Graphics card question.

Discussion in 'Mac Basics and Help' started by Toby Goodbar, Jan 15, 2010.

  1. Toby Goodbar macrumors 6502

    Sep 8, 2006
    i thought i knew about graphics cards and that the way to see which one would be better in comparison is basically just check the VRAM. i think i'm wrong. i would love some info.

    here's why:

    i have two cards in my machine, i'll spare the whole backstory as to why. but one is an ATI Radeon 9200 mac edition with 128mb (i had purchased it because it had an s-video out so i could watch on my tv) the other is my quicksilver's original oem AGP card, an NVIDIA GeForce2 MX with TwinView. In system profiler it says it has 32mb VRAM.

    HOWEVER, it outperforms my Radeon by alot. using backlight 2, and comparing how it looks on either screen is a VERY NOTICEABLE difference and the NVIDIA is CRUSHING the ati but only has 25% of the vram as my "performance" ATI card. Even on blu-ray ripped movies (which my machine cant really play satisfactorily) the ATI stutters and lags while the NVIDIA just seems to drop a few frames here and there.

    WHATS GOING ON? :confused:

    also if anyone wants to offer advice or directions on overclocking the ATI Radeon it would be appreciated.
  2. Makosuke macrumors 603

    Aug 15, 2001
    The Cool Part of CA, USA
    First of all, no, there's a whole lot more to graphics performance than VRAM. VRAM is used for certain specific things and will make a big difference if there isn't enough for the particular game/3d operation/whatever in question, but otherwise by far the biggest factor is the horsepower of the graphics processor itself. There's also software--the driver for the card can make a very large difference, as can a particular program being tuned or otherwise better suited to a particular graphics card/chip/architecture.

    All that said, a 9200 should outperform a Geforce2MX by a wide margin doing just about any operation. It's possible there's something physically wrong with the ATI card, but the fact that the 9200 is aftermarket and the MX isn't makes me think that it's a software issue.

    A cursory Google search lead me to this thread, which is describing a problem much like yours:

    ...the solution apparently being to install the appropriate ROM update and software from ATI:

    10.5 is supposed to have built-in drivers for that card, but it sounds like maybe it doesn't always get recognized by the system. Read through that thread and try what's suggested there, and if that fails, come back and ask.
  3. Dan73 macrumors 6502a

    Jul 30, 2009
    You are indeed wrong. The GPU chip is what will determine how fast a scene can be rendered.
  4. Toby Goodbar thread starter macrumors 6502

    Sep 8, 2006
    Thanks alot, i don't know how you found that. before posting i had already been to the AMD/ATI website and could find that for the 9200. anyway i read the thread at apple, and got the softwares from ATI and installed it. I had basically done the same thing as the apple forum poster. installed off included install CD then installed leopard and wasn't asked for anything. i don't remember having the issue in tiger. but its been so long and i was still using a tv not monitor. anyway it didn't help at all, and after searching more from the ATI link you provided i found that the bundled software in leopard is considered the "up to date" version. I'm not sure the next step.... or how to find out what the next poster mentioned about the GPU chip. maybe the nvidia is superior GPU? what should i try or look at next? (and yes i was thorough. i rebooted and did monitor swaps while power was off, and tried changing menu bars aka switching primary screens).

    As i mentioned above how do i figure out which GPU is more powerful or even the specs of each? I would like to know not only for solving my current problem but for future purchasing and upgrades.

    my next project aims to be setting up media server and some g4s around the house with similar type cards for tv's or monitors. i have ALOT of stored media and like to rip my dvd's and cds to hard drives. so it looks like this info will be crucial to know.

    Thanks for all the help and knowledge it is MUCH appreciated! :apple:
  5. Makosuke macrumors 603

    Aug 15, 2001
    The Cool Part of CA, USA
    Whatever the problem is, that's not it--the 2MX is nowhere near even the 9200.

    As for where to go next, I'm not sure. Have you tried removing the Nvidia card from the computer entirely, just to see if the problem is due to some sort of conflict there? There's some chance of that--perhaps the system is intentionally hamstringing itself to match the lesser of the GPUs available.

