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World's 1st Review of Retail DIAMOND Viper V550 AGP

Date: 9th September 98
by Matthew Fam Kai Liang

DIAMOND VIPER V550

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

- Other video cards reviews

Matrox Millennium G200

Hype does not always live up to it's name.  So what does the new NVIDIA chip have to offer this time? Introducing DIAMOND Viper V550 TNT, which stands for TwiN Texel Engine.  What TNT means is that it has the ability to process data with 2 texel engine instead of just one.  Most cards in the market, including the MATROX G200 falls into the latter category.  Except for the Voodoo 2 which needs to rely on 2 pixel engine (2 chipsets) to do this, NVIDIA better it with a single chip design and will be the One & Only Single 2D/3D solution to have a twin texel engine in the market this year. 3DLab's Permedia 3 is reputated to have this as well but will only be available from early 1999.

This is the FIRST FULL-SCALE REVIEW available for public viewing in Singapore and around the World.  We take the pride to ship in the original RETAIL Viper AGP with a pretty nice AIR-FLOWN sticker in the parcel.  Viper arrived just last Sunday (6th Sep), directly from the US from a US counterpart of Singapore Hardware Zone.  This is definately the FIRST ever ASIA and WORLDWIDE full-scale review on Viper.  You are reading about a product that is yet to be launch even in US.  And we managed to get it here for you.

DIAMOND has been eager to support nVIDIA from day one.  From EDGE 3D card (NV1) to RIVA 128/ZX (NV3) till the current TNT, DIAMOND seemed to have chosen the right choice for the powerhouse among industry best graphics chip manufacturer other than perhaps 3Dfx.   Guess that many of the readers must have heard about the break of promise on NVIDIA part of it's .25 Micron and 250Mpixel/sec fill rate it promised on it's original report.   There are still some of you who do not know that the current shipment is based on a .35 micron, 125MHz memory bandwidth and limited to only 180-190-Mpixel/sec fill rate on the RIVA TNT due to the unavailability of 0.25 micron chip which can only be done in early 1999 by NVIDIA.  Although current 0.35 micron chip might not be able to reach the standard of Voodoo 2 SLI, the few 0.25 micron based reference card in the NVIDIA are capable of doing just that.

 

Video Card Specifications

Interface AGP 2x
Chipset nVIDIA RIVA TNT
Ram 16 MB 125 Mhz SEC (SUMSUNG) SDRAM
Data Path 128 bit Bus
RAMDAC 250 Mhz
TV-Output S-Video /
Video Playback MPEG-1, MPEG-2(AGP only,US & Canada only), DVD, Indeo, & Cinepak
Supported Resolutions 640 x 480 - 1920 x 1200 (23")
Supported Refresh Rates 60 - 200 Hz

From an undisclosed source, the top secret reference NVIDIA reference card is already running @ 16MB of 200MHz SGRAM. Built on a 0.25 Micron TNT chip which is set @ 125MHz for the chip bandwidth.  So what is this card actually capable of? It's known that TNT running at this setting is capable of beating a 24MB combined Voodoo 2.   This is what is installed for new NVIDIA customers next year when the factory @ NVIDIA is able to press out the .25 Micron RIVA TNT chip.  It's seems that NVIDIA is not lying after all, except for the unexpected timing error in the chip planning.

The box design is a notch above the former aircraft found on the Viper V330.  A snake looks-a-like roller coaster creature is the main attraction here.  Packing inside is the usual DIAMOND's style.  It's very airy.....

These are the contents of the box:

DIAMOND VIPER V550 BOX

NVIDIA became famous overnight with the launched of the RIVA 128 chipset, which is pretty common in Singapore.  Although there were some defects and poor implementation on that chipset, many people still bought it.  Now comes RIVA TNT, which will definately knock you over.  From various PREVIEWS around the globe showing you the screenshots and the performance, you can bet that it's picture quality is on par with Matrox's G200.   And packed with a more powerful brain that G200 can't cope with.  RIVA TNT is still very new, the driver in the CD I got were the first retail drivers and I just received a new driver from US.

As it is the usual style of DIAMOND, it did not pack any manual with the card, making their product paperless.  I wonder if DIAMOND can hear this, but if you do, please kindly revert back to the manual form. I think it's really a better thing to do than to go through the online/disc manual.  If I were someone who does not know much about computers, I would have a hard time searching for the manual and the needed info.

