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home : reviews : NVIDIA GeForce2 GTS Review : page 2

Benjamin Sun
January 18, 2001

Nvidia History
Nvidia Corporation was founded in 1993 by Jen-Hsun-Huang and several ex-SGI employees (a note Jen-Hsen Huang never worked for SGI). At the time the field of 3d graphics on the Personal Computer was non-existent. Nvidia's first videocard for the PC market was called the NV1. NV1 was the first videocard with support for Quadratic Curved Surfaces in hardware. Diamond Multimedia, one of the 3rd party graphics board manufacturers at the time (now part of S3), released the Edge3d. The Edge3d was not very successful, mainly because of the advent of DirectX. It was a wonderful idea, but at the time computers didnt have the horsepower to do QCS with any kind of speed that is acceptable in games.

Nvidia's second videocard released to the public, the Riva 128, was released in 1997 with good results. Featuring 4mb of Ram and supporting DirectX fully, it was Nvidia's first really successful graphics card. Many 3rd party companies including Diamond  (Viper330) STB (now part of 3dfx) with their STB Velocity 128, Guillemot with their Maxi Riva 128, Asustek with their Riva128 and others released graphics boards based on this chipset. Around 6 months after the release of the 128, Nvidia released their first "Spring Refresh", the Riva128ZX. This cycle of a new videocard every 6 months continues to this day. Sporting the same core as the 128, but with support for 8mb, the ZX allowed resolutions of 1600x1200. 32bit color was available as well, but it was limited to 1152x864 on the 128 and 1600x1200 on the ZX. The memory clock on the 128 was 100mhz.

In February of 1998, Nvidia announced the possibility of a new product. Dubbed TNT for TwiN Texel, the TNT originally was to have a core clockspeed of 125mhz. With 2 pixel pipelines the TNT was to have a theoretical maximum fillrate of 250 megapixels. Set to compete directly against the Voodoo 2 SLI combination, a 125 mhz TNT1 would have allowed Nvidia to gain the speed crown back in 1998. Unfortunately for Nvidia, several factors led to the TNT being clocked at a  conservative 90mhz on a .35 micron process, leaving a fillrate of 180 megapixels per second. The TNT1 was released in September of 1998. With the reduction in proposed clockspeed of 39% , the TNT didn't live up to the original specs. Nvidia promised a upgrade in the Spring of 1999 to meet the original specifications and beyond. I purchased a Diamond Viper550 in the fall of 1998. At the time, it was a great 2d/3d chipset that the TNT2 was first shown to webmasters like Thomas Pabst and  Alex "Sharky" Ross from Tom's Hardware Guides and  Sharky Extreme respectively. Diamond shipped some specially clocked TNT2s for Tom and Sharky to test and review.  Interestingly enough, the "Special Edition" TNT2 cards were shown at 175mhz core/200 mhz memory based on a .25 micron die process. When Nvidia shipped the TNT2 to retailers, however, it shipped in 2 versions initially, with more to follow in the subsequent years. The regular TNT2 was clocked at the original specifications that Nvidia was planning for the TNT1. It's core /memory clockspeed was 125/150mhz. One manufacturer, Guillemot, released a TNT2 regular at 143/166mhz

The faster version of the TNT2, called the TNT2 Ultra, was clocked at varying speeds depending on the manufacturer. Guillemot released a TNT2 Ultra at 175/183, Hercules (now part of Guillemot) released a TNT2 Ultra at 175/200mhz. With the same architechture as the TNT1 (2 pixels/clock) the TNT2 Ultra had a fillrate of between 300megapixels to 350megapixels depending on the card. TNT2 was a unqualified success, with TNT2 Vanta, Pro, and M64 versions following the original. The focus of this article isn't on the TNT2, so I won't bore you with a lot of details on the other versions :)... On a side note, May of 1999  I won a Viper770 regular in a contest.  There were two Special Edition TNT2 Ultras which weren't available to the general public. One was released by Falcon Northwest and another was released by It served me quite well until the Geforce came along.

August of 1999 saw the introduction of the successor to the TNT2, the Geforce 256. The Geforce 256 was initially launched with 166 mhz SDRAM. The maximum fillrate for the Geforce256 was 480  megapixels which consisted of 120mhz x 4 pixel pipes considering the TNT2 Ultra had 183mhz SDRAM, and the Geforce's fillrate was increased about 60%, the first version of the Geforce was limited by it's memory bandwidth in high resolution gaming under certain situations (1024x768 32bit High Quality settings in Q3A as an example). The memory bandwidth of the Geforce SDR was 2.6Gigabytes per second, less than the 2.8 GB/second of the TNT2 Ultra's default clockspeed. I'll go into the featureset of the Geforce1 and 2 in the main review.

Late 1999 saw the introduction of Double Data Rate SDRAM in Geforce cards. DDR memory basically doubled the available memory bandwidth for a given clockspeed. The Geforce DDR came with memory clocked at 150mhz giving a effective memory bandwidth of approximately 4.8 Gigabytes/second. The DDR Geforce eliminated much of the memory bandwidth limitations of the SDR version. The Geforce DDR was a huge success. It's competition at the time, the Rage Fury Maxx and the ViperII, didn't have the firepower to keep up with the card. In point of fact the Annihilator Pro I purchased in November of 1999 is still a great performer in todays games.

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