    I'll give you one related example from my own experience: I have a mini running as a server/HTPC, connected to my TV. Unless I'm watching a movie off it, I usually only connect via Remote Desktop. One day the graphics performance went completely to hell--videos were tearing, skipping, and generally behaving as if the graphics card had suddenly stopped supporting Quartz Extreme.

    Turned out the issue was that I had powered up the computer while the TV was off, and the MacOS, not seeing any attached monitor, had set the graphics to some sort of minimal mode, presumably to save resources (which you'd want in a headless server). Except it didn't kick back in when a monitor became available--you need to boot with the screen present.

    Just one example of how a software problem can produce symptoms exactly like you're seeing.

    A second thing you can try would be to get a spare hard drive and do a completely clean installation of the MacOS, with no additional drivers and none of your software and settings. If that works (either with or without the Nvidia card installed), then you've narrowed it down. If not, then either you do need some extra software or there's a hardware problem.

    Also, the second suggestion in that thread was to update the firmware on the card--I believe one of the two downloads at the ATI site will do this for you, if your card needs it. If it hasn't been updated, you certainly should--it won't hurt, and may help.

    There are usually specs for the GPU published somewhere obscure--polygons per second, memory throughput, number of processing units--but in practice the way you do it is you find a review with real-world benchmarks and compare.

    Try -- they have plenty of useful benchmarks of graphics performance dating back quite a while.
  6. eldudorinio macrumors member


    Jan 16, 2010
    A good way of knowing if one graphics card is better in theory than another one is to check it's bandwidth (in gigabytes per second GB/s)

    To calculate the maximum bandwidth of a GPU you need to know 2 things about the card:
    1) Memory clock (for example 650MHz)
    2) Memory bus width (for example 64 bits)

    Knowing these two numbers you can calculate them and divide them with 8 (because there are 8 bits in a byte). The resulting number is the max bandwidth of a graphics card in Gigabytes (or Megabytes) per second

    GeForce4 MX 440
    Memory clock : 400 MHz
    Memory bus width: 128 bits

    (400*128)/8 = 6400 MB/s

    Divided with 1000 gives us 6.4 GB/s
  7. Toby Goodbar thread starter macrumors 6502

    Sep 8, 2006
    i'll try that when i have a chance. i also thought it might be important to mention that while my radeon card supports quartz extreme it is not enabled by default through OSX because it is a pci card. apple requires AGP to have quartz enabled. could this be an issue? I have found information for re-enabling it, but only on anything less than tiger 10.4.3. As of yet i cant find anything for 10.5 to enable it. Maybe you or someone has?

    thank you! great info to know.
  8. Makosuke macrumors 603

    Aug 15, 2001
    The Cool Part of CA, USA
    That will give you a vaguely comperable number to compare, but in reality the drivers, other factors in the hardware, and the particular demands of whatever application you're running can make a big difference.

    Example, using specs from the manufacturers: Try comparing the GT8800 (57.6GB/s, or as high as 103.7GB/s for some variants, though I think the Mac version is a standard GT), Radeon HD 4870 (115.2GB/s), FX 5600 (76.8 GB/sec), Radeon HD 3870 (72GB/s), and an older ATI X1900 XT (49.6Gb/s). Most of these have 512MB of VRAM, though the workstation-class Quadro FX 5600 has a whopping 1.5GB.

    Based on the memory bandwidth, you'd expect the HD 4870 to be faster than everything else by far, followed by the FX 5600 (maybe better, considering its RAM advantage), R3870, GT8800, and the X1900 bringing up the rear.

    But in practice, here's a real-world test in a pro app using the card to render a bunch of video effects: which the X1900 beats both the FX 5600 and GT8800 by a whopping 30-40%. It also outperforms the theoretically much slower R2600XT in some cases, lags somewhat in others.

    This doesn't necessarily mean that the X1900 is, from a purely theoretical standpoint, faster than the Nvidia cards, but in this particular application either the hardware or software (probably software) is FAR better optimized for the ATI card.

    But if you look at similar cards running gaming benchmarks under Windows:'ve got the GT8800 running literally three times faster than the R2600 XT.

    Or this test of core image and Motion effects: which, installed in the same machine, the GT8800 is faster than every other card on that list by a small margin, including the R4870 and FX 5600.

    Point here being not that memory bandwidth isn't a useful number for general comparisons, but that it doesn't tell anywhere near the whole story.

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