Every six month product cycle, the battle for the “best buy” graphics card is renewed. During the last cycle, nVidia won with their Geforce4 Ti4200 which combined good performance with a price that many enthusiasts could live with. nVidia hopes to keep that important market niche with their FX5600 cards. Like the FX5900 Ultra, the FX5600 includes all the future-proofing DirectX 9+ features of its more expensive brethren while having an acceptable price for most budget minded people.
With a new product cycle, brings new features. Image quality has become somewhat a new movement in the graphics card industry ever since 3dfx started this emphasis with their Voodoo5 5500. High frame rates are no longer the coveted holy grail, but rather high frame rates with good image quality. This is clearly reflected by the stress nVidia has placed on the new feature-set and the nomenclature used to describe these features in the new FX cards.
The CineFX engine can be considered the flagship-feature of the FX series centering upon numerous enhancements on vertex and pixel shaders. Both receive a designation of 2.0+, trying to show that nVidia’s implementation of both exceeds Microsoft’s DirectX 9 specification while ATi’s R3X0 cores only meet the specification. Vertex shader 2.0+ adds support for a greater amount of instructions allowing programmers to have greater flexibility. Pixel shader 2.0+ most notably supports pixel shader programs with a maximum of 1024 instructions (up from 64 found in 2.0). Finally pixel shader support both 64bit and 128bit floating point precision allowing rendered images to look more realistic.
Just as Accuview brought image enhancements to the Geforce4 line, Intellisample does the same for the FX based cards. It encompasses filtering technologies such as trilinear and anisotropic filtering, color compression, gamma correction, and anti-aliasing (introducing two new modes: 6XS and 8X). What does all of this some-what technical mumbo-jumbo mean for the average person? Hopefully better image quality without a large if any performance hit so your America’s Army (or whatever game you happen to play) looks good without frame-rates going down the drain.
With the features out of the way, we can talk about the FX5600 GPU specifically. Like many of nVidia’s lower tier graphics cards, the FX5600 is basically a crippled version of its more expensive family – and in this case the number of pipelines has been reduced in half from eight to four, the GPU can only apply one texture per pass, core and memory speeds reduced, a 128bit DDRI memory bus rather than the FX5900’s 256bit DDRII bus.
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