Singapore Hardware Zone!

Canopus Spectra-5400 Premium Edition AGP Review
Reviewed by Vijay Anand
Date : 17th July 99 and on 29th July
99

** If you've read the review before and need to look out for updated info only,
just look out for the sections with   logo. **


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

- Other video cards reviews


Canopus, a Japanese based Corporation is a name highly recognized with excellent video-editing products and bundled utilities. Some years back, they tried their hand at the video-card market as they had the technical know-how and produced their 1st video card, the Canopus Total3D using the Rendition Verite-1000 chipset, which was a product to cater to the then just started 3D video-cards. The Canopus Totla3D was one of the 1st video-cards to be equipped with '3D' glasses and really promoted their kit as a high-end gaming card (it was written 'Caution' all over it!). Moving on, they still concentrated on the gaming market to carry on making the Canopus-Pure3D, which became the fastest Voodoo-1 card due to Canopus' special engineering and drivers and was the only Voodoo-1 card to be equipped with 6MB RAM and support for 800x600 resolution! Canopus became very famous by this time due to the exceptional features on the Pure3D.

Next came the Canopus Total3D-128V utilising the Riva-128 chipset it had the fastest 3D performance of the Riva-128 category and was the 1st video-card to be equipped with TV-out and Video-input (The ATI All-in-Wonder was produced right after this to have TV-out, V-in and TV-tuner). The TV-output was powered by a Chrontel CH7002D-V which is considered to have one of the best TV-outputs, even today and could output to TV and monitor simultaneously. It was equipped with costly MoSys SGRAMs and its PCB is un-paralleled to any video-card, even the current Spectra series. As you can deduce by my words, Canopus products are usually the best engineered products in the market.

Pure3D-2 was next and also has Canopus optimized drivers that produced the best Voodoo-2 results again. It had an option of adding Canopus' own fan and safely overclock the core to 100Mhz or higher and many more nifty stuff. When the Riva-TNT came along, the Spectra line was born, starting with the Spectra-2500 which sports a unique high quality heat-sink + fan combo, the exclusive 'WitchDoctor' technology and up to 920x690 TV-output resolutions, the highest so far. It also can be expanded with Video-Capture functions by means of the Canopus VideoPort-600.

The Spectra-2500 was so well received that its sales ended quite soon because Canopus didn't expect such a good response and it had stopped producing the 2500 for sometime. To begin production, packaging and shipping the 2500 back to the retail channel again would be too late, therefore Canopus didn't produce anymore even though the demand was there. Canopus then produced cheaper versions of the TNT named the Spectra-3200 but it mostly sold it in Japan itself. Soon after, Canopus officially announced that it will not be making anymore video-cards for the international market (due to high competition I assume), and will primarily be concentrating on it's original Video-editing business. However, Canopus still produces video-cards for its local market, Japan.

When the TNT2 chipset was announced, Canopus went into designing and now manufacturing two products based on the Riva-TNT2 and Riva-TNT2-Ultra chipsets called the Spectra-5400 and Spectra-5400 Premium Edition (PE) respectively. Between the two of them, the main difference was the chipset used and the amount and type of RAM installed. Of course everybody dreamed about these as not much is known about them. To make it even harder, the product can only be seen on the Japanese version of Canopus website and you must know their language in order to decipher what the features mean. Anyway, Convergent Systems (Singapore) has somehow got a deal or contract to bring in some Spectra-5400 PE video cards and I'm sure it's not the usual amount that distributors normally bring in. SHZ, was there on the 12th of July to get one of these rare gems to test out.

This Spectra-5400 PE has a wealth of features and expansion options! Hydrodynamic Bearing Fan, SSH, DFS, optional TV-out, optional BNC outputs, optional Video Port-600 and Canopus own utilities. Without further delay, let's meet the Spectra-5400 Premium Edition:

Video Card Specifications

Interface AGP 4x (AGP-2x compatible)
Chipset nVidia Riva TNT2-Ultra
Ram EliteMT 32MB 5ns SDRAM
Data Path 128 bit
RAMDAC 300 Mhz
TV-Output Optional, SSH Type-D/TV
Video Playback MPEG-1, MPEG-2, Indeo, & Cinepak
Supported Resolutions 640 x 480 - 2048 x 1536
Supported Refresh Rates 60 - 150 Hz

