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Diamond Monster Fusion Z100 Review

Date: 8th May 99
by Vijay Anand

- The Good
- The Bad
- Test System Configuration
- Conclusion
- Rating

- Other video cards reviews



They've been designing video boards and it's custom utilities/drivers for many years, is always seen with a strong market presence, quality products with great performance, possibly the most well-known video-card maker in PC-market --- now who else can fit this description besides DIAMOND? I clearly recall my trips to Challenger many years back when I was really a young novice user. They stacked lots and lots of eye-catching Diamond Stealth boxes (must be based in the Trio-32 and 64 but were aptly named Stealth-32 and 64 respectively), enough to make the 'joe' user believe that it was the leading brand. And who said it isn't? Diamond has a string of very successful products, awards, accolades and reviews over the years to prove that!

3dfx has been in the lime-light ever-since they designed the Voodoo Graphics chipset and Diamond's usage of it in their Diamond Monster line of video-cards. Only after Diamond's success of their costly albeit revolutionary gaming card, others such as Canopus jumped on to the bandwagon to deliver the thirst for this new but growing market segment. So you can see that Diamond earned a reputation for being the fastest introducer of new products and has firmly set it's foot to provide gaming solutions. Folks, 3dfx may not have even have been what it is today without Diamond's help, well, maybe. Shortly after, the Voodoo-Rush was introduced, same as the original Voodoo but allows it to use an Alliance-Semiconductor's 2D chipset to make it a stand-alone card but it wasn't successful as it was plagued by problems and performance wasn't up to par. Their following Voodoo-2 chipset offered even better graphics than the original Voodoo and very much improved engine with more 3D-effects + speed, just in time when nVidia was gaining a foot-hole because it's Riva-128 chips outclassed the 1st generation Voodoo-based cards. Diamond once again armed their Monster-2 line with the Voodoo-2 chip and 3dfx reigned for an even longer time as the fastest gaming solution thanks to the in-built Scan-Line-Interleave(SLI) technology that allows another Voodoo-2 based card to pair up with the 1st one provide higher resolutions and frame-rates. This time, Creative too was in the video-card business and they too like Diamond, were the 1st to market their Voodoo-2 products. 3dfx chalked up some real hefty players on it's side, even STB was manufacturing Voodoo-2 cards.

Little did anyone knew that the Banshee, which was introduced in the 3rd quarter of 98, became the last chip that was available to other board makers before it bought STB to manufacture and sell their own boards. STB has a fairly large OEM market which 3dfx was trying to break into and buying over STB gave them access to this large market. The Banshee is a single chipset that contains the pixel unit and 1 texel unit of the V2 engine + the integration of an advanced 128-bit 2D. You could say that it's Rush-2 but 3dfx wanted to avoid people recalling their troublesome Rush chipset. This Banshee chipset brings the best of 2D and 3D in one chipset for it's time (a V2's 3D engine + 3dfx's own 2D core design that can nearly match Matrox's output and quality!).

The Banshee's core is clocked at 100Mhz while the V2's core at 90Mhz and it has 16mb of SDRAM/SGRAM instead of the V2's 8/12mb EDO-ram. This makes the Banshee faster than the V2 when playing non-multi-textured 3D games but it falls short quite a bit compared to the V2 which has 2 texel-units when playing multi-textured 3D games such as the synonymous Quake-2. The irony now is that the Banshee is only 1/2 a year old and has already been succeeded by the brand new V3 chipsets that are better value for money.


