In the Forums...
Posted: August 4, 1999
Written by: Sangfroid
Estimated retail price: $139.99
Leadtek is a relatively obscure video card manufacturer. It was the first company to have a TNT2 card on the market. Generally, manufacturers who rush a product to market use an inferior and less tested board design. A hurried design will lack the refinement, stability and feature set of more mature competitors. Companies like Canopus have always pleased reviewers with products that are radically different from the flock of other products on the market.
Whilst the Leadtek S320II isn't at all innovative, I'm pleased to inform you that it is a well made and stable design: The board has a neat layout, with a minimal amount of protruding transistors and extraneous chips. In all, it is very close to the nVidia reference design, despite the inclusion of the TV encoder chip. Above the TNT2 chipset is a small fan, used to dissipate the huge amounts of heat created by nVidia's flagship graphics solution. The fan is a 'low-profile' design, meaning that it won't interfere with a PCI card placed beneath it. Before I installed the card, I made sure that the fan was properly connected to the chipset. As we've come to expect, almost all boards have the fans mounted incorrectly. Leadtek had merely dolloped some glue on the base of the fan, like all the other TNT2 based cards we have witnessed. Hardly the most efficient method of transferring heat between the heatsink and the chipset. I was quick to fix this with some thermal transfer compound and a cunningly placed section of fishing line. Significantly more heat is dissipated in this fashion, usually allowing for more extensive overclocking and smoother operation.
So what else does our board feature? TV output via a Brooktree encoder is one of the board's main selling points, featured on all the Winfast TNT2 cards. We'll discuss this addition later. The board also comes with a full 32 Meg of SGRAM. SGRAM is a modified version of standard SDRAM technology, tailored for high-speed gaming purposes. There is also a 16 meg variant of the S320 II on offer, which relies on increasingly ancient SDRAM technology. Users will find it hard to notice the addition of the extra 16 Meg, but future games should ensure that addition is worthwhile. Most current benchmarks will show no difference between the 16 meg and the 32 meg variety. Supposedly the 32 meg will dramatically lower the amount of AGP texture swapping in upcoming games like Drakan, allowing for more seamless gameplay and a larger onboard library of textures.
The S320 II isn't an Ultra board, just the plain TNT2 offering. Sure, the plain TNT2 isn't the fastest thing on the block, but it's damn close. If you haven't got a Pentium III or a K7, you generally won't be aware of the difference between this card and even the fastest Ultra TNT2. There really is a lot more room for this card to mature and grow in-line with any processor upgrades you make. The advent of the Camino i820 chipset will allow the TNT 2 chipset to utilise AGP 4x, which should give another small boost to the cards performance. What you have to remember is that the vanilla TNT2 offers exactly the same bleeding edge technology as the Ultra, only differing from the faster design by the default clockspeed.
Leadtek also offer a 'Pro' variant of the S320II board. The addition of the 'Pro' suffix denotes support for Digital LCD monitors. If you own a flat screen, there aren't many videocard options available, particularly if you want decent 3D acceleration. For gamers, it really comes down to a choice between the S320II Pro or the soon-to-be-released Voodoo3 3500.
I'm happy to report that the Leadtek Winfast S320 II comes with very little software. Really, software choice is a matter of personal preference. I hate to see the price of a potential buy cranked up, purely that they can bundle some b-grade game with the rest of the package. Last year, I had the displeasure of finding my brand new Asus TNT trussed up with a copy of Incoming, so I was particularly pleased to find that the Leadtek Winfast S320 II comes with virtually no nonessential software. Besides the driver CD, you will find a copy of PowerDVD and a few other archaic and completely forgettable applications. PowerDVD is an excellent DVD software decoder that offers performance very close to a fully-fledged hardware-decoding card.
The board installation was a complete nightmare, which was completely my fault. I spent hours wondering why the card constantly crashed and failed to install properly. Eventually I located the error, deep within the BIOS. It seems that the TNT2 chipset won't operate with a 16 meg AGP aperture or less, at least when using an Aopen AX6bc motherboard. After I rectified this problem, installation was a breeze, Win98SE automatically recognising the TNT2. The Leadtek drivers were quickly dumped in favour of the much newer and miles faster nVidia reference drivers. Although the Leadtek drivers did offer a few novel features, including the ability to choose from preset game options, they are rather dated. The BIOS was also flashed to the latest version. Once I had consulted the seminal Tweak3D TNT2 tweak guide I was all jacked up and good to go!