These are the contents of the package:   These are the utilities & software
that are given on the installation CD:
  • (1) Canopus Scpectra-5400 video card
  • (1) Guarantee Card
  • (1) Installation guide
  • (1) Canopus Installation CD
  • (1) WinDVD CD
  • (1) Addendum

 
  • Canopus Spectra-5400 Drivers
  • MS DirectX-6.1
  • Canopus Application Launcher
  • Canopus Media-Scope
  • Canopus Snap-Shot
  • Canopus Screen Control
  • Canopus Quick Control

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The Good

The Video-Card Inspection section

As you can see from the box snapshot (click for a bigger and clearer view) that it's a very beautifully done box just like it's predecessors that will give you a special feeling (bragging rights?) if you get one of them. Inside, there are separate compartments by way of a corrugated sheet that has been well folded to form different sections, though my contents were all put into only one compartment. The manual is of high quality and has steps to guide you with the normal installation with large pictures. The guarantee card is only applicable in Japan, hence I suppose we'll only have the normal 1 year warranty. At the bottom is the 'wonder' card wrapped in the electrostatic bag. Here's a low down of the board:

One look at the board and you should know that the whole board is a proprietary design and not the run-of-the-mill reference cards. The high quality PCB is longer by 2 cm than the reference based Creative and Diamond TNT2. At the center of the board, we see a familiar sight that used to awe us. That's right, the same kind of high-quality metallic heatsink with a sunken fan in the center design is used again as was first used in the Spectra-2500. The vents are only on one side of the diamond-shaped heatsink and the hot air is pumped out by a powerful 0.14W Fluid-Bearing fan eliminates noise and vibration (Canopus calls it the Hydrodynamic Bearing fan). The board is luke-warm or warm throughout testing, so no worries of heavy heat output.
The memory being used is an EliteMT 5ns 2MB SDRAM chip and there are 16 pieces of them, 8 in front and 8 at the back (totaling 32MB). 5ns by calculation is capable of 200Mhz but we'll see how it goes in the benchmarking section. For a board like Canopus, using EliteMT doesn't give such a good impression but it is cheaper. I wonder if Canopus has a second RAM supplier and if that is Hyundai?
Somewhere near the start of the AGP interface, you'll find two rows of colorful jumpers (red, green, blue), "now what could that be?", you might ask. It's a Dual Filter System (DFS). To allow the best performance on a variety of monitors, the Fine Filter was developed and this is the default setting. Another filter called the Super-fine filter was developed to ensure the best performance on high-end monitors exceeding 21-inches. That's quite thoughtful of Canopus! In my opinion with the default Fine-filter with my Sony-17" seems a tad brighter/crisper than a normal TNT2. Some of you may or may not notice the difference but I certainly do.
The next interesting item is a separate elevated piece of PCB connected to the DB-15 monitor connector. This is the Signal-Super-Highway (SSH). To maintain optimum image quality, the display information signals are kept isolated all the way from the TNT2's video DAC to final analog output. This advanced isolation and micostrip-line circuitry allows crucial impedance adjustments, ensuring a pure and perfect signal output. This could be another reason why I feel there's slight improvement in my windows environment. I'm sure such innovations will go to show more difference in output quality for users with large monitors running 1600x1200 resolution or there-about. This SSH shown here only has a DB-15 monitor connector and is named as SSH Type-D. This Type-D can be unscrewed and replaced by two other optional SSH versions (purchased separately) to cater to various needs. This is extremely clever of Canopus! Not only did they isolate the display signal by using the separate elevated SSH but also used this design to their advantage and made it exchangeable with other SSH types. Here are a few shots after I unscrewed them:

Cool, huh? And it's as simple as unscrewing and unplugging the current SSH and plug in a new SSH type and screwing it back. As of now, there are two optional SSH versions, Type-D/TV and Type-B (the default when you buy the 5400 is the Type-D, so don't get confused).

This is how the original and default SSH Type-D looks in another view.
This is the SSH Type-D/TV add-on, which has Composite and S-Video outputs for display on TV. The display data is kept digital as long as possible for optimum image quality. If I'm not wrong, it could be using the Chrontel CH7002D-V, a TV-out decoder which is mainly used in Canopus products.
SSH Type-B has separate BNC outputs for high quality displays that support this feature unlike the usual DB-15 connector which uses a cable that combines all the signals. It uses Impedance matching (75 ohms) beryllium copper contacts.
On the top of the board, you'll see 3 rows of Expansion Connectors and these are used for the Spectra's add-on called Spectra VideoPort-600, which provides all of the capabilities of a dedicated video-capture card. This add-on for the Spectra series allows real-time capture and compression of video in Motion JPEG and MPEG compression schemes, using a high-speed software encoder. It has built-in support closed captioned video monitoring and super fine 1500x1125 pixel still captures. The VideoPort-600 mounts in a standard 5.25 inch drive bay for easy access to the audio and video cables.

