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HERCULES TERMINATOR BEAST AGP Review

Date: 23rd November 98
by Vijay Anand

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

- Other video cards reviews

 

Hercules is a well known graphics/video card manufacturer that has been around for a very long time. It's graphics card adapters became THE standard some 15 to 18 years ago in many machines of it's time. Now times have changed and there are many different video card types & brands which cater to different groups of people since the number of computers has sky-rocketed from the 70s & 80s.

S3 is the chipset giant for video-cards & has been very strong in 2D performance since the original Virge but has been handicapped in 3D performance for about 1 & 1/2 to 2 years because of the Virge architecture. So S3 was quite a famous chipset until after the original Virge chipset. After that 3D gaming became the in-thing and 3DFX had stepped in to give the ultimate in 3D gaming & it still does today. Others like nVidia, Rendition, ATI & few others have been keeping in progress to 3D demands but S3 has just been churning out slightly revamped Virge-VX/DX/GX & GX2 until they recently released their new weapon, the S3 Savage3D as known officially and is also known by a few as the S3 Virge-GX/3. They hope that this will bring S3 back into the playing field where not long ago S3 was a definite no-no if one wants to do some serious gaming, especially in 3D & S3 based cards were destined to go into low-cost PCs.

Video Card Specifications

Interface AGP 2x
Chipset S3 Savage-3D
Ram 8 MB 100 Mhz OKI SDRAM 10ns
Data Path 64 bit
RAMDAC 250 Mhz
TV-Output NA
Video Playback MPEG-1, MPEG-2, DVD, Indeo, & Cinepak
Supported Resolutions 640 x 480 - 1600 x 1200
Supported Refresh Rates 56 - 160 Hz

S3 company's large size, experience & marketing power could make this chip a hit along with an affordable price tag as it always had been. Hercules was the 1st to release a card based on the Savage. Let's see how does S3's new baby perform in the hand's of Hercules!

These are the contents of the box:

The Hercules products come packaged in a well designed & eye-capturing box like Diamond's and it even is airy like that of a Diamond product inside the box. The card is packaged in an electrostatic bag like most products of it's kind. Here's a snapshot of the board:

Beast Board

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

  • Hercules Terminator Beast Drivers ver: 0.96

  • Worms game Demo

  • Hercules Touch Utilities

  • C&C game demo

  • Hercules Entertainment Center

  • Zone game demo

  • Hercules Manuals (for all models)

  • Adobe Acrobat Reader

  • MS DirectX-6

  • Quicktime for Windows

  • Wordview

  • Intel Indeo Video 4 & 5

The high-quality PCB is of the same size as many branded video cards; compact. The small Savage chipset is behind the heatsink & is attached by means of 2 plastic stubs. The chipset is surrounded by 4 pieces of 2MB 10ns OKI SDRAM. It has 2 feature connectors but it's not stated for what purposes. The Flashable Bios is also small & hence the board looks quite clean with some space to add more features like TV-out as indicated on the box for certain models not available yet. There is even an option of producing the boards with a 125MHz SGRAM in the coming future, also indicated on the box. At the back of the board is a large printed sign of the Beast in white. So it's easily identified with a mirage of cards for some.

The given software or game demos are old, so there's nothing to look forward to inside the box besides the video card.

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The Good

The Beast Expedition

As you can see the heatsink is small because the S3 is the 1st video-chipset to be manufactured from the 0.25 micron process. This means, the die size of the chip is small, hence emits much less heat, so the heatsink is very small. Taking the heatsink off, you'll see that no thermal paste is applied. It does not need it anyway because under intense usage, it's only hot but it's bearable. You may need to apply the paste plus a better heatsink or fan combo for overclocking it with Power-Strip but you'll be assured that it can overclock easily due to the die shrink & lower heat output of this new chip. A real plus point is that overclocking can achieve close to Banshee performance & that the heatsink was very easy to remove if anyone needed to change it to a better one or one with fan.

Although it has a 250MHz RAMDAC, it was not as good as that of a 3DFX Banshee. At high resolutions the Banshee based board seemed to be sharper than the Savage but it's still acceptable.

The thick manual gives only the instructions to install the card + it's drivers and use the Hercules Entertainment Center. The manual is thick because it is an all-in-one manual that describes the installation for all Hercules boards & it provides a good reference of the features of the different Hercules video cards and is also written in dutch. Fairly handy if a system integrator uses Hercules products all the way.

The CD contains the newer MS DirectX-6 add-on to windows to support newer features & better performance. But the nice thing is that S3's new texture compression technique is supported by DirectX-6 and hence games with huge amount of textures can be compressed in it's local memory. This allows for better detailed scenes to be made for games that will surpass the amount of graphics ram installed but yet fit into it because of S3 Texture Compression (S3TC). It's also supported thru hardware on Savage3D. This theorethically makes it a 4x AGP board because of the amount of textures it can compress in graphics memory.

