refresh Rates 60 - 240 Hz

These are the contents of the box:

The box design is a simple standard one (don't under-estimate what's inside!), used by all of it's video-card product line. But at the back of the box there's some relevant information about the particular product inside. Please be careful not to get a different card by mistake as the box seems the same as the other Cardex products but checking the back of the box will tell you which product you've chosen. The card is packaged in a air-pocketed plastic bag. The above and below snapshots of the board are taken from Arcs techincs:

These are the utilities & softwares that are given on the installation CD:

  • nVidia Reference TNT drivers

  • VCD PowerPlayer

  • Expertool

  • MSIE 3.02

  • Bios Flash utility

  • MS DirectX-6

  • VGARTD drivers

  • MS-NetShow-2

The board is about average size for a TNT-based card. It has the large 0.35 micron TNT chip which is kept cool by the well ventilated black heatsink and a low profile black fan (0.05A) which draws it's power-supply from the board itself. Even when running intensive 3D games, the only part of the board that is very warm is right behind the TNT chipset! Anywhere else is so cool that it's definitely the coolest TNT card I've used to date. A marked difference from the similar Creative TNT even with a screwed on fan! There are 8pc of Hyundai 2MB SDRAM of 7ns type around the TNT. Other features on the board are 2 feature connectors, the small socketed Flash-Bios and spare space for the video decoder that provides TV-out functions(another version of this card has a TV-out option).

Another item that I've not mentioned before is that the back of this card is very flat with no obstructions(just like the Asus-TNT). This is a likely place for you to add thermal paste with a heatsink and/or fan combo for extreme overclocking. But I should say that temp difference between overclocking and not overclocking is about the same for this board.

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The Good

The Expertise of CARDEXpert

Installation of the card is very straight-forward like many other cards and is well documented in the manual. The manual, made of recycled paper, is slim and straight-forward to the point. When windows asks for an updated driver, just direct it to the correct directory. The funny thing is that under the 'win98' folder, where all driver files are located, there's another folder called 'new'. Venturing into it, I found much newer drivers. Do use them if your's too has a 'new' folder. After Win98 has settled itself with the driver update, use the 'cdsetup.exe' to install the other components, e.g. DirectX-6, Expertool and others.

A good thing about this card is that it uses reference drivers which is updated quite often by nVidia. No need for the manufacturer to waste time changing or modifying them. From what I see, the Expertool is just an add-on which I'll touch on later. Another thing is that the Nvidia Tweak is also included, which further lets us modify our settings to our needs.

Expertool and nVidia-Tweak Utilities

Expertool is a simple, friendly display control & desktop enhancement utility. It sits in your desktop tray quietly, as shown below(it's the last icon):

Clicking on the Expertool icon, you get the following handy options:


The Desktop tab has all the important items from the display properties. The refresh-rate slider can set refresh rates in very small steppings unlike those standard ones offered by windows. The same applies for the font-size slider. Most of the time your stuck with standard settings but the Expertool is more unique. The performance tab only has the memory clock slider to tamper with. If only it had the TNT core clock slider, probably none of us would use PowerStrip!! Here's how the Desktop and Performance tab look like(Don't worry of the cut off text, they are actually scrolling!):



I'm not sure if it's Cardex on nVidia who has bundled the nVidia-Tweak utility, but it sure will come handy to adjust image quality or improve the performance a bit. Here's how the NV-tweak and it's additional properties page look like:



3D Quality & Features

The 3D quality looks great as any TNT will show. I tested games like NFS3, Star-Wars: Shadows of the Empire, Rogue Squadron 3D, Quake-2, Ultimate Race Pro & I ran the games at 800x600 and they all were as good as fun to play as the Spectra. Here's a shot of Q2:

These are the 3D Features:

The Benchmarks

I have benchmarked the Cardex-TNT in Windows98 with DirectX-6.

So here's the results :

Cardex-TNT AGP 16MB SDRAM

Benchmarking Softwares / Cpu Config Wintune98 Video (2D) / Mps Wintune98 Direct3D /Mps Wintune98 OpenGL / Mps Quake-2 Timedemo1 / fps Quake-2 Timedemo2 / fps 3D Mark99 / 3DMarks
K6-2-300 (3 x 100MHz) 47.74 102.76 83.55 34.4 31.9 1527
K6-2-350 (3.5 x 100Mhz) 49.05 105.78 86.23 38.2 35.2 1616

Done @ 640 x 480 with OpenGL for Quake II V3.05, @ 800 x 600 for 3D-Mark99 and @ 1024 x 768 for the rest of the other tests.

2D performance is way below par for a TNT but the Canopus Spectra running on the same system scored very much higher, therefore the drivers may not have been optimized in this area. 3D is on par with the Canopus Spectra TNT and can improve but this is due to the Super-7 motherboard and K6-2 chip used. Using a P2 system of the same speed, you'll see much higher performance. From the results, a super-7 system owner is better off buying a Banshee based card unless one is buying a video-card to keep for sometime to come, in which the more powerful TNT can be better utilised when the super-7 owner upgrades later on.

For overclockers, you can push up the core speed up to 107Mhz and the ram up to 120Mhz using Power-Strip. It was fairly stable at this setting but performance gain isn't much. Beyond this speed for either the ram or core, your games will crash very quickly.

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The Bad

2D is not strong in a super-7 system, likely due to the way the drivers are tuned because the Spectra-2500 scored twice as much. The Creative-TNT OEM is much cheaper if someone is looking for the cheapest TNT available. There isn't any game bundle or demos but this is a budget card, so I bet the prospective buyer won't mind at all. The other version of the Cardex-TNT comes with TV-out and has SGRAM instead. I Hope Cardex will use SGRAM for all it's TNTs to boost performance a bit. Sad to say that it wasn't a very overclockable card as it's using 7ns ram. I don't think there are any other quibbles, very minor if any.

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Test System Configuration

Processor(s) AMD K6-2-300
Ram 64MB 100MHz LGS-7J SDRAM Dimm
Motherboard AOpen AX59-Pro
HardDrive(s) IBM Deskstar-3 3.2Gb
Operating System MS Windows 98 Build 4.10.1998
DirectX Version MS DirectX Version 6
Other software used Power-Strip 2.29 (for over-clocking)
Video Card(s) Cardex-TNT AGP
Video Card Bios Ver: NA
Video Card Drivers 4.10..01.0044

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Conclusion

It's very well done board, comparable to other bigshots in the video-card business. No.1 pick for cramped/not-well ventilated casings. It's also well priced, considering that it's a retail version. It's not reasily sold in many places but the price should range between $210 to $235 as of writing. Not to forget is that it's a bit faster than the average competition. Cardex has changed a lot from its beginning and I wouldn't hesitate to pick this affordable retail card over the hot Creative-TNT(OEM and box) anytime!


VIDEO CARD RATING

Overall Rating (Out of a maximum of 5 Star)

Installation *****
Performance ****1/4
Price ****
Software Bundle ***
Material Quality ****1/4
Overall Rating ****

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Last updated February 14, 1999.

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