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Review: Formac's Proformance 3
By Mike
Review date: 9/14/99 (Updated for Beta OpenGL driver tests)
Game Performance
Intro | 2D Performance | 3D Performance | Game Performance | Movie Playback | Controls/Design | Summary
Game Performance
It's been a banner year for Mac Gaming, with OpenGL added to the MacOS, new titles announced and availability of free drivers for the PC 3Dfx Voodoo3 cards. I think even Apple is finally realizing that gaming is one of the major reasons people upgrade their systems, video cards and CPUs. We've still got some catching up to do to match the PC, but things look a lot brighter than they did a year or so ago.

Game tests bring up my only real complaint with this card - the current lack of released OpenGL drivers. Formac promises me they will be available soon and I'll update this review with tests in Quake2 and Q3test when they are released. Without OpenGL drivers I had to limit tests to RAVE games for the time being. [Update 10/21/99: see below for OpenGL beta driver Quake2/Q3test results]


3D Glasses (left) and Card Transmitter Connection (right)

Formac supplied their optional ($99 list) 3D shutter glasses, a unique feature of this card (for the Mac at least). In the photo on the left (above), you can see the small transmitter that triggers the LCD shutter lenses in the glasses. The photo at the right shows the transmitter connection to the Proformance 3 card. Unlike other 3D glasses I've used (WickedVision on the PC) - the builtin card support for the glasses eliminates the need for bulky VGA adapters and an external power supply as used with universal glasses of similar design.

When the 3D glasses are enabled, the Proformance 3 draws two identical screens for each frame - slightly offset from each other. The small transmitter acts as a 'trigger' to control the lenses in the glasses (shuttering them in sync with the screen) which acts to create an illusion of depth in the game. In most games I tried the effect was impressive - titles and text seemed to be on the surface of the glass, but the game 'world' had depth that seemed to extend a foot deep into the monitor.

Activating the 3D Glasses feature is done in the GA Control Panel and adds amazing depth to RAVE games. I usually increased the monitor's brightness to compensate for the dark lenses. I did limited testing (5-30 minutes of play) with the following games:

  • RAVE Quake: Depth of field was surprisingly good. This really added a 'new dimension' (no pun intended) to this game.

  • TombRaider II: The glasses worked well with this game. I wish I had some way to capture the effect in a screenshot. (Ok, I admit it, I applied the NudeRaider patch too.)

  • Carmageddon 2: The 3D effects on the game objects (cars, driver, pedistrians) was impressive, but black smoke (when your car is burning for instance) is apparently not a 3d object and appeared as a 'decal' on the surface of the screen. This is common for objects that are not a 3d model. Unlike the other games, the background flickered noticably, even when the monitor was set to 100Hz refresh rate (didn't seem to be any different from 75Hz really).

  • Unreal: When I first tested Unreal 224b7 with the earlier ROM/control panel, I had a lockup within seconds of launching the game with the glasses enabled. However with the latest versions I saw no problems in limited gameplay. What surprised me was that the framerates were still smooth in 3D mode (since the card is doing more work per frame, I had worried that performance might suffer noticibly).

Note that some dialog boxes may be harder to read in 3D mode, depending on the game. Carmageddon 2 seemed the worst in this regard.

Some persons may be sensitive to the 3D glasses (sensitivity to flickering, or eyestrain) so this option may not be for everyone. If possible try before you buy, however I suspect most gamers would buy these after seeing a demo in Quake for instance. The novelty may wear off after awhile, but my initial impression was more favorable than the PC 3D glasses I'd tried last year.

Game Performance Tests:

10/21/99 Update: first OpenGL Beta Driver Tests:

Here's some test scores from the first working OpenGL beta drivers, tested in a B&W G3/400 (Card in 66MHz PCI slot). Image quality was excellent BTW. Formac says they are tuning these drivers every day for higher performance and they should have a release version soon. (Voodoo3 results below are from beta 1 driver tests shown in my original Voodoo3 review. Rage128 Orion is a retail card, not the slower clock speed original OEM version.)

