|Diamond Monster Fusion PCI
by Bubba "Masterfung" Wolford
What a year! We had some serious 3D wars going on and it has been a real pleasure to bring our readers reviews of what we consider the best cards on the market. To finish up 1999, we are bringing you a review of the FASTEST 3dfx Banshee card on the market, period.
Back a few years ago, 3dfx announced their first foray into the 2D/3D market with the Voodoo Rush card. Clearly this was not the desirable first step that 3dfx intended in introducing themselves to the combo market.
Voodoo Rush turned out to be 10% slower than it's dedicated 3D brother and suffered massive compatibility issues. Sales of the card were pretty good initially, due to the long coattails of the Voodoo1. However, sales slowed tremendously once word got out of the problems associated with the Voodoo Rush. What was once thought to be a huge step forward for 3dfx, turned into a massive nightmare.
Jump ahead to Q4 1998. 3dfx releases its newest member of the 2D/3D market. We have a very similar scenario to what transpired back with the Voodoo1 and Voodoo Rush. We have a new 2D/3D combo from 3dfx (Banshee) making a big splash via the glittering coattails of 3dfx's dedicated 3D card, Voodoo2.
What is different about this scenario is that Banshee has lived up to the hype, and sales are skyrocketing. After Banshee's initial introduction, there were a lot of questions from gamers as to whether this cad was going to crush sales of Voodoo2. The specs 3dfx were pushing for Banshee sounded outstanding. However, 3dfx knew what it was doing. 3dfx implanted in Banshee a weakspot in its armor. Lack of a 2nd Texture Memory Unit (TMU).
Even though the core clockspeed of Banshee is 10 MHz higher than Voodoo2 by default, the lack of a 2nd TMU would prevent it from outperforming V2 is SOME games like Quake 2 and Unreal. In games like these, which use a 2nd TMU, Banshee takes a real hit (20-40% in FPS). However, these are the ONLY games that support a 2nd TMU right now. (Only one other game (SHOGO) that I know of will support a 2nd TMU; many more games that support Glide and D3D are coming to the market where having a 2nd TMU is not an issue).
So to say that a lack of a 2nd TMU is a "weakspot" might be ill advised unless you play 1st person shooters frequently. However, there is another weakspot that hardcore gamers cannot ignore. Gamers cannot add a 2nd Banshee like V2 to achieve SLI. This lone fact, in my opinion, has kept hardcore gamers away from Banshee.
In games that do not require a 2nd TMU, do not be surprised to see a Banshee outperforming a single V2. The higher clock rate and faster memory can spell doom for a single V2 user versus the Banshee. Diamond has taken what 3dfx created and made the ultimate gamers Banshee.
Before we go into what Diamond has done with their Banshee, lets look at the specs for the Monster Fusion:
Diamond: King of FPS again
When my Monster Fusion arrived, Diamond had sent a fantastic media kit along with the product. It had a glossary of 3D terms and definitions, Press releases about the Banshee and a great picture of the card in the folder. I looked at the picture and noticed something odd about it.
There was something protruding out on the board in the picture. I grabbed the anti-static bag and ripped it open. Sure enough, Diamond had included a heatsink and fan on the chip to reduce heat! Turns out that Diamond's Banshee board is pre-overclocked to 115 MHz core clock speed (15 % faster than other Banshee boards) and comes with overclocked 125Mhz SGRAM. The SGRAM is overclocked from 110Mhz to 125 MHz bus speed making this Banshee the fastest on the market. This translates into higher FPS numbers.
In Falcon 4, I was getting 18-20 FPS in 2D cockpit and in outside view, FPS numbers were in the low 30's. For a PII 300 with only 64 MEG RAM, those numbers are quite good. That was with the graphics options on MAX (Player bubble on 2). If I brought the graphics options down 2 notches (player bubble still on 2), numbers went up in the order of 10 FPS!!
Here is the 3D Mark 99 Pro numbers for the Banshee 800*600:
3D Mark 99 Pro numbers for 1024*768 are very good too:
The 3D wars have made choosing a 3D card very difficult. In my own "main" system, I have 2 12 MEG Monster II cards running in SLI along with a Diamond Viper V550. I consider that combo to be the best overall combination without respect for cost, simply because I use my SLI Monsters for almost anything in 3D. BUT when I want to run something in 32 bit color depth I can. However, with the advent of Banshee, I am telling those that ask which 2D/3D combo is the best that the Monster Fusion Banshee is the top of the heap.
A few reasons why:
1) While it may take a back seat (slightly) to the TNT in D3D, it is almost as fast. It is faster in D3D than the Matrox G200 16 Meg AGP by a rather large margin.
2) The Banshee supports D3D, OpenGL and GLIDE. No other 2D/3D combo supports all three big API's. Even though D3D has made leaps and bounds in the last three years, it still cannot outrun native Glide in FPS. I hear a lot of people talk about 32-bit color depth. The Banshee (like other 3dfx cards) pipelines 16 bit color out and although 32 bit looks better, no one likes to use it because of the huge frame rate hit. Thus even though the Banshee only supports 16-bit color depth, I hardly think this is a "disadvantage".
3) It has the fastest 2D core of any 2D/3D combo. The Viper V550 is almost as fast but even takes a backseat to the G200 16 Meg AGP. Really, this 2D-speed contest is a wash. We are splitting hairs. They are all about equal.
4) The Banshee costs on average $50 less than a TNT card. For those who want true D3D speed and do not own a V2, I do not consider the G200 much of an option. It is about 40% slower than a Banshee in 3D and does not support Glide.
5) It seems that the Banshee is less CPU dependent than the TNT. Thus it is a better solution overall for those with slower CPU's (Pentium class).
The refresh rates for the Banshee according to the Diamond website are as follows:
Diamond added some great games to use with your new Monster Fusion: Motorcross Madness and Unreal. Unreal looks stunning and I have enjoyed playing the Banshee with Falcon 4. It runs great on everything I have thrown at it.
For gamers, compatibility and speed are the main concern. With the 115Mhz-core speed and 125Mhz-memory bus, the Monster Fusion is the fastest Banshee on the market, and heat is no worry with this one. If you looking for the best 2D/3D combination on the market, look no further. This is an excellent card overall, and a steal at $149 for both PCI and AGP. Both come with a $30-50 mail-in rebate.
We award the Monster Fusion a Top Pick for outstanding performance.
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Last Updated January 25th, 1999