Video Card Specifications

Interface AGP 1x
Chipset 3Dfx Voodoo Banshee
Ram EtronTech 16MB 8ns 125Mhz SGRAM
Data Path 128 bit
RAMDAC 250 Mhz
TV-Output NA
Video Playback MPEG-1, Indeo, & Cinepak
Supported Resolutions 640 x 480 - 1920 x 1440
Supported Refresh Rates 60 - 120 Hz

 

These are the contents of the OEM package:

These are the utilities & software that are given on the installation CD:

  • Diamond Monster Fusion Z100 Drivers

  • Zoran Soft-DVD 1.0 (Region-1)

  • Diamond Monster Fusion Z100 manual

  • Adobe Acrobat

  • Diamond InControl Tools 98

  • Mini-OpenGL Patch ver: 1.3

As per the Diamond's usual tradition, there is no hand-held manual. It's provided on the installation CD in PDF format and has also bundled the Acrobat-Reader to access the manual. Frustrating to new-timers. The drivers and mini-OpenGL patch are outdated. I've used The latest Diamond drivers downloaded from their website and the latest mini-OpenGL drivers/patch ver:1.47 from 3Dfx. As for the Zoran Soft-DVD provided, noticed I said Region-1? We ain't in Region-1! We are most likely not to get any Region-1 based DVD titles unless.. you know what :P. I hope Zoran/Diamond can make an international version. Also, for all K6, K6-2, K6-3 based PCs, you'll need a small 20kb patch from Diamond website to run the Zoran Soft-DVD without problems.

You can't miss a Diamond product, no matter where you are! It's bold and eye-catching, just like the box cover of the retail Fusion board. Enticing isn't it? Ok.. have a good look at the board:

The board is of the usual size mainly seating the Banshee chip behind the extremely flat heatsink+fan and is closely perimetered by 8pc of EtronTech 2MB SGRAM of 8ns 125Mhz type. Lately, it looks like many of Diamond's products are featuring EtronTech's ram chips. Anyway, the board also has 1 feature connector and has a Flash-Bios that is properly labelled with the Bios version that's loaded in it as of the time of producing it. The Banshee chip is large because of it's 0.35 micron die. Not to worry because of the well designed heatsink+fan unit to dissipate the heat-output. The PCB has a dark healthy green colour (darker than the one shown).

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The Good

The Power of Fusion

Just have one good look and you'll see that it's a well engineered board from the blanking plate, to the dark and smooth PCB, to the VMI connector, to the AGP connector and to the extremely slim heatsink+fan. The fan, which draws it's power from the on-board fan connector, is sunk into the center of the heatsink and looks unique and expensive. Now, there are extremely few manufacturers who attach a heatsink+fan combo to the Banshee chip and Diamond wanting to usually be more innovative was the first to attach this combo the Fusion. The other well-known Banshee card maker who though fully added that combo was Asus, but it's combo is taller because it uses cheaper but standard heatsink and a screwed on fan. But Diamond's combo is extremely thin, sleek and you can feel more air expelled out. I'm not saying that the Asus has a protruding combo that disturbs the nearby card but the Diamond combo has more room and less congestion between itself and the neighbouring card, if any. While gazing the board, I noticed that the number of trace-lines on the PCB were extremely few and short compared to other similar products. This is where Diamond engineering comes, modifying the reference Voodoo-Banshee from 3dfx to get the maximum performance as we'll touch on later on.

As with all other Banshee cards, it's equipped with a 250Mhz RAMDAC that will make a difference to your windows desktop. In my case, running a Canopus Riva-128(230MHz RAMDAC) at 1024x768 on my Sony 200ES is good enough but when replaced with the current crop of TNTs and Banshee base cards that boast a 250Mhz RAMDAC, it's crisper than ever! You won't know the difference till you actually try it with your own monitor. The Banshee's well done 2D engine almost equals that of the Matrox G200 in terms of crispness, clarity, sharpness and vibrancy; The TNTs are just a shade behind the Banshees. I can already guess that the V3 and TNT2 would be super vibrant with much higher RAMDACs!
Here's how the normal Diamond setup looks like:


The installation of this card is a no-brainer in the super-7 platform but the slot-1-based boards seemed to have a bit of a difficulty. It's the normal procedure actually, plug the card in, install the drivers and play! But after the driver installation on some of the slot-1 systems, you'll be met with the annoying prompt, "Your display adapter is not properly configured". Heading to the display properties, you can see the correct adapter name, but you'll only have the annoying 16-colour @ 640x480 option and nothing else. I tried as much as I can but the only solution for me was to edit the registry for old/unwanted items and more importantly, removing diamond/3Dfx/older-drivers related items. This helped me halfway only; Installing windows again helped me very much. This is only my case, so for others, the best thing to do is to re-install windows only from dos and if it still doesn't work well (like for me), edit the registry + win98 install. Of course, a clean install should be more successful than the other above methods. The likely cause of the problem was a bad driver installation but the oddest thing was, if I were to put the adapter in my super-7 motherboard instead of the slot-1 board, the problems disappear! (Using the same hdd and other items!). So all in, the Banshee has a small issue with the slot-1 intel chipsets and should be fixed very soon.

Besides the initial small hitch, everything else works well. The Diamond InControl Tools 98 has some cool features, it even has a 1 or 2 features that Canopus utilities don't have but by far the Canopus utilities are still the most featured of all the video-card maker's utilities. Too bad Canopus had backed out from making video-cards for PCs. Ok, enough of Canopus, let's go back to the Diamond! The first and the most cool feature you'll right after the Diamond driver installation is the ability to get the start menu anywhere on your desktop by just a left-click of your mouse! Have a look at the picture to left(click to enlarge). You can see that I've clicked elsewhere on the desktop but because of the InControl Tools, I can get the start-menu at the exact place that I've clicked. Pretty neat huh? I personally love and miss this very useful feature on my Canopus Riva-128 as I used to have a Diamond Stealth3D 2000-Pro with the same utilities. Yes, all current and slightly older Diamond video cards have InControl Tools. You see, when Windows starts, the cursor is in the middle of the screen, quite logical but for most of us, we have more programs and such stored under the Start-Menu than on the desktop itself. So you can see that it's a small chore to move the mouse to the Start-button on every boot-up (that's why I got myself the SoftTouch keyboard with extra-buttons to assign short-cuts, program links, CD-player controls and the keys themselves feel better than those bog-standard keyboards :P ).
right-click-menu So much for left-click, what's up on the right? Well, have look at the picture to the left! You'll be met with some new settings and a nice Diamond logo by the side. Of those, the most useful ones are Switch-Desktop and Screen Saver. As you can see (picture to the right), all the different resolutions and colour depths are available for switching into almost immediately. And the Screen Saver has an on or off option, likely you could use it to switch off screen-savers that conflict with some games. There are options to also switch off the above mentioned Start-Menu feature or switch off this extra-properties menu (Pop-up Menu) and a few other less important stuff. At the bottom of this menu, you'll see another new option called Diamond-Properties.
Diamond Properties The first-tab (refer to the left jpg) gives you all the information needed to contact Diamond in every possible way. The Pop-up-Menus tab gives you the control to remove or add in different items to the 'new' Diamond enhanced right-click menu. The picture shown on the above-left, is the default items added in. The last tab, Shortcuts, is dialogue box to add in different short-cuts to be accessed easily. A fair amount of stuff to play with, isn't it?
Glide Settings Ok, heading down to our usual display properties, you will quickly notice 3 new tabs with the Diamond logo next to them. They are: Glide Settings, Gamma Correction and Diamond-3D. These are shown from top-left, top-right and bottom-right respectively. The picture to the bottom-left shows a Glide Sweep utility that is accessed from the Glide Setting tab. This very useful to remove old or duplicate Glide drivers to install new ones. Please view each snapshot in detail to see all the available settings. The last shot shows the Diamond-3D tab that has a benchmarking utility. There are 3 scenes to choose from and each one runs for about 15 seconds and at the end of that test, a result will be displayed in FPS. I really have no idea what is it trying to measure and how accurate it is. In my opinion, it's not reliable enough, maybe it's just to check in future if the results have improved from new driver releases.