The Installation, Driver features and Programs

Installation was quite simple as expected. I just popped in the card, launched windows and waited for windows to prompt me for drivers. Then I insert the Canopus Spectra-5400 CD and directed windows to the win9x directory. That's all! A reboot later I had everything in full swing with Canopus utilities loaded. The nice thing was that the Spectra-5400 drivers are dated 21-6-99, which is far newer than the reference drivers dated at 4-6-99. I'm not sure if Canopus used the nVidia reference 1.88 drivers or the beta 1.91 drivers. Most likely it's 1.88 as the results suggest later. My overall desktop is slightly brighter and crisper thanks to Canopus's DFS and SSH engineering. Here's a snapshot of my desktop with Canopus utilities loaded by default:


  When the Canopus utilities are first loaded, you'll see two new icons. They are the last two in the below picture. Of them, the 1st is called Canopus Quick Control and the 2nd is called the Canopus Screen Control.
 

1st off, let's see what the Quick Control does. Double-click the Quick-Control icon to get the Quick-Control window, shown on the left. Quick-Control was introduced with the thought of helping gamers to get the best screen output on the fly while playing the game. Like when your Quaking away, you find a darker spot and need a little brighter/clearer to see what's happening, just use the short-cut keys programmed in the Quick-Control to boost the brightness or gamma to your liking. You can immediately see the effect, which is very useful without going into the game menus or exiting the game to rectify the settings. Now you got the idea what it does, click the Edit button.
Here you can see the Gamma control keys and you can change the short-cut as you wish. Click on the advanced list to see more pre-defined settings for use. Many small adjustments can be set here and you can activate them, e.g. decreasing or increasing brightness with the shortcuts immediately. Well, that's all for the Quick-Control. You can see that Canopus has always catered to the gaming market and it still does today.
The icon next to Quick-Control is Screen-Control. Right-click it and you can access the following from the large menu: Properties for display, User Manual, Refresh Utility, Refresh-Rate Frequency and every resolution and colour depth your Monitor and is capable of. Very nifty indeed. This and many of the features you've seen or will be shown to you are roughly 2 years old but Canopus is the 1st to do so starting with it's Total3D-128V. Even today, many video-cards don't have the mirage of features Canopus gives you but well known brand such as Diamond, Matrox, Creative and even Asus have caught this trend and have very similar looking utilities and features. Still, Canopus is the leader =)
This is the Refresh-Utility accessed from the Screen-Control menu. You can set your desired refresh rate for every resolution that you will be using in advance here. You can even set refresh-rates when Direct-Draw is used! Well, this is just more of precision control in comparison to other video-cards that use your desktop refresh-rate as the same as for games.
When you select a refresh-rate form the drop-down menu for each new resolution, a test screen like that shown to the left is shown for you to verify that your intended refresh-rate comes out well. It's just an extra precautionary step taken by Canopus. That's all for Screen-Control.
Inside Display-Properties, Settings, Advanced, you'll find 2 new tabs, Spectra Options and Spectra Gamma Controls. It contains cursor colour controls and display centering controls. Clicking on the Advanced button....
You get 5 more tabs for more adjustments. The first is a general tab. The picture on the left is self-explanatory, so click on it for more details.
The second tab is the Direct-X Compatibility tab. The picture on the left is self-explanatory, so click on it for more details.
Here, we have the D3D Performance tab. Most important here is the ability to disable V-sync and naturally, I did! The picture on the left is self-explanatory, so click on it for more details.
Next is the OpenGL tab. Again you have the 'wait for V-sync' option. This too, I disabled. The picture on the left is self-explanatory, so click on it for more details.
This is just the Other-Options tab. Nothing much here and this is the last tab in the advanced options. The picture on the left is self-explanatory, so click on it for more details.
The thin bar stretching the whole width of your desktop on the very top is the Application Launcher Bar. It's something similar to the Win98 taskbar where you can place shortcuts to your favourite programs. Have a look at the default 3 groups it creates. They are Canopus, Games and Applications and you can add more. The nice thing is that it takes up less visual space than the taskbar because you can overlap the groups as shown.
In the previous picture I've already created a button in the Games group for SW-Racer. Right-clicking that button or any space in that group and selecting customize brings about the left picture. Here you can add more short-cuts. Then using button settings, we get the below picture.....
This is just more options to customise the name, path and icon type.
If you want to make it Auto-hide like your taskbar or SB-Live Launcher, or don't want to have this Application Launcher at all, right-click on the far-left image representing the Application Launcher and customise it to your liking. You enable it back from the Spectra-5400 program group.
Canopus SnapShot is one of the 3 programs given on the CD. The Snapshot is a slightly more advanced desktop-capture program than your typical Print-Screen button but HyperSnap is still far better than this.
The MediaScope is just a slightly updated version of the Total Cinema-EX program that was bundled with the Total3D-128V but it's looks far better and easier to handle than the Windows Media Player. It can play Audio-CDs, numerous Video-types but the amount of recognised Audio types is much less, for e.g., I don't think it can play MP3 files. One thing about this Media-Scope, is that when I set it to play Video-CDs in FULL-screen, there are no black areas (most of the time) compared to when I play the same file through another player and see Black spaces on the top and bottom. There are also some options to configure how this MediaScope looks and works. The 3rd program is WinDVD but unfortunately, I don't have any DVD-Drive nor does the CD contain any samples to try out.

