AOpen Aeolus FX5900XT

The mid-range graphics card to beat?

Review Things never stay still for very long in the graphics business but even I was surprised by the speed with which Nvidia released its latest chip. Though the GeForce FX 5700 Ultra appeared only a few weeks ago, Nvidia has already released another chip out into the wild, writes Benny Har-Even.

What's even more surprising is that the GeForce FX 5900XT is evidently aimed at the same mid-range market as the GeForce FX 5700 series. Indeed, the XT moniker is a clear sign that Nvidia intends to steal the thunder from ATI's Radeon 9600XT.

Architecturally the differences between the GeForce FX 5700 Ultra and the GeForce FX 5900XT are interesting. The former uses DDR 2 memory running at a blistering 900MHz, while the GPU operates at an impressive 475MHz. The GeForce FX 5900XT, meanwhile, sports less impressive numbers: only 700MHz DDR 1 memory and 390MHz for the GPU. Its secret though is its internal 256-bit data bus, derived form its bigger 5900 brother, as opposed to the slower 128-bit interface used in the 5700 Ultra. This 256-bit bus delivers a maximum potential 22.4GBps of memory bandwidth. This is up from the 14.4GBps available to the 5700 Ultra and significantly eclipsing the Radeon 9600XT's 9.6GBps. As we'll see, this brain versus brawn approach pays serious performance dividends and gives lots of headroom for running anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering at high resolutions.

Though many manufactures have started producing ATI-based boards, there's still no shortage of partners churning out products showcasing Nvidia's talents. AOpen is one such manufacturer. With the FX5900XT it has taken a bare bones approach, but that's no bad thing. There are no outrageous card design or heatsinks on the RAM and no box-filling bundle. However, for most people that's going to be just fine. There's no need for a bunch of half-baked utilities and demos of games you'll never play. All that's in the box is a driver disc and a copy of Intervideo WinCinema, consisting of WinDVD4 and WinRip - an MP3 encoder and organiser. There's also a simple colour guide to help those who might not have upgraded their graphics card before.

The card features an curious-looking fan, which might be of interest if you're of the transparent case brigade. Noise levels are reasonable. It's not as quiet as the MSi GeForce FX 5700 Ultra, but at least the days of Nvidia cards sounding like jet engines are long gone. The rear of the card sports a DVi port with a D-SUB adapter provided. There's also a second D-SUB port so you can hook up two displays. As you might expect at the price, there's no ViVo functionality but there is a TV-Out, with an S-Video to composite adapter in the box.

So on to benchmarking. We ran a number of tests on the card, including our new custom Tomb Raider test, designed specifically to determine DirectX 9 performance. The results were pretty impressive, beating the GeForce FX 5700 Ultra and a Hercules 9600XT card in practically every test. Starting with 3DMark03, at a default resolution, the AOpen scored 4995 compared to 3180 for the 5700 Ultra and 3679 for the 9600XT. In X2, at an intensive 1280 x 1024 with both anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering enabled, the AOpen breezed past both the 5700 Ultra and the 9600XT with 26.7fps to their 19.5 and 20.5, respectively. It also dominated at Unreal Tournament 2003. In the graphics-stressing Halo, it was the only one of the three to produce a really comfortable score at 1024 x 768 with a healthy 42.7fps. Tomb Raider revealed the same - a generous 51.4fps compared with to 29.8fps for the Hercules 9600XT. As for image quality - while the ATI card can render DX9 effects with a greater internal precision, when we ran Tomb Raider on two systems side by side, one with the Nvidia card and the other with the ATI and we couldn't spot any difference while the game was playing.

From the scores, it's clear that Nvidia has firmly staked a claim for the performance crown at the mid-range. In response, the price of the 9600XT has already dropped, but at only £20 difference there seems little point penny pinching. With the news that Half-Life 2 is to be delayed until possibly September 2004, the free game voucher that comes with the ATI cards is a far less enticing prospect, especially as it's only for the single player version. However, while Nvidia can be satisfied with outpacing ATI, I have to admit to being confused as to where the 5900XT leaves the still paint-fresh 5700 Ultra, especially when manufacturers are pricing the former as keenly as AOpen are. If I'd shelled out for a 5700 Ultra last week, I'd be pretty miffed right now.

The good news for the rest of us though, is that with the GeForceFX 5900XT, superb performance can be had for a sensible amount of money. Add the potential for overclocking into the mix, and the ball is very firmly back in Nvidia' court.


Nvidia raises the bar on mid-range performance with the very impressive GeForceFX 5900XT. It leaves both the ATi Radeon 9600XT and the GeForce FX 5700 Ultra out in the cold.

AOpen Aeolus FX5900XT
Rating 90%
Price £150
More info The AOpen web site

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