Summary: As one of NVIDIA's Tier One board partners, Leadtek was one of the first card manufacturers with retail GeForce FX 5950 Ultra and GeForce FX 5700 Ultra cards on the market. In today's article, we take a look at Leadtek's interpretation of what the ultimate cards based on these cores would be. We'll give you a quick hint though, HDTV owners will be getting some good news. See what else Leadtek has added in this review!
Fresh off the launch of the GeForce FX 5950 Ultra and GeForce FX 5700 family last October, retail graphics cards from NVIDIA’s third-party board manufacturers are quickly rolling in. The first card manufacturer to supply us with boards was eVGA. Along with BFG and PNY, these three companies primary purpose is to hold up NVIDIA’s retail presence at chains such as Best Buy, Circuit City, and CompUSA, although boards from these manufacturers can also be found online.
While these card manufacturers duke it out with ATI for retail shelf space, NVIDIA’s other Tier One board partners battleground lies online where they compete with ATI board manufacturers such as Sapphire and Powercolor (as well as ATI). As one of NVIDIA’s oldest board partners, Leadtek enjoys Tier One status, which gives them access to hardware earlier than smaller, younger manufacturers that also base their card designs on NVIDIA GPUs. As a result, Leadtek is able to bring their retail products to market right after a new GPU is announced. In some instances, Leadtek can be well into the design of their second generation boards before Tier Two or Tier Three card manufacturers release their first generation cards. Leadtek was also one of a handful of card manufacturers to produce and market a GeForce FX 5800 Ultra card before it was ultimately discontinued by NVIDIA.
Unlike the BFGs and PNYs of the NVIDIA-based world however, Leadtek is not content with just taking NVIDIA’s reference board and slapping their sticker on it. Leadtek will often take the NVIDIA reference design and add improvements of their own, unique to their cards.
For instance, as consumers made the move to higher screen resolutions thanks to cheaper monitors and newer graphics cards that were capable of pushing them, it was quickly discovered that many of NVIDIA’s board partners were skimping on the output circuitry used on their boards, resulting in 2D displays that looked grainy at high resolutions. Leadtek rose to the challenge by utilizing higher quality filters, resulting in razor-sharp text at high as well as low resolutions, without artifacts such as ghosting or blurring.
For the GeForce FX 5900 Ultra, Leadtek incorporated a unique cooling design for their card, dubbed Twin Turbo II. Twin Turbo II utilized a ducted enclosure with dual fans – one fan acted as the intake, supplying the core with fresh, cool air, while the second fan acted as an exhaust, expelling the hot air from the enclosure. This unique combination was quite effective at keeping the GeForce FX 5900 Ultra core cool, although we did note that the enclosure would get hot to the touch during overclocking.
Now Leadtek is back again, with their GeForce FX 5950 Ultra based A380 Ultra TDH MyViVo and GeForce FX 5700 Ultra-based WinFast A360 Ultra TDH. Let’s take a look at what Leadtek has done to make them stand out from the competition.
SIDEBAR: Leadtek WinFast A360 Ultra TDH Product Webpage
As its name implies, the GeForce FX 5950 Ultra core is a slight improvement over the GeForce FX 5900 Ultra. Whereas the GeForce FX 5900 Ultra operates at 450MHz, the GeForce FX 5950 Ultra core runs at 475MHz yielding an additional 200Mtexels/second fill-rate, a 5% improvement. Meanwhile, the memory clock frequency has been increased from 425MHz in GeForce FX 5900 Ultra (850MHz effective) to 475MHz in GeForce FX 5950 Ultra (950MHz effective), this bumps memory bandwidth by 3.2GB/sec to 30.4GB/sec total.
The core itself is still a four pixel pipeline architecture, with two texture units per pixel pipeline, and is still based on TSMC’s 0.13-micron manufacturing process with copper interconnects. You’ve still got the same 256-bit memory interface (the key highlight of GeForce FX 5900 Ultra) as well.