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 tested the games at 1024x768 with extreme fluency.

Here's the complete 3D feature set for the Spectra-5400PE as outlined on the product box:

  • Alpha Blending
  • Anisotropic Filtering
  • Bilinear Filtering
  • Bump Mapping
  • Environment Mapping
  • Fogging
  • Gouraud Shading
  • Hardware Triangle Setup Engine
  • MIP Mapping
  • Perspective Correction
  • Specular Highlights
  • Stencil Buffer
  • Subpixel Precision
  • 12GFLOP Floating Point Geometry Engine
  • Texture Mapping
  • Transparency
  • Transparency
  • TwiN-Texel Engine
  • Z-Buffering
 

Since the TNT2-Ultra is a very fast chipset 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 see so many review comparing the 16-bit and 32-bit colour differences and the only was 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 your 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 on in either colour resolution 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). I've now included a comparison with the 3dfx V3-3000's image quality which, has yielded interesting results. Carry on to find out:

Canopus
Spectra
5400
3dfx
Voodoo3
3000
3DMark99
Reference Shots
Description
Alpha Blending

Between the Spectra and the reference-image, it's perfect but V3 seems to have some banding problems in colour gradients. The time I got this V3 shot, the latest V3 drivers were not out, which could solve this problem.
Texture Resolution

Again the Spectra using it's TNT2 engine shows it's accuracy in reproducing this test sample. The V3 has got major problem in rendering this correctly, as usual.
Game-1

Here, the V3 seems to produce slightly clearer and sharper images than the Spectra. Hard to believe but it's true. Take note of all the 3DMark99 logos in this scene and compare among them carefully. Same goes for the Speedometer.
Game-2

Here again, the V3 looks better than the Spectra. Especially, notice the weapon, ammo-counter and cross-hair. But the TNT2 renders the footpath better when it's further away.

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The Benchmarks

Benchmarking was done in Windows-98 with Microsoft DirectX-6.1 drivers and PowerStrip 2.50 for overclocking. While benchmarking, I decide to do some overclocking as the board had good cooling and fast 5ns SDRAMs. I made the jump from 150/183Mhz (core/mem) to 180/220Mhz, just to try my luck. Yep, it worked but after 1 minute, lot of artifacts appeared and I quickly put the speed back to default. I tried the more conservative 175/200Mhz but after 2 rounds of 3Dmark99, the screen will hang at the Race scene (Game-1). What gives?? The core is only very warm, quite normal and the rams are rated at 200Mhz, so where could the problem be?

After further testing for a week, I've confirmed that the most stable speed I can push the board to was 170/200Mhz, about 5Mhz short of what I was expecting from the core. I can only hope that the TNT2-Ultra core used in this board could have been a lower yield, probably those that were manufactured as a normal TNT2 core but was later stamped with the Ultra word by nVidia after proving that it can do 150Mhz reliably. I'm also hoping the card isn't less overclockable due to the complex proprietary design. The RAMs are a little odd. They are rated at 200Mhz but I was surprsied that it failed to even do 5Mhz more than its designed speed, probably the outcome of using EliteMT chips. I can't really fault the RAM manufacturer as they did rate the chip for 200Mhz and it performed well at that speed. On the contrary, Hyundai and Samsung RAMs usually have a much higher tolerance than what they are rated for.

