||Hercules 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE Review
March 27, 2002 Brandon Bell
Summary: Hercules stunned the graphics world earlier this year when it announced it would begin producing video cards based on ATI's RADEON graphics core. Today's article, the Hercules 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE, is the first product based on this new partnership. Based on the RADEON 8500LE chipset and sporting 64MB of DDR memory, does the 3D Prophet 8500LE have what it takes to compete with solutions from NVIDIA and ATI's own RADEON 8500? Find out in our review!
| Introduction||Page:: ( 1 / 14 )|
Breaking up is hard to do?
First it was the Beatles breaking up, and then it was Sonny and Cher. Just as the music world has seen its fair share of breakups over the years, so has the PC hardware industry. One of the more surprising headlines has been the slow erosion of the relationship between Hercules and NVIDIA. As of earlier this year their “relationship” has essentially ended. While we don’t know the whole story behind this development, the origins surely lie in Guillemot’s (the parent company of Hercules) decision to add the PowerVR/ST Micro Kyro 2 graphics core to its product lineup.
As one of NVIDIA’s tier one customers, it goes without saying that Hercules had developed a strong relationship with the company. It was definitely a bold move on Hercules’ part to jeopardize their good standing with NVIDIA on a new chip that showed promise, but hadn’t truly been tested in the PC market. Of course, if you’ve been keeping up with the PC hardware industry, you already know how this story developed. Thanks to its efficient tile-based rendering architecture the Kyro 2 chip was a surprising performer and didn’t require the high-speed DDR memory and advanced manufacturing processes used by NVIDIA’s chips; resulting in a graphics card that delivered very good performance at a low cost.
NVIDIA acknowledged this threat by adjusting their GeForce2 MX lineup (hence the birth of the MX 200 and MX 400) and slashing prices. For the most part, the strategy worked, while the Kyro 2 gained a new group of ATI, 3dfx, and NVIDIA defectors, the buzz around the Kyro 2 fizzled and the norm was restored in the graphics world once again. Then late last year, ATI surprised everyone when they announced that they would begin outsourcing their RADEON family of graphics chips to other manufacturers. At first, motherboard manufacturers were the only companies to hop onboard; Gigabyte was one of ATI’s first customers. While rumors of other long time NVIDIA partners cropped up (ASUS being one of the more notable conspirators) none of these were ultimately true. At least that was the case until Hercules and ATI announced a new strategic partnership at the beginning of this year, Hercules became the most established manufacturer to produce ATI-based products.
As a result of the deal, Hercules got the exclusive rights to produce products based on ATI chips. While 3D Prophet boards based on NVIDIA’s GeForce3 Ti 500 and Ti 200 are still out there, Hercules is moving with ATI from now on. The 3D Prophet FDX 8500 LE is the first retail product based on this new partnership.
SIDEBAR: 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE Product Webpage
| The 8500LE chipset||Page:: ( 2 / 14 )|
ATI RADEON 8500LE chipset
64MB DDR memory
SMARTSHADER™ technology: new programmable Vertex Shaders & Pixel Shaders
Fully DirectX® 8.1 & OpenGL®1.3 compliant
CHARISMA ENGINE™ II: second generation hardware accelerated T&L engine
SMOOTHVISION™ : Highly efficient anti-aliasing available (true multi-sampling anti-aliasing)
TRUFORM™: revolutionary technology for transforming triangles into curved surfaces
High-quality TV encoder on NTSC & Pal / TV sets supporting resolutions of up to 1024x768
PowerDVD and 3Deep software included
As you can see, the 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE is based on the ATI RADEON 8500LE chipset. The RADEON 8500LE differs from the original RADEON 8500 in the clock speeds it runs at. While the core clock frequency of the original RADEON 8500 is 275MHz, the core of the 8500LE operates at 250MHz, beyond this; things can get a bit tricky. For added flexibility, ATI’s customers can select the memory speeds and types of their 8500LE products on their own.
This allows them to customize their particular 8500LE product(s) in order to meet their specific needs from a cost perspective. In Hercules’ case, the 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE utilizes 64MB of four nanosecond DDR SDRAM operating at 240MHz (in comparison to 275MHz on the original RADEON 8500). Therefore, the 8500LE gives up a little bit of performance in fill-rate and memory bandwidth. As you’ll see in our benchmarks, this will really show up at high resolutions.
Besides the clock speed differences, the 8500LE only contains one RAMDAC, so the 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE doesn't natively support dual monitors. ATI’s TRUFORM, SMOOTHVISION, and high advanced SMARTSHADER technologies are all present in the 8500LE. Video buffs will also be glad to know that the 8500LE sports ATI’s Rage Theater chip. The Rage Theater chip is responsible for the excellent video encoding/decoding ATI cards are so well known for.
