June 28, 2001

Review: ABIT Siluro MX400 video card

Author: JT Smith

- By Jeff Field -

Many people know ABIT as a popular manufacturer of motherboards. What a lot of
people may not know is that ABIT also makes other products, among them a line of NVidia-based graphics cards. The MX400 is based on NVidia's low-end GeForce2 MX400
chipset, intended to replace its previous low-end chipset, the GeForce2 MX. But can it do the job?
Last year, NVidia released the GeForce2 MX chipset, a low-end version of the powerful GeForce2 GTS. The card was very successful because it combined current-generation features and power with a low-priced card. Instead of being
stuck buying something like an older TNT2 Ultra or GeForce card, those users looking for decent-but-not-astounding 3D
performance could just buy a GeForce2 with reduced performance. NVidia accomplished this by lowering the memory bandwidth
and clock speed on the board and slicing the number of rendering pipelines in half, from four to two.

These changes nearly crippled the chip -- it still performs well, just not to the level of the GeForce2 GTS or, now,
the GeForce3. With the GeForce2 MX400, NVidia simply increased the clock speed of the GeForce2 MX from 175 to 200 to match
the GeForce2 GTS. Yes, boys and girls, that's about it. NVidia also added RAM -- from 32 to 64 megs, but that does not help at all,
because where the chipset is really hurt is the lack of memory bandwidth.

Documentation and software
Unfortunately, the ABIT Siluro MX400 is lacking Linux documentation and software -- no information about Linux is provided in the manual, and no drivers are provided on the included CD. The included documentation is, however, well written, and does cover the basics of physically installing the card, although in most cases (and on all operating
systems) installing the drivers is probably going to end up being the more difficult of the two tasks.

Board design
The board design is very much a reference design (that is, it is based on the basic board design used by NVidia and provided to OEMs). In fact, the only real difference physically between the Siluro GF2MX
and the MX400 is the lack of a TV out on the MX400 and the increased number of RAM chips, due to its extra 32MB of RAM.
Also, the heatsink seems to be of a higher quality than that of the GF2MX, and is adhered better, because unlike my GF2MX
board, the heatsink did not fall off (which is not much of an issue -- the GF2MX chipset could run quite well without a
heatsink, and did so since October).

Performance
System Specifications


AMD Athlon-C 750MHz (100 MHz bus)
512 Megabytes Crucial PC133 CAS 2 SDRAM, provided by Crucial
Western Digital 7200RPM 10.2 gig IDE Hard Drive
3Com 3c905TX-C PCI 10/100 NIC
300 Watt AMD-Approved ATX Power Supply
XFree 4.0.3 with 1251 drivers from NVidia
Quake 3 1.27f Beta

QuakeIII timedemos
Quake III timedemos are done by going into Quake III, entering the console (~) and enabling the timedemo function (by
typing timedemo 1. Optionally (and this was done for these tests, because I'm testing the video board and not the
system) you may disable the sound by typing s_initsound 0 followed by snd_restart. Once you have done all
this, type demo four.dm_66 to run the demo.

Timedemos reflect 3D gaming performance, and in no way reflect professional 3D performance.

Quake III results (frames per second)

Resolution GF2
MX400
GF2MX
800 * 600 60.3 58.5
1024 * 768 56.0 53.9
1280 * 1024 41.1 39.9
1600 * 1200 31.1 30.2

As you can see, the difference between the GF2MX and the GF2 MX400 is negligible -- because the only change is increased
memory and clock speed, and neither of those were actually bottlenecks, the GF2MX400 has almost no advantage over the
GF2MX.

Conclusions
So, if there is no performance difference between the MX400 and the GF2MX, what advantage does it have? The answer is,
none. However, it could drive the cost of cards such as the Siluro GeForce2MX down, which is helpful for those in the market for
a low-end card. This is no fault of ABIT's -- the company made the best card it could with this chipset from NVidia. Once it
drops in price to the $45 range where the GeForce2MX is right now, it will be quite a bargain, but for now, I would
recommend a GeForce2MX-based card over an MX400-based one. If for some odd reason you have your heart set on an MX400, however, the Abit Siluro MX400 is a decent card -- just held back by a lackluster chipset. Prices were not yet
available for a Siluro MX400 on pricewatch, but other MX400-based boards can be had for $80 on Pricewatch.

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