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Mac GeForce3 Return to News Page

Conference Call/Q&A with Nvidia on the GeForce3:
Last Updated: 2/23/2001, 7:25 AM

Mac GeForce3 Performance Tests: I've posted a page with performance tests with the Mac Geforce 3, linked on the Video articles page or direct at this page. Includes comments on tests in a 2xAGP Gigabit G4 system. (Note: Apple officially only supports the GeForce3 in an 4xAGP Mac (2001 G4 or later). Using the card in any other Mac will likely void the warranty on the card and the system. The 2xAGP macs per the specs in their manual state the AGP slot max wattage is only 8W, where the 4xAGP mac manuals note a 20W max spec.

Yesterday afternoon (2/22/2001) I had a conference call with Nvidia on the Mac GeForce3. As you saw from the Doom3 screenshots linked in yesterday's news, this card is one incredible graphics engine. I asked several questions such as how likely the programmable features of the GPU would be used on the mac, if the GPU and memory are the same speed as the retail PC GeForce3 cards and how performance compared on a G4/733 w/GeForce3 to a fast PC. I've also included a summary of some of its impressive features.

GeForce3 logo

The GeForce3 looks to be the most capable (feature wise) and highest performance graphics card ever available to the public. Although it remains to be seen how much real world performance gain will be seen with the GeForce3, if the Doom3 demo and Carmack's comments are any indication, properly fed it should be jaw-dropping. The real-time lighting effects and incredible character detail of the next-generation Doom game demo at Tokyo MW knocked my socks off. Amazing...

doom3 player

The image above shows an actual player character from the next Doom. Carmack said this was not just a model for a demo, but represents the actual player detail that will be in the game. The detail of the entire environment was stunning and makes current games like Quake3 and Unreal Tournament look like cartoons in comparison.

GeForce performance

Considering the features and performance of the GeForce3, even if you don't have the fastest G4/AGP system, you should at least be able to run high resolutions and Anti-Aliasing with little to no drop in performance. (The card should be compatible with the original 2X AGP Macs, AGP was designed to be backward compatible.) I think the GeForce3 64MB DDR card is one I'll be happy with for some time to come. (I hesitate to say it would be the last card you'll ever need to buy, but for many that's likely true.)

In the past Macs haven't been able to really saturate a fast graphics card with data, but with the benefits touted in Altivec enhanced Quake3, plus OS X's support for dual processors, I'm really excited about the performance potential of this card. (Both of those factors should help "feed" a fast graphics card more data for higher performance.)

Here's some quick highlights of the conference call on the GeForce3:

  1. Fully Programmable Vertex Shader
    • Can do animation frame "tweening" by the GPU instead of the CPU. (i.e. - sent it a start and end character position and it generates the 'in-between' frames automatically, without requiring the main CPU to do so)
    • Multi-Matrix Skinning (for more realistic joints, facial features, etc.) - fully programmable.
    • GPU completely programmable (via shaders) and adaptable to the Game Engine for amazing special effects in real-time
    • 1 Million+ pixels @32bit color in 1/60 of a second (movie like image quality in real time is possible)
    • Up to 1000 times faster than previous GPUs at certain functions

  2. Pixel Processor
    • 36 parallel/simultaneous operations
    • Hardware Shadows (including object self-shadows)
    • Perfect Reflective/Refractive Bump-Mapping in hardware
      (allows effects like Terminator 2 liquid metal man in real-time)
    • Realistic animated materials like Hair, glass, water, etc. (again in real-time)

  3. Lightspeed Memory Controller Design
    • Cross-bar Controller
    • Fully parallel multiple memory controllers
    • Load balancing for maximum VRAM/frame-buffer efficiency
    • Each memory controller can R/W to RAM independently

  4. Visibility Subsystem
    • Eliminates Overdraw (depth complexity) - doesn't render pixels obscured by other objects
      (Quake3 was noted as an example of 2.5x overdraw - where 2.5 times the pixels displayed were processed - the GeForce3 eliminates this overdraw, which means higher performance and less memory bandwidth used)
    • 4x Lossless Compression - results in up to 4x the framebuffer efficiency of previous designs.
      (Again reducing memory bandwidth needed since you write up to 1/4 the data of conventional designs)