In the grand scheme of things, this makes the GeForce FX 5950 Ultra a minor progression over the GeForce FX 5900 Ultra’s NV35 core. If you recall NVIDIA’s previous refresh product that was timed for the Holiday shopping season, the GeForce2/3 Titanium series (has it really been that long since NVIDIA released a refresh product in the Fall?), the GeForce FX 5950 Ultra shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. Fortunately for consumers, its arrival has lowered prices on GeForce FX 5900/5900 Ultra cards.
GeForce FX 5700 core
The GeForce FX 5700 Ultra however is based on an entirely new graphics core that’s intended to serve the mainstream market. Rather than refresh the GeForce FX 5600 Ultra core as they have done on the high-end, NVIDIA has used the NV35 core as the basis for GeForce FX 5700, with modifications made to reduce the chip's production costs.
These changes reduce peak memory bandwidth and fill rate figures, but at the same time the core is less expensive to produce weighing in at 82 million transistors; 48 million less than GeForce FX 5900.
Pixel shader performance has been improved, thanks to the addition of NVIDIA’s CineFX 2.0 technology, as well as enhanced stencil performance if the application takes advantage of UltraShadow, which is another feature the GeForce FX 5700 boasts. The final addition are the new compression algorithms found in Intellisample HCT, which should improve anti-alasing performance at high screen resolutions. We put NVIDIA’s CineFX 2.0 to the test in our eVGA e-GeForce FX 5700 Ultra review and found that shader performance nearly improved by a factor of two in some cases with ShaderMark, a synthetic DX9 benchmark we’ve been using recently.
SIDEBAR: Leadtek WinFast A380 Ultra TDH MyVIVO Product Webpage
At first glance, Leadtek’s WinFast A360 Ultra TDH looks dramatically different than eVGA’s e-GeForce FX 5700 Ultra, which is produced directly by NVIDIA (via Flextronics). But actually, if you take a closer look at the board you’ll see that not only is the board design identical, so are the board’s components and power circuitry. Quite honestly, this didn’t come as to much of a surprise to us; the first wave of review boards is usually based on the reference design. In fact, you can even see the outline where the reference GeForce FX 5700 Ultra heatsink sits on the board’s PCB. Therefore wouldn’t be shocked if the WinFast A360 Ultra TDH was built at the same facility as the e-GeForce FX 5700 Ultra.
Leadtek chose to omit Philips’ encoder chip, just like the eVGA board. The VGA market is so cutthroat that card manufacturers have to save costs wherever they can. Consumers often go with the cheapest board they can find, and sometimes overlook or just don’t want features such as video input, especially when you’re dealing with the mainstream market. Card manufacturers will then go back and add in extra goodies like video inputs or dual DVI interfaces on their second generation boards, where features play a more significant role than price. Leadtek will also be producing a 256MB variant of the WinFast A360.
That doesn’t mean Leadtek skimped on their WinFast A360 Ultra TDH board however. Rather than stick with NVIDIA’s reference cooler, they’ve come up with a unit of their own design which features an integrated dust filter! This is the mesh grille you see covering the fan in the pictures.
By adding a dust filter, dust and grime are kept away from collecting on the fan’s blades, ensuring efficient operation, which equals more effective cooling. The filter also keeps dust away from the fan’s motor, which can cause it to operate at higher temperatures, and potentially shorten its lifespan. We’re still baffled why more card manufacturers haven’t followed Leadtek’s lead and integrated dust filters on their products. (Also remember that you should clean the filter periodically, which can easily be removed with a small Philips screwdriver. Otherwise, there’s really no point in it being there.)
Rather than use a one-piece design with their heatsink, Leadtek has separate heatsinks cooling the card’s DDR2 memory modules. This is probably a good thing, as we’ve found that DDR2 modules operate much warmer than DDR, this three-piece design prevents the heat from the core from spreading to the memory modules, and vice versa.
In operation, we recorded an idle temperature of 36 degrees Celsius for the WinFast A360 Ultra TDH, this compares very favorably to the e-GeForce FX 5700 Ultra, which was running at 44 degrees. Under load the Leadtek card hit 46 degrees Celsius, while the eVGA card was operating at 58 degrees. Therefore, with such a remarkable performance difference, we think it’s pretty safe to say that Leadtek’s built the better cooling solution; noise levels on both cards was very similar.