3D Quality & Features

The 3D quality looks like that of a Voodoo-2 or a little better , it's good but not as 'perfect' like the G200 and TNT. You won't mind the image quality unless you've been hooked by a Matrox, Nvidia or ATI! I tested games like NFS3, Star-Wars: Rogue Squadron, Quake-2, Ultimate Race Pro, Tresspasser and I ran the games at 800x600 and I really had a wonderful time, especially the high speed 3D gaming even on a K6-2. I would have ran the intensive but new X-Wing Alliance but I had to return this Diamond earlier, darn! (It's is my 1st game that's taxing my Riva-128 and K6-2-300 a lot!)

The 3D Rendering Features as dictated on Diamond's web-site are :

  • Alpha Blending
  • Anti-Aliasing
  • Bilinear Filtering
  • Bump Mapping
  • Fogging
  • Gouraud Shading
  • Hardware Triangle Setup
  • MIP Mapping
  • Perspective Correction
  • Single Pass Trilinear Filtering
  • 24-bit color dithering to native 16-bit RGB
  • 16-bit color "expansion" to display near 24-bit quality
  • Sub-Pixel Correction
  • Transparency
  • Texture Mapping
  • Texture Modulation
  • Z-Buffering (16 bpz)
 

On running the 3DMark99 using Diamond's drivers, do not be shocked to see very blocky images. I was shocked too and I tried meddling with Diamond properties as well as the new sections installed under display properties, but all was of no help. Problem disappeared when using 3Dfx reference drivers! Hmm... Diamond is up to something! After running 3Dmark99 tests with both Diamond and 3Dfx reference drivers, it seems that all most filtering methods like bilinear and trillinear filtering was disabled in the Diamond-drivers. No wonder 3Dmark99 scenes were blocky! I bet Diamond disabled them to give higher benchmark results in some other benchmarks, but it doesn't help that much as we'll see in the resting/results section. Playing normal 3D games like those I've mentioned showed no problem at all in either drivers (maybe those games don't use such filtering techniques or are the Diamond-drivers programmed to recognise common benchmarks and switch off filtering??). It's only when using 3DMark99 with Diamond drivers that you'll see the blocky effects.

Have a look at the below selected screenshots taken by 3D-Mark99 test suite for comparisons (to view in full size, click on pictures):

Diamond Drivers 3dfx_Reference Banshee Drivers Description
Bilinear Filtering

As the results show, Bilinear filtering is not enabled in the Diamond Fusion's drivers but it is fully available on the Banshee reference drivers. I can only conclude that Diamond could have had the intention of getting higher benchmark results and has turned Bilinear filtering off within the drivers. But the 3D games that I ran showed no image flaws of what-so-ever. It's either the games don't use this filtering method or the filtering is somehow turned off when the drivers detect a familiar benchmark running, to boost results.
Texture Resolution
Compare the Banshee's text-resolution quality in games against a TNT's output to the right.It's a BIG difference. This will tell how much detail the card is able to show in close-up. The Banshee's output looks dithered and blocky while the TNT's output is fairly clear and good in comparison.
Game-1

Lack of proper filtering methods in the Diamond drivers, the picture looks pixelated and the sky doesn't come out as intended. Refer to the Reference driver images for checking the real image-quality.
Game-2

Here, again you can see the blockiness and lack of smoothness in the image. Surprisingly, games like Quake-2 or NFS-3 are not affected even a bit! (Sorry for the lack of a Q2 image)


The Benchmarks

Benchmarking was done in Windows-98 (the de-facto PC gaming platform) with Microsoft DirectX-6.1 drivers. I have read before in some other reviews that the card is clocked higher than other Banshee's and it's true! Powerstrip showed that the default core-speed is 105Mhz and the memory-speed is 120Mhz! Now you know why Diamond has put such a solid fan combo on it's card, used 125Mhz SGRAM and redo it's PCB? I pushed the card to a maximum stable speed of 115Mhz core and 125Mhz memory clock. It was rock-stable but don't try any speed higher than I've stated as it's flaky. So in-reality, you don't really need to overclock the card as Diamond has done it for you, provided excellent cooling and it's warrantied to work at that speed! There is a possibility for some Fusion's to come with a 115Mhz core-clock and 125Mhz memory clock by default.

