|Voodoo 2 Update By Leonard Hjalmarson|
A few weeks ago I installed a Diamond Monster II board in my PII 300 machine and finally began the process of taking a look at the differences between the new 3dfx technology and the old. My first impressions were mixed: some things didn't LIKE the new chipset (Flying Corps), and other things, while somewhat faster, suddenly lacked some features (Janes F15... black nights went blue and black outs disappeared).
Since that time the first non beta release of the reference drivers has come out, and a little more is known about the way gamma settings etc affect the interaction of the V2 chipset with some simulations. Overall the impact of the second generation chipset hasn't been as great as I had hoped, but this is mostly because there is no code in hand that makes full use of the features and power of these new boards.
Which is interesting, because it means that the full story can't yet be told. So while Creative Labs and Diamond have released their boards early, early buyers like myself are either making the investment because of the hype, or because they are fascinated with the technology, or they have some particular reason for their interest... like writing these discursive homilies.... ;-D
Okay, so what story CAN be told? I hope I'm not just whistling in the wind...
As a matter of fact, there is a bit to tell. And, since our orientation in these hardware matters remains mostly pragmatic, I want to tell that story by talking about some particular simulations. The ones that I have had my hands on most lately are Janes F15, Microprose M1 Tank Platoon II, SSI's Team Apache and F22: ADF.
First, lets talk about the technical side, and then we'll look at some "in sim" realities and end up talking about coming V2 specific sim applications. I'm not a tech expert by any means, but I can usually fumble my way into some meaningful information, so lets go!
Install, Setup and Performance
With this latest driver release (see the end of this article for locations of the April 8th release reference drivers) 3dfx has included a utility to remove some of the snags that users have been running into. Specifically, it came about that some installations wrote over 3dfx Voodoo2 drivers on install, causing glitches and snarls that resulted in some sims like JSF not running at all. 3dfx then included a utility to search for and remove duplicate and invalid Glide drivers wherever they might reside. Good idea!
So, after installing this latest release, you go to the Display Properties panel and the first time you pull it up you are given the option to do a search and rename. Do it, it will save you some confusion and headaches. Incidentally, the hardware installation itself is mercifully free from IRQs or DMAs so conflicts otherwise are very unlikely.
Next you will want to configure your card refresh rates in Glide and DX5. You can do these separately or jointly. I have my board set up for 75 MHz refresh at both 640x480 and 800x600. If you have two boards and can run in SLI mode you will want to set the refresh for 1024x768 also, or if you run Direct3d through your 3dfx board you will want to set refresh rates at that resolution and higher.
The gamma default in this new release is 1.3. On my 17" VOXON monitor I find that a tad low and I prefer 1.5. This varies greatly from monitor to monitor so you will want to experiment to find the best setting for your machine.
The next tab you will want to look at comes up under Advanced properties. For best performance, use these settings in the advanced tab for your V2 setup:
Those In Sim Realities
As I mentioned, I've been running my V2 board on Janes F15, Team Apache, M1 TP2 and F22: ADF. I've also had a look at Longbow 2, Hornet: Korea and Special Ops and have been meaning to load up Flying Corps Gold but haven't got to it yet.
These sims all look a bit better under Voodoo 2 than under Voodoo one, though I'm not sure why. None of them with the exception of F22: ADF allows anti-aliasing, and even ADF doesn't make use of the hardware anti-aliasing that is present in the Voodoo 2 boards. I'm hoping that the near coming releases of Falcon 4, Total Air War and Team Apache will fully support that feature. Full anti aliasing at 800x600 ought to make these sims quite splendiferous. Er.. they oughta look cool!
All of these sims benefit with extra speed under Voodoo2 even though none of them actually make use of the second TMU (texture memory unit). The first release that will actually USE this new hardware feature will be Falcon 4, not likely to hit the streets til sometime in May. Yeah, I know, you thought it would be July didn't you?
