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Review: 3dfx Mac Voodoo5 5500 PCI Graphics Card
Review date: 7/26/2000

(Revised 9/6/2000 to note LW 3D v6 issues
and updated Summary page compatibility info.
Revised 9/16/2000 to add UT results and CineBench results
Revised 9/23/2000 for Genesis/9500 tests w/1.08 driver & ROM update)

3dfx's first Mac Retail Card features 64MB of RAM and Dual Processors
Intro | 2D Performance | 3D Performance | Game Performance | Movie Playback | Controls/Design | Summary

Pros: Excellent FSAA image quality. Good FSAA performance 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: v1.0/1.01 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). No DVD player (Apple's player requires ATI Rage128 or later cards). Requires power connection to card (Y-cable to be supplied with retail cards). No scaling to of lower res. to full screen on DVI/LCD monitors. 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. 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). Warranty only covers use in Apple G3 and later Macs.

Updates/Post-Review News: On Dec. 15th, 2000, Nvidia announced they were buying out 3dfx, which is assumed to be closing. This means no driver updates would be available in the future. I'm sad to see this happen.
Shortly after this announcement, there as an unofficial 1.1.3beta driver release, which may be the last.

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

Post-Review Driver Updates:
1.1.3 Unofficial release.

1.1.2 Update available 11/20/2000 (via control panel). More misc. bug fixes, but OpenGL 3D apps issues remain.

v1.10 Includes misc. bug fixes (many monitor related) but OpenGL 3D apps issues remain (see 3d page here). 1600x1200 mode gaming issues and lack of DVI scaling remain.

v1.08 On 9/22/2000, there was a 1.08 driver update (w/ROM update) available via the control panel (only). According to tests on the Genesis (9500 motherboard) this update fixes the issue of only one VSA-100 chip enabled (at least in that system). See the updated Game Performance page for Quake3 results comparing v1.01 vs 1.08 drivers in the Genesis/9500.

v1.01 In early August, there was a 1.01 drivers/1.31 ROM update available via the control panel update feature. The update is primarily to bug fixes to address issues with monitor compatibility and resolution switching delays seen with some brands of displays.


Preface: I want to start off by saying I regret the fact this article had to be posted based on the current 1.0 drivers. After noticing disappointing performance in some areas, I reported my results to 3dfx, who also noted that v1.0 has lower dual processor efficiency and performance than expected. As you'll see in the performance tests pages of this review, in 16bit mode the Voodoo5 often delivered a few FPS less than Voodoo3 performance, which even 3dfx admits should not happen and has to be related to the drivers. I'm reserving a final rating on this card until improved drivers are available. 3dfx commented that they're hoping to provide an update by the time retail cards ship to end users. Despite the numbers in FPS games, I was impressed with FSAA in games like Falcon 4, Descent3 and Pod Racer.

I also want to say I'm not happy with the quality of my work for this review. I apologize in advance to readers and 3dfx. Due to travel to Macworld and bringing a new main site server online (as well as new forums and 2nd server updates) I was unable to provide as much detail as I'd like and still meet the review deadline. This review also required some retesting of the Rage128, Rage128 PRO AGP, Voodoo3 2000 and 3000 cards with the latest drivers and games, as well as repeated testing due to the often baffling results with the current Voodoo5 rom/drivers. I'd have preferred to postpone this review until a driver update was released but that's not an option. I'm sure other V5 reviews on the net will fill in the gaps that I have missed.

As with my other video card reviews, I normally test in more than one system. For this review 3 Mac models were used; an Apple G4/AGP 500MHz system, a Blue and White G3/400, the same system with a G4 400 ZIF upgrade and a very limited set to tests in my loaded Daystar Genesis (9500 based) with a Newer Tech G4/400 card.

Due to the odd performance results with the current drivers [1.0 w/1.3 ROM]. I often repeated tests of the Voodoo5 and having to test comparison cards within the limited timeframe for this article prevented me from doing as complete a review as I'd like. I was not able to test all the card/system combinations on-hand; that will have to wait for a later date. Once updated drivers are released this review will also be revised with the results.

On a more positive note, I really didn't appreciate FSAA (Full Screen Anti-Aliasing) from viewing screenshots; a static picture just doesn't deliver the same effect as seeing it in realtime. On the PC 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.)

3dfx's unique FSAA hardware design can allow you to make the best of the situation however but allowing higher image quality at resolutions your Mac can sustain. FSAA does improve image quality without needing high resolutions, which only make the issue of Mac system bandwidth worse. FSAA should be especially beneficial to flight sims, driving games, simulations and role-playing games.

Review Index:

The review tests and compares the Voodoo5 in each of the following categories:

  1. 2D Performance: MacBench 5.0 Graphics and Pub tests at 1024x768/thousands colors and 1280x1024/millions colors. Scrolling tests in Photoshop and Word 98 were also included.

  2. 3D Performance: Tests in Walker and Infini-D. (Lightwave 3D v6.0 didn't arrive in time for testing.)

  3. Game Performance: Quake2, Quake3 and Unreal Tournament.

  4. Movie Playback: Scaling a 320x240 Cinepak Quicktime movie to 1024x768.

  5. Software Controls: Control Panel features and ease of use.

  6. Hardware Design/Features: Hardware specifications/features.

  7. Summary: Review summary, compatibility notes and final comments.

Since the drivers tested (v1.0) have a known performance issue I'm reserving a final rating of the card until revised drivers are released.

Test Systems Hardware Summary:

Details of the test systems used for this review are listed below.

  • Apple Apple G4/500 AGP:
  • Rage128 PRO AGP Graphics card
    (I also tested with a Voodoo3 3000 AGP running B11 drivers)
  • 256MB RAM (two 128MB DIMMS)
  • OEM WD 20GB Expert IDE Hard Disk
  • DVDROM drive
  • G4 firmware update applied
  • OS 9.04, VM off, Multimedia update 1.0, QT 4.1.1, QD3D 1.6 [No Libmoto]

  • Apple B&W G3/400/DVD (rev 2):
  • Rage128 rev 2 Graphics card
    (I also tested with a Voodoo3 2000 running B12 drivers)
  • 256MB RAM (two 128MB Transintl DIMMS)
  • 27GB Maxtor IDE Hard Disk
  • DVDROM drive
  • OS 9.04, VM off, Multimedia update 1.0, QT 4.1.1, QD3D 1.6. [No Libmoto]

  • Daystar Genesis (9500 motherboard based):
  • Newer Tech G4/400 CPU upgrade card
  • 512MB RAM
  • 4.5GB Seagate Cheetah wide SCSI boot disk
  • Dual ATTO UW PCI SCSI Cards
  • Formac Proformance 3 (slot 6)
  • OS 9.0, VM off, QT 4.0, QD3D 1.6. [No Libmoto]

For reviews of other graphics cards and related articles, see my list of graphics card articles.

You can follow my preferred path through the review by continuing to the next page,
or use the links below to jump to a specific page.

Index of 3dfx Voodoo5 5500 PCI Review

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

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