July '98 Graphics Accelerator Comparisonby Anand Lal Shimpi on July 20, 1998 5:34 PM EST
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3Dfx Voodoo2 Chipset
The absolute king of the 3D Gaming World for now, what makes the Voodoo2 such a success is not the sheer performance of a single card but the ability for two cards to be used in conjunction with each other. Dubbed Scan Line Interleave mode, using 2 Voodoo2's in conjunction with each other manages to increase the performance of an SLI Voodoo2 system to levels beyond comparison. While limited by a 1024 x 768 Z-Buffered 3D-only resolution (800 x 600 for a single card) the Voodoo2 will prove to be the gamer's wish card throughout the latter part of 1998.
Boasting above average image quality, the Voodoo2 chipset was the most highly anticipated graphics accelerator release of the first half of 1998. With the title of fastest 3D accelerator the race was on to dethrone the self proclaimed monster, bringing back memories of the original Voodoo chipset 3Dfx introduced to the newborn market.
The Achilles' heel of the Voodoo2 chipset, price aside, is the lack of any 2D support. The Voodoo2 chipset, being a 3D-only accelerator, quickly becomes an expensive guest as the limited supply of PCI slots in your system quickly depletes. It is for this reason that those users that have set their sights on a Voodoo2 board are desperately searching for a 2D card to pair it up with. Considering that a Voodoo2 will handle virtually all of your 3D gaming needs, unless you need a professional 3D accelerator for CAD/CAM there is no better compliment to a Voodoo2 than a standard Matrox Millennium. With the recent release of the G200 series of Matrox cards, the original Millennium and the Millennium II for those of you that want to make some use of that AGP slot, make an excellent Voodoo2 companion.
Being threatened by cheaper, single board, alternatives expect prices on Voodoo2 boards to drop considerably. 12MB boards are popping up all over the net for prices around the $200 mark, the sweet spot for a 12MB board will probably be $150 once the Savage3D and Revolution IV cards begin shipping. There is no point in paying more than $250 for a 12MB board now, and with current games the performance difference between a 12MB and an 8MB card is negligible. If you're looking towards the future then you will definitely want a 12MB board, however if you're anything like most upgraders "looking towards the future" means looking for a new 3D accelerator.
Intel i740 Chipset
Intel's philosophy, take a German automobile and make it into a PC product. Refraining from discussing the similarities between a Mercedes and Intel's forthcoming Merced processor, the similarities between BMW's luxury masterpiece 740i and the Intel i740 graphics chipset are far from present. The i740 is definitely not a top-notch performer, while Intel wasn't looking to dethrone the Voodoo2 with the i740 the performance of the chipset is truly unacceptable when compared to the competition.
Outstanding image quality detracts from the poor performance of the chipset, however a clear picture will only take you so far, what good is a beautiful image if the game is unplayable? Intel has yet to release their OpenGL ICD for the i740 which would allow all i740 owners to play games like Quake 2 at decent frame rates at resolutions up to 800 x 600 (1024 x 768 is simply unplayable on an i740, regardless of processor). Until Intel makes the ICD available only those accelerators that have OpenGL ICD's available directly from the manufacturer (i.e. Diamond or Real3D) will be able to run games like Quake 2, so if you plan on buying a generic i740 accelerator now you should also plan on waiting a bit to use it under OpenGL games.
The only reason you would have to pursue an i740 based graphics accelerator other than the immense support any Intel product would receive from the industry, is the price. With a brand name i740 based accelerator, such as the Diamond Stealth II G460, weighing in at under $100 including a full fledged game bundle and a generic brand i740 accelerator going for under $60 the i740 makes an excellent entry-level Next Generation Graphics Accelerator. Also, as mentioned above, you won't have any problems (we'll just exclude Unreal for the time being) with gaming software support for the i740 courtesy of the Intel name. Shortly after its release just about every newly released game is claiming support for the chipset among which include games like Squaresoft's Final Fantasy VII.
For the little brother or the demanding kid, the i740 will make an excellent cherry topping to a sub-$1000 PC.
Matrox G200 Chipset
Can the king of 2D gain control of the 3D world? Nope. To put it bluntly, regardless of what many Matrox advocates wanted to believe, the G200 is not the elusive Voodoo2-killer. Does that make the G200 a bad card? Definitely not. You must keep in mind that not everyone has the budget, both money and/or PCI slots, for a Voodoo2 accelerator much less two of them.
In the short time that the G200 has been in the public eye as well as their hands, Matrox has managed to push past the competition and climb to the top of the 2D/3D combo market. Carrying a realistic street price of around $130 for a Mystique G200 (8MB), the beautiful image quality and average performance of the G200 make the chipset everything the i740 should have been.
The G200 never claimed to be something it wasn't which was why the release of the first cards based on the chipset was accepted in such good faith by virtually all that touched them. The chipset itself does a wonderful job of supporting the load of a taxing 3D game at 800 x 600, expect the G200 to quickly gain ground in the world of low-cost/high-performance graphics accelerators as the months go on. While the performance of the chipset isn't comparable to some of the upcoming combination card competitors the feature set the G200 flashes around is an unbeatable one. Outstanding image quality, above average performance, TV-Out capabilities (at resolutions up to 1024 x 768), excellent driver support, top-notch 2D performance, and all in a single board AGP 2X compliant solution.
Those of you looking for the most well rounded Graphics Accelerator, and have no desire to run a particular game at un-imaginable frame rates (ask a Dual Voodoo2 owner, it is possible) then the G200 is probably the card for you. Above average is the best way to classify its performance (both 2D and 3D), and beyond imagination is the category that best fits its image quality. If you find yourself wanting a card that fits those two requirements while keeping your options open with impressive software DVD decoding and TV-Output then the G200 should blow away the competition for your next-generation system.