At the beginning of February, ATI announced it would begin production of 128MB RADEON 8500 and RADEON 8500LE boards. Therefore, we are a bit surprised that the 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE only ships with 64MB of memory. Of course, the added 64MB of memory won’t come into play until you’re playing at high resolutions and/or playing a game with large textures.
SIDEBAR: Hercules was originally founded in 1982.
| 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE||Page:: ( 3 / 14 )|
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In typical Hercules fashion, the 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE sports a blue printed circuit board. We’re not sure if it helps sell graphics cards, but in a sea of so many green boards, it’s refreshing to see someone doing something a bit different. Also following tradition, the 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE utilizes an Orb heatsink/fan combo for cooling the RADEON 8500LE chip.
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As we mentioned previously, our 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE was equipped with 64MB of four nanosecond RAM from Hynix Semiconductor. This limits the overclocking potential of the board, but keeps costs low.
In addition to the traditional VGA output, the RADEON 8500LE also has DVI and video connectors.
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We were curious to see how well our 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE card would overclock, so we grabbed a copy of EnTech Taiwan’s Powerstrip utility and began adjusting the clock frequencies for the graphics core and memory.
On the memory side of things, we were limited to 255MHz before visual anomalies began to creep up on the display. Hynix must have stayed very close to their 4ns rating with our memory chips.
The core itself was much more willing to overclock however. We were able to clock our 8500LE chip to 306MHz before we noticed tearing in games and benchmarks. That’s a substantial improvement over the 8500LE, and even the RADEON 8500 itself!
SIDEBAR: Guillemot purchased Hercules in 1999.
| System Setup||Page:: ( 4 / 14 )|
Intel Pentium 4 2.2GHz
256MB PC800 RDRAM
ATI RADEON 8500 64MB
ATI RADEON 7500 64MB
Hercules 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE
NVIDIA GeForce3 Ti 500 reference board
NVIDIA GeForce3 Ti 200 reference board
VisionTek Xtasy GeForce4 Ti 4600
VisionTek Xtasy GeForce4 Ti 4400
Driver version Detonator 28.32
30GB IBM Deskstar DTLA 307030 ATA/100 Hard Drive
AFREEY 12X DVD-ROM
Windows XP Professional
Desktop Resolution: 1024x768x32
3DMark 2001 Second Edition - 32-bit color, 32-bit textures
Quake 3 Retail - High Quality
Serious Sam: The Second Encounter - Normal (32-bit) The Elephant Atrium demo
Castle Wolfenstein MP Test - no compressed textures, (32-bit)
SIDEBAR: My first computer (an 8086) had a Hercules monochrome display. Two colors baby -- green and black!
| 3DMark 2001||Page:: ( 5 / 14 )|
3DMark 2001 - DirectX 8
The 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE gives the GeForce3 Ti 500 a run for its money in 3DMark 2001 at 800x600x32, falling just two percent behind while outperforming the Ti 200 by 13% at the same resolution. By 1280x1024x32, the deficit grows to eight percent, while the Ti 200 trails by 15%.
SIDEBAR: Earlier this month Hercules announced the 3D Prophet 4800, it’s based on the Kyro II SE chipset.
| 3DMark2001 Framerates||Page:: ( 6 / 14 )|
3DMark 2001 - Car Chase
3DMark 2001 - Dragothic
3DMark 2001 - Lobby
3DMark 2001 - Nature
SIDEBAR: Besides Hercules, DFI, FIC, and Gigabyte are among the names you may know manufacturing video cards based on the RADEON chipset.
| Serious Sam 2||Page:: ( 7 / 14 )|
Serious Sam 2 - OpenGL
At 1280x1024 and up, the 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE and the GF3 Ti 200 offer similar levels of performance, end users would be hard-pressed to see the difference between either board. The RADEON 8500 and GF3 Ti 500 really outshine their slower-clocked siblings at higher resolutions.
SIDEBAR: ATI maintains a price list on its website here. So far, the 128MB RADEONs haven’t been added to the page.
| Quake III||Page:: ( 8 / 14 )|
Quake III - High Quality
Once again the 3D Prophet 8500LE competes very closely with the Ti 200 at high resolutions – in fact it’s very competitive at all resolutions. The Xtasy MX 440 and RADEON 7500 finish considerably behind, leaving us to the conclusion that all consumers should pony up the extra $30 or so and pick up a Ti 200 or 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE (at least if you don’t plan on using the MX440’s Quincunx AA mode).
