The Kyro II chipset runs normally at 175MHz, and the 3D Prophet attaches 64 MB of 5 nanosecond RAM to the card, leading one to believe that the card's design leaves a decent amount of room for overclocking. Testing this out proved otherwise, as I was only able to take the card up to 181MHz while stable, using PowerStrip 3. I tried it out at 185MHz first, but began to see some shearing and artifacting, so I slowly stepped the card down.
The memory should theoretically have been able to handle 200MHz while remaining within tolerance specifications, so the core is most likely at fault. This is understandable, given the method of the core's calculations and operations. The card does not rely as much on memory bandwidth as it does on algorithm strength, so overclocking the card to 185 should not have generated any satisfying results. As it was, 181MHz only gave about 1.5 FPS more than usual in all settings, so I elected not to represent this data in the comparisons. I have recently been reading reports on the Internet of people receiving newer cards that would clock as high as 195MHz, so your mileage may vary.
For those who are into extreme cooling and case modding, the Kyro II emits very little heat. Original reference designs called for only a minimal heatsink on the processor, but Hercules elected to outfit all their 3D Prophet 4500 cards with a heatsink-fan combo in the fashion of Thermaltake's Blue Orb. While likely to be unnecessary, it does show an effort on the part of Hercules to ensure the life of the chip should other cooling systems prove inadequate. It should also be noted that some reviews of video cards I've seen have faulted the manufacturer for failing to provide RAM sinks on the memory, claiming that they were out to save a buck. While that may be true, in this case the RAM sinks are nowhere near necessary, and I believe that Hercules decided against using them in order to pass the savings on to the customer.
And this brings us to the central idea behind the Kyro II. The chipset is essentially designed to be a wolf in sheep's clothing, giving intense performance at a budget price. Other chipsets have made this dubious claim before (Rendition's Verite, ATI Rage IIc, anything with the word "Savage" in the title), but the Kyro II really manages to live up to this claim. It performs well in today's games, and leaves me reason to believe that it will do so in the future. It may not support the newest of features, but, it does support quite a few, and those it does support, save FSAA, it supports very well. The pundits that wish to point out the Kyro II's lack of hardware T&L need only wait, however, as STMicro has already stated that the forthcoming Kyro III will feature a hardware T&L engine.
NVIDIA's drivers have the edge on the Kyro II by several years as well. NVIDIA, using a similar core design in all its processors since the TNT, has had the advantage of refining a single driver core set for years, while the Kyro II has only had drivers for a few months now. The Kyro II drivers need some definite improvement. When trying to benchmark the cards, they frequently reported errors while trying to change to a given video mode, when the system was already running in that video mode. The FSAA lag also exhibits a problem that should probably be corrected within a driver revision or two. Given a little training, this upstart could really set out and accomplish things.
Hercules retails the 3D Prophet 4500 on their website at $149.99 and the 3D Prophet 4500XT at $159.99 (The XT model features TV-out), but searching some of the vendors at iBuyer.net gives prices on this card as low as $130, making it an reasonably affordable alternative to the NVIDIA cards. Unfortunately, the card had a lot more value a year ago when it was in development. The presence of the GeForce3 has pushed down the prices on the GeForce2, making the difference between this card and a GeForce2 much less, if anything at all.
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