The GPU Flashback Archive: NVIDIA GeForce2 and the GeForce2 MX Card

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The GPU Flashback Archive: NVIDIA GeForce2 and the GeForce2 MX Card

We return for our next episode of the GPU Flashback Archive with another classic graphics platform from NVIDIA, the GeForce2 series. It was unleashed on the scene in early 2000 and proved conclusively that NVIDIA had become the number one graphics company on the planet. Let’s take a look at the GeForce2 series as a whole, the cards that were popular at the time and of course a few of the scores that have been submitted to the HWBOT database using GeForce2 cards.

NVIDIA GeForce2: Overview

With the launch of the NVIDIA GeForce 256 card series in late 1999, the company had truly announced its presence on the graphics card market. Competing cards from ATI, S3, Matrox and 3dfx could not compete with the GeForce 256 DDR. Based on the NV10 GPU, it was the first to offer a hardware solution for T&L (Transform and Lighting) tasks, offer fastest ever vertex shading and probably the best gaming experience that anyone could imagine. NVIDIA stayed true to their core company identity and continued to follow a pretty aggressive product launch cadence. The GeForce brand was expanded to include the GeForce2 series just six months later, in sharp contrast to the release schedule the company keeps today.

The GeForce2 series of graphics cards predominantly featured NV11 and NV15 GPUs. Both were manufactured on the new and improved 180nm process, used a 4x AGP interface and like their predecessor supported Direct3D 7 and OpenGL 1.2. The new GPU design arrived in enthusiast hands in the form of the GeForce2 GTS card in April 2000. It used an NV15 GPU clocked at 200MHz, a far cry from the 120MHz configuration used on the GeForce 256 series. Most impressive of all was its capacity for rendering, an area where almost all the specs are doubled, and at times quadrupled compared to the previous generation. It featured 4 Pixel Shaders, 8 Texture Mapping Units (TMUs), 4 Render Output Units (ROPs). The upshot was a pixel rate of 800 MPixels/sec, four times that of the GeForce 256 card.

A GeForce2 GTS card in a custom water loop on Tom’s Hardware back in 2001.

Where NVIDIA had turned to DDR memory with its GeForce 256 series as a way to negate potential memory bandwidth bottlenecks, we find again that memory bandwidth is an issue here. The GeForce2 GTS used DDR memory that was clocked at 166MHz, a paltry 16MHz beyond the 256 card. Whereas the core clock had risen by 66%, the memory clock enjoyed only a 10% boost. In truth, faster memory at this period in history simply did not exist. GDDR had yet to arrive.

In terms of product stack, the GeForce2 GTS replaced the GeForce 256 line up as the high-end offering with cards costing between $300-$350 USD depending on 32MB or 64MB memory capacities and cooling design. By June 2000 the midrange and budget TNT2 and VANTA series cards had also been replaced by the GeForce2 series with the arrival of the GeForce MX series, historically the most popular GeForce2 series cards used on HWBOT.

The Most Popular NVIDIA GeForce2 Card: The GeForce2 MX 200

The NVIDIA GeForce2 MX series actually covers a slew of segment points and configurations including the MX IGP, the company’s first crack at an integrated graphics part, a key feature of NVIDIA nForce 420 and 220 chipsets. The GeForce 2 MX 200 however arrived in March of 2001, and brought hardware T&L and impressively high pixel shader rendering to the masses. Retailing at around or just above $100, the MX 200 was great value for money.

The GeForce2 MX 200 used the NV11 GPU clocked at a more conservative 175MHz with the same 166MHz memory. It used a 64-bit memory bus compared with the 128-bit bus on the GTS, and used SDR memory instead of DDR. In terms of rendering we find the budget oriented GeForce MX 200 equipped with 2 pixel shaders, 4 TMUs and 2 ROPs. Compared to the more expensive GTS card, the MX 200 was indeed a budget oriented offering.

A passively cooled GeForce2 MX 200 card with 64MB of SDR memory..

In terms of performance however, the MX 200 was equal to the previous generation high-end offering, the GeForce 256 SDR. The fact that hardware T&L was available for around $100 was a game changer that put massive pressure on 3dfx, ATI and S3, whose budget offerings were blown away by the MX series.

