Today we have another piece by Pieter Schaar, the author of our great LSI series. Pieter is perhaps best known as the one behind laptopvideo2go.com. He has been a regular contributor in the STH forums and has been detailing his learning, specifically in the area of LSI controllers in the forums and in series such as his IBM M1015 series pieces. Today Pieter is branching out to PCI slot video cards, namely the Zotac GeForce GT430.
Just on a year ago when I decided to upgrade my computer to allow me to do crunch video drivers (for LaptopVideo2go) I decided on a LGA1156 based board with a Xeon x3470 CPU. Alas, a year later and having gotten into the many other projects I’ve run out of PCIe slots on the ASRock LGA1156 P55 Deluxe3 motherboard. The board has lots of expansion slots with one PCIe x16, one PCIe x8, two PCIe 1x and two PCI slots, but those have been filled quickly.
As I’ve gotten into storage technology, I now find myself with 2x PCIe 8x SAS controllers, taking up both available (long) PCIe slots. The LGA1156 and LGA1155 based motherboards have a distinct lack of PCIe lanes available so this is normal on the uni-processor platforms. The p55 Deluxe3 also has a PLX PCIe bridge allowing USB3 and SATA3 controllers on top of the 16x PCIe lanes shared between the 8x and 16x PCIe slots (use both slots @ 8x). The Intel Xeon X3470 does not have onboard video so one must use one of the slots for video out.
I decided to try plugging in my ancient PCI video card that I used in a old server to give it a bit of graphical boost. Sadly, it is an older nVidia fx5500 that does not support Aero supported in Windows 7 (or Vista.) I can make a driver work, but to give it a WDDM driver with full resolution makes everything terribly slow. On the other hand, the card with no driver will work in VGA mode, which means low resolution but acceptable performance. As I need to have multiple text files open at once and work on them neither of the above solutions is acceptable. So my search for a better PCI card was started.
I came across Zotac who seems to make all sorts of stuff that other manufacturers don’t bother with including really specific mITX HTPC boards and interesting video cards. They have quite a nice market with their specialty products, one of which is the GeForce GT 430 (ZT-40605-10L), which their PCI-based GTX 430 video card. I already have the NVIDIA GTX 470 and know the GT 430 with 96 shaders is no slouch, even on the PCI bus, so I decided to buy one to have Aero graphics and free up both PCIe x8 slots for RAID controllers on the board by moving the GPU to the PCI slot.
The video card promptly arrived in a cardboard box with the usual CD software and booklets, that I no longer even look at. On the plus side, finding the graphics card with the very large (but thin) passive heatsink was nice, this will add no noise to any computer it goes in. After taking out the ancient NVIDIA FX5500 and replacing with the NVIDIA GT 430, Windows greeted me with the new hardware detected dialog and installed the Windows Catalog drivers (275.33) right away. After the installation, it was great see the familiar Windows Aero desktop and much speedier response to application loading even on a video card sitting in one of the PCI slots.
|GPU||NVIDIA GeForce GT 430|
|Core Clock||700 MHz|
|Core Processors||96 Stream Processors|
|Shader Clock||1400 MHz|
|Memory Clock||1800 MHz|
|DVI||1 x Dual-Link DVI|
|Dual-Link DVI Supported||Yes|
|HDMI||1 x HDMI w/audio VGA|
|Max Resolution||2560 x 1600|
|Recommended PSU Wattage||300-Watt|
The specs are very average for this kind of GPU, Zotac makes PCI cards with as much as 2GB of RAM and faster GPU’s as well, but this would have added to the cost and PCI users are probably looking to save some cash to inject life into an older machine instead of filling a machine with an expensive card for one of the endangered PCI slots. On the back other than DVI and HDMI out (with audio) is also the vga connector for those with CRT monitors or LCD’s with a switchable VGA port. The card is full height, so low profile or 2u enclosures will not be able to take this card, keep this in mind. 3U, 4U and desktop servers will be able to use this card without issue. Zotac also makes the NVIDIA GT 520 in a low profile PCI card, but with only 48 stream processors it will be slow and the low-profile card is actively cooled.
For all that is great about the GT 430, in the end this is still a PCI interfaced card and this has its limitations as I found out.
It obviously has serious bottleneck issues getting all the info from the system to the GPU video RAM via the very slow PCI interface. When scrolling down in web browsers, text documents and etc. there is a definite jerkiness, as I run my destop in 1920×1080 resolution. It is still much better than before, but one needs to be aware of the limitations of PCI. I only want it for editing text files so this is not a huge issue for me but gaming is not going to happen on this card. The GT 430 GPU is capable of much greater things once on a PCIe 16x slot card. So I held out little hope of games faring any better.
I proceeded to give 3DMark 2001SE (basically a decade old benchmark) a dust off to see how DX9 based graphics fared. I was pleasantly surprised, it did very well considering all of the textures that 3D Mark 2001 uses must fit inside the 512MB of video memory on board the GT 430. Not having to shift data through the PCI port meant good video performance.
For reference, I tested this against my PCIe 16x PNY GTX470 with 1280MB of video RAM. in the same system.
Looking more closely at the results, the GTX470 having 2.5x more RAM and over 4x as many streaming processors and running faster, the score is very commendable. There was a little stutter in places on the run but still an acceptable score.
My thoughts are:
- If you have an older computer needing a little attention to bring some life back into it then the GT 430 will do the job nicely
- Don’t expect miracles, old DX9 games should do fine, after this it will struggle (well the PCI slot will)
- If you have like me a motherboard and not enough PCIe slots to put everything in but can forgo the big PCIe x16 video card then this is an ideal card to use a PCI slot if you have one. Leaving the very few PCIe slots that come with LGA1156/1155 motherboards for other things.
- This is still considerably better than the very poor performing onboard video common in servers today, especially ones that take advantage of IPMI 2.0 and KVM-over-IP.
- If you have an old computer and you are a keen Folding@Home fan then this may be an interesting option also with 96x stream processors it will happily compute away using very little power and no noise.
Other than that, get your self an LGA2011 or older LGA1366 motherboard with more PCIe slots if your budget allows. My budget does not at this stage so this is a very nice fill in card, till my next upgrade. Amazing to think that manufacturers are still making cards based on the legacy PCI slot after video cards have already gone through the AGP slot and are now on a third major revision of the PCIe slot which both replaced PCI for VGA adapters. As we have seen on some of the newer boards, PCI slots are nearing extinction in favor of additional PCIe slots. Still, for those that need it, this is a decent, passively cooled option.