What theyâ€™re not is powerful, with quite modest specs. The TurboCache is clocked at 350MHz for both the core and the memory, coupled with four pixel pipelines and three vertex shaders. The ATI specs are slightly lower at 325/300, with four pixel pipelines and two vertex shaders. The nVidiaâ€™s specs look better on paper, but, as Alan Hanson would say, games arenâ€™t played on paper.
For the testbed we put together a system that was reflective on what a user on a budget might be putting together. The motherboard was an Asus K8N4-E Deluxe. This uses an nForce4 chipset with PCI Express but supports Socket 754 rather than Socket 939, enabling use of a budget AMD Sempron 3100+. This was backed with 1GB of memory, consisting of two sticks of 512MB Ballistix RAM. We only tested at 1,024 x 768 simply because, as the performance graphs clearly demonstrate, there was little point testing above this. We also had in the Labs a retail box of a 256MB 6200 TurboCache card from AOpen so we tested that at the same time.
The graphs put nVidia's TurboCache ahead of ATI's HyperMemory in every test bar Half-Life 2, though TurboCache is only a few frames behind. As for pricing, we were able to find a â€˜virtualâ€™ 128MB 6200 TurboCache for around Â£37 and a 256MB TurboCache for Â£43. We couldnâ€™t find a listing for a 128MB HyperMemory card, but Komplett does have a 256MB one for Â£40 so if this is accurate, the 128MB version is likely to be even cheaper.
Our results indicate that overall TurboCache is the better choice at this end of the market but letâ€™s put the scores in perspective. The best game test result overall was 30.9 frames per second in Half-Life 2 on the HyperMemory card. This is at 1,024 x 768 with no features on. Doom 3 on the TurboCache struggled by at 22.5 frames per second. This is still firmly in the realm of the barely playable and really youâ€™d have to drop to 800 x 600 on both these cards to keep things smooth. Things are even worse for the 32-bit AOpen card, and while it boasts support for up to 256MB, it's performance is nevertheless behind both the 64-bit cards.
One thing that may sway a purchaser's decision though is that while both have TV out ports, nVidia offers both a DVI and a D-Sub connection while ATI makes do with just a D-Sub. the nVidia card therefore offers an inexpensive way of getting a DVI connection so that could be more of a sell than the supposed gaming performance.
Whatâ€™s clear is that while the prices are low, if youâ€™re at all interested in games youâ€™re going to have to spend more. This isn't to say the technology doesn't have a place, Where it would make sense is as part of an integrated solution in a budget notebook or in a desktop PC motherboard. But anyone after a discrete graphics card for their PC should avoid these cards.
nVidia may come out on top in this little contest but when you look at the scores itâ€™s clearly a hollow victory. TurboCache and HyperMemory may be good news for the bottom line of the industry but if you're a consumer that wants to play games, these cards aren't the cheap fix some might hope them to be.