When did prophets start charging money?
The last GeForce 2 GTS Ultra card we looked at poured salt into a wound that was already septic. The $500 price tag sent me kicking and screaming like a wild a stallion that's just received an enema prepared with scalding hot water. Needless to say, the price was quite alarming.
Just barely allowing me to regain my composure from the wallet-draining equivalent to a Jet-Li No-Shadow Kick that was Elsa and Creative's original GeForce 2 GTS cards, NVIDIA brings us yet another more powerful eye-candy producing piece of crack. True to crack form, the Ultra cards are both incredibly addictive and hopelessly expensive.
Now Hercules takes a stab at designing a board built around NVIDIA's GeForce 2 Ultra chipset. The 3D Prophet II Ultra has a bit more to offer than the Annihilator 2 Ultra, for a bit more cash. "More cash!" you exclaim. Yes, more cash...but only $30, to be precise.
The Prophet II Ultra rings in at a whopping MSRP of $529. As you may have guessed, only a select few of us will actually find this veritable diamond under the tree this year. But for the rich few, here's what this puppy can do (hey, that rhymed!)
After installing this 4X AGP workhorse into the AGP slot on my monster gaming rig, I quickly went to the "Desktop Properties" to see how intuitive the utilities (drivers) are and to crank the settings to the max. To my surprise, I found that Hercules is using NVIDIA's proprietary chip-enhancing Detonator 3 drivers. This is pretty cool. You need not trouble yourself with downloading them, as they are the most compatible utilities you can have for any NVIDIA based graphic board. Adjusting Direct 3D and OpenGL settings like anti-aliasing (edge smoothing) and/or anisotropic filtering (the smooth blending of shapes in different directions) are a snap. Overclocking and color calibrating are just as simple.
The main difference between the Ultra chipset and the original GTS chipset is speed. Original GTS boards come in 32 or 64MB flavors. The Ultra, by default, boasts a tasty 64 MB of Double Data Rate memory. Double Data Rate is, well, just that - data transferred at double the rate, which equals a speedy transfer of data.
This new architecture helps the 3D Prophet II Ultra (as it did the Annihilator 2 Ultra) to deliver an amazing, high-performance Transform & Lighting engine as well as a jaw dropping 31 million polygons per second. Now my games take a lot less time to load.
The features that can be found in the original GeForce GTS cards make a valiant return with the Ultras. No GeForce 2 card would be complete without NVIDIA's trademark Shading Rasterizer (dubbed NSR), advanced texture compression, single-pass multi-texturing, cube environment mapping and AGP 4X w/ Fast Write support. All of this alleviates much of the workload from your computer's processor. So processing hundreds of light sources, complex textures and dynamic shading effects is now easier than ever before.
But frankly, I think the original GF 2 GTS was doing just fine at 25 million polygon per second. What I want to know is, who complained!?
For those of you only convinced by numbers, check out our benchmark comparisons from the 3D Blaster Annihilator 2 Ultra. They are roughly identical to those of the 3D Prophet II Ultra and should be a small example of both cards abilities on paper.
Something fairly unique to the Hercules 3D Prophet II Ultra is its inclusion of my all-time favorite feature in any GPU (drum roll please): TV In/Out capability. Hercules offers great TV-Out quality and provides an S-Video cable to connect to your compatible NTSC format television set. Throw in a software DVD decoder (titled PowerDVD) and you can enjoy DVD playback on your television in 640x480 and 800x600. I am pleased.
A third connector (the DVI-Output) bestows DVI-Output for high-resolution display on digital monitors. Although I was unable to test the quality of this feature, I am happy to see Hercules bless this card with such upgradeability.
Some cards come with a little something to get you started, and the Hercules board has a full software bundle. Unfortuately, it's pretty weak. Daikatana, Tachyon and a unique map for Quake III Arena are paltry pickings for today's gamer. Daikatana sucked! Tachyon was mildly entertaining (though is does have Bruce Campbell doing the voice acting). And who's not tired of Quake III: Arena? Hercules gets a two-poot salute for this half-assed attempt at a software bundle.
Nonetheless, the Prophet II Ultra gets my gold star. The TV-Out easily clenches it. And if I didn't know any better, I would claim that the Prophet II Ultra produces better visual quality than any of the other cards I've tested lately, most noteably in Rune and Hitman: Codename 47.
I will admit that Creative has the much flashier utility interface and a price tag that is 30 bucks cheaper. Honestly, though, any Ultra board you find will make you the happiest, financially impoverished gamer around, and NVIDIA will love you for it.
It is my professional opinion that the 3D Prophet II Ultra is the best graphics processing unit available for gamers to date. But for 500+ dollars, I know I'm not buying either one. I'm still trying to save up enough money to get one of the original $300 dollar GeForce 2 GTS boards. Sure, I work in the video game industry, but as a modestly paid editor, not some nerdy digital drug-czar. Sheesh!