Here are the software bundled with the box :

  • MotorHead (Full Version) by Gremlin Interactive
  • Fremont SE by Portola Dimensional
  • Microsoft's Game Sampler for Windows 98
  • CrystalGraphics 3D Sensations
  • Software DVD (AGP only, US & Canada only)
  • MGI's Photosuite SE
  • DIAMOND's new Incontrol Tools 98
  • PLATINUM VRCreator/Learning Edition
  • BackWeb Software
  • PLATINUM WIRL
  • Adobe Acrobat Reader

The DIAMOND card is a piece of very high quality and well engineered PCB.  The overall feeling of this card is very good as it came with very good bundle and the 5 years standard warranty by DIAMOND.  A pity is that the TNT chip is not attached with a heatsink.  I would personally recommend a cooling fan to be installed if you intend to overclock it's memory or chip.

Installation of the card is a no-brainer. Installation is similar to most Video cards. Driver installation is guided by the simple DIAMOND setup program. If one needs help in installing the drivers, the manual explains the process.


The Good

The Viper V550 Viperization Experience

Powered by the 250MHz RAMDAC, RIVA TNT architecture is the first integrated, 128-bit 3D Processor that processes 2 pixels-per-clock cycle which enables single-pass multi-texturing and delivers a mind-blowing 250 million pixels-per-second fill rate. RIVA TNT’s (twin-texel) 32-bit color pipeline, 24-bit Z, 8-bit stencil buffer and per-pixel precision delivers unsurpassed quality and performance allowing developers to write standards based applications with stunning visual effects and realism.
The RIVA TNT offers industry leading 2D and 3D performance, meeting all the requirements of the mainstream PC graphics market and Microsoft’s PC’98 and DX6 initiatives. The TNT delivers the industry’s best Direct3D acceleration solution and also delivers leadership VGA, 2D and Video performance, enabling a range of applications from 3D games through to DVD and video conferencing. A complete high performance OpenGL ICD is included in the standard SW driver package.

Optimised in DIRECT 3D, it beats RIVALs' including 3Dfx Voodoo 2 & Banshee, Matrox G200, S3 Savage 3D according to others benchmarks found in others website.  I won't elaborate on this mentioned issue but on something more special....

As a RIVA 128 user myself, I must say that the TNT TV-Out fuction is really much improved with 800x600 resolution capability and able to display simultaneously on the TV as well as the Monitor.  With the 3 tap filtering, gaming TNT on TV will never be the same again.

TNT, still so raw running it's yet to be complete driver is only about 80% done.   There are still quite many bug fixes for many games & some image tweaking for the maximum performance running this state-of-art chipset.  DIAMOND has the long tradition of getting it's products out fast but having poor drivers to compliant it.   And this is yet another such case as I have a little bit of problem getting it running under OpenGL ICD. Perhaps due to the poor driver given.

DIAMOND InControl Tools 98 & OpenGL support

This is perhaps the MOST improved of DIAMOND's effort to come on pair with the rest.   Especially CANOPUS's superior s/w offering.  It's incoporate the functions to increase GAMMA, memory speed, and many on the fly adjustments.  Including colour-depth on the fly, assign hot keys for frequent tasks, change monitor colour through individual RGB colours & many other correction features.  The card comes with standard OpenGL ICD which is a full OpenGL driver enable you to run any OpenGL program not limiting to Quake I/II or Hexen I/II.  It's definately among the best OpenGL software in the consumer market and much better in term of versatility in having a full OpenGL rather than 3Dfx's or Rendition's Mini Client Device (MCD) software which only allow you to run just a few games.

3D Quality & Features

In Quake-2, the image looks beautiful and stunning.  Definately on the top class level with Matrox G200 and the renowned Voodoo 2 in terms of image quality.  It is better than the Riva-128 condsiderably and it shows how much NVIDIA have improved and excel.

Running the new SMALL SOLDIER game, with very detailed graphics displayed, TNT just brings out the ultimate gaming sensation.

The 3D Features are :

While many new generation cards boast 32-bit rendering, it is a fact that the chip will slow down if it is ran at 32-bits.  NVIDIA has made it a point of not letting this happen with the TNT (Twin Texel Engine) as it displays solid design, which wins over even the top notch G200.  Z-Buffing @ 24-bit is not a single point inferior in picture quality when compare with the MATROX G200 running 32-bit Z-buffering.

