This week’s GPU Flashback Archive article is all about the GeForce 3 series of graphics cards from NVIDIA, a company that by this stage in history was recognized as industry leader in GPU development and innovation. The third iteration of its GeForce brand launched with a hiccup or two in early 2001 and enjoyed status as the company’s top tier offering for around a year before it was usurped by its successor, the mighty GeForce 4 series. Let’s take a peek at the new technologies and innovations that arrived with GeForce 3, the cards that proved to be most popular with overclockers on HWBOT and of course, the notable scores and benchmarks that it spawned.
NVIDIA GeForce3: Overview
First let’s set the scene. NVIDIA’s arrival on the graphics card market in the late nineties had been wholly disruptive. After TNT and RIVA series cards, NVIDIA blew the doors of the industry with its first GeForce series and simply didn’t look back. By the time we arrive at the GeForce 3 series, we find that Matrox had left the market to focus on more niche markets while S3 Graphics were basically clinging on by their front teeth. NVIDIA eventually put an end to 3dfx and their classic Voodoo cards by buying the company out. Only ATi endured, and we all know what eventually happened to them.
The third generation of NVIDIA’s GeForce graphics processors were officially announced in February of 2001 with a subsequent unveiling for media at IDF the following month. Initial reactions from media were mixed because the stock GeForce 3 cards actually didn’t set the world alight in terms of pure benchmark performance. The new cards were based on the updated NV20 GPU, a chip that was ahead of its time in terms of API support. The NV20 boasted support for Direct3D 8.0 and OpenGL 1.3, two new standards that had yet to really take hold in the 3D gaming industry. For these reasons it’s easy to see how tech reviewers found the GeForce 3 a little frustrating. The new GPU however was forward looking and in fact represented yet another brave decision from the company, a decision that would set the course of technological design for several generations to come.
NVIDIA stole a march on its competitors by introducing hardware-based T&L (transformation and lighting) in its first TNT2 series GPUs. The key innovation that NVIDIA debuted on the GeForce 3 series essentially takes things a step further with the inclusion of Vertex Shaders. The new NV20 GPU featured something NVIDIA marketed as an infiniteFX engine. It combined the T&L engine from previous designs and added one Vertex Shader to a pair of Pixel Shaders. The Vertex Shader offered developers access to a Vertex Shader Instruction Set which would allow them to now create and program much realistic and life-like polygons instead of just simple blocky textures.
The GeForce 3 series and the NV20 GPU offered game developers much more scope to create lifelike animated images. Combined with arrival of Direct3d 8.0 and OpenGL 1.3 APIs, 2001 can go down in history as the year that real graphics processing and 3D gaming came of age. Subsequent gaming titles were able take advantage of the work that NVIDIA had pioneered to make 3D games look much more realistic and immersive. The GeForce 3 series was arguably a very important stepping stone on the way to the level of graphical realism that we enjoy today.
Here’s shot from a promotional video from NVIDIA that accompanied the GeForce 3 series launch. Known as the ‘Zoltar the Magnificent’ demo, it was considered a jaw dropping example of facial animation at the time
Find the original video from NVIDIA here on YouTube.
Standard GeForce 3 cards arrived in stores in March 2001, replacing the previous high-end offering, the GeForce 2 Ultra which had arrived the previous August. The GeForce 3 used an NV20 Kelvin architecture GPU which was manufactured using an improved 150nm process (the previous series was based on a 180nm node). It used the same AGP x4 bus interface, had a stock GPU frequency of 200MHz with DDR memory configured at a stock frequency of 230MHz using a 128-bit bus. Cards arrived with 64MB of DDR only, a fact that irked some tech reviewers at the time. The new Vertex Shader was joined by 4 Pixel Shaders, 8 Texture Mapping Units (TMUs) and 4 Render Output Units (ROPs) – the same configuration as the previous gen.
The GeForce 3 card (pictured above) was priced at $499 USD at launch, the same price point as the GeForce 2 Ultra.
