vacancies advertise contact news tip The Vault
facebook rss twitter

Review: MSI G4MX440-T

by Ryszard Sommefeldt on 25 March 2002, 00:00

Tags: MSI

Quick Link: HEXUS.net/qakb

Add to My Vault: x

MSI G4MX440-T




Introduction

Since we took a look at the NVIDIA GeForce4 Ti4600 a little while ago, the rest of the GeForce4 range has fleshed out and cards are starting to appear in volume across the entire range of cards. GeForce4 MX440 based cards are appearing from most manufacturers and I recently looked at Abit's entry.

This time it's the turn of the MSI in the form of their G4MX440-T, similar in configuration to the Abit but with the usual MSI twists.

I'll save any talk on the GPU since I covered it in the Abit review recently so please take a look to refresh your memory on the GPU side of things.

So since we aren't covering new ground with the GPU technology, lets focus a bit more on the card itself.

MSI G4MX440-T



The MSI card carries the NVIDIA reference layout pretty much completely. The most obvious deviation from any reference card is the active cooling on the GPU. While the memory modules on the card aren't actively or passively cooled, like the Abit the MSI features an eye catching GPU cooler.

The distinctive gold coloured cooler is attached to the PCB and GPU by means of a pair of push pins and as a nice touch, MSI have used a thermal interface material between the cooler and the GPU. The fan on the card was very quiet during testing, unlike the noisy example on the Abit.

Other than the cooler, the card is identical to the Abit in all areas bar PCB colour (blue on the Abit!) and crucially, the memory modules. While the Abit card featured 4.0ns Samsung chips, the MSI from its markings has 5.0ns memory chips. They are Samsung modules like the Abit, just rated slower. This should show up in the performance analysis, especially when overclocking.

Here's a quick rundown of the formal spec.

  • 256-bit 3D and 2D graphics accelerator
  • Integrated second-generation Transform and Lighting engines
  • 34 million triangles per second setup engine with Z-cull and Z-clear
  • 1.1 billion texels per second
  • NVIDIA Shading Rasterizer with 24 of 26 DX8 pixel shading functions and full set of OpenGL 1.3 pixel combiner operations
  • 32-bit color with 32-bit z/stencil
  • Cube environment mapping
  • DirectX® and S3TC® texture compression
  • Digital Vibrance Control
  • Enhanced TwinView dual-display architecture supporting any combination of notebook LCD, desktop VGA monitor, DVI display or TV set
  • Dual CRTC/Simultaneous Dual Display (same or different surfaces)
  • Integrated dual LVDS Transmitter supporting LCD panels up to 2048x1536
  • Integrated 350 MHz Palette-DAC for analog VGA monitors up to 2048x1536
  • Integrated NTSC/PAL TV encoder supporting resolutions up to 1024x768
  • Integrated TMDS transmitter for Digital Visual Interface support with scaling and filtering for flat panels up to 1600x1200
  • DVD- and HDTV-ready MPEG-2 decoding up to 1920x1080i ATSC format
  • MPEG-2 hardware decode, including Inverse Discrete Cosine Transform and Motion Compensation
Specification wise, the board features 64MB of DDR memory and a TV-Out output (S-Video and Composite). It's worth noting quickly that the board doesn't support the full DX8 shader specification and misses out 2 functions in hardware. This is enough to cause the GPU to underperform quite badly compared to a full DX8 part that implements everything in hardware.

Otherwise, the card is exactly what I expected. Installation was a snap with the card having no installation issues on the test motherboard, something which has come to the fore recently with an article on [H]ardOCP about card and AGP slot clearance.

It would have been nice to see some passive cooling on the memory chips but since the GeForce4 MX cards are all about performance on a budget, the lack of cooling on the chips can be overlooked. Heatsinks cost money and no matter how little that amount might be, it's still an added cost.

As far as the bundle is concerned, the card ships in attractive MSI packaging that we've come to expect but it's the software bundle that really impresses. The card ships with no fewer than 4 full games and 6 game demos. The games are Serious Sam: The First Encounter, No One Lives Forever, Aquanox and Sacrifice. All 4 full games are shooter style games. It's nice to see some fresh games with a graphics card and MSI don't disappoint. Recently we've seen a total lack of games shipped with our test cards from all manufacturers.

Performance

Like the Abit review, I'll feature the card both at stock speed and overclocked and also against a GeForce3 Ti500 on the same motherboard. While this will give us some information overlap between the two reviews, the information is relevant and saves flicking to and from a pair of reviews.

As always, the benchmark tests are done 3 times with the upper and lower scores thrown away to leave the middle result. If the results deviated from the discarded results by a severe amount, the benchmarks were repeated until 3 similar results were obtained, discarding again the upper and lower results.

Overclocked, the MSI was worse than the Abit card with an identical final core clock of 300MHz but a slower memory clock of only 462MHz, down on the Abit by over 30MHz. Like the Abit review, the clocks you see here when overclocked are the maximum clocks that would loop all our test benchmarks without artifacting. Individual benchmarks might allow the card to be clocked higher.

So before we plow ahead with the graphs, a look at the test system.

