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First Look: Mac Nvidia GeForce4 Titanium
By Mike Breeden
Published: 5/14/2002
(Updated 5/15 for Q3 results w/GF4MX & GF3)
(Updated 5/16 for comments on 22" DVI Cinema display use)
(Updated 6/13/2002 for photo of longer card version)

First Impressions of the 128MB GF4 Ti Card

Note: As with the Geforce3 card last year, Apple lists a 4xAGP Mac as required for the GF4 Ti. (Although I ran a GF3 card in a Gigabit G4/2xAGP system and my 2x AGP G4 Cube, but have not run the GF4 Ti card in a 2xAGP Mac. The potential issue is AGP slot power capability as well as differences in 2xAGP vs 4xAGP card voltages (if card is 4xAGP only, it won't run in a 2x AGP slot). The 5/30/2001 archives news page had comments on the issue of AGP slot source power limits.)

This page is just a very quick report on my first impressions of the OEM Nvidia GeForce4 Titanium (Ti) graphics card which arrived today. I installed it in a dual 1GHz G4 and wanted to comment on some initial impressions/test results after a few hours of use. (Since the GF4 Ti card is currently only available as an option for buyers of new G4 towers - I wanted to run tests first in the only 2002 QS G4 I have access to.) First, a photo of the card:
(Note - the photo below is of the first shipped cards to early buyers - below it is the latest shipping version with a much longer card for better support in the Tower case during shipping)

GF4 Ti Mac OEM AGP card
(Note: Photo shows 1st Shipping Version of the Card)

Update: Reader Richard C. sent a photo of the later shipping GF4 Ti cards which are longer to engage the card support guide in the case. (The first cards had a note in the box saying they should be removed before shipping to protect against damage in transit.)

Latest GF4 Ti Mac OEM AGP card

The connector on the top is a DVI port, below it is the ADC (Apple Display Connector) port for use with the summer 2000 and later line of Apple displays. (The only other ADC monitor to date is the Formac's 17.4" LCD model.) Like the Geforce4MX, Radeon 7500 and Radeon 8500 (retail) cards, the GeForce4 Ti can drive two monitors at once - one VGA/DVI and one ADC. With extra-cost adapters, you can drive two ADC displays or two DVI displays or two VGA displays. (The retail Radeon 8500 doesn't have an ADC port of course, but has dual display support. The retail cards require an DVI->ADC adapter to work with ADC monitors.)

GF4 Ti vs GF4 MX card size
(GF4 Ti card shown was first shipping model)

The GeForce4 TI card is longer than most AGP cards for the Mac. (Update - much longer in the current model as shown in the update/photo above.) Apple has a warning on the single sheet doc with the card that if you ship your system by truck or plane, you should remove the card from the computer prior to shipping to avoid any damage from excessive vibration. (This is not required with the later model/longer card that engages in the case's card support bracket.)

This OEM Mac GF4 Ti card has 128MB of Samsung 2.8ns DDR video ram. (These are the same memory chips found on some PC Ti4600 cards.) Apple doesn't specify the core clock/ram clock speeds, but it's said the Mac GF4 Ti card is the equivalent of the PC GF4 Ti 4600 cards (300mhz core clock, 325Mhz DDR [650Mhz effective] ram clock.) Unlike some PC Ti4600 cards, there's no heatsinks on the ram as you can see in the photo. But then there's no overclocking utils for the Mac cards and there's a large fan in the G4 case near the graphics card when the case is closed. (No retail Mac graphics card I've seen has ram heatsinks - although the OEM GeForce3 Mac card did as shown in past articles here.) (For specs on the Geforce4 ti, see Nvidia's GeForce4 Ti product page.)

I've only had it installed for about a few hours and have had to juggle other things, but here's some quick first impressions/test results. (I'll be testing the GF4 Ti with a range of 9/X apps/games/benchmarks I've used in past reviews.)

2D Image Quality:
My first boot/test with the card used a Sony FW900 (24" widescreen CRT) with OS 9.2.2. I have to admit that at 1600x1200 (85hz, the only refresh rate listed at that res.) in OS 9.2.2, the text was not as sharp as some other Mac graphics cards I've tested at that resolution. In fact it was noticeably less sharp than the Radeon 8500 using the same monitor/resolution. (Lower resolutions were sharper.) I thought this might be partly due to the DVI-I to VGA adapter cable (appx 12" long), so I tried using a DVI-I to VGA "stub" adapter that's included in the Radeon 8500 box. That didn't make any significant difference.
In OS X 10.1.4 (Quartz), things looked much better than in OS 9 at that resolution (partly due perhaps to Quartz's antialiasing of text). Smaller text in menus however still does not seem as sharp as the Radeon 8500 in my opinion at least with my Sony FW900. If you're using an LCD monitor, the sharpness at native resolutions should not be an issue however in either OS.
(Update) I've now tested the GF4Ti with my older DVI 22" Cinema Display and both OS 9 and OS X looked great. There were several lower-than-native resolutions supported. I'll be posting a full listing of those here soon. The only ADC port display I have is a 15" model, which has a max res. of 1024x768. I don't expect any issues with that display, but will test it also while running both the Cinema DVI and ADC 15" displays simultaneously.