Where I've indicated I've overclocked, it's 115/125Mhz and the default for the others are 105/120Mhz, so let's chow down some results, shall we?
(D) - Diamond drivers, (D - O/C) - Overclocked card with Diamond drivers, (3dfx) - Reference Banshee drivers, (3dfx O/C) - Overclocked card with 3dfx drivers

Diamond Monster Fusion Z100 AGP 16MB 125MHz SGRAM

Benchmarking Software / Cpu Config Wintune98 Video (2D) / Mps Wintune98 Direct3D / Mps Wintune98 OpenGL / Mps Quake-2 Timedemo1 / fps Quake-2 Timedemo2 / fps 3D Mark99 / 3DMarks
P3-550 (5 x 110MHz) (3dfx) 133.67 200.133 13.69 52.9 52.6 5371
P3-500 (5 x 100MHz) (3dfx - O/C) 124.85 209.076 12.388 55.2 54 2565
P3-500 (5 x 100MHz) (3dfx) 122.48 198.47 12.398 52.5 52.4 2475
C-450 (4.5 x 100MHz) (3dfx) 116.90 194.22 11.464 52.2 51.6 2358
C-333 (5 x 66MHz) (3dfx - O/C) 88.74 202.98 8.063 53.2 49.8 2099
C-333 (5 x 66MHz) (3dfx) 85.94 182.66 8.044 50.4 48.8 2031
C-333 (5 x 66MHz) (D) 85.04 168.54 7.765 50.8 48.7 1951
C-300A (4.5 x 66MHz) (3dfx) 81.05 187.82 7.58 49.3 47.8 1956
K6-2-350 (3.5 x 100Mhz) (D) 76.18 164.60 7.78 44.6 42.4 1698
K6-2-300 (3 x 100MHz) (D - O/C) 78.33 171.85 7.36 42.8 39.9 1595
K6-2-300 (3 x 100MHz) (D) 76.23 157.52 7.20 41.9 39.6 1593

Done @ 640 x 480 with OpenGL for Quake II V3.05, @ 800 x 600 for 3D Mark99 and @ 1024 x 768 for the rest of the other tests.

 

The results from WT98 for OpenGL are extremely low but that's because 3Dfx has not made any yet. Meanwhile for games that can use OpenGL, 3Dfx has a Mini-OpenGL which is available in the installation CD and on 3Dfx web-site. I've use the latest version 1.47 from the web because the CD's version is 1.3 & 3Dfx is constantly making it better.

3DMark-99 Results

3DMark Results CPU Geometry Speed Rasterizer Score
3DMark Results 3DMark Results 3DMark Results
The results for P3-550 are not accurately reflected here because of a few tests that yielded wrong results. This is due to the Diamond Fusion not liking the 110Mhz or anything above it. The results for P3-550 are not accurately reflected here because of a few tests that yielded wrong results. This is due to the Diamond Fusion not liking the 110Mhz or anything above it. The Diamond drivers show some advantage here.
Game-1 Game-2 Fill-Rate with Multi-texturing
3DMark Results 3DMark Results 3DMark Results
All fine over here. The results for P3-550 are not accurately reflected here because of a few tests that yielded wrong results. This is due to the Diamond Fusion not liking the 110Mhz or anything above it. The fill-rate tests yield the same results for with and without multi-texturing.
4mb Texture Rendering Speed 8mb Texture Rendering Speed Bilinear Texture Filtering Speed
3DMark Results 3DMark Results 3DMark Results
The Diamond drivers, which have slightly crippled features support have pulled through the Texture Rendering Speed for 2mb, 4mb and 8mb textures. The results are fine till 8mb. Once the 16mb texture scenes load, the Banshee is crippled! With no proper AGP support, it struggles to deliver 3-FPS average. 32mb texture failed. Various filtering methods such as Bilinear and Trilinear have been disabled by the Diamond drivers. There's no way to rectify them but to use 3dfx drivers.

