Elsa Gladiac MX
The GeForce2 MX series offers the economical entry into the latest generation of graphics cards with full Hardware Transform & Lighting (T&L) capabilities and the new NVIDIA Shading Rasteriser (NSR) pipeline.
The NSR allows 7 pixel operations to run in a single process texture and lighting effects are calculated in real time in a single cycle on both pipelines. This makes the card of extremely good value, even better than present TNT 2 Ultra cards which proliferate the older market today.
If you notice, there’s an unused area just beside the monitor cable connector. From NVIDIA’s specifications, the GeForce2 MX actually supports TwinView, which is more or less equivalent to that of Matrox G400 dual-head series, so as to support two monitors at the same time. The TwinView settings is in fact available via the Detonator 3 driver (and all other 6.xx leaked reference drivers).
It is a pity that many manufacturers haven't enabled this feature, probably due to cost constraints and the entry-level market that the card targets.
Elsa is no exception.
The Twinview support dialogue box found in the Detonator 3 driver TwinView settings in the NVIDIA GeForce2 MX properties
In addition, the Elsa Gladiac MX sports a smaller form factor than the reference design board, as Elsa managed to “trim away” all unnecessary parts to produce such a compact design. To make the card more economical, Elsa used Hyundai’s SDRAM for the Gladiac MX. Taking a look at Hyundai’s specifications at its website, this RAM can go up to a maximum of 166MHz, and the TC-6 represents a timing of 6ns.
Somehow, I did manage to push this RAM to 190MHz using Elsa’s drivers. However, it’s a no-go at this speed for the Detonator 3 driver though. At first I was overly ambitious, and attempted to go up to 200MHz. But my system frozed each time 3D Mark was ran. However, the mere fact that it can reach 190MHz is already impressive for the 6ns rated RAM.
Now let us explore the actual specifications for this card:
- Powered by NVIDIA GeForce2 MX with fast 32MB SDRAM
- 2 NSR pipelines with per-pixel shading, for superior display quality and realism
- Up to 50% more performance than the first generation GeForce graphics processors
- 2nd generation of the Transform & Lighting engine
- Supports the Elsa 3D Relevator
- Elsa WINman Suite exclusive Elsa Windows utilities, with convenient access from the Windows task bar
- Support via hotline and internet
- Included SmartRefresh, SmartResolution, Over-clocking tool function
- 6-year warranty
How about the package ?
- Elsa Gladiac MX gaming accelerator board (the card itself)
- Installation CD-ROM including product manual, software drivers for Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows 2000 and Windows NT 4.0, and Windows utilities including Elsa WINman Suite, Elsa Advanced Settings, Elsa SmartRefresh and Elsa SmartResolution
- 3D Demo CD
- PowerDVD 2.55 Full Version
- Installation Guide
- Manual for simple applications of the card
Refresh Rates Table
The package I received didn't seem to be the full retail version, as the drivers bundled were the older Detonator 2 revision, which does not support GeForce2 MX at all. Moreover, the Elsa drivers are not included as well. In the end, I had to visit Elsa’s site to download the relevant drivers (Not a big deal, but it might as well be mentioned).
In addition, this card was not too stable in my system and it might be an issue of immature drivers that came with the new chipset. I tried both ELSA and the reference Detonator 3 drivers, but still encountered lock-ups.
My system setup:
- AMD Classic Athlon 700 (0.25 micron)
- Asus K7V with BIOS revision 1007
- 1 piece of PC-133 Twinmos 128MB SDRAM at CAS 2-2-2
- 1 IBM 34GXP 20.5GB Hard Disk Drive
- 1 Samsung SD-608 DVD-ROM Drive
- 1 Sony CRX-100E CD-RW Drive
- 1 Iomega Zip 250 Disk Drive
- Sound Blaster Live! Value Sound Card
- ABIT Hot Rod 100 Pro Controller Card
- PowerWin 300W Power Supply Unit
- Sony Multiscan E200 Trinitron Flat-screen Monitor
As you'll see later in the review, although the Detonator 3 is newer (and “faster”) than the ELSA driver, ELSA’s driver runs more stably. Detonator 3 would crash my system with practically any game I played (e.g. Need For Speed 5, Midtown Madness, etc.).
On the other hand, the ELSA driver had no problems running the same games mentioned above, except that artifacts started showing up in Midtown Madness, even at default core and memory speed of 175 MHz and 166 MHz. Somehow, it seems that this game has got inherent problems with all GeForce-based cards, including the 1st generation (I know a Asus V6800 GeForce DDR owner who experienced similar problems). Anyway, just to illustrate some of the game incompatibilities:
Screenshot of Midtown Madness with Elsa driver (4.12.01.0204) running at 175MHz core speed and 166MHz memory speed (default core and memory speeds)
NVIDIA had admitted that there are some problems with the Detonator 3 driver and VIA motherboards, and this is extremely obvious with my system – K7V. So, let’s just hope that NVIDIA and VIA can resolve this soon.
In addition, I’ve tried the card with various demos downloaded from NVIDIA’s site.
The Lightning demo from NVIDIA to illustrate the per-pixel shading properties of GeForce 2 series
Firetruck demo from NVIDIA (FSAA disabled)
Firetruck demo (FSAA enabled)
As you can see, with FSAA (Full Scene Anti-Alias) enabled, the graphics look much smoother than without. But during game play, activating this feature incurs a definite slowdown on performance, especially with GeForce2 MX series. This slowdown is evident later in the benchmarks section.
Another concern is that the card was unable to run at AGP 4x, despite having enabled it in my BIOS settings. So when I refer to benchmarks and gaming on the Elsa driver, the card was only running at AGP 2x, as no options exist to enable this in Windows. Upon using the Detonator 3 driver, I managed to get it at 4x via the registry hack. Nevertheless, the performance difference between 2x and 4x is not that great in any case.
In summary, since the GeForce 2 MX series is relatively new, further improvements on the driver for better support and stability is crucial for proper user. Nevertheless, at its existing price-point, it offers reasonable performance to a "not-so-hardcore" gamer.
Let's move on and take a look at the bigger GTS brothers!