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Review: 3dfx Mac Voodoo5 5500 PCI Graphics Card
Review date: 7/26/2000
(Compatibility Info last updated 9/13/2000)

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

I'm withholding final judgement on the Voodoo5 until there are better drivers, since version 1.0 tested (as well as 1.01) has disappointing performance and some compatibility issues. Granted I'm not niave enough to expect a graphics card to pull more data from the system than the current Mac architecture can deliver, I didn't expect performance to be less than a Voodoo3. 3dfx agrees that performance even at lower resolutions where the system bandwidth is the limiting factor should not be less than a Voodoo3 and is working the issue now. The new Control Panel (see Software Controls page) makes updates easier than with the Voodoo3, but requires an internet connection for the updater of course.

Since this review sample was not a retail boxed version, I can't comment on the retail documentation or bundled demo game CD.

Compatibility Notes:

Important Note To Owners of Pre-Beige G3 Systems: As noted in the intro page of this review - only Beige G3 and later Macs are officially supported/warrantied for use with the Voodoo5. More importantly, as show in the game performance page, tests in my 9500 (and readers 7500, 8500 and 9600 systems) show only 1 VSA100 chip seems to be fully functional, so owners of older Macs (pre-Beige G3) should either wait for this issue to be resolved (Update: As shown on the Game Tests page, the v1.08 driver/ROM update of 9/22/2000 seems to have enabled both VSA100 chips based on tests in my Genesis/9500).

One other note - although this review lists OS 8.5 and later required (as did the Voodoo3 B12 drivers), I noticed on the retail box at a local Babbages that the OS requirements say OS 8.1 or later. I suspect this is a typo and that OS 8.5 or later is required, as it is with the last update to the Voodoo3 drivers.


Extension/Control Panel Conflicts:

I welcome other owner reports on any extensions or control panels that conflict with the Voodooo5 drivers. So far there have been reports of Symantec's Disklight being a definite problem. (I'd also never recommend using their 'CrashGuard' either, just on general past experience.) Another reader reported two other possible problems:

" So far I've found 2 apps that seem not to work with voodoo 5 drivers and they have one thing in common: they both have menu bar access icons: one is Palm Desktop, the PDA from palm and the other is Via Voice from IBM... I have not completed testing, but initially it looks like V5 is the culprit... interestingly, these are the only 2 apps I've suddenly found inoperable after installing V5. Does the disklight have a menu bar feature? As I remember, it does!
Others that do are visioneer paperport, which I will test this weekend. I've reported this to 3dfx, but no response.
Bob Franklin "

Another reader noted issues with the Appearance Control Panel:

" The Appearance control panel loses colors in the menus when using V5 drivers 1.0.1. All settings tested in 3dfx tools, new, clean system on Sawtooth G4 (G4/AGP system). Under the panel "Appearance" in the Appearance control panel. Tested against ATI AGP board with same config, no loss of colors in the menu.

The colors in the menus come back if you completely disable Quickdraw Acceleration in the 3dfx tools. All other settings and configs don't work.

I tested it some more, and this happens with other programs that have similar menus. Maybe it's linked to the color picker software? Whatever the case, it's definitely a bug with the acceleration.
-Oz"

Game Compatibility Notes:

  • Unreal Rave Mode unusable (use Glide mode instead).
  • Klingon Honor Guard reported to have issues also (based on Unreal engine)
  • Shadow Warrior 3dfx (severe image problems reported)
  • Quake1 3dfx doesn't run (code only compatible with Voodoo1/Voodoo2 cards)

    Tips/Fixes for Games:

  • Unreal Tournament Notes: Glide mode at 1600x1200 mode shows the image sliced if you have 'faster performance' selected. Setting to single chip only or FSAA seems to solve it. Of course 1600x1200 is not really a playable resolution. If other glide games support that resolution they may have have the problem. This issue is still present in v1.01 drivers/1.31 ROM.

  • Star Wars Episode 1 Racer (POD Racer) - as noted on the games test page of this review, get the 1.01 update and edit the switches.txt file to select a 16bit Z-buffer if you're running FSAA, otherwise the game locks up in FSAA mode. (I'm assuming FSAA mode runs a 16-bit Z-buffer for performance reasons.)
  • 4x4Evolution demo beta (edit the metal.ini file to use the Glide dll file as noted in the 3dfx section of the FAQ)

iMovie 1.02 Notes: Although a Beige G3 owner reported he had no problems, with the Voodoo5 in my B&W G3 66MHz slot I had problems in iMovie 1.2 (low system memory errors, failures to export movies) with the Voodoo5 in a 66MHz slot. I have not tried a 33mhz slot yet or disabling settings in the control panel, however replacing the card with the original Rage128 card (renabling the ATI drivers of course) worked fine.

Lightwave 3D v6: Image/Texture problems in Lightwave 3D (see 3D performance page).

Cinema4D: User reports say there are issues with the v1.01 drivers and Maxon's Cinema4D. (Per reports from Sept. 8th, 2000.)

Tip for Dual Monitor Users: As noted last year at my mac3dfx.com site, I had to disable the 'OpenGL ATI Render' Extension to allow OpenGL games to use the Voodoo5 when running both an ATI card and the Voodoo5. Using this tip, all OpenGL games used the Voodoo5 (I set the menu bar to the Voodoo5 as well using the Monitors Control Panel arrange feature).

I'm looking forward to new titles I saw running in the 3dfx booth at MWNY like Driver and 4x4 EVO. (I wish I could have actually played them, but the area was always too packed to get at the machines.) I regret not being able to test new titles like Diablo II (which should look great in FSAA mode).