SIDEBAR: Besides graphics and sound cards, Hercules also produces its own 15” LCD monitor, the Prophetview 720.
| Wolfenstein||Page:: ( 9 / 14 )|
Return To Castle Wolfenstein MP Test
The 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE just falls short of the Ti 200 in Return to Castle Wolfenstein, the first test we’ve seen where the board really falls behind its nearest competitor.
SIDEBAR: Before purchasing Hercules, Guillemot marketed their own graphics cards here in the US. Their Maxi Gamer Xentor 32 (TNT2 Ultra) won our Editor’s Choice Award in 1999.
| Quake 3 2xAA||Page:: ( 10 / 14 )|
Quake III - High Quality
All of today’s graphics cards are easily capable of generating playable frame rates with 2x AA enabled, although we probably wouldn’t go above 1024x768 with the 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE. 100 fps really is ideal for smooth frame rates in Quake 3. At the higher resolutions the Ti boards take over, although you really need a GeForce4 if you dare to venture into this territory.
SIDEBAR: We’re still not quite sure what the “FDX” in 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE stands for. Fun Digital eXperience?
| Quake 3 4xAA||Page:: ( 11 / 14 )|
Quake III - High Quality
The Ti boards really outshine the RADEONs in 4x AA mode with Quake 3, although to be honest none of the first generation DirectX 8 boards really have the horsepower to handle 4x AA mode.
SIDEBAR: The first 3D Prophet board was based on the GeForce256 chipset.
| Overclocking||Page:: ( 12 / 14 )|
Serious Sam 2 - OpenGL
3DMark 2001 SE
While the overclocked 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE boasts some nice gains over the standard card, is still isn’t quite able to overtake the basic RADEON 8500. The faster core clock is nice, but what’s the good of a faster core if the memory isn’t able to keep up?
SIDEBAR: Hercules is based in Canada while Guillemot is based in France.
| Ballistics Report||Page:: ( 13 / 14 )|
Performance: While it can’t keep up with the latest and greatest from NVIDIA (GeForce4), the 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE is still a very fast card. In fact, the 8500LE chipset it’s based on is more than capable of giving the GeForce3 Ti 200 a run for its money. You can’t diss a card with that kind of performance as “slow”.
Features: The features list of the 8500LE is certainly impressive – dual display support via HYRDAVISION (although you can't use a DVI-to-VGA adapter to power dual monitors since the 8500LE only has one RAMDAC) and the excellent video capabilities of the Rage Theater chip should please audio/visual enthusiasts. An extra 64MB of memory would have been nice, but to be honest it probably wouldn’t have made a huge difference in performance. 64MB of 550MHz would have been really nice though!
Future-proof: While the 8500LE chipset is meant to represent the mainstream segment for Hercules, that doesn’t mean that this card will begin showing signs of age quickly. Unlike the MX series of boards from NVIDIA, the 8500LE supports the latest DirectX 8 features via its SMARTSHADER technology, and does so at a competitive price. Rather than purchasing a RADEON 7500 or a board based on the GeForce MX series, consumers will get a much longer lifetime out of their purchase if they pick up a DirectX 8 board like the 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE.
Price: While the price of the 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE hasn’t officially been announced yet, we were able to find it available at Newegg.com for $137 online. This is very competitive with Newegg’s prices on GF3 Ti 200 boards from Hercules and other manufacturers, although it’s a bit more expensive than Ti 200 boards listed on Pricewatch. As long as Hercules prices the 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE for less than $175, it should be competitively priced. Of course, this will all change once 128MB RADEON 8500LEs become more popular, and don’t forget the GeForce4 Ti 4200.
“Universal” driver?: When we saw that our 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE shipped with 7.65 drivers, we attempted to download the 7.67 driver directly from ATI. After all, the ATI drivers are all universal now right? Well, it turns out that this isn’t the case. While our Prophet board is based on the RADEON 8500LE chipset, the 7.67 driver didn’t recognize our card as an ATI board and wouldn’t install the driver. Unless ATI changes its policy on its drivers, this means that Hercules will have to update their own driver after every ATI driver release.
This is a bit frustrating, as the Hercules drivers add nothing over the ATI drivers. It would have been nice to use the ATI drivers. Instead 3D Prophet owners (and anyone else with a RADEON-based board that isn’t manufactured by ATI) will have to wait for Hercules to update its website with the latest drivers.
UPDATE: It turns out that you can get around this by manually installing the ATI drivers by hand as the ATI drivers automatically extract the drivers you need to install. Simply update the driver from the device manager, and point Windows to the folder created by the ATI drivers.
SIDEBAR: Has anyone seen those new iMac commercials? It reminds me of a car commercial.
| Final Verdict||Page:: ( 14 / 14 )|