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3Dfx Voodoo3 2D/3D AGP Graphics Accelerator Review

Date: 03th April 1999
by Matthew Fam Kai Liang

voodoo3_3.gif (8270 bytes)

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

- Other video cards reviews

The company, 3Dfx, that brought to you the world renowned Voodoo chipset,  has finally abandoned its image as a chipset maker by purchasing STB Inc. STB, famous in the States and in Canada as a graphics cards manufacturer, will now take over the manufacturing and sales of 3Dfx graphics card. In the process, 3dfx has also forsaken its long time partners like DIAMOND, CREATIVE and every other OEMs and will now produce Voodoo3 on its own. In this review, we are proud to review for you the Voodoo3 2000 AGP running on 16MB of 166MHz SDRAM which is currently the fastest Voodoo3 line before 3Dfx launch the 3500 later this month.

Special thanks to Intresource Singapore, the local distributor for the range of Voodoo3 cards for allowing us to review this card. Notice the new coporate name change for 3dfx from the old '3Dfx' to the current '3dfx'. Although it is of little change, the whole image portrait will now be totally different from the past.

Voodoo3 came as the 2nd chipset in 3dfx's history to have a full 2D and 3D engine built-in. I can still recall the 2 sets of CANOPUS Pure 3D II running in SLI mode installed in my test system months ago which really look gigantic in terms of size as the 2 VGA cards were combined with the 2D card to run SLI. I personally dislike the idea of squeezing 3 pieces of PCI boards into the limited space . But neverthless the Voodoo 2 cards are definitely top notch in terms of performance.

The model that is sent to me is the Voodoo3 2000 series 2D/3D accelerator. According to Intresource, this is the pre-release board which was wrapped in an anti-static bag accompanied by an installer CD-R which housed all the driver needed to run the program. Installation is not as straight-forward as Windows 98 does not detect the card. You simply install the driver by unzipping the driver file in the CD-R. Simple as it seems, here it goes !

 

Video Card Specifications

Interface AGP 2x  (No texturing support)
Chipset 3Dfx's Voodoo3 (150MHz clock)
Ram SAMSUNG(SEC)  16MB '-G7' SDRAM
Data Path 128 bit
RAMDAC 300 Mhz
Chipset Clock 143 Megapixel / sec
Fill Rate 286 Megapixel / sec peak fill rate
TV-Output Available (Not available in retail version)
Video Playback MPEG-1, MPEG-2, DVD sub-pictures alpha blend YUV,Directshow, Indeo, & Cinepak
Supported Resolutions 640 x 480 - 2046 x 1536
Supported Refresh Rates 60 - 160 Hz
BIOS Version 1.00b41

 

Voodoo3-2000.jpg (63034 bytes)

These are the contents of the review box:

The Specs

The retail box version will be bundled with some interesting games and software which have yet to be released to the public as of today. Notice that all of the Voodoo3 cards are based on a human eye image. The Voodoo3-2000 card which of course comes with the S-Video output, will not exist in the retail version. The quality of this pre-production board looks rather shabby in terms of quality. Compared to the black PCB used on the 3500 version, the quality of the card seems to be of 5 years older. But nevertheless, the other parts of the card are of rather good quality. After going through various photoshots of the Voodoo3 family tree, I notice that the heatsink size vary for all 3 models as the 2000 holds the smallest heatsink of all. 3000 will sport a much larger one which are 2.5x of the actual chipset dimension. 3500 will have a powerful heatsink plus fan combo to ensure the most cooling heat dissipation.

As I investigate further, I came upon the 8 pieces of 2MB SDRAM made by SAMSUNG ('SEC' in short), the number 1 memory manufacturer in the world who is reknown for their high quality. All the 8 pieces are under the code '-G7', which are a class higher than my system's SAMSUNG '-G8' 125MHz SDRAM. From sources, '-G7' refers to the ability to support up to 150MHz. This is proved by the fact that both the memory and chip are clocked at 143MHz, 7MHz short of its theoretical limit. However, do bear in mind that the SDRAM will most probably be able to overclock pass 150MHz if you use a 'Powerstrip' or similar utility to tweak the card.

Guess everybody must be wondering why 3dfx uses such a fearsome eye image for their new Voodoo3 promotion. It's sure to catch the eye of many with the unique implementation of the human eye in various colours. This review board is based on 0.25 micron, designed upon a 128-bit architure. The Voodoo3 chip (often dubbed as Banshee2 due to the similarity between the 2 design) has a markedly similar architecture but has been shrunk from .35micron down to .25micron and as a result its clock speeds can also be set far higher. TSMC (Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company) is the company behind that made this range of Voodoo3 chipset .25micron five-metal layer processed Voodoo3 silicon (with its 8.2million transistors). Single pass multitexturing has once again been implemented on this chip. Its benefits include a much faster clock speed (143/166/183MHz over the previous 90/100MHz) and multitexturing has meant that the Voodoo3 architecture is fairly close to being a Voodoo2 SLI performer. Actually, the 2000 model tested here perform at a similar level of what a Voodoo2 SLI is capable of. And the 3000 and 3500 model have already exceeded Voodoo2 SLI in benchmarks like Quake II. 