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The Bad

The most glaring mistake would be the lack of a proper manual, especially from a company like Diamond. I mean there are instructions telling that the CD has the manual, nothing beats a proper manual printed on paper!

Eventhough the it comes with a Zoran DVD player, it doesn't mean this card is ready for DVD. The card itself has no MPEG-2 motion compensation. Clearly, you'll need P2-300 standard to play DVD smoothly and satisfactorly on such a card. Along the same note, the beta-reference Bansshee cards in the begining had TV-out but in the final version, they removed it to cut costs (doesn't seem to help from the look of the price tag!).

Also all Banshee cards may need a few minor fixes or patches to run certain games reliably or else games might hang. Games like NFS3 for e.g. need a tiny but simple work around before the game works well. The work-around for this game is to make a short-cut to the game, then go to its properties, select the short-cut tab, at the end of the path shown in target space, leave a space & type "-d3d0" without quotations. Henceforth, run the game from this short-cut. Or get a game patch to simply your life.

All Banshee cards can't use the DIME function offered by AGP, hence they can't use system memory for texturing if the texturing requires more than the local memory available on the card. This will be a real drawback for games that use large amount of textures in the coming future as it will really slow down game-play. Most of the other AGP features are also not implemented with the exception that it's able to use the faster AGP bus speed.

It's also too darn costly!! Too much! The V3-2000 retails at close to $200. But this slightly outdated and out-performed card costs $205 at it's cheapest! The average shop sells it at $225. An OEM version of it (quite rare though), sells at $190. Now who would want to pay that much to get yesterday's stuff when the newest and fastest stuff cost the same price?! Maybe a Diamond lunatic? Even a Diamond fanatic would wait for the Stealth-540!

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Test System Configuration

Processor(s) AMD K6-2-300 / Intel Celeron-300A/333 / Intel Pentium-III-500
Ram 64MB 100MHz Hitachi 8ns / LGS-7J SDRAM Dimm
Motherboard AOpen AX59-Pro / Shuttle HOT-681 / DFI PB61-ZX
HardDrive(s) IBM Deskstar-3 3.2Gb
Operating System MS Windows 98 Build 4.10.1998
DirectX Version MS DirectX Version 6
Other software used 3Dfx Mini-OpenGL 1.47
Video Card(s) Diamond Monster Fusion Z100 AGP
Video Card Drivers Diamond Fusion 4.10.01.0213 / 3Dfx Reference drivers 4.11.01.0378-1.00 from Banshee Kit 1.02.03

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Conclusion

This is the best of the Banshee cards when it comes to features and performance but it comes so at a RIDICULOUS price! You could buy the V3-2000 cheaper than this Fusion! Makes no sense why would anyone buy this card. Even the Viper-550 is competitively priced against other TNT's. The extra cost you're really paying is for a fully guarenteeed overclocked card. The only audience this board is aimed for are Diamond-fanatics with a PC that runs less than 300Mhz (And I'm sure if a person is a Diamond Fanatic, he would have a more beefy system that will qualify for a TNT at least! So who's going to buy this card? A nut-case!?) But seriously speaking it's the best Banshee card in the market with wonderful tools to go with it.


VIDEO CARD RATING

Overall Rating (Out of a maximum of 5 Star)

Installation ****1/2
Performance ****
Price **
Software Bundle ****1/2
Material Quality *****
Overall Rating ***

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Last updated November 25, 1998.

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