This is what Tom’s Hardware reviewer Silvino Orozco had to say in his review on June 29, 2000:

“The NVIDIA GeForce2 MX chip will be filling in a few gaps that NVIDIA has not be able to cover completely for some time now (mobile, competitive low cost 3D Video solution like ATi has been known to handle well), as it will cover the mainstream consumers who are on a budget, low-cost workstations (for small business), mobile computing and even rumored Apple support down the line. This highly configurable solution can be geared towards cost, performance or video functionality. Although it does have 3D performance limitations when compared to the high-end parts, it does excellent in all other areas. No other solution available can offer the same for the price.”

You can find the GeForce2 MX review from Tom’s Hardware here.

The GeForce2 GTS was followed up in August 2000 by the GeForce2 Ultra, a beast of a card that retailed for around $450 USD. It featured an updated NV16 GPU clocked at 250MHz and a DDR memory clock of 230MHz. This was followed up by the GeForce2 Ti card in October of 2001, the first card to carry that iconic branding. Both cards addressed the high-end market and helped NVIDIA secure the most lucrative graphics card space for itself. Voodoo, Matrox and S3 would fade into obscurity. Only ATI would remain to compete against this new and bold NVIDIA.

A GeForce2 Ultra card in all its glory.

Here’s a full breakdown of GeForce2 series card usage on HWBOT in terms of submissions.

  • -GeForce2 MX200 – 19.34%
  • -GeForce2 MX400 64MB – 15.44%
  • -GeForce2 MX400 32MB – 14.09%
  • -GeForce2 Ti – 10.59%
  • -GeForce2 GTS – 9.27%
  • -GeForce2 MX – 9.23%
  • -GeForce2 MX400 64MB SDR 64bit – 5.50%
  • -GeForce2 Ultra – 3.54%
  • -GeForce2 Pro – 3.31%
  • -GeForce2 MX400 64MB DDR 64bit – 2.48%

As you can see, NVIDIA offered plenty of different configurations within the GeForce2 series. If we combine both 64MB and 32MB MX 400 cards, it would be the most popular model. For the sake of argument however, the MX 200 is the most popular single model. The MX series as a whole was popular with retro overclockers due to its attractive price point clearly. It’s important to recognize however that all submissions are historical, being that HWBOT itself did not exist in the year 2000.

NVIDIA GeForce2: Record Scores

We can now take a look at some of the highest scores posted on HWBOT using NVIDIA GeForce2 series cards.

3DMark 99 MAX

Looking at the classic 3DMark 99 MAX benchmark we find that the fastest score submitted using an NVIDIA GeForce2 card comes from Romania’s pasatoiutd who managed a score of 31,106 mark using a Sparkle GeForce2 Ultra card with the graphics core pushed to 305MHz (+22.00%) and graphics memory at 260MHz (+13.04%). His rig also included an Intel Core 2 Extreme QX9650 ‘Yorkfield’ clocked at 4.2GHz (+40%).

You can find the submission from pasatoiutd here on HWBOT:

3DMark2001 SE

The highest score submitted to HWBOT using an NVIDIA GeForce2 card was made by Ukrainian overclocker RomanLV. He pushed a GeForce2 Ti card to 310MHz (+24.00%) on the GPU side with graphics memory at 300MHz (+50.00%) to make a hardware first place score of 8,677 marks. The rig he used also featured an Intel Pentium E5500 processor clocked at 4,338MHz (+54.93%).

You can find the submission from RomanLV here on HWBOT:


In the classic Aquamark benchmark we find the legendary Christian Ney from the Switzerland. His score of 17,075 marks was made with an NVIDIA GeForce2 Ultra card with the GPU clocked at 410MHz (+64.00%) and graphics card memory at 275MHz (+19.57%). The CPU used was an Intel Core 2 Extreme QX9650 ‘Yorkfield’ chip clocked at 3,200MHz (+6.67%)

Here’s a shot of the used by Christian:

You can find the submission from Cristian Ney here on HWBOT:

Thanks for joining us for this week’s episode of the GPU Flashback Archive series. Next week we will return with a look at the NVIDIA GeForce3 series of graphics processors and cards.

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