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VT MP960 Compared to Voodoo3 3000/2000 PCI,
ATI's Rage128 Orion and Formac's Proformance 3
3D Game, 2D and Movie Performance
Updated 11/11/99 for OpenGL 1.1.2 (Final Version) Scores
Updated 11/13/99 for Rage128 VR scores
NOTE: This article was written in Nov 1999 and compared most all the modern cards at that time. For reviews of later cards like the Voodoo5, Voodoo4 and ATI Radeon, see the main www.xlr8yourmac.com Video articles page list of reviews.
(Original November 1999 article follows)
It's been a year of contrasts in the Mac video card market, with several cases of extremely delayed cards and/or drivers from the most well known Mac companies. The contrast is that 3Dfx decided to develop and publicly release their own Mac drivers (although beta/developer versions) that have for the first time in Mac history provided us with both high performance and low priced graphics card options. Granted the Voodoo3 drivers are not perfect, but it doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that they deliver the best bang for the buck in Mac history.
The latest entry is the Mac video card market is the new VillageTronic MP960 (which has still not been added to their web site product line). The card arrived today and due to many reader mails inquiring about its performance, I decided to provide a summary of 2D, Game and Movie playback performance of the MP960 against all the most popular and generally available competitors. (The Rage128 VR card is not included in this test yet, but since the card is based on the same basic chip and runs at the same clock speed as the Rage128 Orion, its performance should be similar to the Orion's scores shown here. I'll note the VR128's performance here after I am able to test the card).
Since all the cards listed here except the MP960 and Voodoo3 3000 have had full reviews posted previously (see the video cards page), I'll comment and show photos of just the two new entries - 3Dfx's PCI version of the Voodoo3 3000 and Villagetronic's new MP960 Voodoo3 card.
3Dfx Voodoo3 3000 PCI: Basically a 166MHz (core and memory clock) version of the 143MHz Voodoo3 2000 PCI card. A larger heatsink (and faster memory chips) are the only obvious difference between the two. See my Voodoo3 2000 review for information on flashing the ROM and installing drivers for the card. Like the Voodoo3 2000 model, Mac owners need to flash the card's ROM (included with the driver download) before it will output video, so you'll need to use your current video card until the ROM is updated.
VillageTronic MP960: Eagerly awaited since its announcement, this card is based on the Voodoo3 chip and is said to run at the same 166/166MHz speeds of the Voodoo3 3000 series. The RAM on the sample card was actually a little faster (5ns) and was higher density Samsung SGRAM (not SDRAM). SGRAM (Synchronous Graphics RAM) has some optimizations for use as video memory over the lower cost, more common SDRAM. Performance of the MP960 was disappointing with the current drivers. I'm hopeful that just as with their previous MP850 Banshee chip based card, a later driver/ROM update will significantly boost performance. The hardware on this card is capable of far better performance that displayed with the current drivers. The MP960 also has several unique features such as Video I/O connectors and optional add-on daughter cards for added functionality such as video capture. The PDF manual on the CD did not list the MP960 card or its features. Hopefully a later version of the manual will include specifics and features of the MP960.
The CD included in the MP960 box did have the latest version of their installer (as of this date) - version 4.5. However it also did not list the MP960. See the installer notes below for more information.
[Update: VillageTronic wrote to say they suspect there may be some problem with my sample card, although it seemed to function fine here and I went to great lengths to verify the proper extensions were installed (even checking the extensions folder to ensure there were no other video card related drivers present and that all the VT extensions were enabled.)]
VT MP960 Software Installer Notes: I received an early card whose CD installer (the same as the current version at their web site - v4.5) did not list the MP960 card (only models as high as the MP950). The installer did not put several extensions into the system folder/extensions folder - instead putting them in the Villagetronic folder in the root of the hard drive. To prevent any other user from having to figure out what extensions are required, I've created a list below of what Villagetronic extensions you should have installed in your System/Extensions folder (if you need to, you can get them from the Villagetronic web site - they are the same versions as the new MP850 card updates).
Of course VillageTronic's standard 'Monitors and Picasso' control panel should be installed in your Control Panels folder. One minor oddity - 1280x1024 appears before 1152x870 in the list of resolutions in Monitors and Sound with his card.
Driver Versions Used: The following is a list of driver versions used for the cards compared to the VT MP960:
Game Performance Value Factor: In the first table below I show the Suggested List Price of each card as a baseline (for simplicity I'm not going to try to allow for discount prices, rebates, etc.). In many cases you can get some of these cards for far less (about $80 for the Voodoo3 2000 PCI). Discounts are not generally available on the Villagetronic and Formac cards however. Rather than try to find the lowest price on each card for demonstration purposes using MSRP was simpler. Each card's list price is divided by its framerate performance in each game to determine a cost/performance figure. The best value is listed in blue, the most expensive in red.
Game Performance Tests:
All tests run in the B&W G3/400 (cards tested in both 66MHz and 33MHz PCI slots) running OS 8.6 with OpenGL 1.1.1, 256MB of RAM and Virtual Memory off. All 3Dfx cards used the latest Mesa extensions/libs available. 3Dfx tests used the Quake2 multitexturing refgl.lib.
