New 3D Chips - Banshee, G200, RIVA TNT And Savage3D

3Dfx Voodoo Banshee

3Dfx' first combined 2D/3D solution comes with typical 3Dfx-features. It supports the well known and widely used Glide engine, 3Dfx' proprietary 3D engine that is very easy to program and using only pretty little CPU power. This makes Banshee the only 2D/3D chip that can take advantage of all the game titles using Glide. Banshee comes in a PCI as well as AGP version, but the AGP version is only able to take advantage of AGP's faster DMA bandwidth. Banshee is not at all able to use any of the real AGP features like AGP texturing, AGP 1x or 2x. This can be a problem when running games with particularly large textures especially at high resolutions, because the local memory won't be able to contain all those textures so that they have to be swapped from main memory via DMA transfers, which isn't by far as fast as AGP texturing. So far have I have yet to see any games that do that, which gives Banshee's lack of this feature an only theoretical significance.

The 3D core is pretty close to what we know from Voodoo2, however with two major differences. Banshee has only got one texture unit as opposed to two texture units in Voodoo2. This means a disadvantage for Banshee in games that are using a feature called `multi texturing'. Unreal and Quake 2 are two examples, where over the texture there's an additional lighting map, which has to be processed as well. Banshee needs to do two passes for those two jobs, Voodoo2 can do both at the same time. This means that Unreal and Quake 2 are running faster on a Voodoo2. On the other hand is Banshee running at a higher core clock than Voodoo2, resulting in a higher fill rate, which makes games that don't use `multi-texturing' run faster on Banshee than on a single Voodoo2.

The 3D quality of Banshee is identical to Voodoo2, meaning that it doesn't have a more than 16 bit deep Z-buffer and cannot do real 32-bit color rendering either. Other chips are better than that today, but Voodoo2 and Banshee are still looking pretty good.

Matrox G200

The G200 from Matrox was developed as a pretty fast 3D chip that offers very good 3D image quality. It comes with an excellent 2D core, something that we are used from Matrox. The 3D core is not as fast as Voodoo2, but in most cases it's offering a significantly better image quality. 32-bit color rendering and a 32 bit Z-buffer are the ones responsible for that besides a lot of other nice features. Currently the G200 boards Millennium G200 and Mystique G200 are shipping with a pretty well performing D3D wrapper for OpenGL games like Quake, Quake 2 or Sin, but Matrox will hopefully soon supply an OpenGL ICD that is supposed to further improve OpenGL performance. The Millennium G200 is a very attractive solution for high end users that want to have a perfect 2D desktop screen at highest resolutions whilst having high quality expectations at 3D games. However, of the three chips tested here it scores the lowest frame rate numbers, which are still good enough for high quality game play in many cases.