  • Abit NV7m mATX Socket A DDR Motherboard (nForce 420D chipset)
  • Unlocked AMD Athlon XP1500+ Processor (1.33GHz, 10 x 133)
  • 2 x 256Mb Samsung PC2700 DDR Memory Modules (CAS2)
  • MSI G4MX440-T 64MB AGP
  • Gainward Ti550 GeForce3 Ti500 64Mb
  • Adaptec 39160 PCI SCSI Dual Channel U160 controller
  • 2 x 73Gb Seagate Cheetah U160 10,000rpm SCSI disks
  • Plextor 12/10/32S SCSI CDRW
  • Pioneer 6x Slot-load SCSI DVD
  • Windows XP Professional Build 2600.xpclient.010817-1148
  • DetonatorXP 27.42 and 22.40 NVIDIA drivers
  • Aquamark v2.3
  • Quake3 v1.30
  • 3DMark 2001 Professional Second Edition
  • Serious Sam: The Second Encounter Demo
We'll take a look at the heaviest benchmark for this card first. Aquamark is based on one of the bundled games you get with the MSI, Aquanox. The game is heavily dependant on the DX8 shader functions and NV17 based cards like this MSI wont perform well in Aquamark as we'll see.



As you can see, the MSI is ever so slightly quicker than the Abit in the test however the result is within normal testing variance so we can't mark a clear winner. Overclocked, the MSI doesn't do so well. The overclocked card only shows a minute increase over the stock clock score and is slower than the Abit as we'd expect. The GeForce3 Ti500 runs away with this test due to its acceleration of the entire DX8 shader specification in hardware. The NV17 based cards like this MSI have to offload a lot of work onto the host processor.

An overclocked or higher clocked Athlon XP would have given us a better score here.

Second in our benchmark suite we have 3DMark 2001SE. This is a decent full system benchmark since, like we've discussed before, each test in the benchmark stresses different parts of your system. The graphics stressing tests in 3DMark on NVIDIA cards tend to be the high detail tests, especially the Dragothic High Detail test.



The card doesn't manage to scale the same heights as the Abit due to the lower overall clock and the inability to run the Nature test. Since the card doesn't accelerate all shader functions in hardware, it shows the card as a heavy loser when compared to the Ti500 GeForce3. We are used to cards breaking 6000 points out of the box so compared to recent cards the MSI is a disappointment. However given the price of the card and the rest of the feature set, we can maybe forgive a slightly under par 3DMark result.

Serious Sam: The Second Encounter is our 3rd game based benchmark and we're using the publically available demo for our benchmarks so that you can easily run the same benchmark on your hardware. We use the Valley Of The Jaguar demo since it's fairly hard on the graphics subsystem and also the system as a whole. A nice balance.



The card is slightly quicker than the Abit out of the box but the card loses out, especially in the lower resolution tests, when overclocked and compared to the quicker overclocked Abit.

In the higher resolution where fillrate starts to matter, the card just can't keep up with the quicker Abit and the massively quicker GeForce3 Ti500 which is based on the more feature complete and quicker NV20 core.

Since Serious Sam: The Second Encouter requires a balance of graphics and system power when benchmarking using the Valley Of The Jaguar demo, an increase in CPU clock would help things. The card just doesn't have the raw processing power to compete with a GeForce3 in this benchmark. Dropping resolution to 800x600 would give acceptable performance, however running that low a resolution isn't ideal.

Finally in our benchmarking list, Quake3. Since the engine was designed for cards that existed around the time of the GeForce2, the MSI should do well here.



Again, ever so slightly quicker out of the box than the Abit but it loses out when overclocked. The GeForce3 runs away with things again here but the performance in all of the test resolutions was fine with the card doing well. The NV17 based cards are fine for Quake3 and the MSI runs the benchmark with aplomb. Finally something the card can hold up and shout about performance wise.

Performance Conclusion

Much of what we said when looking at the Abit also applies here again with the MSI. Quake3 performance was predictably strong but in the rest of the benchmarks, the performance left something to be desired. The card simply doesn't do enough in hardware to accelerate the other 3 benchmarks to levels that we'd like to see.

3DMark fails to hop into the 6000 point zone we enjoy with other cards, Aquamark is very slow at the test resolution and Serious Sam simply requires more graphics horsepower than the card can muster.

Dropping resolution and turning off some rendering features will unlock some extra speed, but sacraficing rendering quality for speed soon passes the point of useful return. What good is 70fps if the game has to look terrible to perform?

We can't really argue with the performance for the price but it's always OK to want a bit more than what you are given. While you wont break the bank to aquire this card, you wont break any speed records with it.

Overall Conclusion

Again, like the Abit, this card is aimed very much at the budget concious user. The inclusion of TV-Out at the price point (it works like a charm with good quality, especially when playing DVD's and motion video) is a very welcome bonus.

Maybe this reviewer is too used to the performance of full DX8 parts but I've been left cold by the performance of an NV17 card yet again. It's simply not at quick as a full DX8 part and with the GeForce3 Ti200 still available for not much more money, it's hard to recommend these cards.

The card overclocked marginally worse than the Abit, mostly due to the inferior memory modules used. Out of the box performance however was slightly but measurably higher than the Abit which is a bonus but with the performance not being great to begin with, the card begs to be overclocked and there it falls slightly.

These cards are decent upgrades from GF2 based hardware but we really recommend purchasing a full DX8 part like a GeForce3, GeForce4 Ti or ATi Radeon 8500 for best performance with current and future games. The game list that will require a full shader implementation in hardware will only get bigger, putting you at a disadvantage straight away.

Good for the price but hardly inspiring. It's a shame since the card is well built by MSI, looks the part and is shipped with an amazing software bundle, easily putting other manufacturers to shame.

Only recommended if you are on a very strict budget. Performance slower than the Abit when overclocked but the bundle weighs things out. Fairly equal, all things considered.

Pro's

Price
Good quality TV-Out
Amazing software bundle
Good active cooler with thermal grease from the factory
Quiet cooling fan
Con's

Slow in comparison to cards not much more expensive
Not a full DX8 part