If you thought Nvidia only just launched a flagship graphics CPU in the form of the GeForce 3 Titanium series... well, you'd be right.
But after ATI gave it a tougher than expected run for its money Nvidia brought out a new line of graphics chips in the form of the GeForce 4. Here we take a look at Asus's offering of the GeForce 4 Ti4400 chipset, the V8440.
Aimed at the high-end consumer rather than the enthusiast the V8440 doesn't quite have the weight behind it of Nvidia's top of the range, ultra-speedy (ultra-expensive) Ti4600 chipset, but it still packs a punch.
Out of the box you get the card, which is striking in that the circuit board is printed in a rather flashy purple - too bad you won't see it once it's installed.
By way of input/output, the card features a nine-pin mini-Din connector for TV out, and a DVI-I out that acts as a second VGA monitor output. Along with the drivers CD you get bundled games - Aquanox and Midnight GT/Rage Rally - as well as some sample software. The games, although full versions, are rather old and disappointing. You also get PowerDVD XP.
Aside from the shiny purple colouring, the most noticeable feature on the card is the whacking great fan and heatsink which, while giving it a rather ugly appearance, are some indication of the beefy spec.
The Asus V8440 features 128MB DDR SDRAM, a 256-bit graphics core, a core clock speed of 300MHz and memory clock speed of 550MHz, memory bandwidth of 8.8GBps, 4.4 billion Anti Aliased samples per second fill rate, and support for OpenGL ICD, and DirectX. Drivers for Windows 95 OSR2, 98, ME, NT 4.0, 2000 and XP are included.
The card is Windows XP-ready, as it claims, but we had some problems installing it under Windows 98 using the 28.32 drivers included. In the end we had to roll back to Nvidia's Detonator technical drivers just to get a useable display, and then upgrade to version 28.80 of the drivers which are now available on the Asus website. A quick scout around the net revealed that other users had had similar problems.
From a chip architecture perspective the NfiniteFX 3D engine has been overhauled, with a new dual Vertex Shader pipeline and an enhanced Pixel Shader. In layman's terms, this claims to pull up a three time increase in Geometry performance and a 50 per cent speed increase in Pixel Shader operations. Although there are scant 3D applications around where you'll notice this, it is some future-proofing by way of Nvidia.
The 8.8Gbps pipeline is also made more efficient by improved Z-Culling techniques, this means the card doesn't bother drawing what you can't see, making for smoother and faster visuals, while a system of independent caches manages flow of the 3D data.
The speed was evident during testing on a 1GHz Pentium 4, clocking up frame rates of about 130 Fps on Quake 3 Arena at a resolution of 1024 x 768.
The V8440 isn't really geared for overclocking: there are no coolers on the memory chips and the popular CoolBits utility isn't included with the card as standard. But it is possible to do some tweaking and bring the card up to the speed of its big brother, Nvidia's Ti4600, showing that the standard heatsink will handle the extra heat just as well. But this isn't really advisable, so after proving this point we left the settings alone.
Out of the box, the V8440 is a feature-rich powerful card with impressive performance. The TV out is quite handy, and the dual monitor output means you could attach a second monitor to the card to extend the desktop, replicate it or zoom in on a particular area of the screen.
Hardcore geeks may be put off by the smaller than usual heatsink and lack of coolers on the memory chips, but this isn't really an issue for the average consumer. And although the supplied games are a little outdated, they're reasonable nonetheless.
If you only recently upgraded to the GeForce 3, it might be wise to wait a little, unless you have money to burn. But otherwise this is a great card for the average user.