Riva 128 Chipset
An aging and slowly dying chipset, the Riva 128 is prepared to make its last appearance in graphics accelerator comparisons. If you remember the day when the Riva 128 dominated the top of all comparisons and always had a reserved spot in graphics roundups, then you will also remember that the incredible price of the card kept it from taking off among all users. While we are seeing some of the same mistakes made with the upcoming Riva TNT Chipset (a $250 estimated street price isn't the most comforting feature) the Riva 128 has finally found a home among the affordable class of graphics accelerators. Prices are ranging in the $80 area for a decent AGP Riva 128 card and the cost is being driven down even further by the newly released Riva 128ZX chipset (sort of an intermediate solution, just as the Matrox G100 was during the time before the release of the G200) which offers RAM configurations up to 8MB and is an AGP 2X solution.
One of the most popular Voodoo2 companions happens to be the Riva 128, which is a bit of overkill especially if you are only going to be using it for 2D acceleration. An AGP S3 Virge GX/2 based card or an AGP Millennium II, for the more professional users, will be more than enough for your 2D needs if you happen to have a 3D-only accelerator.
As you might be able to guess, this leaves the Riva 128 without much of a home. The i740 beats the Riva 128 by a considerable margin in terms of image quality, and the G200 does edge the Riva 128 out in terms of performance and simply kills it in terms of overall value. The final decision here? It's time to let the Riva 128 die, may it rest in piece.
Riva TNT Chipset
Would nVidia really let their flagship product die without an infant to replace it? You would hope not, especially since the release of their newest concoction, the Riva TNT chipset, is slowly approaching its tentative September release. The TNT improves on all weakpoints of the 128, producing better image quality, much higher and more competitive performance, and RAM configurations of up to 16MB for an AGP 2X solution.
The TNT was the first chipset intended to be a Voodoo2-killer, and unfortunately the current TNT products floating around aren't allowing for an accurate comparison between the two high priced monsters to be made. Claims of the alpha TNT boards benchmarked on review sites all over the world, including AnandTech, running at absurd percentages of their final performance have been made. Discrepancies surrounding features in the drivers provided for testing with the cards (i.e. V-SYNC) are among other problems surfacing that simply won't allow for a final decision to be made about the TNT. Whether this is a cheap attempt by nVidia to cover up the over-hyped nature of the product or if this is an attempt to hide the full performance of the untamed chipset, the Riva TNT will be a key player in the latter part of the 1998 computing year.
Already beating the Voodoo2 in Direct3D performance, the speed of the TNT only has one path to take from now, and that is up. The TNT isn't running at its full capacity yet, leaving much room for improvement in terms of performance and unlike the "too little - too late" OpenGL support that plagued the Riva 128, the TNT will ship with a full OpenGL ICD upon its release.
Mimicking the Voodoo2 in virtually all performance aspects why not take that one step further? The $250 estimated price tag for a TNT based card will keep this puppy out of the hands of quite a few users with a budget to stick to. While $250 isn't bad for a card that could possibly offer Voodoo2 performance (it already does under Direct3D) considering that you're getting a very good 2D card in a single slot AGP solution, however $250 is still too much for a great portion of the market. By the time the price drops to a more manageable level we'll probably be wishing the TNT the same good luck as we did the Riva 128 on its way to the grave.
The Riva TNT will probably be the middle class priced high-performer once it is released, definitely performing better than the Matrox G200 and with the potential to dethrone at least the Voodoo2 (claiming to be a SLI Voodoo2 killer is a bit more than even nVidia would be willing to swallow) in terms of performance. Since the image quality of the TNT is much improved over the somewhat disappointing Riva 128, the TNT should fair much better among future upgraders. You wouldn't want to toss out your Voodoo2 just yet as that is one $300 investment you may want to hang on to for a little while longer.
S3 Savage3D Chipset
At last we arrive at the new kid on the block, the Savage3D from S3. While one wouldn't expect a manufacturer that has been in the industry so long to be referred to as the "new kid on the block," S3's nifty little disappearing act from the market left many loyal followers with a feeling of disappointment. Regardless of what has happened in the past, S3 is back and ready to compete.
Already running at full speed, the Savage3D has proven to be another failed attempt by a company at assassinating 3Dfx's untouchable Voodoo2 chipset. Providing Voodoo2-levels of performance under Direct3D, and sub-Voodoo2 performance under OpenGL games (i.e. Quake 2) the Savage3D would be a complete failure had it not been for one important consideration, price.
Consider the Savage3D, a better performing Matrox G200. While S3 can't claim the same image quality Matrox can smile about, the Savage3D comes close enough to be a serious threat. For no more than $150 for an 8MB card, the Savage3D will give you performance fit for a king without demanding to see the king's wallet before-hand.
S3 has left very little room for improvement in the performance category since their alpha boards are already running at their full potential so we can pretty much assume (with a great degree of accuracy) that the Savage3D isn't the sought after Voodoo2-killer. Areas S3 can improve on include stability, Super7 compatibility, and TV-Output capabilities. While it is doubtful that the latter can be competitive with Matrox's amazing 1024 x 768 TV-Output on the Mystique G200, it is a nice feature to have available and S3 will provide it.
The Savage3D will probably become the poor-man's Voodoo2, like the Celeron of the graphics accelerator market, as things stand now the future seems to hold good things for the Savage3D.