May the GeForce be with you.
In our efforts to oust Belgium from international supremacy, Game Revolution has employed many tactics and strategies, the latest of which is to build a super computer. A computer that will not only play the most demanding and graphically rich games at light speed, but an electronic dynamo of a machine that can brew a perfect cup of coffee and have it waiting on Ben's desk at 9 a.m. (just cool enough to drink). Thus far, the only thing keeping us from completing our little device of destruction was obtaining a proper 3D accelerator worthy of the ambitious GR vision: To Gain Undisputed Autonomy Over…Everything!
The boys and girls over at ELSA have finished their newest 32 MB AGP graphic board, the ELSA Gladiac, which is based on NVIDIA's new GeForce 2 GTS (Gigatexel Shader) graphic-processing unit (GPU). Does it do the job, or is GR left to shop around? Either way, any computer we build will be obsolete within a week. You just gotta love technology!
For the record, I am not going to bog you down with a boatload of high-tech jargon; pipelines, texels-per clock architecture, etc.. Borrrring!! But there are some features that we can all appreciate. After popping this baby in the AGP slot of our motherboard and installing the latest drivers from the ELSA website, we're ready to go.
First off, the Gladiac handles 2D rendering beautifully (though this is no great feat). A 256-Bit 2D rendering engine allows speedy screen refesh at the highest resolutions. Now you can run those 'Word' files faster than ever.
The speed and quality of the 3D performance in 32-Bit color mode has to be seen to be believed. The adjustable full scene hardware anti-aliasing in D3D games results in smoother edges and rounded corners. ELSA is obviously shooting for the most realistic gaming experience possible.
A 350 MHz RAMDAC delivers sharp and clear high-resolution images. This, coupled with 2nd generation transform and lighting, is indeed something to see. Transform and lighting allows for extremely complex shadow effects and environments for next-generation gaming.
Baldur's Gate and Starlancer are a couple of the games most obviously supporting the T&L per-pixel-shading, and both look stellar using the Gladiac (though not many games are implementing 2nd generation T&L). The solar effects in Starlancer made me think, "This is what games must look like when Bill Gates is playing on his computer." Then again, Bill's probably using some top-secret X-Card made from rare metals only found on Io or something. At any rate, T&L looks good.
We ran the ELSA Gladiac through Ziff Davis' 3D WinBench 2000, which tests the speed of a graphic card and the capability of its features. GR is proud to say that the ELSA Gladiac passed nearly every test with flying colors. To our surprise, though, the Gladiac failed the bump mapping test and a couple anti-aliasing tests. Normally this would not matter much to me, since most games are not yet taking advantage of these new features. However, the Gladiac is the next generation of graphic cards, not to mention that anti-aliasing and bump-mapping are two of the features ELSA is really trying to push with the Gladiac.
The Gladiac did pass all the other anti-aliasing tests. Honestly, the bottom line is that this card is going to make any PC game in your library look damn good, bar none. Some gamers just need to see the number for themselves, and in that case, click here for exhaustive benchmark results.
ELSA is trying something new with their software bundle. The first custom software package is ELSA Best Select. Purchase the Gladiac and you can choose from a list of 10 of the hottest games available this season. ELSA is also allowing customers to purchase up to 3 additional titles. It's a nice idea to be able to actually get the games you want from a software bundle. However, I would have preferred that ELSA just bundle the games they felt best showed off what the Gladiac could do. Small gripe, though.
The ELSA Software Advantage comes with stereo 3D, ELSA Winman Suite (containing ELSA SmartRefresh and SmartResolution), and Advanced Properties that allow you customize your OpenGL, Direct 3D (anti-aliasing and mip-mapping adjustments) and overclocking settings for further image flexibility. Plus, the Gladiac comes packed with a software DVD player, drivers for Windows 9x and 2000, Windows NT and Linux. A full load.
I was disappointed to see no video-in/out connectors. Those of us needing to give our games big screen attention will have to turn towards ELSA's website. There, customers may purchase an optional video in/out module for an additional $40. Can anyone say cheesy? Honestly.
Graphics Controller: NVIDIA GeForce2 GTS GPU
Which brings me to the price. All this incredible technology and speed comes at an excessive price of $350 (video-in/out module not included). That's just a little too much. You're left feeling that you need to buy a 1 GHz CPU just to justify the price of your accelerator card.
Five months ago, I bought a 700MHz AMD Athlon Processor for under $300. Now, with the Gladiac in my machine, the cost for the accelerator card far exceeds the cost of the CPU. Which somehow doesn't seem right, especially when over half of the features you are paying for are only supported by a couple of games that are actually available at retail.
Ultimately, if you are building a monster gaming rig with a processor of 800+MHz and you want to be able to play any possible game that comes out in the next 3-6 years and you just robbed a bank, well then the ELSA Gladiac is perfect for you and all those other jerks out there who make more money than I do.
When graphic cards start rivaling the cost of a kick-ass CPU, I think it's time to start asking ourselves; "When is the technology of PC games going to actually catch up with the technology of these high-end, consumer level GPUs?" Because if it's not soon, then there is no reason to sell the farm just to have the latest unsupported features.