I've used the Spectra drivers provided on the CD as well as the reference drivers 1.88 and I've pitted the results against a Creative TN2-Ultra using 1.88 reference drivers as at the time of that card's testing, updated Creative drivers weren't available. I've used my Celeron-300A at 300Mhz and 450Mhz to obtain my results. For K6 results, I only have a K6-2-300, so running benchmarks on it will reflect very little or no changes as compared to the results in the Creative-TNT2-Ultra review, therefore please refer to the Creative review for the results. Slow processors show too little of a difference to benchmark. The Spectra-5400 PE is said to be optimized for the P3 but I found no difference in its drivers and nVidia's reference drivers in my own testing (nVidia didn't say they had SSE optimizes drivers in the first place, so the 'SSE-Optimised' is just a gimmick). At the last moment I've also downloaded latest drivers for the Spectra based on the latest reference drives, but it seems to have slowed all my results by 1 or 2 FPS and I don't see any visual difference if they have made any improvement in that category. Hence, all my tests still have nVidia's reference 1.88 drivers.

Where I've indicated C-450A (Creative), it's using the Creative TNT2-Ultra card with nVidia reference 1.88 drivers running the CPU at 450Mhz. C-450A (nVidia) means it's using a Spectra-5400 PE video-card with nVidia reference 1.88 drivers. C-450A (Spectra) means it's using the Spectra-5400 PE video card with the given Spectra drivers on the CD (21/6/99). Where I've indicated it's O/C, for Creative it means 175/200Mhz and for nVidia (Spectra) it means 170/200Mhz.

Canopus Spectra-5400 PE 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
C-450A (4.5 x 100MHz) (Spectra) 109.1909 256.8559 162.0903 93.4 87.1 3953
C-450A (4.5 x 100MHz) (nVidia) 104.5184 197.9685 161.46 94.6 88.8 3891
C-450A (4.5 x 100MHz) (Creative) 99.15589 192.5483 157.5598 94.3 84.5 3970

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

Looks like Canopus Spectra-drivers have some light tweaking to bring the overall higher results. Anyway, this is just a rough overview and WT98 isn't a very accurate measure of performance.



Overall, there are minute differences between the driver types and between the Spectra ans Creative cards but I'll deem it too minor to seriously consider the results to select between the different video cards.

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 CPU's 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. I've used the 1.88 reference drivers and the given Spectra drives (dated 21/6/99) for further comparison.

The performance drop is quite small as you can see from the graph and this is something you can 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. The different drivers also don't effect the performance. Next are the 3DMark99-Max results. The P3-450 results for both the Spectra-54000 and V3-3000 are with the help of Anurax who helped me to run some benchmarks while I was at his place. His system has 192MB of RAM which helped me to get 32MB texture size results.