OpenGL 1.1.2 (release version) tests used a G4/450 AGP system running OS 9. 3Dfx Voodoo3 cards tested under OpenGL 1.1.2 used the most recent update (11/9/99 - Beta7). Previous tests with OpenGL 1.1.1 used Beta5 drivers. (Beta6 was short lived - one day).
I used game settings as I normally do for my reviews but limited these tests to 1024x768 mode. (See my Mac Game Framerates database entry page for details on Quake2 and Q3test settings or to download my Rave and 3Dfx Unreal.ini files for use in your own tests).
OpenGL 1.1.2 Quake2 Results:
Notes: The Rage128 realized amazing performance gains in Quake2 from OpenGL 1.1.2.
32-Bit Rage128 Quake2 scores w/OpenGL 1.1.2 were literally identical to 16-Bit mode
OpenGL 1.1.2 Q3Test1.08 Results:
Notes: The Rage128 Orion in a G3/400 ran almost as fast as the G4/450 w/Rage128 AGP at 1024x768. The card obviously was the limiter at that resolution, not the CPU.) Perhaps the Beta7 vs Beta5 drivers were the reason the Voodoo3 3000 scores were so similar between OpenGL 1.1.2 and 1.1.1.
32-Bit Rage128 AGP card Q3test scores w/OpenGL 1.1.2 were :
1024x768 = 17.1 fps
32-Bit Rage128 VR PCI card Q3test scores w/OpenGL 1.1.2 were :
1024x768 = 16.7 fps
Note at 640x480 - the AGP card was substantially faster.
For those of you wondering about iMacDV SE game performance, see the apps/game performance page of my review. (Updated for OpenGL 1.1.2 results).
Image Quality (Unreal Comments and Screenshots):
OpenGL 1.1.2 Update: The OpenGL 1.1.2 installer also includes new ATI drivers. As shown in the tables above they did surprising performance to the Rage128 cards (36%, 8 more FPS at 1024x768) but the downside is they also introduced an image problem only noticable at 16-bit color. Most readily apparent in Q3test1.08 at 640x480 (where pixels are larger), the new drivers show a 'buzzing bees' type of pixel effect. It's less noticable in other games and resolutions. (See the iMac DV SE review apps/games page for Q3test1.08 samples of 16/32 bit.) 32-bit mode looks great however.
The Castle Flyby flickering lighting on the walls and dithering (discrete bands of color) in fog and flares (even in 32bit mode) I originally mentioned when the Rage128 was released is also present in RAVE mode with the Proformance 3 (which seems to prove it's not an ATI driver problem). These are primary reasons why I think 3Dfx cards look better in Unreal in general. Perhaps there are some areas/textures that if you look really close you may see some benefit to 32bit mode, but most people will never notice it during gameplay and will opt for 16bit mode for better performance. And I've yet to see anyone that has seen the 16Bit 3Dfx version that doesn't agree it looks a bit better overall. I'm still baffled why there is such obvious dithering in millions color mode on both these the Rage128 and Proformance 3 in Unreal RAVE mode.
Other than the artifacts in fog (see below) with the Proformance 3, there was one other difference I noticed when comparing it to the Rage128 - the front castle openings and crossbar didn't jitter. This makes me think there is some Z-Buffer (depth) issue with the Rage128's drivers. Don't let the fog artifacts in the Proformance 3 screenshot below bother you too much - as otherwise image quality is the same as the Rage128. The Proformance 3 OpenGL image quality is very good by the way, even with the first beta drivers (at least as good as anything else I've seen on the Mac in OpenGL games).
The dithered look when exiting the fog and the dithered look to the flare's glow in front of the castle are the most noticeable differences in RAVE (Proformance 3 or Rage128) vs 3Dfx Unreal image quality. In general 3Dfx cards have the best overall game visuals in my opinon, but the typical Mac gamer would be probably be pleased with either of these cards.
The screenshots below show the dithering on RAVE cards and the image on the left shows the artifacts in fog seen with the Proformance 3 card. Included is a 3Dfx mode screenshot as well. Don't let the gamma differences between the Proformance 3 and Rage128 screenshots fool you, in the game they look identical. The 3Dfx screenshot is typical of what you'd see with all the 3Dfx cards here (3Dfx brand and VillageTronic) and doesn't show the additional filtering they do on the back end (not shown from framebuffer captures). Again the Rage128's screenshot below is also similar to what the Proformance 3 looks like in all but the foggy areas of the game.
Game Performance Summary:
In the case of combination 2D/3D cards (excluding the Voodoo1 and Voodoo2 which have no 2D video capability), the highest performance and best value available to Mac gamers right now is buying a PC 3Dfx card and using their beta drivers. For compatibility issues in games with the Voodoo3, see my www.mac3dfx.com site which also has information and reviews on the earlier design Voodoo2 cards. For information on the differences in 3Dfx Voodoo1-Voodoo3 cards, see the 3Dfx topic area of my FAQ and reviews on the Video cards page.
The next tests I ran dealt with MacBench 2D performance and Movie playback.
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