Interestingly, this Voodoo3-2000 model crave out a niche market for itself too. With so much technology packed into this small body, prices will likely be around S$ 230-240 for this model. Hence giving the ATI's Rage 128 and the 'RIVA TNT' based cards a knock out fight with its high performance. Visually, I can certainly prove that the resolution at 1024x768 on my monitor are very much sharper than the Savage 3D based card, but moderately on par with the TNT. 

Another thing that is definitely worth a look will be to see how this card will fare when the 125MHz version of TNT2 arrived from companies like Leadtek and Guillemot. Let us hope that competition will improve this card further. 3dfx have already left out several key features in the Voodoo
3. 3dfx's latest chipset was again without support for AGP texturing, which is the ability to store/retrieve textures in system memory via the AGP bus. This technology allows for textures larger than the amount of available local graphics memory to be stored and retrieved without a performance penalty. With more and more games using larger textures, the performance on 3dfx-based cards will begin to degrade. However, there are very few entertaining titles out there currently that will show an incredible performance improvement using AGP texturing due to texture sizes. But in the near future, you can expect the next wave of games to use much larger textures than we're already used to. Benchmark done on the good old TNT has already shown that superior 2x AGP texturing transfer do benefit games. 3dfx do have a lot to do in order to catch up with the rest. Can a Voodoo4 be the solution?

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The Good

Bulldozing throught the Voodoo3 -2000

With the powerful 143MHz clock rate and 143 Megapixel per seconds chipset core, this V3-2000 runs application with ease. Running Turok II or Quake II and you will notice the speed improvement over the ageing Voodoo2. Image quality has also improved with a improve RAMDAC of 300MHz, currently industry highest. Whether you are buying the 2000, 3000 or the top-of-the-line 3500 Voodoo3, you will still be getting the same Voodoo3 chipset other than the different clock rate and memory speed. This definitely do not justify the need to pay over a hundred dollars or so for a small increase in performance. The 3500 will most probably cost over S$ 450, about S$ 200 and more over the 2000 series. What you will get is a better quality PCB board, an extra fan on the heatsink and some faster memory chip soldered in the board.  

As such, Voodoo3-2000 will be more than sufficient for most end-users unless you want to opt for a TV out feature to play QUAKE II on your favourite 29" or 43" projector TV. While I do not have the game titles that will be bundled, but judging from the way it see, 3dfx will probably bundle some real hot games but most likely to differ between the 2000, 3000 and 3500 models. Hopefully this is true as I am sure many will be disappointed if the games bundled are all the same throughout the 3 series.

3dfx Tools Utilities

3dfx tools is a simple, friendly display control & desktop enhancement utility. However, I am unable to enable the desktop icon on the bottom left of the screen as similar to Diamond or other brands. As this is still the raw pre-release driver and desktop utility, I am sure 3dfx will put in some inprovement on its final realease and put in more tweaking tools which has always being available on STB's older cards.



Clicking on the 3dfx Tools icon, you get to enable some features unique to Voodoo3.

3dfx-tools.jpg (19984 bytes)



The Desktop tab has all the important items from the display properties. The refresh-rate is set just like those standard ones offered by windows. The same applies for the font-size slider. Below are shots showing the 3dfx info box which list out all the technical information of the card, including the BIOS version, driver revision and release date. I am sure the retail 3dfx Tools will be very much improved with the quality STB desktop tools that many of us are familar with.

On the right is the 3dfx Tweaks tab which allows you to tweak the Desktop, Direct3D or Glide/OpenGL features like force mipmap dithering with OpenGL enabled. Or the tweaking of Gamma with the de facto slider feature. The only feature which I think will be pretty confusing is the D3D/DirectDraw box which users will be wondering whether to use the higher quality D3D with poorer video playback. My advice is to enable this feature as I personally find that there is not much difference after enabling it.



What I am covering here is the 3dfx TV option which will not not be available on the retail version of this card. But do give me a chance to comment on the performance of the output as the 3000 or 3500 version will have this feature onboard. The settings allow you to select quite a few option; like the signal type and also the ability to center the screen on your TV. Simple as it might seem, you will truely appreciate the feature if you compare it to older cards which also have TV out but whose screen was not centered as it did not allow adjustment. Do notice that the eye appear in all the screen.:)



Running the TV out function on this card have left me with a very good impression as the quality on the 29" CRT TV is very much higher than the TNT found on the DIAMOND V550. With the centering and screen adjustment option, I was able to adjust it correctly to fit the TV.