Included in the WinFast A360 Ultra TDH’s packaging are copies of GunMetal and Big Mutha Truckas, not exactly the most cutting-edge games, but in the box nonetheless. Leadtek also includes its hardware monitoring and overclocking software, WinFox II.
SIDEBAR: Leadtek also produces a line of nForce-based motherboards.
Like the WinFast A360 Ultra TDH, the WinFast A380 Ultra TDH MyVIVO is based entirely on NVIDIA’s reference design, right down to the Philips SAA7108AE video enconder chip. After all, if you’re going to pay roughly $500 for a graphics card, it should be capable of doing it all right?
Leadtek’s new cooler, dubbed Air Surround, deviates significantly from NVIDIA’s stock cooling unit. Whereas the NVIDIA cooler used on a lot of third-party boards features a large blower-style cooling fan that’s enclosed inside a duct, Leadtek’s unit is more contained.
The beauty of the NVIDIA cooler is that its fan acts as an intake vent that draws in cool air from outside the PC’s case. It accomplishes this by occupying the PCI slot adjacent to the AGP interface. This cool air is drawn in by the fan, which is offset of the graphics core for increased effectiveness; airflow is contained within a plastic duct, further increasing efficiency. The air then passes over the graphics core, which is cooled by a thick heatsink with multiple fins. Finally, the air exits out the right side of the cooler, right where the duct ends.
The cooling system on the WinFast A380 Ultra TDH MyVIVO is also based on an intake design, but it draws in air that’s within the PC’s case. This air is usually warmer than the air outside the case, so the NVIDIA cooling unit potentially has a cooler supply of air coming in contact with the core. This advantage will be even more pronounced in cramped, hotter cases. Fortunately most enthusiasts that purchase cards like the WinFast A380 Ultra TDH know the importance of having good case ventilation – it isn’t hard to find cases with good airflow.
One advantage the Leadtek cooler has over the NVIDIA unit however is its extensive use of copper. Leadtek places a large copper plate over the graphics core and DDR memory. Rolled fins are then attached to the plate, further increasing surface area. Leadtek must feel that copper’s superior thermal characteristics offset the disadvantages of a one-piece design, it also helps that the DDR modules don’t get quite as hot as DDR2. On the underside of the card, a large aluminum heatsink cools the bottom of the graphics core and memory modules, which is the same philosophy NVIDIA uses for its stock cooler, although the shapes of the two heatsinks are different.
As far as performance, Leadtek’s WinFast A380 Ultra TDH cooler was slightly cooler than the standard cooling unit on the eVGA 5950 Ultra card. We recorded idle temperatures as low as 39 degrees Celsius for the Leadtek card versus 40 degrees for the eVGA. Under load (non-overclocked) temperatures peaked up to 55 degrees for the eVGA, whereas the Leadtek’s peak after running the same number of iterations of 3DMark 03 was 53 degrees Celsius. We’d attribute the superior Leadtek numbers to the use of copper rather than aluminum on the regular GeForce FX card. The fact that we’re testing in an open-air environment with a fresh (and plentiful) supply of cool air negates the NVIDIA reference cooler’s potential advantage.
The GeForce FX 5950 Ultra is naturally a step up from the GeForce FX 5700 Ultra and other mainstream cards in terms of noise level, that’s to be expected with any high-end card, whether from ATI or NVIDIA. We would not classify the WinFast A380 Ultra TDH as “loud” but when you’re coming from a mainstream or DX8-level card like the GeForce4 or RADEON 8500, the WinFast A380 Ultra TDH will be louder than what you’re used to once it cranks up into 3D mode: just as its become natural to expect a high-end card to require an external power source, also accept that it will run a little bit louder. With that said, audibly the WinFast A380 Ultra TDH is slightly louder than NVIDIA’s reference cooling unit. NVIDIA’s blower style fan runs at lower RPMs than the Leadtek fan which is of a conventional design, we attribute this to the higher noise output. The WinFast A380 Ultra TDH is quieter than its predecessor however.