  5. Anti-Aliasing (in Hardware)
    • 4x the GeForce2's FSAA performance
    • 70FPS in Quake3 at 1024x768/32bit w/4x FSAA
      (more than twice the 34FPS of the GeForce2 Ultra card running the same DDR RAM speed)
    • No GPU performance hit (but does increase VRAM bandwidth load as resolutions rise)

Here's a quick summary of the questions I asked:

  1. Is the Mac GeForce3 card the same GPU and Memory Clock speed as the PC retail versions? Yes

    (DDR RAM rate was noted as 230MHz (460MHz effective rate). GPU clock speed was not noted but I believe it's 250MHz.)

  2. Will Anti-Aliasing be enabled in the first driver release? Yes

  3. With the small Mac market, relatively low game sales (compared to PCs or Consoles) and very low installed base of GeForce 3 Mac cards (for some time), how likely is it that the special features of the GeForce3 will be used by developers? Basically nVidia said the fact the XBox uses the same basic GPU (although embedded), plus the developer tools and cross-platform nature of OpenGL should make it easier for developers to take advantage of the Geforce's advanced features. (Currently Mac developer tools are not publicly available, but should be shortly as the target was a simultaneous release)

    From the comments, it sounds like Doom3 will use literally every feature of the GeForce3 (and unlike Quake3, will use hardware lighting). Nvidia noted this game was one example of cross-platform games that take advantage of the Geforce3 features that will come to the Mac. I hope ID's lead in this area (as well as Altivec support in their future games) will help spur other Mac game developers to follow suit.

    The next generation Unreal engine is also said to be getting a dramatic boost from the Geforce3 (as is Valve's next version of Half-Life, which I hope makes it to the Mac, although the first version got axed near completion). Of course Halo should really be stunning on the GeForce3. For non-gamers, Maya and other 3D applications should also benefit from the card's power, programmability and 64MB graphics memory.

  4. How does the G4/733 with GeForce3 compare in performance to a fast PC with the Geforce3? No exact figures were given, but the comment was that at higher resolutions with FSAA, it was equivalent to a 1GHz PC.
    (I'm assuming this was without Altivec enhanced Quake3, which is said to dramatically improve performance for that game when run on a G4 CPU) One issue I raised was the lack of write-combining at the CPU (the new G4s have it in the chipset for the PCI bus, but it's still not certain if the G4/7450 CPUs support it at the CPU level). Although some say it doesn't matter - Ken Dyke (originally with 3dfx, now with Apple) commented in the past that write-combining support in the CPU is a major benefit. Regardless, this card unlike any from the past, should not be the bottleneck in most any resolution you'd care to run.

    Nvidia also commented that should a Mac (retail) graphics card manufacturer provide a product plan they would be willing to sell them GeForce3 graphics chips (and I assume provide a reference card design/drivers/firmware). I keep hoping Creative Labs will throw their hat in the ring, at least after they complete the initial SoundBlaster Live card drivers and retail product. (Which hopefully will help address the issue of Sound taking a lot of CPU cycles on the Mac, which hampers performance in 3D games.)

    A retail version of the Nvidia cards would benefit all owners, even those getting the cards in new Macs. Why? - because the more Nivida cards in the installed base of Mac owners, the more likely that the features of the card will be supported/utilized in applications and games. There's also the chance that lower cost GeForce3 technology cards might be available later this year (for example 32MB cards, or perhaps a GeForce3MX version).

    Of course the features of the GeForce3 are not just applicable to games; Maya was specifically mentioned as one application that will benefit, as can others that want to tap the incredible performance potential and features of this card. Rather than have the CPU handle many 3d tasks as is currently done, the GeForce3's programmable engine could do these much more efficiently. The GeForce3 will also likely spur more competition from ATI such as their next generation Radeon card. Competition is a win-win situation for consumers.

    Although the wait until April (the date Apple notes they will be shipping) is torture, it's great to see the highest performance PC graphics card ever being available for the Mac. I really look forward to putting a G4/733 with the GeForce3 through its paces.

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