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Creative 3D Blaster GeForce4 Ti4400 review

While the US crowd hasn’t seen Creative branded videocards for a long time, the European market have steadily had their dose of 3D Blasters in the last couple of years. Although this might change in the not so distant future with Creative’s recent acquisition of 3DLabs, that’s not what we will be discussing today.

In case it wasn’t too obvious, the Creative 3DBlaster Ti4400 is based on NVIDIA’s latest GeForce4 chip. The Ti4400 variant can be considered the middle between the hardcore high-end Ti4600, and the more mainstream Ti4200 chip and while the later hasn’t been released just yet, it should be available in the next couple of weeks, completing the GF4 Ti chip family.

Usually considered "the sweet spot" for an enthusiast card, most Ti4400 boards offer all the fancy and speedy factor of the more expensive 4600 Titanium's but at a lower price... read on to see how the 3D Blaster performs. Additionally you can read a head to head comparison between Ti4600 & 4400 boards here.

First Impressions

Taking a look at the board itself reminded me of the 3dfx Voodoo 5 5500 card I used to have a while ago. It makes me wonder what previous owners of the 3dfx board have to say, usually mocking of the size of Voodoo boards; the Ti4400 is an equally massive card with some rather large capacitors. Fitting the graphics card into the AGP slot of the Abit NV7-133R was a bit unnerving given the rather awkward layout of that board (not that that length of this card helped in any way), though eventually went in smoothly enough.

Bundle wise Creative offers you Incoming Forces & e-Racer, both from Rage Software; that plus the obligatory drivers and NVIDIA demo CD. A software DVD decoder is not included – a common bundle these days found in most graphics cards distributed on the US and even in a few soundcards. This will probably help keeping the price down anyway, and that’s what people will care about the most, right?

The manual that comes with the Creative GeForce 4 Ti 4400 is actually a rather basic Quickstart guide that covers installation of the hardware. Creative seemingly have moved on from the tomes that used to come with earlier products like their Live! soundcards, for example.

GeForce 4 Features

Some of the more important features of the GeForce 4 Ti are Lightspeed Memory Architecture II, nfiniteFX II & Accuview Anti-Aliasing, which I’ll cover in more detail now.

Lightspeed Memory Architecture II

As you can guess by the name, LMA 2 is an updated version of LMA, as featured in the GeForce 3. LMA 1/2 both work to reduce memory bandwidth requirements, which will improve performance by reducing redundant processing and providing other architectural improvements. The ATI Radeon & PowerVR Kyro Graphics cards feature similarly themed technologies – reduce redundant processing, save bandwidth, improve performance. It does this in several ways:

  • Crossbar memory controller. Compared to the GeForce 4 MX, the GeForce 4 Ti uses 4 Crossbar memory controllers, as opposed to 2. This provides a more efficient way of accessing the frame buffer as compared with traditional memory controllers. The net effect being that it optimises bandwidth use for improved performance. No application support is required for this. It’s worth noting that the nForce chipset also utilizes (2) Crossbar memory controllers.

  • Loseless Z-Compression. The Z-Buffer contains depth information for every single pixel to be rendered by the Graphics card. Thus using higher resolutions not only consume more fill rate, they also require a larger Z-Buffer as more pixels will be rendered. The GeForce 4 on-board hardware compression of Z-Buffer data. Most critically it is loseless, so there will be no precision loss which could adversely affect the image. According to NVIDIA this hardware compression will reduce the Z-Buffer requirements about 25%. Once again, this saves memory bandwidth. No application support is required for this.

  • Z-Occlusion Culling. Traditionally Graphics cards have performed a lot of redundant rendering by rendering pixels that will inevitably not be visible. This redundant rendering is known as overdraw. The level of overdraw can vary from title to title with some having an overdraw level of 3 or more, while others are much lower. Reportedly ID Software Game engines are excellent in this area. Though clearly with Games getting more & more visually complex the level of overdraw is not about to decrease of its own accord. While many Developers have added in their own software methods to reduce overdraw others will need to rely on that provided in Graphics cards themselves, if any, e.g. PowerVR Kyro cards use a Tile-based deferred rendering system which is excellent at eliminating overdraw & are perhaps the most efficient consumer Graphics cards around.

  • The first part of this process is the Depth test - Z-Buffer values are compared to determine what is visible in a scene, i.e. pixels at the front of a scene will obscure pixels with a greater depth, i.e. behind them. For example, if your viewpoint is looking at a solid wall, then any pixels behind that wall won't be visible through it. As such any non-visible scene elements are completely disregarded, only visible elements get sent on to the Framebuffer.
    The second is the Occlusion Query. This tests whether triangles are hidden completely behind other triangles. As before, non-visible triangles are disregarded & play no further part in the rendering process.
    Z-Occlusion Culling, unlike the other LMA II features does however require Application support & will only work with Front to back order rendering applications.

  • Auto Pre-Charge. This minimizes the latency issues involved with accessing a different area of memory. No application support is required for this.

  • Fast Z-Clear. Fairly self-explanatory this one. This minimizes the amount of bandwidth & time needed to clear Z-Buffer data which will also improve performance further. No application support is required for this.

 



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