DVI LCD Notes: There is currently no DVI scaling - so if you're using a DVI LCD display (Studio LCD or Cinema LCD display), then running at less than the native resolution in games will result in black border around the image (it's not scaled up to full screen).

Although performance at lower res. modes with the current drivers are a few FPS below the Voodoo3, to be fair no other Mac graphics card you can order today offers the features of the Voodoo5. Whether that's worth the price of admission is up to you. A Voodoo3 is missing many of the features and potential of the Voodoo5, but still reigns as the supreme Mac gaming value on the market by a mile. Despite the v1.0 driver inefficiencies, after actually playing some games on the Voodoo5 I'm going to buy one. It's also my way of saying thanks to 3dfx for supporting the Mac. Based on past history, I'm confident that future driver updates will improve performance on the Voodoo5, and I want the capability to run Glide mode in FSAA.

Due to the deadline, I was not able to do nearly the testing I normally would in my older Macs. Officially the Voodoo5 is only warranted for use in Apple G3 and later Mac models. I did install the card in my Genesis (9500 motherboard) system which is loaded with PCI cards and a Newer Tech G4 CPU upgrade. I've seen no problems so far and will be testing further in that system next week. Remember the V5 is a full length PCI card, and therefore will not fit in some older Macs that have 7" limits on card length.

System Requirements
PowerPC PCI Macintosh with 1 free PCI slot, System 8.5 or later. And again the Voodoo5 is only warranted for use in Apple G3 and later Mac models, although my limited tests in my loaded Genesis (similar to an Apple 9500) showed no problems other than the single chip issue (that was fixed in driver release v1.08). However there are still issues with OpenGL applications like Lightwave 3D and Cinema 4D, and like any video card, there may be other specific game or monitor issues that I was not able to verify. (Check the forums here at bbs.xlr8yourmac.com for the latest owner feedback, as well as the main www.xlr8yourmac.com daily news page for updates.)

Remember that 3dfx cannot overcome the bandwidth issues in Macs, especially older models. Although the 1.0 driver isn't fully optimized, you can't expect the performance of a Voodoo5 in a fast PC to be obtained in any current Mac model. The Voodoo5's features at least allow you to have the best possible image quality available today. Although I was skeptical, after using FSAA I do agree that in some cases lower resolutions with 2xFSAA looked better than higher resolutions on competing cards and ran just as fast. The performance hit from 2xFSAA was often nil at 640x480 modes as shown on the Game Performance page. Quake2, Falcon4 and Star Wars Pod Racer FSAA performance really surprised me.

Pricing and Availability

$100 Price Drop: On 11/17/2000, 3dfx cut the list price of the Mac Voodoo5 PCI card to $229.99.

Summary

Again I regret having to post a review of the Voodoo5 based on the v1.0 drivers. Although we can't expect the kinds of performance seen in fast PCs with their higher performance motherboards and CPUs (especially compared to older Mac systems), I know the Voodoo5 is capable of better performance than listed here. Due to time constraints and all the re-testing of benchmarks I was not able to spend more time just using the card.

As I mentioned in the intro, on the PC side FSAA vs higher resolutions are a constant debate, but Mac owners don't have the luxury of systems that can pump enough data to a video card to match the framerates possible on the PC; no video card can overcome these limits. A graphics card just can't pull more data from the system bus. (Even the fastest Macs in my experience can't run at the performance of a fast PC which has a CPU that supports write combining, faster motherboard designs, etc.) PowerCenter/Pro or other non-interleaved RAM macs also have lower game performance as noted in the FPS database here and in tests of Interleaved RAM. Kansas motherboard based Macs also have a reputation for lower video card/memory performance. (My 9600/350 (overclocked to 400Mhz) runs nearly half the framerates of my B&W G3/400 with the same Voodoo3 card in Quake2 for instance.)

There's so many games this card supports that I didn't begin to scratch the surface on the benefits you'll see in non-FPS games. For simulation and racing games, FSAA should be an excellent feature and I think the image quality will impress you.

Based on past history of 3dfx with their Voodoo3 cards, driver updates should be released in the future which hopefully will address the lower than expected performance noted with v1.0 drivers/v1.3 ROM (the later 1.01 drivers/1.31 ROM primarily addressed monitor issues and v1.08 fixed the single chip issue in my 9500 for instance). Given 3dfx's track record for updates on the Voodoo3, I'm confident the initial results here are not an indication of what this card is capable of.

Mac Voodoo5 5500 PCI Summary

The following is based on the 1.0 drivers (and v1.3 ROM), which are known to have performance issues. I don't consider this the final word on the Voodoo5 by a longshot. I'd rather have waited for the next driver update before making any final judgements.

Pros: Excellent FSAA image quality. FSAA performance surprised me in Quake2, Falcon4 and POD Racer. Hardware Anti-Aliasing doesn't require game support. Widest 3D API support of any card (Rave, OpenGL and Glide) Good 2D performance. Good Control Panel software. VGA and DVI monitor connectors.

Cons: v1.0 drivers delivered lower performance than Voodoo3 cards in 16-bit mode at lower resolution modes. Image/Texture problems in Lightwave 3D (see 3D perf. page Currently no DVD player software. Requires power connection to card (Y-cable to be supplied with retail cards). Dual processor/64MB card runs hotter than a standard graphics card, although I experienced no problems in extended use in a B&W G3 and G4/AGP system. Warranty only covers use in Apple G3 and later Macs. V1.08 drivers appear to have fixed the issue of single chip only functionality in pre-Beige G3 systems at least in my 9500 (no guarantee that is true with all older Macs however).


For more information on graphics card topics and reviews of other models, see the Video Cards page.

Thanks to 3dfx for providing the card for review, and for their support of the Macintosh platform.


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Index of 3dfx Voodoo5 5500 PCI Review

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

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