First Performance Tests:
With the card in a Dual 1GHz G4 (1GB ram, all OS 9 and OS X updates) here's some quick performance test results. I have other apps/benchmarks to run but this is just a note on what I have seen in the first few hours of use. (Don't consider this the final word on the GeForce4 Ti by a longshot - just a few data points on performance seen so far.)

Photoshop 5.5 Scrolling Tests (OS 9)
I recently bought PhotoShop 7.0, but scrolling via the arrows is literally 10x slower in OS X than OS 9. (I use the scroll arrows for this test.) That plus the fact I have previous results using PS 5.5 with other cards is why I'm using that 5.5 for this first GF4Ti report. For those that have not seen past reviews, I measured the time it took to scroll the Flowers.psd file (resampled to 300DPI) at the maximum zoom (1600%). I positioned the scroll bars at the max left and top positions, and then timed how long it took for each card to scroll the image horizontally (left to right) and then vertically (down). Display was set to 1600x1200, millions colors. All times are in seconds, lower numbers are faster.

Pshop scroll tests

Note: The Radeon tests above were done before the March 2002 driver update. (I think the main benefit of that update was 3D performance, but just a FYI.)

Appleworks Scroll Test (OS X):
As with past reviews of the Radeon 7500 vs GF4MX and Radeon 8500, I measured the time it took to scroll from the top to the bottom of a 100 page Newsletter document. (Multiple columns with images and text on each page.) The graph below shows how long each card took to complete the test. (Lower numbers are faster.)

AppleWorks scroll tests

Perhaps when 10.2 w/Quartz Extreme ships we'll see a wider spread in 2D OS X performance between cards.

Create/Close 1000 Windows (OS X)
A reader sent a Carbon benchmark some time back called "Let1kWindowsBloom". Since there are so few benchmarks for OS X for 2D, I've used it for some recent reviews. The time to create/close 1000 windows with each card is shown in the graph below.

1000 windows

Dock was not hidden and opening animations was enabled. (the dock icon bounces for the entire duration of the test. Disabling dock animation made no difference in results with the GF4 Ti.)

CineBench2000 Tests:
Maxon's Cinebench 2000 benchmark (available here) is a cross-platform 3D application simulation benchmark. Cinebench reports a score for Software shading (no OpenGL hardware acceleration), OpenGL Shading (hardware accelerated), a single CPU raytracing score and a Dual CPU raytracing score. Since this is a graphics card test, only the software shading and OpenGL shading scores are shown - they're based on a object spins/scene fly-bys in wireframe and shaded mode. Higher scores are better. The test was run under OS 9.2.2 at the recommended 1024x768, millions colors graphics mode.

CineBench Scores

As you can see from the scores - the graphics card made very little difference in this benchmark. (Since past scores I had were before the ATI March 2002 driver update, Radeon 7500 and 8500 scores are not shown until I can retest with the latest drivers.)

Quake 3 Arena (OS X): [Updated to add GeForce4MX and GeForce3 results. Radeon 8500/7500 to follow.]
Quake3 1.31beta 5 was used in OS X with r_smp=1 (so that both CPUs were used). All tests used the standard game options with "High Quality" settings (only the resolution was changed.) [high geometric detail, texture quality slider one notch down from max, all game options on, Trilinear Filtering, 32bit mode/textures.] Desktop mode was 1600x1200/Millions colors.
All results are in frames-per-second, average reported after running the standard recorded demo. (I tested with a clean config file and with the performance tip I noted in the past - setting s_chunksize to 4096 vs 512 default. Same image quality settings used for all tests.)

GF4 Ti Quake3 OS X results
* = s_chunksize = 4096, vs default 512 setting

As you can see from the graph, at the low end all the cards are similar (CPU bound) but as resolutions rise, performance drops. The GeForce 4 Ti card delivers almost twice the performance at 1600x1200/32bit HQ settings as the GF4MX (based on GF2 core) and about 50% higher rates than the Geforce 3 at that setting.

Since the past tests in the Dual 1GHz with the Radeon 8500 were not using the March 2002 driver update (which boosted performance) I did not list those scores here. (I understand that's disappointing.) With a DP533 the 8500 & March 2002 update delivers 81.1 FPS at 1600x1200/HQ which is better than the 16x12 scores with the Dual 1GHz using the 8500's original drivers - therefore until I retest the 8500 in the dual 1Ghz with the updated drivers, I don't want to list older driver results here. (I don't feel it's totally fair to list 10.1.3 tests with the other cards (GF3/GF2MX,etc). For results of the early Radeon 8500 drivers in a dual 1GHz, as well as other cards - see this previous article. (But again keep in mind the Radeon 7500 and 8500 should perform better with the March 2002 driver update than the scores shown in that original article.)

