It's now a few weeks after I published the preview of 3Dfx's Voodoo Banshee, NVIDIA's RIVA TNT and S3's Svage3D. Since then I received new and better hardware of two of those as well as a final Millennium G200 from Matrox. Whilst Matrox is already shipping the G200 now and Hercules is planning on shipping their Savage3D card this week, Banshee will stay off the shelves for about another 4 weeks longer. It will take even longer for the RIVA TNT, let alone 3Dlabs' Permedia 3 and Rendition's Verite 3000 series. For now the G200, Banshee and Savage3D are the three new 3D chips that are closest to its final revision so that it makes sense to publish a review rather than a preview of them now.
No News In The 3D Benchmarking Scene
Whilst there has been a lot of motion in the 3D hardware scene in the last few months, the 3D software scene was mainly blessed with Microsoft's recently released DirectX6 and Epic's Unreal game. The benchmarking scene looks even worse, still only leaving the good old game benchmarks to the poor reviewer, maybe with the addition of Ritual's new Sin demo. We have learned that Ziff Davis' 3D Winbench 98 is a great CPU benchmark, but not very useful for 3D card benchmarking. In lack of own ideas they came out with a thing called `Game Gauge', a benchmark that assembles all the game benchmarks that Tom's Hardware Guide was using for the last 6 months, keeping us stuck in the same situation as before. I would like to thank Ziff Davis for the appreciation, showing that consequences were taken after my article about 3D Winbench 98 . Those consequences were again based on research from my website, which makes me feel very glad.
The problem we currently have in regards of 3D benchmarking is that there aren't any games that can take real advantage of DirectX 6 yet. DirectX 6 is for the first time offering a very useful geometry engine to the game developers, so that they don't need to use stuff like e.g. Glide or their own engine anymore. DirectX 6 also offers a whole lot of new 3D features, which are not yet used in any new game, particularly not in any game that would be suitable for benchmarking. This means that the cards cannot be tested under conditions they may meet in a few months from now (August 98), which should be considered as a serious pity.
S3's Savage3D is the first 3D chip that is using texture compression. This compression technique, called S3TC, was even implemented into DirectX 6, so that future games can take advantage of it. S3 supplied a registry switch that forces even current games into running with texture compression, but this is a very unpleasant solution, because game developers cannot control which textures will be compressed and which won't. Texture compression is a procedure that incorporates a texture quality loss, which may not be welcome in several situations. I have dedicated a complete section to this issue, including several voices from the industry that detest this `auto-compression' feature.
Texture compression will become a pretty common thing for many 3D-chip developers and we can soon expect a lot of new texture compression techniques besides S3TC. The idea behind it is to reduce the memory bandwidth used for texture transfers, which makes the majority of the data transfers between the chip and memory. Future high resolution textures and high 3D screen resolutions will increase the need of memory bandwidths far beyond the numbers we currently know, so that many developers consider texture compression as a very good way around the bandwidth problem. The downside of texture compression is the likely quality loss and the time compression of static textures takes before the game starts as well as the CPU power needed to compress dynamic textures on the fly. I will get into that when talking about Savage3D.
2D Performance Close To Maximum
The three tested chips are all combined 2D/3D solutions, thus including a 2D core in addition to the 3D core. 2D graphics performance has become more and more less interesting, since all major chip manufacturers are getting closer and closer to the theoretical maximum in 2D performance. The three tested chips are no exception to this rule, their 2D performance is almost equally high.