NVIDIA had a long road from the GeForce FX 5800 to the GeForce FX 5900 Ultra, but it looks to have paid off. The original GeForce FX/NV30 technology was simply not up to par with ATI's best, and ran hot, featured expensive DDR-II memory, and a cooling design that launched a thousand jokes. The latest GeForce FX 5900/NV35 technology represented a shift toward more consumer-friendly designs, and included a more realistic cooling design, 256-bit DDR memory, and an upgrade to overall performance levels.
There are still some questions regarding the DirectX 9 mechanics of the NV35 and its variants, but the newer GeForce FX models have had a much better reception in the marketplace, and there has been a marked growth in available products. One such NVIDIA partner is XFX, a company that cut its eye teeth on the GeForce2, 3 and 4 lines before moving to the GeForce FX. Today we'll be reviewing the XFX GeForce FX 5900 Ultra 256-MB VIVO, a high-end video card with a wide range of features.
The XFX GeForce FX 5900 Ultra follows the NVIDIA reference design quite closely, and sports the same basic cooling and card format. This includes the standard, black heatsink-fan unit, which provides GPU and memory cooling in a dual-front/backplate format. This translates into a relatively heavy card, and one that requires both the AGP and primary PCI slots. It is a bit different than some custom designs, such as the ASUS V9950 Ultra, but while some may be slimmer, these GeForce FX 5900 Ultra cards really need the open PCI slot for extra cooling.
The card's specifications are also standard, and XFX uses 450 MHz core and 850 MHz DDR memory clock speeds for their GeForce FX 5900 Ultra. These are quite high compared to even the ATI Radeon 9800 XT, and with the 256-bit bus and 256-MB onboard DDR memory, the GeForce FX 5900 Ultra still has a memory bandwidth advantage over the best from ATI. The XFX GeForce FX 5900 Ultra's backplate is also standard issue, featuring VGA, DVI-I and S-Video outputs, and like all GeForce FX 5900 Ultra cards, it requires external power through a Molex connector.
XFX has also added basic VIVO (Video-in/Video-out) capabilities to their GeForce FX 5900 Ultra 256-MB card. This follows the standard format of many GeForce4 cards, and the VIVO connector takes the place of the S-Video port. Simply hook up the VIVO splitter cable (black for output and red for input), load the appropriate drivers and A/V software, and you're off to the races.
The XFX GeForce FX 5900 Ultra may look like an NVIDIA reference card, but XFX has differentiated their product through a very nice retail bundle. In terms of pure presentation, XFX gets top marks, starting with the innovative retail box design. It is tailored in the shape of an "X", and the internal box is also covered with a warning X as well. This one did fool us, as we're used to motherboard warning stickers, but it's actually a humorous facsimile of a "dangerous goods" label, complete with parody warnings and side effects. This may not count for much in terms of framerates, but it's nice to see this kind of attention to detail and a direct nod towards the hardcore gaming community.
Inside the retail box you'll find a nice selection of hardware, including dual S-Video cables, a VIVO splitter cable, and a DVI-to-VGA dongle for dual-VGA display. There is also a hardcopy user manual and quick install guide, and although both are generic, all the required points are covered off. The game software bundle is the most impressive part of the deal, and includes full retail editions of Racing Simulator 3, Comanche 4, and Ghost Recon, along with a game demo CD. The only disappointing part is the lack of full multimedia editing software, and although XFX does include a trial versions of PowerDirector Pro VE, PowerVCR II, and PowerDVD XP (on the driver CD), it would have been nice to see one full package.