CNET editors pick the products and services we write about. When you buy through our links, we may get a commission.
In an effort to differentiate its products from the competition, many graphics card vendors attempt to add value by bundling a few games. There has typically been little else, however, to distinguish the various offerings based on the same graphics processing unit (GPU). eVGA's 5600 Ultra, on the other hand, marks a fairly new trend in graphics cards by including onboard Video In/Video Out (VIVO) functionality.
VIVO capabilities allow the graphics card to do additional duty as an analog-video-capture and video-output device. A special cable is provided, which includes composite and S-Video input and output jacks. The card itself does not capture audio, however. To include the audio portion of a video, you need to supply your own audio cable and route the audio through your system's sound card.
Conveniently, the bundled capture-and-editing software, CyberLink's PowerDirector 2.1 Pro ME, can capture video and audio from separate sources. The software is not the most intuitive, however, and it lacks the wizards that novices might otherwise find very useful. It includes all of the video-editing basics, such as transitions and title options, but it doesn't have the advanced feature sets of a more robust editing package.
During our video-capture testing, the card successfully captured video without dropping any frames. We ran into a significant problem, however, when we first installed the PowerDirector software: It crashed every time we tried to launch it. We finally resolved the problem by downloading and applying a patch from CyberLink's Web site.
We also had to download and install a patch from eVGA's site for the bundled DVD movie-playback software, NVDVD 2.0, to improve the video image quality, which was of very poor quality initially. We had better luck with the other bundled applications, including full versions of Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon, America's Army, and a demo version of EarthView.
The 5600 Ultra card features VGA, DVI, and S-Video ports on its backplane, and it comes with an S-Video cable and a DVI-to-VGA dongle. The card's dual-display support can be shared simultaneously among any two of the card's three outputs. In order for the card to work properly on your desktop, your system must have a 300-watt or greater power supply, with an available internal power connector that connects to the graphics board.
As its name implies, the 5600 Ultra is based on an Nvidia GeForce FX 5600 Ultra GPU. The 5600 Ultra's core runs at 400MHz, as does the card's 128MB of DDR SDRAM. The 5600 Ultra GPU is the middle sibling to the high-end 5900 Ultra and the entry-level/mainstream 5200 Ultra. Core engine and memory speeds differentiate the GeForce FX GPU family, as do more-advanced features designed into the hardware as you move up the family line. Non-Ultra versions of the GeForce FX family also exist and typically feature slower engine and memory speeds than those of their respective Ultra counterparts. All of this makes for a confusing bevy of graphics card configurations from which to choose.
The 5600 Ultra's primary competition is the ATI Radeon 9600 Pro. The Radeon 9600 Pro GPU also runs at 400MHz, but its 300MHz memory is 100MHz slower than that of the 5600 Ultra (look for a review of the 9600 Pro soon).
Pitting the 5600 Ultra against the 9600 Pro garners results that track well with what we've seen lately when comparing similar GPUs from Nvidia and ATI: there is no clear performance winner. For example, of the 22 performance tests we run (we publish the results for only the 10 most-demanding tests), the 5600 Ultra and the Radeon 9600 Pro were split down the middle, with each the performance leader on 11 tests.
Focusing exclusively on the performance of the cards at high resolution and with advanced feature sets enabled, the 5600 Ultra appears to have the performance advantage. In fact, on our Unreal tests at 1,600x1,200 with 4X antialiasing (AA) and 4X anisotropic filtering (AF) enabled, the 5600 Ultra was 19 percent faster than the 9600 Pro. The 5600 Ultra's advantage is not absolute, however, as the 9600 Pro is faster than the 5600 Ultra on all of our Splinter Cell tests.
The 5600 Ultra's performance is very impressive, but it has its limits. On our most-demanding tests at 1,600x1,200, when we cranked up the AA and AF settings, frame rates slowed down to levels that many would consider unacceptable for gameplay. Of course, the 9600 Pro also displays this behavior. If you plan on playing games at high resolutions and with advanced features enabled, you'll need to consider a higher-end card.
The card from eVGA that we tested was an engineering sample. eVGA assures us that the shipping version of the card will be identical to our engineering sample.
|Futuremark's 3DMark03 (Longer bars indicate better performance)|
|Unreal Tournament 2003 test: Flyby-Antalus (in fps) (Longer bars indicate better performance)|
|Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell test (in fps) (Longer bars indicate better performance)|
Find out more about how we test graphics cards.
We were impressed with both the amount and the quality of installation and problem-solving information that eVGA provides. This extra effort ensures that you'll be up and running as quickly as possible and is a few notches above what you typically find from graphics card vendors.
The manual includes a detailed list of potential problems and their respective fixes. The manual even includes something we're not used to seeing: a list of preferred system BIOS settings. All of this information is also available online on eVGA's extensive support pages. eVGA's Web site also provides drivers, patches, utilities, and a searchable knowledge base. There is even a Web-based utility that scans your system and gives you key system-components information, such as your motherboard chipset--critical information to have when you are trying to diagnose a potential hardware conflict.
The 5600 Ultra comes with a one-year parts-and-labor warranty. Technical support is available via e-mail and a toll-free phone number during normal business hours (PT).