3D Quality & Features

The 3D quality looks great and detailed. I tested games like NFS3, Star-Wars: Shadows of the Empire, Gangster, Quake-2, FIFA 99. I ran the games at 800x600 and they were as good as if not better than playing on TNT based cards. Here's a shot of while running the 3DMark 99 Max benchmark.:

These are the 3D Features:

The Benchmarks

I have benchmarked the Cardex-TNT in Windows98 with DirectX-6.1

So here's the results :

3D Mark 99TM MAX Results

Area Tested Celeron 450
( 100x4.5 )
Celeron 450MHz
(100x4.5)
P-II 450MHz**
(100x4.5)
Celeron 450MHz
(100x4.5)
Graphics card make 3dfx Aztech Aztech Cardex
Chipset Voodoo3 Savage 3D Savage 3D RIVA TNT
3D Mark Result 3,934 3DMark 2,448 3DMark 2,443 3DMark 2,821 3DMark
CPU Geometry Speed 4,482 4,054 6,156 NA
Rasterizer Score 1,963 1,033 1,189 NA
Game 1 - Race 38.4 FPS 34.8 FPS 39.0 FPS NA
Game 2 - First Person 40.3 FPS 31.6 FPS 42.4 FPS NA
Fill Rate 130.2 MTexels/s 79.3 MTexels/s 76.1 MTexels/s NA
Fill Rate with Multi-texturing 246.8 MTexels/s 79.8 MTexels/s 76.7 MTexels/s NA
2MB Texture Rendering Speed 220.4 FPS 165.7 FPS 144.9 FPS NA
4MB Texture Rendering Speed 212.7 FPS 167.6 FPS 146.4 FPS NA
8MB Texture Rendering Speed 173.2 FPS 154.7 FPS 126.2 FPS NA
16MB Texture Rendering Speed 6.2 FPS 145.3 FPS 151.6 FPS NA
32MB Texture Rendering Speed NA* NA* NA* NA

++ System equipped with 128MB SDRAM , * System out of memory for benchmark

2D performace nowadays are of such high standard that the score will not be much different between each chip.Therefore I concentrate on benchmarking the card with the Cardexpert's RIVA TNT and Aztech Savage 3D cards.Running the latest 3DMark 99Max which was just released last month to public.

For overclockers, you can push up the core and memory speed up to 153Mhz using Power-Strip. At that setting, the system did not hang even after 8 hours of continuous rounds of Quake II and other exciting games. I did try a much higher speed of 158Mhz however the system crash upon booting.

According to source. Voodoo3 current driver are still not quite optimised for "3D Now" but I did not have a chance to validate it. When the retail version of the 3000 arrived, I will do a retest using the AMD chip to determine the fact. All the results above are still based on the driver version 4.11.01.441-1.00 which was dated on 20th March 1999, which is still the pre-release driver for Voodoo3. This definitely means a lot since the 3DMark 99Max results above have already proved that the Savage 3D and RIVA TNT are of no match to this latest generation chip, notice the results on multi-texturing fill rate which the Voodoo3 shines high. You will definitely see a lot of improvement over the weeks as the driver gets more matured.

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The Bad

Overall, the quality from a first look seems quite inferior. However, as this is just a pre-production board and you might not know what exactly comes in the retail box. The high quality SAMSUNG SDRAM is making this card a safe bet for money rather than the cheaper Hyundai or LG memory which might not allow overclocking of the chip and memory. The bad point is of course the lack of 32-bit option while running games. User also have to be content with the 16MB memory which might seem a little weak in the future. Price wise it is still quite high compared to other cards in the market as it will lack the TV-out feature to sweeten this deal.

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Test System Configuration

Processor(s) INTEL Pentium II 532MHz (400) - 133x4
INTEL Celeron 450MHz (300A)  - 100x4.5
Ram 64MB SAMSUNG 'G8' PC-100 SDRAM Dimm
Motherboard ABIT BX-6 Revision 2.0
HardDrive(s) IBM Deskstar-4 8.4Gb
Operating System MS Windows 98 Build 4.10.1998
DirectX Version MS DirectX Version 6.1
Other software used Power-Strip 2.29 (for over-clocking)
Video Card(s) 3dfx Voodoo3 - 2000 16MB SDRAM AGP
Video Card Bios Ver: 1.00b41
Video Card Driver 4.10.01.0044-1.00

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Conclusion

The most affordable Voodoo3 card out there today. It is selling at a price slightly higher than the retail "3Dfx's Banshee" based cards (S$ 249 vs S$ 225) but with a higher clock speed and also the latest Glide 3.0 built-in which the Banshee solely lacked of. Most important of all, the more advanced single pass multi-texturing built-in immediately makes this board a much better buy than the slowing sibling.

V3-2000.jpg (60753 bytes)

As long as the TNT2 based graphics cards are not in the market, this card will remain the current powerhouse with an overall impressive architect which chips like ATI's Rage 128 based cards or the TNT cannot met with. The Glide 3.0 proved to be a new class of 3D experience with the smoothness play in 'Heretic II' and 'Quake II' game titles.

Opt for this 3dfx Voodoo3 -2000 card if you want the most advanced technology of today but do not want extra frills of TV-output available on the 3000 series. A 143Mhz clock rate will be more than sufficient to run today's most demanding games and 2D applications. Again, all the comments and results above are based on the pre-release board and driver provided to me. The retail card will definitely have much improved features and performance, minus the TV out feature of course :(


VIDEO CARD RATING

Overall Rating (Out of a maximum of 5 Star)

Installation *****
Performance ****
Price ****
Software Bundle NA
Material Quality ****
Overall Rating ****

 

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Last updated April 18, 1999.

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