VisionTek Xtasy 6964 (Nvidia GeForce3 Ti 500) review: VisionTek Xtasy 6964 (Nvidia GeForce3 Ti 500)

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3.5 stars

CNET Editors' Rating

The Good Excellent 3D performance.

The Bad Expensive; extra performance largely due to the new Nvidia and OpenGL drivers; no increase in 2D performance over GeForce3.

The Bottom Line The VisionTek Xtasy is a great upgrade from an older GeForce2 model, but it's not yet worth the price over a GeForce3 card running the new Nvidia drivers.

7.0 Overall

The newest bad dog in 3D graphics has arrived, Nvidia's GeForce3 Ti 500 GPU, and one of the first cards to put it into play is VisionTek's $399 Xtasy 6964. The new Nvidia chipset is loaded with 3D steroids, making the Xtasy 6964 the new heir apparent to the title of fastest of the fast. But if you're not looking for the last word in 3D gaming, you can come within arm's reach of the Xtasy 6964's maximum effort simply by updating the drivers to an old GeForce3 card--for now. The newest bad dog in 3D graphics has arrived, Nvidia's GeForce3 Ti 500 GPU, and one of the first cards to put it into play is VisionTek's $399 Xtasy 6964. The new Nvidia chipset is loaded with 3D steroids, making the Xtasy 6964 the new heir apparent to the title of fastest of the fast. But if you're not looking for the last word in 3D gaming, you can come within arm's reach of the Xtasy 6964's maximum effort simply by updating the drivers to an old GeForce3 card--for now.

Seen one, seen 'em all
The Xtasy 6964 board itself is fairly mundane, not really differing in appearance from the older GeForce3 boards we've seen, right down to the SVGA, S-Video-out, and DVI connectors. Installation is still a snap; VisionTek provides a huge step-by-step chart to walk you through the process. The driver installation is automatic, leaving you with the relatively simple task of selecting the appropriate resolution and color palette from the Display control panel in WIndows. The card is compatible with Windows 95, 98, Me, 2000, NT, and XP, but there are no bundled games.

Nvidia pumped up the power on the Ti 500 by using a .15-micron manufacturing process to cram 57 million transistors into the GPU and ramping up the memory subsystem to 500MHz. To make things happen reliably, according to Nvidia, board partners such as VisionTek have access to the cream of the crop of memory products. The result (or so the companies say) is a graphics card with 1.5 times more punch than the GeForce3.

Silicon vs. software improvement
We didn't quite find that to be the case, but the Xtasy 6964 did come close to meeting those expectations in CNET Labs' performance tests. MadOnion's 3DMark 2001 Pro trials, run at 32-bit color and 1,600x1,200 resolution, gave the Xtasy 6964 a 35 percent advantage over the older GeForce3. Quake III Arena was 35 percent faster at that same resolution and palette level. And in eTesting Labs' 3D WinBench 2000 1.1, the Xtasy 6964 scored almost 34 percent better in that same environment. Don't look for any 2D graphics improvement, however; eTesting Labs's Business Graphics WinMark 99 2.0 shows the two cards to have nearly identical 2D performance.

Before you rush out to buy the Xtasy 6964, hold your horses for a minute. Those tests results were gathered using different drivers for the GeForce3 and GeForce3 Ti 500 cards. Things changed somewhat when we installed a newer Nvidia driver on the older GeForce3 card. At that point, the Xtasy 6964's advantage in 3DMark 2001 Pro dropped to just 15 percent, Quake III Arena fell to a little more than 18 percent, and even 3D WinBench 2000 showed that the Xtasy 6964 now had a mere 24 percent edge over the older GeForce3 card. According to Nvidia, installing the latest drivers in your older GeForce3 card will deliver a performance increase (perhaps as high as 50 percent), but your mileage may vary.

The Xtasy 6964 carries a lifetime warranty and is backed with toll-free technical support, available weekdays during normal business hours. After hours, you can contact tech support via the e-mail link on VisionTek's Web site, hunt through the various FAQs and user forums for answers, or download the latest drivers as they become available.

Frugal gamers need not apply
The new technology in the GeForce3 Ti 500 is clearly superior to that of the GeForce3. If you're using an older GeForce2 Ultra or MX, upgrading to the Xtasy 6964 would give you top-of-the-line performance. But unless you're a very hard-core gamer, the GeForce3 card still has some appeal. Current owners can enjoy a performance boost from the new driver. And budget-minded upgraders can get this fast card for less than the cost of the GeForce3 Ti 500. Over time, however, tweaks to the new driver will mean more for the new card than the old. If you can afford it, the GeForce3 Ti 500 is the better long-term investment.

Quake III Arena test
Frames per second; longer bars indicate better performance
32-bit color; 1,024x768   
32-bit color; 1,280x1,024   
32-bit color; 1,600x1,200   
VisionTek Xtasy 6964 (Nvidia GeForce3 Ti 500; 64MB DDR)
180 
133 
97 
Hercules 3D Prophet III (Nvidia GeForce3; 64MB DDR; new drivers)
165 
116 
82 
Hercules 3D Prophet III (Nvidia GeForce3; 64MB DDR)
142.5 
93.1 
64.9 
 
3D test: MadOnion.com's 3DMark 2001 Pro
Longer bars indicate better performance
16-bit color; 1,024x768   
32-bit color; 1,024x768   
32-bit color; 1,280x1,024   
32-bit color; 1,600x1,200
VisionTek Xtasy 6964 (Nvidia GeForce3 Ti 500; 64MB DDR)
7,358 
7,277 
6,168 
4,929 
Hercules 3D Prophet III (Nvidia GeForce3; 64MB DDR; new drivers)
6,816 
6,688 
5,442 
4,277 
Hercules 3D Prophet III (Nvidia GeForce3; 64MB DDR)
5,875 
5,768 
4,644 
3,643 
 
3D test: eTesting Labs' 3D WinBench 2000 1.1
Longer bars indicate better performance
16-bit color; 1,024x768   
32-bit color; 1,024x768   
32-bit color; 1,280x1,024   
32-bit color; 1,600x1,200
VisionTek Xtasy 6964 (Nvidia GeForce3 Ti 500; 64MB DDR)
275 
267 
193 
143 
Hercules 3D Prophet III (Nvidia GeForce3; 64MB DDR; new drivers)
227 
224 
155 
115 
Hercules 3D Prophet III (Nvidia GeForce3; 64MB DDR)
214 
208 
146 
107 
 
The VisionTek easily outperformed an older GeForce3 card, but the difference could be as much from the drivers as improvements to the chipset. The addition of new Nvidia drivers to the older GeForce3 card closed the gap considerably.

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