The Most Popular Nvidia GeForce 3 Card: The GeForce 3 Ti 200 64MB
After its launch in early 2001, the GeForce 3 was joined in October of that year by two newer members of the family, the GeForce 3 Ti200 and the GeForce 3 Ti500. Both cards used the same NV20 GPU and were available in both 64MB and 128MB options. The GeForce 3 Ti 500 targeted the high-end market, boasting boosted specifications (240MHz GPU plus 250MHz memory) and a competitive asking price of $349 USD. This card was pitted against the ATI Radeon 8500 card which, after a few driver updates almost kept pace with the Ti500 in most games and benchmarks. ATI still had one distinct advantage at this stage with dual display support, a feature that GeForce 3 cards users still missed out on. To be fair, dual displays in 2001 was considered true decadence and not always a priority for gamers starved of decent frames-per-second.
The GeForce 3 Ti200 was configured with a lower base clock than it’s older GeForce 3 brethren at 175Mhz with memory also clocked lower at 200MHz. It arrived with a much more affordable retail price of around $149 USD, a price point that was no doubt attractive to Overclockers looking to get reasonable performance on a budget. And this truly was the case. Check out this guide from DuhVoodooMan.com which discuss in detail the prospect of GeForce Ti 200 overclocking. He recommends cards from Gainward which had a solid cooler and good quality DDR ICs. Check out this example of a Gainward GeForce Ti200 below:
Here’s a full breakdown of GeForce 3 series card usage on HWBOT in terms of submissions.
- -GeForce 3 Ti200 64MB – 53.93%
- -GeForce 3 – 21.19%
- -GeForce 3 Ti500 – 13.71%
- -GeForce 3 Ti200 128MB – 11.17%
I think there’s little doubt that overclockers looking to push a cheaper retail card to more mainstream and even upper mainstream performance deltas, enjoyed tweaking NVIDIA GeForce Ti200 cards. In the spirit of overclocking, getting more megahertz for less money makes sense. However, it’s important to recognize that all submissions are historical, being that HWBOT itself did not exist in the year 2001. The majority of the submissions listed above are very much the result of modern day overclockers revisiting an old platform, perhaps for a contest such as the Old School is Best School, perhaps just for fun.
NVIDIA GeForce 3: Record Scores
We can now take a look at some of the highest scores posted on HWBOT using NVIDIA GeForce 3 series cards.
Highest GPU Frequency
Although technically speaking, GPU frequency (as with CPU frequency) is not a true benchmark, it does remain an important metric for many overclockers. The submission with the highest GPU core frequency in the HWBOT database comes from Greek OC master Stelaras. He pushed a GeForce 3 Ti500 card to 380MHz (+33.65%) with graphics memory pumped up to a very impressive 600MHz (+140%). His rig also included a Wolfdale-based Intel Pentium E6500K clocked at 3,920MHz.
You can find the submission from Stelaras here on HWBOT: http://hwbot.org/submission/2640203_stelaras_3dmark2001_se_geforce_3_ti500_17307_marks
3DMark 99 MAX
The highest 3DMark 99 MAX score submitted to HWBOT using an Nvidia GeForce 3 card was made by Romanian overclocker pasatoiutd. He pushed an ASUS GeForce 3 Ti500 card to 285MHz (+18.75%) on the GPU side with graphics memory at 640MHz (+156.00%) to make a hardware first place score of 34,029 marks. The rig he used also featured an Intel Core 2 Extreme QX9650 ‘Yorkfield’ processor clocked at 4,305MHz (+43.50%).
You can find the submission from pasatoiutd here on HWBOT: http://hwbot.org/submission/2368140_pasatoiutd_3dmark_99_max_geforce_3_ti500_34029_marks
In the classic Aquamark benchmark we find Ice Angel from Germany to be the GeForce 3 man to beat. His score of 22,125 marks was made with an ASUS GeForce 3 Ti500 card with the GPU clocked at 320MHz (+33.33%) and graphics memory at 305MHz (+22.00%). The CPU used was an Intel Core 2 Extreme QX6700 ‘Kentsfield’ chip clocked at 3,200MHz (+20.03%)
You can find the submission from Ice Angel here on HWBOT: http://hwbot.org/submission/2177562_ice_angel_aquamark_geforce_3_ti500_22125_marks
Thanks for joining us for this week’s episode of the GPU Flashback Archive series. Next week we will return with a look at the iconic NVIDIA GeForce 4 series of graphics processors and cards.