Low End TNT Based Systems

by Anand Lal Shimpi on September 26, 1998 8:14 PM EST
Almost anyone can fly across the Atlantic if given a jet, however the usefulness of the physics associated with flight become increasingly less efficient if that jet is replaced by some feathers and duct tape. title.gif (9645 bytes)
The same situation exists almost everywhere in life, as a parallelism, a good pair of running shoes can only do an adequate runner so much good, each part of that equation being a limiting factor towards the success of the final outcome.  

The Weakness

If you're wondering how this all related to PC hardware, the correlation should be quite clear, especially in the case of nVidia's processor hungry Riva TNT chipset.  A graphics chipset can be adversely effected by the various components in your system, primarily, your processor. 

One of the strengths of 3Dfx's original Voodoo chipset was that it gave you a tremendous increase in performance virtually regardless of the speed of your processor.  Unfortunately, because of this, the Voodoo could never become a high end solution as it was easily replaced by later chipset designs which scaled in a more linear fashion with processor speed. 

As graphics chipsets become more powerful it seems that the manufacturers have a tendency to rely more and more on the power of your processor to drive the performance of their high end chipset.  But how high end is a chipset when you give it a low end processor?  This seems to be one of the major weaknesses of nVidia's Riva TNT Chipset, keeping it out of the hands of many Socket-7 users without the money to make a new motherboard/processor upgrade to a platform the TNT would benefit more from. 

At the same time, it is obvious that nVidia as well as the manufacturers of the TNT boards on the market expect non-Pentium II owners to go out and purchase their TNT based cards since the chipset is being found on PCI as well as AGP cards.  Since AGP motherboards, excluding Super7 boards, are primarily reserved for newer Pentium II and Celeron systems, a video card designed for a PCI bus interface would most likely be geared towards the lower end of the market, without AGP motherboards, in essence, older Socket-7 systems.

Compatibility Issues

History and experience has already taught us that introducing an AGP bus into a Socket-7 motherboard design will provide for a number of unfriendly compatibility issues.  Currently, the AGP support drivers coming from both manufacturers of the top two Super7 (Socket-7 + 100MHz FSB + AGP) chipsets (ALi Aladdin V and VIA MVP3) don't seem to be too incredibly TNT friendly. 

After a bit of tweaking and seemingly endless troubleshooting, the VIA MVP3 chipset can be forced to play with the Riva TNT Chipset on an AGP board.  Unfortunately this case doesn't seem to hold too high of a success rate, currently, as an AGP solution, the TNT is capable of giving you quite a few problems when it comes to the installation process.  If you're lucky, those problems can be solved with a few driver patches and updates, however not everyone will be that lucky.   Out of the 3 AGP Riva TNT based cards AnandTech has tested in a Super7 system (Canopus Spectra 2500, Diamond Viper V550, STB Velocity 4400), only one of them worked flawlessly after much troubleshooting.  That card was the Canopus Spectra 2500.   With improved and more mature drivers, this scene may change, however until then, the TNT is definitely something to be suspicious of when it comes to compatibility issues.

The ALi Aladdin V chipset simply won't accept the TNT as an AGP graphics accelerator and often times refuses to even load Windows in safe mode with an AGP TNT installed.  The success rate with Aladdin V boards and AGP TNT cards is next to nothing.

If you have a PCI based TNT card then you no longer have to worry about silly AGP GART drivers if you have a Super7 system (Slot-1 owners don't have to worry about those drivers in the first place).  However you also must keep in mind that the drivers designed for the PCI TNT cards are just about as infantile if not more infantile than those for their AGP counterparts.  With the production of AGP cards being the top priority, often times you will notice PCI drivers operating considerably worse in some situations.  An example of this would be the Creative Labs Graphics Blaster TNT (PCI):

The drivers which shipped with this card would operate perfectly fine provided you used an Intel processor, even on Socket-7 systems; but the minute you attempt to use a non-Intel processor such as the AMD K6, K6-2 or the Cyrix M-II, problems arise.  A simple swap of the processor in the AnandTech Socket-7 test system without any other modifications resulted in an inoperable machine which wouldn't even load Windows.  A reinstall of the operating system, drivers, and all other patches proved to be useless as the system remained helpless when guided by a non-Intel processor.  This problem can most likely be solved by a simple driver patch, however it is because of this incompatibility than only tests on the Pentium MMX could be completed for this article.

The Test
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