Hercules Touch Utilities & Entertainment Center

The Hercules Touch Utilities are Hercules own additions to the display properties which seem a bit dangling and not well integrated plus they are not so easily accessible like other video card manufacturer's tools. The only nice touch is that it has some pre-done settings for a few games that can help to improve the game quality or performance. There is also a benchmark provided by Hercules called Speedy. I'm not sure how good is this tool or how useful is this because other video cards don't have this benchmark to gauge them

The Hercules Entertainment Center (HEC), looks like your home entertainment system but in functionality, it's like the MS Media Player under Accessories or like the updated Media player in MS web-site. Just a nicer interface, that's all.

3D Quality & Features

The 3D quality resembles that of a Voodoo-2, it's good enough. I tested games like NFS3, Star-Wars: Shadows of the Empire, Quake-2, Ultimate Race Pro & all look good like the V2. I ran the games at 800x600 and was fluent & smooth.

The 3D Rendering Features are :

Well, it supports 16 & 32-bit rendering, at least a future assurance if any games take advantage of it.

Extras

It supports full-screen software DVD acceleration but unfortunately a software DVD player is not included in this particular model. Maybe the Tv-out or SGRAM version will ship the DVD player along.

The Benchmarks

I have benchmarked the Beast in Windows98 with DirectX-6.

So here they are :

Hercules Terminator Beast AGP 8MB 100MHz SDRAM

Benchmarking Softwares / Cpu Config Wintune98 Video (2D) / Mps Wintune98 Direct3D / Mps Wintune98 OpenGL / Mps Quake-2 Timedemo1 / fps Quake-2 Timedemo2 / fps
P2-300 (4.5 x 66MHz) 47.58 37.47 32.31 37.1 34.9
P2-333 (4.5 x 75Mhz) 51.53 38.49 33.00 39.9 37.6
P2-375 (4.5 x 83Mhz) 55.14 39.01 33.24 Hanged Hanged
P2-450 (4.5 x 100Mhz) 61.70 39.52 32.48 45 43
P2-463 (4.5 x 103Mhz) 63.01 39.11 32.80 45.6 43.1

Done @ 640 x 480 with OpenGL for Quake II V3.14 and @ 1024 x 768 for the rest of the other tests.

The results from WT98 are alarmingly low but I think this is due to the way Savage3D processes the info (S3TC or others..) or could be that the Savage3D is 'not optimized' for benchmarks because it performs well under the Quake-2 Timedemos. Performance is good under Quake-2 with good detail and is smooth. Frame-Rates are well into the good range.

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The Bad

Unfortunatly this nice board gave a lot of problems under the Super-7 platform and may refuse to play many games when I tested with some hangs in windows too. This reduces it's targeted area of sales as it is a good card for low & mid-range systems. Cutting the super-7 platform looses quite a bit of it's intended sales. High-end systems can receive better performance from their video-card like selecting the TNT. Outfitting a high-end system with Savage3D video-card is ok too. This problem is mainly due to the card's early release, the young bios & drivers. It still has to improve to be stable on a super-7 platform. On the P2 system I tested, it worked flawlessly.

The installation is something that will put off the new up graders and inexperienced system builders. The manual as I told is to cater for all Hercules board installations so the onscreen happenings were not matched to what was in the manual. Installing the drivers from the CD was troublesome. I then downloaded the newer drivers version 0.96 and tried again, it too had some minor installation problems but I was able to install the card. Once the Drivers & Hercules Touch Utilities were installed with a sigh of relief, all worked without problems. I hope Hercules would improve the installation procedure. Frequent upgraders and PC-veterans will overcome many problems easily as long as you have the latest drivers.

The Hercules Utilities could be better like Canopus or Diamond's utilities which are well integrated & easy to use. Another thing is the given software & demos are old & un-attractive. The DVD player should also be included for all versions of the Beast. Oh, yes & the manual can be more tuned to for specific boards to better facilitate installation & prevent confusion.

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Test System Configuration

Processor(s) Intel P2-300 0.25 micron Chip
Ram 64MB 100MHz Fujitech SDRAM Dimm
Motherboard Asus P2B
HardDrive(s) Western Digital Caviar-AC24300 4.3GB
Operating System MS Windows 98 Build 4.10.1998
DirectX Version MS DirectX Version 6
Other software used NA
Video Card(s) Hercules Terminator Beast
Video Card Bios Ver 2kb3d11
Video Card Drivers Ver 0.96

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Conclusion

It's a good video-card let down by installation problems & lack of stable support on the super-7 platform. This card is aimed at the low to mid-end systems mainly according to it's performance & price which sells for $185 and prices will drop by year end. For the current moment it looks like it's more suitable to the P2 systems & it's ok to be used in a high-end P2 to save cost. It's closest rival in terms of performance is the Matrox G200. If not for the Beast's software & installation ratings & considering the more important build quality, price & performance, it's a 4-star board.


VIDEO CARD RATING

Overall Rating (Out of a maximum of 5 Star)

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

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Copyright © 1998, Singapore Hardware Zone. All rights reserved.
Last updated November 25, 1998.

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