|The Video Three
by Leonard "Viking1" Hjalmarson
The David and Goliath story of 1999 may yet be Intel vs. AMD. But on another front another battle is raging: the three way battle of the graphics Kings.
Nvidia and 3dfx contested the territory in 1998, but the war was inconclusive. Then in May, 1999 a new Pretender announced that she too would vie for the throne: Matrox. "WHAT?" quoth the noble contenders, "From whence cometh this upstart? From the icy confines of the far North?" Like an icy wind, the forces from the North swept into battle with the hot blooded kings of the South. Who would prevail?
North and South: A Preliminary Look
From the North we have Matrox, the twin headed Queen, armed with bumped maps and dressed to the MAX. From the South we have Nvidia and 3dfx, the old Kings, one hailing from the ancient lands and the other with a longer memory, true AGP, and texture capacity galore. From the features perspective, Queen Matrox is younger and potentially more fertile. Will her armies beat back her rivals?
I've had a TNT2 Ultra and G400 in hand this past week, and in many ways these boards are very similar. Both sport 32 MB of onboard memory and can handle textures up to 2048x2048.
The TNT2 Ultra is clocked at 150 MHz, to the G400's 125 MHz. In raw output they are almost neck in neck, which bodes well for the yet to come MAX version of the G400 (roughly 30% faster in raw numbers, undetermined difference in actual frame rates.) But the G400 does environmental bump mapping in hardware, as well as featuring the dual head display capability. This is a feature rich chip, whose armor is only slightly tarnished by the less mature driver set.
The Voodoo 3 3000, on the other hand, is clocked at 166MHz and limited to 16 MB of onboard memory. It is also limited by its ability to handle only small textures: 256x256. In spite of that, performance figures are solid, running neck in neck to the contenders in many gaming applications, and often surpassing them where running under Glide, 3dfx dedicated API (as in Falcon 4.0, passing TNT2 and the G400 by 30%. Since few sims yet take advantage of larger textures, it may be a moot issue in 1999.)
Installation and Drivers
Since the K6-3 was a new build and I had to format the hard drive, there was no video board to change out. I installed WIN98 and then loaded up the drivers for the Diamond V770 from install. I then configured my desktop resolution and began testing.
I ran benchmarks with Falcon 4 and Combat Flight Simulator. I then ran up EAW, and MiG Alley beta for good measure (compability testing) and noting the performance, prepared to swap in the V3 3000. All the games ran flawlessly. Under TNT2 I had lockups in MiG Alley only, but the problem was the beta code and not the video boards or drivers.
Installation of the Voodoo 3 3000 in place of TNT2 was simple. I downloaded the most recent driver and unzipped it to a /TEMP directory. I changed my Adapter selection to Super VGA then rebooted. I then shut down and swapped the Diamond V770 for STB's V3000, and restarted. WIN98 recognized the new hardware and prompted me for the drivers and I logged my /TEMP directory. On reboot I had to reset my desktop resolution then all was cool.
I had only one lockup under V3 in the finished code games: EAW running under Glide. I suspect a game issue, however, since I have had occasional lockups in EAW no matter what video or system I am running.
Installation of the G400 was similarly smooth, but there are driver issues present here. Let's face it, TNT2 drivers have been around for a while and are more mature. Ditto for the V3 drivers.
The G400 gave me trouble with EAW as well as MiG Alley, in places I don't normally have trouble. When I attempted to uninstall I had more trouble, with WIN98 locking up and giving me a black screen when I attempted to reboot. I had to reset, then run SCANDISK and then reinstall the TNT2.
Matrox confirms there is more performance yet to be had from their drivers, especially at lower resolutions. Obviously, later drivers will also improve stability. With that disclaimer in mind, let's look at some early numbers.
Since I am testing on a non standard system, I ran a comparison using the Diamond Monster Fusion (Banshee) board on my PII 400. Results were astonishingly close.
I tested Falcon 4 in the dogfight module with no enemy selected. I ran with the hires switch and with all graphics options configured identically for all tests across both platforms. Maximum realism was selected. I ran Combat Flight Simulator in the Instant Action module with no enemy selected and identical realism and graphics settings on both systems (100%).
At 800x600 on the PII 400, the Banshee produced 41 fps in Falcon 4. On the AMD K6-3 450, the Banshee produced 39 fps. Similarly, at 1024x768 the Banshee scored 33 fps in Combat Flight Simulator on the PII400. On the AMD K6-3 450 the Banshee produced the same 33 fps. Knowing that these systems are comparable it is not unreasonable to test different video subsystems on the AMD platform.
On to Frame Rate Tests
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Last Updated June 26th, 1999