The mainstream video card market has been quite active of late, and new models are consistently being released by both ATI and NVIDIA. The Radeon 9600 XT was the latest salvo from ATI, and basically improved on the previous Radeon 9600 Pro through higher clock speeds and an on-demand overclocking feature. This was an important product launch for ATI, as the company had taken some heat for shelving the popular Radeon 9500 Pro in favor of a lower-cost, and lower-performing, Radeon 9600 Pro. Once the Radeon 9600 XT was introduced, it effectively shut off any criticism of past moves, and ushered the RV350 core's performance past that of the Radeon 9500 Pro.
This still left the door open for NVIDIA to release a faster, mid-range card in the interim, as ATI has effectively been spinning its wheels since the Radeon 9500 Pro was introduced. The GeForce FX 5600 line simply wasn't up to the task, and ATI was allowed to maintain performance instead of being forced to keep pace with faster technology. Those days may be coming to and end, as NVIDIA has finally unveiled their new mid-range chip, the NV36, which is featured in the new GeForce FX 5700 Ultra.
The NV36 core is based on the 0.13-micron NV35 architecture, and although it is a 4-pixel per clock design, the core has been tuned above previous GeForce FX 5600-based products. This allows for higher clock speeds, enhanced processing, and support for faster memory technologies. For example, NVIDIA states that the NV36 core offers 3x the vertex processing power of a GeForce FX 5600, 1.5x its overall performance, and runs at a core speed far in excess of previous FX 5600-based models, and on par with the highest-end GeForce FX 5980 cards. NV36 also features support for CineFX 2.0, IntelliSample HCT, and UltraShadow technologies.
The GeForce FX 5700 Ultra is clocked at 475 MHz core and 900 MHz DDR2 memory speeds, which offers a significant upgrade over previous GeForce FX 5600-based cards. The inclusion of a 128-bit DDR2 memory interface is another nice improvement, and coupled with a high-end 900 MHz clock speed and 14.4 GB/sec. of bandwidth, should increase memory performance quite significantly.
The GeForce FX 5700 Ultra is a full-length, AGP 8X card, and features a smaller heatsink-fan unit than is commonly found on the GeForce FX 5900 Ultra cards. The NVIDIA-branded cooling unit on our reference card included a top-mounted heatsink-fan, along with a back-mounted heatsink for the card memory. The overall look is similar to some high-end, slim line GeForce FX 5900 Ultra boards we've seen, only with cooling hardware being a tad lighter and smaller.
The overall design of the GeForce FX 5700 Ultra reference board makes it thin enough to allow access to the primary PCI slot, but in our testing, it was easier to just leave it open and allow better airflow. The card also features 128-MB of DDR2 memory, along with the usual VGA, DVI-I and S-Video outputs. The GeForce FX 5700 Ultra follows the higher-end NVIDIA models, and requires an external power connector.