Leadtek protects the fan from dust with a dust filter. We mentioned the benefits of an integrated dust filter on the previous page, so we won’t rehash them again here. Leadtek adds one other added bonus in the board design of the WinFast A380 Ultra TDH: the power connector is placed parallel to the edge of the PCB! This saves a little bit of cable space during installation. We don’t know why NVIDIA hasn’t made this subtle change on its own reference design.
The final goodie Leadtek includes in the packaging that we really like is the component video cable (YPrPb). This is perfect for those of you with an HDTV; you can hook the Leadtek board right up to it! The WinFast A380 Ultra TDH is the first GeForce FX card of any nature to ship with this feature that we’re aware of.
SIDEBAR: All GeForce FX 5950 are Ultras and ship with 256MB of memory.
Call of Duty (custom demo)
Nascar 2003: OpenGL
IL-2 Sturmovik: FB: OpenGL
Quake III - OpenGL
Unreal Tournament 2003 – Direct3D
Splinter Cell – Direct3D
Tomb Raider – Direct3D
Call of Duty
Call of Duty 4xAA 8xAF
Unreal Tournament 2003
Unreal Tournament 2003
NV36 core: NVIDIA’s new NV36 core is a good improvement over NV31, which was used in the GeForce FX 5600. Shader performance is improved on a clock-for-clock basis, while at the same time NVIDIA has bumped up the clock speed to 500MHz.
Price: We haven’t seen any listings for the WinFast A360 Ultra TDH on Price Watch yet, but with the GeForce FX 5700 (non-Ultra) variant of the card currently selling for $159-$176, we imagine the price can’t be good. NVIDIA officially lists the GeForce FX 5700 Ultra for $200. This is roughly the same price point as the GeForce FX 5900 128MB.
Value: With an MSRP of $500, obviously the WinFast A380 Ultra TDH MyVIVO can’t be classified as a value card. You do get what you pay for, but if you’re looking for an NVIDIA-based card that offers more bang-for-the-buck, the GeForce FX 5900 128MB is pretty hard to pass up. It’s based on the same fundamental core as the WinFast A380 Ultra, but ships with less memory and at slower clock speeds.
Leadtek WinFast A380 Ultra TDH MyVIVO
Leadtek’s WinFast A380 Ultra TDH MyVIVO is not just another GeForce FX 5950 Ultra reference board. Sure, it’s built largely on the reference design, but Leadtek adds just enough spice to the mix to make it stand out in what’s soon to be a crowd of GeForce FX 5950 Ultra cards. For starters you’ve got arguably better cooling than what the stock NVIDIA cooler offers.
Leadtek substitutes aluminum for copper due to its superior thermal transfer characteristics, and while the air intake system isn’t quite as ideal as NVIDIA’s, the bottom line is that the cooler as a whole outperformed NVIDIA’s in our testing. We’ve found that the aluminum plate NVIDIA uses to cool the memory modules can get a little toasty during extended operation, especially when overclocking, so perhaps Leadtek is onto something. The cooler is quieter than its predecessor, and since it only utilizes one fan now you could argue it’s more reliable in the long run, but the aluminum enclosure Leadtek utilized on the WinFast A350 Ultra TDH looked oh so pimp. And in our opinion, Leadtek has improved on the reference design by tilting the orientation of the power connector 90 degrees to the right.
If you own an HDTV though, or are planning on getting one soon, the HDTV output is probably the WinFast A380 Ultra TDH MyVIVO’s biggest selling point. Like the WinFast’s dust filter, we hope this becomes a standard feature on graphics cards in the near future.
With all this, and the fact that the WinFast A380 Ultra TDH MyVIVO is among one of the least expensive GeForce FX 5950 Ultra cards on the market right now, we felt it merited our Bull’s Eye Award. Sure, it doesn’t follow the typical price/performance formula that normally constitutes the Bull’s Eye Award but at the same time the intake design was just enough to prevent it from getting Editor’s Choice. The Leadtek WinFast A380 Ultra TDH MyVIVO offers a compelling package, especially for a first generation GeForce FX 5950 Ultra card and is certainly a card you should consider if you’re planning on taking the plunge to 5950 Ultra graphics in the near future.
Leadtek WinFast A360 Ultra TDH
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