by Matthew Witheiler on January 12, 2000 1:37 AM EST

When a company decides it wants to make a video card using the GeForce chipset, NVIDIA puts out a reference design for the graphics board itself, eliminating the need for manufacturers' tweaks.  Most of the GeForce cards that we see coming through the lab are essentially the same size with the same basic layout; all cards, that is, except for the ERAZOR X.  In order to produce a more universal card, ELSA decided to make the ERAZOR X in NLX form factor, disregarded NVIDIA’s reference layout and creating a card that can be used in virtually any machine with an AGP slot.

While the true value of having a NLX compatible card maybe debated by those of us with ATX cases, its value could not be any greater for NLX computer owners.  NLX is a relatively new case standard (seen to the left), set into motion in 1997 by Intel, that minimizes the amount of space that the case takes up, creating, in essence, a tiny, cute computer.  It accomplishes this by utilizing two methods commonly used to shrink computer size: a decrease in the size of the motherboard and a stacking of components.  In the case of the AGP slot, space is saved by placing bulky but vital motherboard components (such as ports) under the AGP card itself.  It is for this reason that the ELSA ERAZOR X has an abundance of free space between the case bracket and the bottom of the card.  When placed in a NLX case, this space is filled with ports rising off the motherboard, creating a stacked layout.

Producing the video card to fit NLX specifications is essential for use in NLX cases, as a regular AT or ATX form factor AGP card will not fit inside these boxes.  In addition, the NLX form factor cards work perfect in AT and ATX cases.  In fact, the increased open space created by using an NLX form factor card actually provides an advantage over normal AGP cards because the free space, in theory, results in increased case air flow (and also a nice place to run cables, if necessary).  Thus, by choosing to make the ERAZOR X fit NLX form factor, ELSA made a wise decision, attracting all types users, from NLX owners to crazy overclockers.

The card its self contains many of the components that we see on the SDR GeForces coming into the lab. ELSA chose to use 5.5 ns (183 MHz) SDRAM chips produced by Samsung. The quality of Samsung SDRAM chips has never been questioned, thus ELSA made a wise choice on this aspect of the card. The card contains 4 8 MB SDRAM chips placed on the front of the card for a total of 32MB of RAM.

One thing that sets the design of the ELSA card apart from some of the other manufacturer is the use of a comparatively larger heat sink. While most GeForce based cards have a 4 cm x 4 cm heat sink on them, ELSA uses a larger 5 cm x 5 cm heat sink. This more than thoroughly covers the GeForce processor and also leaves heat sink space around the approximately 4 cm x 4 cm fan (the same one used on many of the video cards we see in the lab). The choice to use a larger heat sink will find no complaints from us, as cooler is always better.

Finally, there is one additional unique feature of the ELSA ERAZOR X, a feature called ChipGuard. ChipGuard is an ELSA produced program that runs resident in the taskbar upon installation of the drivers (note that only the shipping drivers come with the ChipGuard program, all Internet based drivers will not contain this feature). The ChipGuard is a nifty utility that does two things: monitors fan RPM and also chip temperature. If ChipGuard detects an error in either of these two sensors, a warning screen will pop up, notifying the user of the problem. In addition, if the temperature threshold set is surpassed for a substantial amount of time, ChipGuard will actually shut down the computer, reset the clock speed of both the core and the memory to the base level of 120/166 MHz, and then reboot the machine to maintain these settings. These threshold values are very high, thus this safety feature of the card will only be activated if the card is about ready to become toast.

We were interested to find out how the fan monitoring works, considering that the fan only has two wires going to it. Most of the fans on the market have three wires going to them: two for power and one to monitor the fan RPM. Speaking to ELSA we learned of a different monitoring option used here. Instead of having the RPM signal mounted on the fan, the ELSA ERAZOR X uses the power draw of the fan to monitor the fan speed. A power draw that is above or below the normal draw indicates a problem with the fan. When ChipGuard detects this, a window pops up and notifies the user of a potential fan problem.

While the safety of the ChipDoctor software is pretty cool, the usability of the utility leaves something to be desired. This is due to the fact that the sensor inputs are not able to be seen by the user. The only sign and use of the ChipDoctor running under normal conditions is a small green icon on the taskbar. No amount of clicking or searching will allow the user to see just how hot the chip is running or how much power the fan is using. The ChipDoctor utility is cool but additional utilities could make it even cooler.

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