New 3D Chips - Banshee, G200, RIVA TNT And Savage3D
One thing is for sure, the days when 3Dfx' Voodoo2 was the only real thing for 3D games are going to be over soon. Two Voodoo2 cards in SLI configuration will stay on top for a longer time, but you have to spend a serious amount of money for it too. Getting a Voodoo2 right now is mainly interesting for Quake 2 players and people who are planning on upgrading to a second Voodoo2 card later.
Voodoo Banshee shows that it certainly isn't just a castrated Voodoo2 product. The 3D performance in games that use only single texturing is significantly higher than the performance achieved with one Voodoo2 card. Quake 2 does of course run slower on Banshee than on even a single Voodoo2, but it still doesn't run slow. Compared to Savage3D, Banshee may be a bit slower in most of the benchmarks, but Banshee is running without any trouble. The benchmark results scored with Banshee do directly translate into game play performance, something that's at least questionable with Savage3D. Banshee is significantly faster than the G200, but it cannot possibly live up to the G200's 3D-image quality. Last but not least, Banshee's 2D engine seems to be the best currently available, it runs at 32 bit color almost exactly as fast as at 16 bit. However, the 2D performance of the other two chips is not significantly less. AMD K6-2 owners may also realize that you currently need a 3Dfx Voodoo2 compatible card to take advantage of 3DNow! In Quake 2.
The Matrox Millennium G200 painted a positive picture here in my lab. It is not the fastest 3D chip of the three, as a matter of fact it's the slowest one, but except for its average Quake 2 performance it's still scoring pretty well. This 3D scores are achieved at the highest currently available 3D image quality, which may be of importance to many people. We shouldn't forget that at the time when the G200 came out, it was the fastest 2D/3D solution available, still far ahead of products like NVIDIA RIVA 128/ZX, Intel i740 and such. G200 offers the second best 2D performance in this test and displays the best looking desktop picture.
NVIDIA's RIVA TNT is certainly the most exciting product in this test and it made many of NVIDIA's recent claims come true. The 6 million triangles/s claim however seems wishful thinking rather than actual truth, as you can see when looking at the results at 640x480 and compare them with the Voodoo2 results. At this low resolution the frame rate is not fill rate, but polygon rate limited and that's exactly where the Voodoo2 looks better. 3Dfx only claims 3.3 million triangles per second for Voodoo2 though. Nevertheless TNT's 3D performance is very good and the excellent image quality makes this chip a pleasure to play with. It was very impressive to see that TNT seems to have the best AGP interface to date, beating S3's Savage3D in their own demo and that although TNT doesn't use texture compression. There is a big downside for many of you however, since TNT does not like to be driven by a slow CPU at all. Owners of cacheless Celerons and all owners of non-3DNow! Socket7 CPUs should really get a different 3D chip, e.g. the Savage3D or upgrade to a 100 MHz Pentium II. Even the support for 3Dnow! is not yet existing and we can only hope that it will be fast and available soon.
The other serious issue is the chip clock. NVIDIA leaves the chip and memory clock speed to the card manufacturer and it could easily be that some chips don't even do the 90 MHz, let alone the 95 MHz chip clock that my test board was running at. This will either result in crashes or in slower 3D performance. Make sure that you don't get a slow TNT board. I will make a utility available to you, which can check and set the chip and memory clock.
The 2D performance of the RIVA TNT is excellent as well and so is the picture quality. This chip is certainly the hottest chip for 100 MHz FSB Pentium II users as long as you get a card with a fast running TNT chip on it.
S3's Savage3D has cost me a lot of nerves in the last 2 weeks. Although I am sure that the chip has a great potential, I am also sure that it will take quite a while until it has matured. The drivers are not really stable, you cannot really play Quake 2, unless you paint a crosshair in the middle of your monitor, Sin doesn't run properly at all, there are some strange lines produced when running Winstone98, ....
If Hercules should indeed start shipping their first Savage3D card this week, they are facing a whole lot of trouble. I wonder if this is worth the OEM deal for Xmas. First of all Hercules will have to ship those cards with a nice Q2 crosshair sticker for your screen.
What I like least about Savage3D however is the bad feeling that those benchmark numbers may not translate into real game play.
S3 has never reacted to this report and when you look at their website you will find that they are ignoring this review, whilst linking to all the positive Savage3D reviews on the web. S3 did not give me a chance of re-testing their board with improved drivers since this review was posted either. I have certainly criticized a lot of products and companies in the last two years, but I never experienced this ostrich kind of behavior of S3 with any other manufacturer. You should consider that when dealing with this company in any way.