Quake2
(All results from 66MHz PCI Slot in B&W G3/400)
Scores in ( ) are with shadows enabled
Resolution
Proformance 3
Rage128 Orion
V3 2000 PCI
640x480
49.9
(40.1)
47.3
(42.9)
54.1
(44.0)
800x600
39.7
39.6
53.8
1024x768
25.4
25.3
52.5

Q3Test 1.08
(All results from 66MHz PCI Slot in B&W G3/400)
Scores in ( ) are 32bit mode
Resolution
Proformance 3
Rage128 PCI
V3 2000 PCI
640x480
30.6
(30.6)
35.6
(30.7)
40.0
(N/A)
800x600
30.4
(29.3)
28.5
(22.1)
39.3
(N/A)
1024x768
27.6
(20.6)
19.4
(11.4)
36.7
(N/A)

3D OpenGL: Yes - the Formac 3D Glasses also work in OpenGL games. Performance seemed fine at 800x600, but a bit slow at 1024x768 with the glasses enabled in Quake2. I'd suggest turning off the cursor for most realistic play, as it appears on the 'surface' of the monitor. It's eerie to see the shots coming at you in 3D. I only wish my monitor supported higher refresh rates for the 3D glasses.

In summary I was very pleased with Formac's first working beta drivers. Granted nothing seems to have the fill rate of the Voodoo3 chip for OpenGL games, but for a first effort Formac has done well and for a total 2d/3d/games package it's very well rounded. Formac noted that they expect even better performance when the final drivers are released. Great news for Proformance 3 owners.



To compare game performance I used some of the most popular past and present titles that used RAVE mode (since the Proformance 3 currently has no OpenGL drivers): Quake 1 (v1.09), Unreal (v224b7) and Falcon 4. I also verified that Carmageddon 2 and TombRaider II ran fine, although there is no way I know to test framerates in those games.

Quake 1:

Quake 1 is getting long in the tooth now but still popular since it needs less horsepower than many of the new games like Unreal, Quake2, etc. I ran tests in all 3 systems at resolutions up to 1024x768. RAVE Quake Video options Shadows, Flames and Filtering were enabled for all tests. All tests used the Quake v1.09 update.

Note that the Voodoo3 uses the original Voodoo2 RAVE extension for RAVE Quake, running much slower (I'd guess 25%) than native Quake 3Dfx (Glide) mode. However Quake 1 3Dfx is not compatible with the Voodoo3 due to legacy code in the game. Due to the limits of the Voodoo2 based RAVE extension, the Voodoo3 could not run 1024x768 RAVE mode.

PowerCenter Pro 210 (210MHz 604E System) Results:
This shows how the cards perform with less CPU horsepower and without interleaved RAM support:


Image Quality:

The screenshots key (F12), even when remapped does not work in Rave Quake so I can't provide screenshots. In general Rave Quake looked comparable to the 3Dfx version, and the Proformance 3 Quake image quality looked as good as any RAVE card I've seen. It was refreshing to see a non-ATI card finally run RAVE games without the problems I'd seen in past reviews. I still think the 3Dfx version looks a bit better in some respects (impossible to show in screenshots, partly due to the additional filtering that is not shown in screenshots from the frame buffer).

BTW: If you're running both a 3Dfx and RAVE card, sometimes it's best to delete the files from the GL_Quake folder to force a rebuild when switching modes. This has improved RAVE texture/image quality on some of my Macs here that have mixed cards.

Unreal v224b7:

The pausing in some areas of Unreal I noted on my original B&W G3 Game Performance page appears to have been addressed as I did not see it during the tests. The flashing walls and flickering crossmember in the opening 'castle flyby' scene in Unreal seen on the Rage128 is also present on the Proformance 3, so it must be a RAVE or game code issue (its not present in Glide/3Dfx mode). Although Mark Adams of Westlake says the flashing walls in the Unreal flyby scene is due to an ATI driver bug, I know wonder since the same thing happens with the Proformance 3. I tried toggling the 'non-ATI' setting in the advanced configuration settings but it made no difference in images or performance.

I used high quality detail settings (textures, actors) for all Unreal tests with resolutions up to 1024x768 for cards that supported it (a single Voodoo2 card can't run 1024x768 however, dual cards in SLI mode are required). For framerate tests with other cards/systems - see my Mac Game Framerates searchable database. To download my Rave and 3Dfx Unreal.ini files for use in your own tests, see my Framerate entry page.

