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
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.
Speaking of which, I decided to test this puppy with a few recent titles. I
tried Tribes 2, Black &
White (GR's most recent "A"), Rune
and GR favorite Counter-Strike.
Read on, the plot thickens.
FSAA 2x2 - Click to enlarge!
FSAA 4x4 - Click to enlarge!
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
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.
Click to enlarge!