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ATI Rage128 Orion vs IXMicro Game Rocket
Rage128 vs 3Dfx Banshee Video Card Comparison
Review date: 7/13/99
Review Summary
Intro | 2D Performance | 3D Performance | Game Performance | Movie Playback | Controls/Design | Summary
Documentation
ATI Rage128: The Rage 128 Orion manual was typical of past ATI offerings, complete and well illustrated. I rated the ATI Manual a 9.

IXMicro Game Rocket: I received a pre-release Game Rocket package that didn't have a real printed manual. The CD included a PDF file with installation instructions. I can't rate the retail documentation as I've not seen it.

Software Bundle

ATI Rage 128 Orion: Software bundle includes a full version of Electronic Arts' FutureCOP L.A.P.D (see my review), a 4-level limited version of Tomb Raider II and Myth II demo. A $30 rebate was also on the package and there is also a 'loyalty' program ($50 discount) for previous owners of retail ATI cards (this offer cannot be combined with the $30 rebate).

IXMicro Game Rocket: The Game Rocket CD included some demo games but no full versions.


Compatibility Notes:
The ATI CD includes a Universal v4.0 Installer. The Apple Guide extension must be enabled, otherwise a 'code fragment' error is seen during extensions loading at boot. [This requirement was later removed in the 4.01 driver update from ATI. And as of 8/24/99 they have also posted a fix for the 44-6500, Starmax, etc. compat. issue. I hear this works for all but some G3 upgraded Macs according to a Vimage G3 upgrade owner.]

Since the Game Rocket is basically a VillageTronic MP850, their control panel and drivers will work with the card. In the 9600/350, VillageTronic's Monitors and Picasso (their resolution control panel) would always revert to 800x600 mode at boot with my both my Apple 20 inch monitor (which is not DDC2 complaint) and a Hitachi 19inch (which is DDC2 complaint). I didn't notice the same issue with the IXMicro control. Screen captures in OpenGL games always had a severe bluish tint as noted on the previous pages and using the capture key in Quake 2 and Q3Test resulted in the system hanging for 30 seconds or so. Both these issues were not seen with a 3Dfx Voodoo2 card running the same Mesa3DfxEngine. As noted on the Games Performance page, image quality in games was excellent with the Game Rocket, but screenshots never looked as good as the actual game screen, perhaps due to their 565 Pixel format workaround in thousands color mode (only an issue for 2d/non-game video at thousands colors). For serious 2D/image work I suggest you use millions colors mode on the Game Rocket.

Until IXMicro/VillageTronic releases RAVE drivers, you'll have to rely on Glide/3Dfx game versions or Mesa3DfxEngine (for OpenGL games).

System Requirements
PowerPC PCI Macintosh with 1 free PCI slot, System 7.5.x or later, Quicktime 2.5 or later, and Quickdraw 3D 1.5.4 or later. 16 MB of RAM is required, since Quickdraw 3D requires 16 MB of RAM.

Application and Game requirements will vary as far as CPU and memory requirements. For best results with games like Unreal, Quake2, Falcon 4 and Q3Test, I recommend 128MB or more of RAM and a G3 CPU.

Pricing and Availability
At the time of this review (July 1999), suggested retail price for the Rage128 Orion was $199 at ATI's online store (street prices may be less). The Rage128 box had a $30 mail-in rebate coupon and there is a $50 off Loyalty program for existing retail Mac ATI card owners. You can't combine the two offers. Orions appear to be shipping now to retailers after a long series of delays.

The IXMicro Game Rocket is $249 direct from their online store. Street/Mail order prices are often lower. As of the date of this review, ATI Rage128 cards were not generally available, but due to ship this month. I'd be remiss if I failed to mention the delays in Rage128 shipments. The review sample was a full retail box (including the rebate coupon on the exterior) so I'm at a loss to explain the delays unless there are substantial backorders that are being filled.

Summary
As usual, I'm not going to pull any punches here and some people may disagree with me. Although there are faster cards on the PC than the Rage128, currently its the best overall 2D/3D/OpenGL Apps & Games performance card for the Mac and is affordably priced. The compatibility issues with Starmax 3000-5000, 44/54//64/6500s and reports of some lockups in 8500s have given me pause however,so I'd suggest owners of those systems wait until these issues are resolved before buying. [updated 8/2/99]

Between the two cards reviews, ATI's track record of driver support, close ties with software developers and Apple, native RAVE/OpenGL drivers and pro-active game/applications support make it the better choice for most consumers. (Read my past reviews to see ATI had the only cards that supported RAVE consistently and completely). And you can't ignore the fact they have a huge amount of resources (and $$$) to ensure they will be around in the future. These factors make them the easy pick of the two cards for most consumers. The fact the Rage128 card costs less than the Game Rocket is also a plus.