16/32Bit Performance Tests:
The Rage128 Orion and Proformance 3 were run in 16Bit and 32Bit color modes (note this requires changing the colorbytes entry in the Unreal.ini file manually). As you can see there was little difference in each card's scores with either color depth. I didn't see any noticable improvement in image quality in Unreal as both cards still showed dithering bands in fog and the flares at the castle entry even in 32Bit mode. The screenshot below illustrates this effect. Although the 3Dfx Voodoo3 (and earlier) cards run 16Bit Glide mode, there is no apparent banding and overall image quality is the best of the lot.

The graph below shows how much color depth affected the two cards that were capable of running Unreal in true color mode. As resolution increases, you can see the Rage128 fill rate limit become a handicap. Both cards showed little reduction in performance from the higher color depth. The Voodoo3 doesn't support true-color 3D gaming, but actually looked better in 16Bit mode than either of the other cards did in 32Bit mode.

66MHz vs 33MHz PCI Slot Performance:
The B&W G3's 66MHz PCI slot may be twice as fast in theory, but as I've seen many times before, in actual use it adds only about 10% at best in performance. BTW: For Sawtooth owners, the AGP slot doesn't share bandwidth with the PCI bus but (as does the 66/33MHz slots in the B&W G3)

PowerCenter Pro 210 (210MHz 604E) Performance:
The chart below shows how the cards performed with less CPU horsepower.

In the PowerCenter Pro with 210MHz 604e, the Voodoo3 still leads the pack but the Rage128 Orion turns the tables and delivered better performance than the Proformance 3.

Image Quality:

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. Perhaps there are some areas/textures that if you look really close you may see some benefit to 32bit mode perhaps, but most people will never notice it during gameplay. And I've yet to see anyone that has seen the 16Bit 3Dfx version that doesn't agree it looks a bit better. I'm still baffled why there is such obvious dithering in millions color mode on both these RAVE cards.

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.

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.

Proformance 3 Screenshots
(showing typical RAVE Banding and Fog Artifacts)

Rage128 Screenshot

Typical 3Dfx Screenshot

Falcon 4:

I ran tests of Falcon 4 with the latest 1.06c patch only on the B&W G3/400. This was primarily due to disk space limits PowerCenter Pro (less than 100MB left) and the fact that game really needs a very fast CPU for best play. The game features a built-in framerate (instantaneous, not average) counter and I noted what was an average framerate seen during an autopilot run of the 'instant action' mode. I only wish the text size was larger - the tiny text is very hard to see on many monitors and against some scenery. I want to make clear that this is just what I saw in one instant action autopilot run, not a definitive test.

Falcon 4 Framerates (640x480) FPS Range
B&W G3/400 Proformance 3 19-26
B&W G3/400 Voodoo3 19-28
B&W G3/400 Rage128 16-22

Image Quality: As I've said in previous reviews, 3Dfx cards have more realistic texturing in my opinion, most noticeable on the plane's surface. The images below demonstrate the most clear examples I've seen of RAVE mode (Rage128 shown, but Proformance 3 looked identical) vs 3Dfx image quality. Smoke and explosions looked similar on all cards (RAVE or 3Dfx mode). This game is very resource intensive, and as shown in my Rate Your Mac Games database, for best results you'll want a fast video card, G3 CPU and plenty of RAM (128MB or more).

GLIDE/3Dfx

RAVE

I was impressed that the smoke and explosions looked as good on the Rage128 and Proformance 3 (to my eyes at least) as it did on the 3dfx cards, but the texture mapping on the planes seemed more realistic in Glide mode with the 3Dfx cards.


Game Performance Summary:

For the target market of the Proformance 3, game performance is probably of secondary importance. In general the Proformance outperformed the Rage128 Orion, but until OpenGL drivers are released we won't know the whole story. I suspect the Proformance 3 may do well, but I don't think any card currently available on the Mac can match the OpenGL performance of the Voodoo3 (twice the framerate of the Rage128 at 1024x768 in Quake 2 for instance as noted in my Voodoo3 review).

Still considering the total package and the 3D glasses bonus, the Proformance 3 is an attractive package overall. The Beta OpenGL driver tests indicate the card seems to outperform the Rage128 currently - impressive for a first beta. Formac hopes to make the final OpenGL drivers even faster.

The next tests I ran dealt with movie playback.


Index of Formac ProFormance 3 Review

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

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