Extras

A special bonus for DIAMOND Viper AGP users is that the card is bundled with a Software DVD that allows PC-DVD player to playback movies and games without the need of an extra PCI decoding card.  Saving both slot space and your pocket.

A pity is that according to DIAMOND's source, this software will only be distributed for the US & CANADA version of Viper.  Hopefully DIAMOND might be kind enough to make Singapore's market be able to enjoy this too.  Due to the lack of PC-DVD player,  I'm unable to test this function.  Hopefully will be able to do it soon.

The Benchmarks

BenchMarks on the Viper V550 in Windows98 with DirectX-6 update. OpenGL-ICD is also installed. So here they are:

DIAMOND Viper V550 AGP 16MB 125MHz SGRAM

Benchmarking Softwares 640x480 800x600
Ziff-Davis WinBench 98 High-End (2D) 272 -
Ziff-Davis WinBench 98 Business (2D) 207 -
Quake 2 Timedemo1 / fps 79.2 60.0
Quake 2 Timedemo2 / fps 74.3 55.1
Forsaken D3D /fps 173.5 132.1
Incoming 81.0 77

Done @ 640 x 480 with OpenGL for Quake II V3.14 & and @ 800x600 for the rest of the other tests.

* Note: More Benchmarks results will be added @ latter in the week.

All drivers version are unable to be disclosed due to the fact that this review is based on a card that is not yet launch worldwide and will only be announced when it's launched soon.

The results are based on a 2nd driver update sent to me which has slight improvements and bug fixes over the retail driver.

   
   
Screen shots on MotorHead, Quake II and Unreal running in clockwise direction.


The Bad

There's never a perfect 10 chipset.  Like any chip, RIVA TNT still packed some nasty bad points.  Firstly, Diamond should really consider adding a heatsink to the chip.  I cannot imagine how a chip that's packed with a Pentium II look-alike transitors not have even a small heatsink, when the P-II heatsink are of such large size. The chip is touching hot when used for more than 10 mins.  Plus the fact that bugs are seen quite often on the card. It's very unclear when exactly NVIDIA will ironed out all the small bugs that keep bugging the chip.  But it is only a matter of time that they'll do it.

However, I guess the biggest disappointment would be that RIVA TNT is a very processor-dependent card.  It requires only the BEST to work with.

What is recommended is at least a 350-400MHz processor, running at high resolution. Only then will this babe shine at it's BEST.  If you own only a Pentium MMX or a K6, I recommend you upgrade to a faster processor or go for other brands.

A minor hiccup would definately be that the MPEG-2 software is going to be only for the US/Canada market.  Moreover, it would only be available for AGP users.  Why not give the credit to PCI users as well? Cost savings again?

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Test System Configuration

Processor(s) INTEL Pentium II 400MHz 0.25 micron Chip
Standard / Overclocked Configuration 400MHz (4.0 x 100.0 MHz)
448Mhz (4.0 x 112 Mhz)
Ram 64MB 100MHz Mitsubishi SDRAM Dimm
Motherboard ABIT BX6 Pentium II Mainboard
HardDrive(s) IBM Deskstar-8 8.4GB
Operating System MS Windows 98 Build 4.10.1998
DirectX Version MS DirectX Version 6
Other software used Nvidia Full OpenGL ICD
Video Card(s) DIAMOND Viper V550
Video Card Bios Ver NA
Video Card Drivers Ver 4.10.01.4100

Conclusion

If you are a power user who wants the best of all worlds, DIAMOND Viper will definately stand out as a top choice with it's capability of high resolution and highest 2D Winbench scores that beats even the G200.  Benchmarks results are still improving and if you are intending to purchase a new 350/400/450MHz Pentium II processor, do throw in this graphic card as well.  TNT will be my pick as it rivalled and excelled even better than a single Voodoo 2.  Benchmark shows that it's about 70% of Voodoo 2 running SLI.

However, if you own a slower system, it would not be such a good idea to get this card, as you will not be able to bring out its full potential.  But for those who own a AMD K6-2 333/350MHz processor or the new INTEL Celeron 300a or 333s, this is definately a good buy.  However there is a slight problem here because TNT does not seem to like Super-7 boards.


VIDEO CARD RATING

Overall Rating (Out of a maximum of 5 Star)

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

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Copyright 1998, Singapore Hardware Zone. All rights reserved.
Last updated November 21, 1998.

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