The RIVA TNT2 was a graphics processing unit manufactured by Nvidia starting in early 1999. The chip is codenamed "NV5" because it is the 5th graphics chip design by Nvidia, succeeding the RIVA TNT (NV4). RIVA is an acronym for Real-time Interactive Video and Animation accelerator. The "TNT" suffix refers to the chip's ability to work on two texels at once (TwiN Texel). Nvidia removed RIVA from the name later in the chip's lifetime.
The TNT2 core is almost identical to its predecessor the RIVA TNT, however updates included AGP 4X support, up to 32MB of VRAM, and a process shrink from 0.35 μm to 0.25 μm. It was the process shrink that enabled improved clock speeds (from 90 MHz to 150+ MHz), which is where the substantial performance improvement came from.
The TNT2 offered a higher quality feature-set than some of its competitors, pioneered by the RIVA TNT, such as 32-bit color in 3D and support for larger 2048×2048 px textures. RIVA TNT2's competition included the 3dfx Voodoo2, 3dfx Voodoo3, the Matrox G400, and the ATI Rage 128.
A low-cost version, known as the TNT2 M64, was produced with the memory interface reduced from 128-bit to 64-bit. Sometimes these were labeled "Vanta", continuing the Vanta name started with a value-oriented RIVA TNT-based product. This chipset outperformed the older RIVA TNT while being less costly to produce. They proved quite popular in the OEM market, as most consumers simply assumed all TNT2 cards were the same.
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The main competitor to the TNT2 was the 3dfx Voodoo3. What the Voodoo3 lacked when compared to the TNT2 was 32-bit color. This was the main selling point of the TNT2, while the main selling point of the Voodoo3 was the speed advantage it often had over the TNT2. The 3dfx Glide API was still popular at this time, and frequently performed faster and with better image quality than alternative renderers (such as Direct3D and OpenGL). Some games also had exclusive 3D features when used with Glide, including Wing Commander: Prophecy.
Voodoo3 cards render internally in 32-bit precision color depth. They then use a post filter within the RAMDAC to change to a 22-bit equivalent output that is close in quality to 32-bit color without 32-bit rendering's hardware demands. While Voodoo3's 16-bit output is superior to TNT2's 16-bit output, it lacks full 32-bit color support. It was very difficult to capture this 22-bit image because it was processed by the DAC, not by the 16-bit 3D hardware. Screenshot software captures from the framebuffer rather than the monitor output and thus does not capture the 22-bit image. This is why many 16-bit quality comparisons between TNT2 and Voodoo3 erroneously regard TNT2 16-bit quality as close to Voodoo3 when in reality Voodoo3 16-bit quality was close to TNT2 32-bit quality. These errors worked in Nvidia's favour.
The Voodoo3 and TNT2 also differ in that the Voodoo3 has a single dual-texturing pipeline (1x2), while the TNT2 has two single-texturing pipelines (2x1). This means that in games which only put a single texture on a polygon face at once, the TNT2 can be more efficient and faster. However, when TNT2 was launched, single-texturing was no longer used in most new games.
One fact that many hardware review sites noted was that the TNT2 could still be outperformed by two 3dfx Voodoo2 running in SLI mode. In games that supported the Glide API, Voodoo2 SLI setups were able to consistently perform faster and offer better image quality than the TNT2. Voodoo2 cards were more than a year old, but, when combined together, could still outperform current Nvidia technology.
Falcon Northwest, a veteran gaming PC company, and Guillemot, an international video card manufacturer, at one point cooperated to create the Falcon Northwest Special Edition Maxi Gamer Xentor 32 SE. It was a TNT2 Ultra card designed to operate at a record-breaking 195 MHz core and similarly impressive 235 MHz RAM. This was far and away the highest clocked TNT2 model released. The card used special extremely low latency (for the time) 4.3 ns SDRAM to achieve the high RAM clock speed. The regular Maxi Gamer Xentor 32 came with the core clocked at 175 MHz and memory at either 183 MHz or 195 MHz, depending on which RAM chips the board arrived with.
The Creative 3D Blaster TNT2 Ultra came clocked at the standard 150 MHz core and 183 MHz RAM. However, Creative included a unique software package that allowed the user to run software that used 3dfx's Glide. This wrapper, named Unified, was not as compatible with Glide games as real 3dfx hardware, but it was also the only card available other than a 3dfx card that could run Glide software. This Glide wrapper was very slow, not without issues, and was rather unstable. The main use of the wrapper was to allow 3D acceleration of games that only supported Glide 3D accelerators.
ELSA's Erazor III came clocked at non-Ultra TNT2 rates but included "3D Revelator" shutter glasses. These glasses made games look as though they were coming out of the screen, and worked with both Direct3D and some OpenGL titles.
- RIVA 128 Brochure, Nvidia, accessed October 9, 2007.
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- Freeman, Vince. Falcon Northwest Special Edition Xentor Review, Sharky Extreme, November 12, 1999.
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- TNT2 - The Mainstream 128-bit TwiN Texel 3D Processor
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