3DMark99-MAX Results

3DMark Results CPU Geometry Speed Rasterizer Score
3DMark Results 3DMark Results 3DMark Results
Comparing with the V3-3000, the Spectra wins it by 2 marks! Creative-TNT2-Ultra is leading a wee-bit over the Spectra-5400 using the nVidia drivers for Celeron running at 450Mhz. At 300Mhz level, the Spectra using nVidia drivers has a tiny lead. It's quite a see-saw! Similar to the previous case. Notice the P3's prowess in this area, thanks to it's SSE also. Look how an overclocked video-card performs here, quite good.
Game-1 Game-2 Fill-Rate
3DMark Results 3DMark Results 3DMark Results
Same remark as the 3DMark99 results. One would expect the TNT2 and V3 to score much higher using a P3-450 but all of them perform very similar as long as the clock speed is 450Mhz. Hmm.. maybe a P3-500 would show a clearer picture. So far the V3-3000 is losing to the TNT2-Ultra by tiny edge. Creative TNT2-Ultra takes a tiny lead in Fill-Rate scores while not O/C. But when the Spectra was O/C, the score soars much higher. Surprisingly V3 scores are quite low here, but...
Fill-Rate with Multi-texturing 4mb Texture Rendering Speed 8mb Texture Rendering Speed
3DMark Results 3DMark Results 3DMark Results
In Multi-Texturing, V3 rules (along with the overclocked Spectra)! So you can see why V3 scores well in games like Q2 but for many other games not utilising Multi-texturing, the TNT2 and Ultra scores better. Creative using nVidia drivers losses to the Spectra using nVidia drivers in both CPU speeds.... Funny, V3-3000 is going quite strong here, meaning the TNT2s have a bigger performance drop with larger textures.
16mb Texture Rendering Speed 32mb Texture Rendering Speed Bump-Mapping Emboss, 3-pass
3DMark Results 3DMark Results 3DMark Results
And of course, with no AGP-Texturing support and many other AGP related features, the V3 struggles when it comes to utilising all it's available local memory. I don't have 128MB SDRAM to run the 32MB Texture file test, but since the P3-450 tests were done in another system with 192Mb of ram, I can get the score for at the Spectra and V3-3000. Notice that the TNT2-Ultra still gives good frame-rates even with 32MB textures, maximizing the card's local memory but AGP-Texturing still helps it get high scores unlike the V3-3000. V3 rules over here.
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.
Same as previous results. The V3 has no support for Single-Pass Bump-Mapping? That's odd. Anyway Spectra is the winner in the bump-mapping tests with it's own drivers. I do hope Canopus hasn't tuned their drivers toward benchmarks as using nVidia drivers scores lower results.

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 your quite safe to use many of the current video adapters like TNT / TNT2. All you have to do is get the 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 Tyan, 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, your 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 website. 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 1st 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 of 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. The progressively add a card at a time to help the board smooth out the resources.

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The Bad

Canopus uses the their own proprietary designs all the time to make video-cards. This includes placing components in optimal positions and cutting down the amount of trace-lines found in reference boards and adding their own specialties like better fans, heatsinks, filters etc...

But all that only helps to ring-out a maximum of 1 or 2 FPS at best. The rest of the improvement comes from its drivers. It's true that Canopus was the fastest for 3D for all the cards it produced. Though it was the tops in 3D performance for any given chipset-based video card it made, the lead was only a small one.

In this Spectra-5400, I can see that the drivers it used were based on nVidia reference 1.88 drivers. But surprisingly this time, its drivers are slower by 1 or 2 FPS when compared with nVidia's Reference 1.88 drivers. Even its newer drivers from the net showed no improvement, maybe it was to correct some minor faults.

Many of you think the fan is extremely good, yes for its size it's extremely good but the amount of hot air thrown out isn't much better than the fans on Diamond and Creative cards. But I must say the heatsink is better. Leaving the core, the whole card is warmer than the Creative TNT2-Ultra I had for review! The Spectra was as hot as the Creative was when it's overclocked!

Beats me! And the Canopus I have here is using EliteMT RAM, rated at 200Mhz. Very good, but the damn thing is unstable even if I push it a little higher. The core was stable only till 170Mhz. Either, the design is at fault or the chip was lower in grade which could have been manufactured as a plain TNT2 that was tested to work well at 150Mhz, hence it was marked as a TNT2-Ultra. I do hope the latter reason is the cause of its poor overclocking stability.

The card is only SUPER for its features and expansion, which is excellent. And this is where the card is recommended: You must have good uses for its features and expansion capabilities, else you're better off with standard brands.

Other pointers are: No hardware-DVD playback but using software still would look good albeit a higher CPU utilization. And of course the number-one baddie is the PRICE! It's retailing at SGD$555! I don't recall any video-card that expensive for a very long time. But it's the most feature packed and the most expansive (expansion-wise).

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Test System Configuration

Processor(s) Intel Celeron-300A
Ram 64MB 100MHz LGS-7J 10ns SDRAM Dimm
Motherboard 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) Canopus Spectra-5400 AGP
Video Card Drivers Canopus Spectra-5400 drivers (21/6/99)
nVidia Reference drivers 1.88

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Conclusion

Well, that about wraps up the world's best video-card maker's new toy, the Canopus Spectra-5400 PE. Consider it for the brand, the features it offers, the utilities and because for its various expansion possibilities. It's a 1st class-card! The downside is that it isn't very overclockable and chiefly, it's anybody's guess if ever the various expansion-gadgets will ever be imported to Singapore. With only a few select number of people willing to plonk down $550, my own opinion is that those gadgets won't be sold locally.

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VIDEO CARD RATING

Overall Rating
(Out of a maximum of 5 Star)

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


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