Lightwave 3D 7.0 FYI:
I've not ran timed tests in LW 7 for OS X but after seeing some "noise" in 3D scenes with the GF4MX card (after first loading a scene - moving an object/refreshing the screen would clear the noise/specks), I wanted to see if this was happened with the GF4 Ti. It didn't.

I've not yet had time to test DVD playback with the GF4 Ti. In the past the Radeon cards had lower CPU usage and better image quality than the Nvidia cards in my experience. (Plus support for adaptive deinterlacing.) The next series of tests with the GF4Ti will include DVD playback and more direct comparisons of other cards. I'm sure some 2xAGP owners are also wondering if the GF4 Ti will run in those systems.

If you already have a high-end Mac graphics card like the Radeon 8500 or GeForce3, the primary benefit from the GeForce4 Ti card would be the capability to run two ADC displays (w/$149 adapter) or a DVI and ADC display simultaneously. (Right now the GF4 Ti card is not available separately at the Apple store but was to be offered there eventually for $399.) Although the GeForce4 Ti is the fastest Mac card I've seen so far, often the difference isn't that dramatic compared to other high-end cards. And Macs are often CPU/system, not Video card bound in many common tasks. (The main benefit from a faster graphics card like this would be to run higher resolutions with little performance drop - and the dual monitor capability if your current card doesn't support that.)
If you're ordering a new G4, I'd probably spring for the $250 extra for the GF4Ti card, rather than the GF4MX card or the 7500. You get 128MB of ram and I'm sure better performance with Quartz Extreme when OS X 10.2 ships. If running dual monitors, having 64MB of vram for each is also a nice plus. (Some will think of DoomIII as a reason to buy a GeForce4Ti or Radeon 8500, but by the time that game ships Nvidia and ATI are likely to have even faster graphics cards available. Nvidia's next design is expected in August for instance.) And for those that ordered a G4 with the Ti card early this year and got it for free - hats off to Apple for that offer (what a bargain).

I wish the Nvidia GF3 and GF4Ti cards had Mac driver support for features like pixel/vertex shaders, FSAA, etc. as they do on the PC. (I hear rumors that shader support will be added in a future update to Mac OpenGL.) The Radeon cards now have drivers that support FSAA (in certain games that have that option, although the net effect is often overhyped I think). And the 8500 Radeon has support for TrueForm, which I've noted previously in the 8500 review has a lot more benefit (IMHO) than FSAA. But the retail 8500 card has no ADC port - requiring the $149 DVI->ADC adapter to use the Apple ADC displays. (Apple lists the 8500 with the adapter as compatible with the new 23" Cinema display, even though the DVI port specs show a max 1600x1200 resolution, less than the 23" Cinema native res.) As a FYI - I hear you can get an Radeon 8500 card (DVI+VGA - not ADC per apple's 'more info' text) by custom configuring one of the new G4 server's - but it's still not an option yet for the G4 towers. (I suspect the OEM 8500 is not ADC because the server P.S./motherboard may not have the 24/28V DC power used for ADC.)

One unique feature of the Geforce4 Ti card is the ability to run two Apple ADC displays at once - one on the ADC port and another on the DVI port (with the $149 adapter). The GeForce4 Ti is the highest performance Mac graphics card to date. Hopefully future driver updates will have support for its advanced features such as pixel/vertex shaders and FSAA. There's a lot of untapped potential that I hope we'll see utilized in the future.

Updates: (from the 5/21/2002 main news page)
A post in the forums linked to an Apple discussion forums thread on problem reports from some GeForce4 Ti card owners. [Link requires cookies enabled and login to view]. I have not seen any problems like that here with a OEM GF4 Ti card in a dual 1GHz (primarily used under 10.1.4). DVD player runs, no Quake3 errors, RTCW runs, Lightwave 7 scenes playback ok (although I'm a LW novice, to put it kindly). I've not used the GF4Ti card a lot yet, but I have seen none of the problems noted in that thread so far.

Test System Hardware Summary:

  • Apple 1GHz Dual Processor Quicksilver 2002
  • 512MB RAM (OEM CL3 512MB DIMM)
  • Stock 80GB IDE Hard Disk (Seagate)
  • OEM IDE SuperDrive (Pioneer DVR-104, firmware ver. A212)
  • OS 9.22 (w/Multiple users and Speech extensions disabled)
  • OS X 10.1.4 (all updates applied)
  • Nvidia GeForce4MX ROM: 1091 (early cards were 1088)

Related Links: For design details of the Nvidia GeForce Ti (although some features it mentions are only available with PC drivers currently) see Nvidia's GeForce4 Ti product page.

For reviews of other graphics cards and related articles, see my list of graphics card articles.

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