Blasting the competition.
The GeForce 2 GTS based cards are now the undisputed, pound-for-pound champions of the consumer graphic processing market. Many have tried, but none have been able to usurp or even tread even ground with NVIDIA and their staff of technological shamans. The speed, power and visual quality of their new chipset is so darn pleasing to consumers that the list of graphic board manufacturers just keeps growing (recent additions include Aopen, Micostar, and Winfast).
This is great news to gamers. Finding a GeForce 2 GTS graphics board on store shelves should be as easy as finding bad porn online (that's easy). They're simply everywhere.
Creative, the wonderful people responsible for producing the acclaimed home-run hitting SBLive! sound cards, is up to bat again. This time, their newest video card, the 3D Blaster Annihilator 2 confidently steps up to the plate. So situate yourself with some peanuts and crackerjacks and let's check out the Annihilator 2's form.
When I plucked this monster card from the box, the first thing I noticed was the lack of a TV-out. This was also one of the let downs with the ELSA Gladiac GeForce 2 card. However, with Elsa you at least had the cheesy option to purchase a TV-out module separately. Creative seems to have left me high and dry in this regard. Oh well, guess I'll just have to stick with my tiny 19in. monitor. Oh, the suffering.
I love it when things come easy, especially installations. Maybe I'm lazy. Maybe I like to just go with the flow or maybe I'm still carrying around some prosaic console sensibility that has yet to be introduced to PC gaming. I just want to plug it in, turn something on and be done with it. Luckily, most video cards are not that difficult to install and I am happy to say that installation for the 3D Blaster Annihilator 2 is a snap.
Take the Annihilator 2 board and place it firmly into your AGP slot. Plug your monitor into the VGA port, which should now be protruding out of the back of your computer. Now install the software from the included CD. It's that simple.
The software includes drivers for Window '95, Windows '98 (which are common to both), Windows NT 4.0 and Windows 2000. Creative has you covered…oh…unless you're running Linux or Red Hat. Those people usually aren't gamers anyway (here comes the hate mail!).
In addition to drivers, you get the Creative Enhanced BlasterControl. This little utility is great, allowing you to adjust the D3D and OpenGL settings, overclocking settings, and monitor calibration, all within a very comprehensive and easy to use interface.
One of the particularly appealing points about the Creative utilities is that you can save different D3D, OpenGL and overclocking setting for different games. If you want more anti-aliasing in Heavy Metal F.A.K.K. 2 than you do in Quake 3 Arena, then simply set the configuration you desire for each game and save it. This alleviates the tedious task of having to open the display properties and reset the options every time you play a different game. I love it!
The 3D Blaster Annihilator 2 is an excellent 2D/3D-video accelerator that utilizes the ultimate GeForce 2 GTS 256-bit 3D processor. Word, Notebook, Excel and other text programs run beautifully. I don't know how much better one needs their text programs to run. If you can read it, you're golden. Case closed.
This chipset also features a 350 MHz RAMDAC, four independent pixel pipelines and the new NVIDIA Shading Rasterizer (NSR). The card performs per-pixel shading and complex operations is a single pass and delivers fill rates up to 1.6 gigatexels per second. In laymen's terms, this means the Annihilator 2 will produce incredibly detailed textures.
The GeForce 2 GTS also has a second-generation Transforming and Lighting engine (more commonly referred to as T&L). T&L technology gives the 3D Blaster Annihilator 2 the processing power of 25 million triangles per second. Oddly enough, this is 5 million triangles down from ELSA's board (30 million triangles per second). At any rate, like the ELSA Gladiac, T&L can make an already stellar looking title like Starlancer or Heavy Metal F.A.K.K. 2 appear near life-like. Although this technology has only been implemented in maybe five or six games, it is sill an attention grabber and one of the most sought after features in video cards today.
Another feature no new card could do without is full scene anti-aliasing, a technique used to blur the edges of objects in games to make them seem smoother and often more contoured. Full scene anti-aliasing takes a heavy load of power from your card. Heavy Metal F.A.K.K. 2 runs just fine on my 700MHz AMD Athlon with the anti-aliasing turned up about halfway. If I push it to the max, I experience some occasional slowdown and choppiness, just enough to annoy me and warrant turning the anti-aliasing down.
I have included 2 pictures of F.A.K.K. 2. One has anti-aliasing turned off and the other has it at turned up to about ¾ of the power. Check out the jaggies on the tree.Gone!
After pushing this card with games like Soldier of Fortune, Unreal Tournament , Quake 3 Arena, Deus Ex, Crimson Skies and even our extremely short, extremely OpenGL reliant pre-alpha build of Hitman Codename: 47, I am convinced that the GeForce 2 will be around for a very long time. I didn't even experience any of the flickering problems expressed by many gamers when using GeForce 2s on D3D games. This baby just smokes!
But wait! Just when I thought it couldn't get any better, I received an e-mail from NVIDIA informing me of their new Detonator 3 drivers. This easy and free download boosts performance of any NVIDIA GeForce 2 GTS chipset card by 50%. 50%! Can you believe it? I was skeptical.
To my and the rest of the GR staff's amazement, the darn thing does what it says. Textures that looked amazing (Unreal Tournament in particular) before the Detonator 3 drivers, now look (for lack of a better term) unreal. We were stunned. Now it's just a question of whether or not we really needed to witness our heads getting blown off in such explicit detail.
Unfortunately, the Creative Enhanced BlasterControls only seem to work with the drivers supplied by Creative. So when I installed the Detonator 3 drivers, it replaced the cool Creative utilities with NVIDIA's simply adequate utilities. But this is the most minor of drawbacks when the trade-off is a 50% boost in graphic quality and speed from a chip that provides the most enthralling gaming experiences the world has ever known.
The 3D Blaster Annihilator 2 slides in at just under $300; 50 bucks less than the Gladiac, but still a heavy bag of change. But at least you get what you pay for. Creative hits another one out of the park with the 3D Blaster Annihilator 2. NVIDIA proves yet again that the GeForce 2 GTS is at the top of the dog pile, at least until they release their new GeForce 2 Ultra GTS in a month or so.