The current crop of sims benefit with speed increases between 35 and 75%, depending on resolution and refresh rate you have selected, the choices you make in the Advanced Tab, and the specific scene and graphics options you have in sim. For example, running under Voodoo1 on my PII 300 I chose a particular scene in F22: ADF and loaded up the sim. With default options all to max and coming down at the ground my frame rate was about 15 fps. Same options and same machine under Voodoo 2 I was closer to 25 fps. The average increase seems about 50%.
In Janes F15 the difference is slightly greater on average. I chose the A2A Graduation mission and headed for some oil tanks that make nice flames at night =) All graphics sliders are at the max and I am flying in EXPERT mode with ground radar inactive and no IR image in the right MFD. Flying toward the burning tanks from uncluttered ground at 2000 feet at a range of about 2 miles my frame rate is 16 fps under Voodoo2. Under Voodoo 1 this drops to 8.
What is confusing is that I was running ADF at 800x600 while F15 is at 640x480. But you have to also factor in the CPU demands of a fairly dynamic AI and more spectacular effects in F15.
Team Apache at 800x600 doesn't offer me a frame rate counter, but this engine seems very highly optimized. Even with incredible ground and object detail and with five other choppers in the air and graphics detail to MAX I get a very good frame rate under Voodoo 1. I would guess its over twenty and passes thirty under V2. So what about the future?
DI and iMagic have released 3dfx patches for HIND, Apache, and F16. These are WELL worth the download, but they will NOT run on Voodoo 2 boards. However, they are looking at the issue and it may be remedied before much longer.
SPGS says that Fighter Duel 2.0 will specifically support the extra texture unit on Voodoo 2 boards. In fact, the underlying rendering API, SurRender, has support for 4 texture units, thus fully utilizing two V2 boards in SLI mode! As if that weren't enough, FD 2.0 is also multi-threaded and will recognize speed gains under NT and even utilize dual processors!
Peter Karpas from Activision wrote me that Fighter Squadron: Screamin Demons will also enable support for the second texture unit on V2 boards. Hardware anti-aliasing will be in place and we should be running this one at up to 1024x768 if you have two boards or Quantum3Ds single card SLI solution.
Team Apache will likewise make full use of V2 hardware with support for the second texture unit. This sim is due in June and is looking incredibly good, right down to the weather effects. In fact it has IR goggles modelled in a way similar to Spec Ops, some of the best modelling I have yet seen where its not wise to look at bright light sources! Other dynamic effects are excellent. It shouldn't be long til the beta takes full advantage of Voodoo 2 boards and we will have an update for you then.
Can you expect complete support for V2 from Microprose in Falcon 4.0? Here's the scoop, from the senior graphics engineer. "We will support both of the TMUs (Texture Mapping Units) on the card, but not simultaneously. This lets us use the more texture memory that the board provides, and yields a correspondingly significant improvement in game performance." Thats a YES... ;-D
What about Total Air War? Some of my contacts at DiD have been holidaying and I haven't been able to update my information. TAW is not expected to support the second texture unit, and if in the end it does it will be an unexpected bonus.
As mentioned above, the early drivers and install issues created a few problems. When Creative Labs released its board, Hornet: Korea wouldn't run at all. The same was true of Joint Strike Fighter and F22 ADF. (The patched version of ADF would run under D3d). However, GSC addressed the problem and released a v.1.02b patch.
I spoke with a Hornet Korea fan who obtained a Creative Labs 12 meg board. He downloaded the patch and gave this report:
I already had v1.01 installed, so I downloaded the v1.02b update from GSC's FTP site and it runs perfectly. There isn't much of a frame rate increase so I guess they haven't added support for the extra texture unit. But the sim doesn't slow down as much as it did at low level or when dropping GBUs. Someone told me that there might be a bigger performance boost on PIIs over my 166 MMX, but GSC states that the sim is limited in software to 20 fps barring an update release.