If the Game Rocket had been available last year, it would have sold like mad. However with the lack of native OpenGL, no RAVE drivers after over 6 months of Banshee (MP850) availability and the lack of multitexturing support and disappointing OpenGL (via Mesa) performance in games make it a tough card to recommend over the Rage128. However if you need faster 2D and must have 3Dfx/Glide support and have only one PCI slot to spare, it's well worth a look. Otherwise a Voodoo2 card will provide higher performance at a lower cost (but may require adapters for the pass-through cable depending on your 2D video card/monitor connectors and uses another PCI slot). With the promise of Mac drivers for Voodoo2 and Voodoo3 cards from 3Dfx, my heart goes out to VillageTronic and IXMicro, as prices will have to fall on this card dramatically for it to sell once those drivers are available in my opinion.

My primary concerns on the Game Rocket are over the long delays in RAVE driver release and the question of native OpenGL support. Although all 3Dfx owners owe a thanks to the author of Mesa3DfxEngine (including me), I can't help but wonder about the performance of the RAVE drivers when they do ship. My feeling is that if it has taken this long then the 565 pixel format issue workaround (needed since RAVE can run in windowed mode) must have been the reason and performance may not be as good as they had hoped. However as Dennis Miller on HBO says 'That's just my opinion - I could be wrong'. We'll all have to wait and see.

Bottom Line: Although the Game Rocket combines 3Dfx/Glide and good 2D in a single card, its lower performance than the Voodoo2 and lack of IXMicro/VT RAVE/OpenGL drivers make it primarily a gamers card for those without a 3Dfx Voodoo2 already. With most new Mac games going either RAVE or OpenGL, the better support for those APIs and higher performance for less cost make the Rage128 the better buy. There are faster 3D cards on the PC, but the Rage128 currently is the fastest and best overall 2D/3D card I've seen for the Mac to date. You'd be hard pressed to find a more complete video card for the money than the Orion. Lets just hope they arrive at retailers soon.

ATI Rage128 Orion
IXMicro Game Rocket
Pros: Fastest 2D, 3D and OpenGL performance. Standard card for new Macs (close ties to Apple/MacOS/OpenGL). Dual texture processors, good 32-Bit support with little performance impact. Low Cost Pros: Good 2D speed, Great image quality in games, runs 3Dfx/Glide, works with MesaGL for games. Seems to work well with Lightwave 3D in OpenGL preview mode (Mesa3DfxEngine installed).
Cons: Compatibility issues reported with Starmax/44/54/64/6500 systems. Some reports of lockups in some Macs (8500s and Beige G3s so far). Some games like Unreal show dithering regardless of color depth. Cons: Disappointing OpenGL Game performance. No RAVE/OpenGL drivers from mfr. Only one texture processor, 16-Bit 3D engine/Z-buffer, 256x256 texture limit. Higher priced (but still less than VillageTronic MP850)

Summary of Ratings
Category
ATI
Rage128
IXMicro
Game Rocket
2D Performance:
9.5
8
3D Apps Performance:
9
5
Game Performance:
8
7
Movie Playback:
9.5
9
Software Controls:
9
8
Design/Features:
8
7
Documentation:
9
N/A
Price/Performance:
9
7

With a net cost of close to $150 and a complete driver set, the Rage128 is a better value of the two cards. However with the recent reports of compatibility issues with some Mac models (see above) and the scattered reports of what appear to be thermal issues in some Macs I'd have to recommend owners of Macs other than the B&W G3 wait for these issues to be resolved or their root causesd determined before buying.

The Game Rocket costs more and does less so its value rating is lower. It almost pains me to be so brutally honest as I know that VillageTronic worked hard on the Banshee; but my job is to make you aware of the pros and cons before you buy and that's why I don't sugar-coat the facts. However at least the Game Rocket is available (either from IXMicro or VillageTronic in their MP850 card). The repeated delays on the Rage128 shipments have turned many customers away but as of late July they are appearing at many retail outlets.

Based on these scores, you can apply your own weighting of each feature to determine which card is right for your needs.

For more information on Video card topics and reviews of other cards, see my Video Cards page and the 3Dfx and Non-3Dfx Video card topic areas of my Frequently Asked Questions page. There's always a lot of discussions on Graphics cards and games at my 3Dfx Forum.

Thanks to ATI and IXMicro for providing the cards for review, and for their patience as well. I hope I've provided some insight into these cards and a good feel for their capabilities.


Feedback
I welcome comments about this review.
For pricing or availability questions, contact ATI , IXMicro or their authorized dealers.
Index of ATI Rage128 Orion vs IXMicro Game Rocket Review

Intro | 2D Performance | 3D Performance | Game Performance | Movie Playback | Controls/Design | Summary

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