Kyro, the road less traveled.
News flash readers: Video cards have become much more important to gamers than ever before. They're beginning to rival the speed of the CPU in terms of dictating performance. You can play Giants or Tribes 2 with nearly all the graphical trimmings just fine on a 600MHz overclocked Celeron with 256MB of RAM and a GeForce 2 Pro or Ultra. But try to play the same games on a 1.4GHz Athlon T-Bird with 256MB of RAM and an ATI Rage Pro that has 6MB of video RAM...you're in for a rude awakening. It's just not possible (unless you're lucky enough to own an Nvidia Nforce based motherboard).
So among the ambitious yet currency-conscious gamer, the question remains: How can you have above average speed and video quality and still make it out of the computer store without taking a second mortgage on the house? Well, Hercules may just have the answer you've been looking for.
With the release of the MX, MX 200 and MX 400 series of GeForce cards, speed and decent eye-candy are now readily available to the money-minded gamer. But the new Hercules 3D Prophet 4500 64MB doesn't have GeForce blood coursing through its circuits. This new budget buy uses the Kyro II chipset, a product of STMicroelectronics and powered by PowerVR's highly credible tile-based rendering system. The three companies (Hercules, STMicroelectronics and PowerVR) come together to bring us working-class poor folks a solid card for 150 bucks.
The Hercules 3D Prophet 4500 is a 64MB (that's standard SDRAM, not DDR-RAM) 3D accelerator that is AGP 2.0 compliant. This is a little disappointing considering the prevalence of newer AGP 4X motherboards. But the aforementioned tile-based rendering system makes up for the speed loss across the AGP port since it only renders what is on screen. This is opposed to most other cards that render all textures regardless of whether or not they're currently visible. It's a very efficient way of increasing speed and lowering your processor's workload.
Installation is, as usual, a breeze. Place card in AGP slot. Turn computer on and install the intuitive utilities from the provided CD. You're all done! Unfortunately, Hercules still feels that no game bundle should be included in their video card packages. Why? Who knows? But would it matter if they told us? It still sucks. You can click here for a detailed list of features.
The card has most of the trimmings. FSAA (full scene anti-aliasing) and EBM (environmental bump-mapping) are two high-end features that the 4500 offers in an affordable package. Even though these are not performed with the same degree of quality or efficiency as, say, a GeForce Pro or Ultra, the 4500 succeeds where the MX failed. The card does takes a hit in performance and speed when these features are used, but the results are negligible when compared to that of the MX with the same effects turned on.
There is very little visual disparity between using the 4500's FSAA set to 2x2 (vertical or horizontal) or FSAA set to 4x4 (both vertical and horizontal). Sure, edges are a little smoother in 4x4, but not to an incredibly obvious extent. This held true for all games tested.
I noticed some framerate loss, especially when a smoke grenade is thrown, in Counter-Strike. Expect the game to chug a bit if you are using full 4x4 anti-aliasing. But other than that, CS runs great with this card.
Rune ran really well, with a silky smooth framerate and nice-looking textures. The game did seem a little darker than usual, and to my chagrin the PowerVR API ran worse than OpenGL. Both were too dark to enjoy and PowerVR was unplayably choppy. So D3D (which ran flawlessly) wins the day.
Tribes 2 is a total nightmare. With all in-game properties set to Â¼ their full capacity, the 4500 had an unsuccessful time trying to convince the controversial Tribes 2 to show a little leg. Even with the scaled-down settings, the game was about as visually revealing as a devout Muslim wife. Flat textures, bland skies, unforgivable framerates and extremely low viewing distances plague T2 when using the 4500. Let's just hope the next patch for both the 4500 and Tribes 2 will fix these problems. As of now, it's a complete wash. Click here to see for yourself.
Being a god, however, is heavenly. Black & White runs like a dream on the 4500. No framerate issues, no texture loss and the vibrancy remains intact. I never even felt the need to bump the FSAA up to 4x4. The framerate is solid and it looks great. The 4500 is definitely in god's good graces.
The Hercules 3D Prophet 4500 puts up some good competition for the other leading budget buys. The MX does beat it out in compatiblity and stability, but the 4500 gets my vote for speed and pleasantly affordable features. If you're wondering how it compares to the GeForce Pro and Ultra, it doesn't. Pit these series of Nvidia cards against the 4500 and it's the NBA Finals all over again, with the 4500 as the Philadelphia 76ers. What, you don't follow sports?
So there you have it - high-end features, impressive tile-based rendering system and an attractively affordable price tag. There are certainly some issues with some games, but nothing that isn't potentially patchable. If you've already sold the chicken coop to obtain the latest computer upgrades and you want to gear down on the video card spending, this isn't a bad choice. I just hope you weren't planning on playing Tribes 2…at all. Either way, you may want to wait for a few more patches before you make your final decision.