Joint Strike Fighter initially would not run under the V2, since the Voodoo 2 doesn't allow triple-buffering. However, Eidos released an update patch that corrected the problem and you can download it HERE. Note that in some cases you have to reinstall Voodoo 2 or recopy the new Glide files from the Voodoo installation 3d after installing patches. The default Glide install with some sims is for Voodoo 1 even though the executables are now V2 compatible. The clean up utility included with the new reference drivers should take care of these install hassles for most users.
If you already own a Voodoo 1 board, should you consider going to Voodoo 2? Its important to recognize that Voodoo 2 does best when CPU horsepower is readily available. So if you have a P200 or less, you won't notice as great a speed gain over Voodoo 1. If you have a PII 266 or higher, you will benefit more readily by an upgrade to Voodoo 2. If you are a first time Voodoo shopper, you may as well go directly to Voodoo 2 since when you upgrade your system to Pentium II or AMD K63d you will be ready to utilize the extra horsepower.
As for news on the hardware end, Creative is shipping both 8 and 12 meg boards as are Diamond and Orchid. STB expects to be shipping in the next couple of weeks, as do Quantum3D, California Graphics and Jazz Multimedia. Unfortunately, no one is shipping any of these boards with pack ins that would interest most sim fans. When will someone pack in a good sim like F22:ADF, M1 TP2 or a Janes simulation?
Quantum3D has announced their 12-meg TV-out Voodoo2 card called the "Obsidian 2 S-12 TV" for an estimated $330. Given Q3Ds reputation that sounds like a great buy. In fact Quantum3D is releasing SEVEN models of Voodoo2 based Obsidian2 boards: the "S/X" models include the S-12, S-12 AGP, and S-12 AGP TV-each with 12MB of total on-board memory, and the X-16 and X-24 with 16 and 24MB of memory respectively. All of the S and X series products are PCI-based except for the S-12 AGP models.
With the exception of the S-12 AGP, all of the S and X series products also include simultaneous TV-out, which provides gamers with the ability to play games on large screen PAL or NTSC monitors in either composite or S-video formats.
The flagship products in the Obsidian2 game extremist line are the X-16 and X-24. The X-series boards utilize the Single Board Scan Line Interleaved (SBSLI(tm)) design that Quantum3D developed last year. On an Intel Pentium* II 333MHz system the X-16 and X-24 achieve 84.4 frames per second at 1024x768 resolution - the highest of any product benchmarked to date.
The Obsidian2 S-12 is the only AGP based Voodoo2 product announced to date. The AGP bus interface enables the S-12 to receive triangle and texture data from the PC's processor at twice the rate of 33 MHz PCI-based Voodoo2 products. Phil Huelson, Quantum3D vice president of engineering commented that "This additional bandwidth will pay off in upcoming games that use edge anti-aliasing, or in games that constantly page textures down to the board- which is why Intel used the board to demonstrate the 3D capabilities of Intel's new "Deschutes" processors at CeBit last week. "On Ziff Davis' 3DBench '98, texture test 3, we hit 34fps single-buffered at 640x480 while a Creative board will only hit about 8fps. That's about a 400% improvement in texture download speed over the 3D Blaster Voodoo 2."
As was the case with the 6 meg vs 4 meg Voodoo 1 boards, you won't see the speed gain in every game or simulation, and on Voodoo 1 boards the gain averaged out to between 20 and 30% in Longbow 2. But when the textures are really flying, the gain can be even greater in some scenes. Since software complexity is constantly increasing and larger and larger textures are being demanded, the Quantum board could be a good investment in the future if you can afford the premium. The S-12 AGP will be priced at $349 and the S-12 AGP TV will be priced at $399.
Quantum3D is also offering a very aggressive rebate program before May 31st. YOu can trade in a competitive consumer Voodoo product and get $50 back, or any of these for
a $75 rebate:
If you haven't yet ordered your V2 or V1 board, you can do so by using the Chips and Bits buttons below... If you already have a Voodoo2 based board you can download the latest Voodoo 2 reference (April 8/98) drivers HERE
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Last Updated April 12th, 1998