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Creative 3D Blaster Banshee Review

Date: 9th December 98
by Vijay Anand

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

- Other video cards reviews

These days, Creative's video cards are getting more & more matured. There was the time when Creative first launched their video card-line with the Cirrus-Logic chipset with Rambus ram but the card was slow due to Cirrus-Logic's design. Their first few video card models were slow due to wrong chipset selection. But since they debued the Exxtreme they have been selecting the right chipsets and their popularity in video-cards has soared. Their latest cards are based on the 3Dfx Voodoo-Banshee & the Riva-TNT which they have priced it very competitively.

3Dfx always had a very good 3D engine and with their 1st mass marketed chipset, the Voodoo, it was a success which yielded performance that could not be matched by any competitor for a quite a while. Wanting to fulfil the 2D and 3D market, they then modified the original Voodoo a bit and named it the Voodoo Rush that was tagged with another chipset vendor for 2D, which they used an Alliance Semiconductor's chipset. Unfortunately the 2D was very slow and somehow the 3D was not up to par with the original Voodoo. This time around, 3Dfx Interactive has tried again to make a board that can do 3D and 2D and has succeeded very well by totally coming up with a new 128-bit 2D core and combining it with a 3D engine based on the Voodoo2.

Video Card Specifications

Interface AGP 1x
Chipset 3Dfx Voodoo Banshee
Ram IBM 16MB 100Mhz SDRAM 10ns
Data Path 128 bit
RAMDAC 250 Mhz
TV-Output NA
Video Playback MPEG-1, MPEG-2, DVD, Indeo, & Cinepak
Supported Resolutions 640 x 480 - 1920 x 1440
Supported Refresh Rates 60 - 120 Hz

These are the contents of the box:

Creative's box packaging is of course as eye-capturing as their sound-card lineup which gives a certain assurance when you see them because it's made by a local giant. The card is packaged in an electrostatic bag like most products of it's kind. Here's a snapshot of the board:

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

  • Creative Banshee Drivers

  • Incoming (on a seperate CD)

  • Creative Enhanced Blaster Control

  • Colorific

  • Creative SoftMPEG Player

  • 3Deep

  • Creative Banshee Manual

  • MS DirectX-6

The board is fairly spacious mainly housing the Banshee chip behind the big black heat-sink and is populated by 8pc of IBM 2MB SDRAM of 10ns type. It has 1 feature connector and of course a Flash-Bios. The Banshee chip is large because of it's 0.35 micron die. And it's after-effects will be seen in the Bad-section later.

There are is only one game, Incoming, which I'm getting sick of! No demos or anything else given.

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The Good

The Banshee Showdown

The box of the Creative Banshee is well done and it even has simple straight-forward instructions with pictures of the installation procedure. Indeed the installation procedure is very simple but the drivers shipped on the CD are old & trouble-prone ones. An updated one from their web-site was used & the installation for it was smooth and gave no problems.

The manual is small, simple & straightforward with lot of planning done to ensure smooth installation in the most common Operating Systems + has a very valid FAQ. The reason I highlight these points are that in many other video cards, their FAQ is far too simple to help in trouble and is almost never needed. The manual pain-stakingly outlines the installation in every common OS, the card was intended to be used.

One of the best selling points of the Banshee is of course it's support for OpenGL, Direct3D & Glide based games, therefore it can run about any game on the market. Plus the fact that it's sold in AGP (the Banshee only uses AGP 1x mode) & PCI format, quite a lot of old & new PCs can support it. Therefore the Banshee has a huge marketing field.

Putting this card in place of my current Riva-128 really livens up the screen in anything you throw at, be it windows applications or games. All Banshee cards have an integrated 250MHz RAMDAC & when I push up my resolution to 1024x768 or 1280x1024, my Sony 17" screen is quite sharp at refresh rates of 75 or 85Hz. A marked improvement from my Riva especially when your working at high resolutions. So this is one more reason besides games to buy a new Banshee video card. Even the S3 Savage3D has an integrated 250MHz RAMDAC but it looks plain compared to the Banshee.

For serious users, the CD also contains the Colorific software to accurately caliberate the display with your monitor-type & with your printer output. Another software is 3DEEP which helps your adjust your 3D Games output on your monitor. Both are integrated into the display properties.

Blaster Controls

The Creative Blaster Controls are well integrated with the display properties and are useful to the casual user or gamer or overclocker. That's right even over clockers as there is a slider to control the chipset's default speed from 100 to 125MHz! It's not advisable to overclock much with this board as the it gets quite hot. A better heatsink & fan can allow for more stable overclocking. Other tools are standard and are easily accessible.

3D Quality & Features

The 3D quality looks like that of a Voodoo-2, but it's good (Of course the G200 & TNT are better!). I tested games like NFS3, Star-Wars: Shadows of the Empire, Quake-2, Ultimate Race Pro & I ran the games at 800x600 and was very enjoyable.

These are the 3D Features as dictated on Creative's web-site :

The Benchmarks

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

So here they are :

Creative 3D Blaster Banshee PCI 16MB 100MHz SDRAM

Benchmarking Softwares / Cpu Config Wintune98 Video (2D) / Mps Wintune98 Direct3D / Mps Wintune98 OpenGL / Mps Quake-2 Timedemo1 / fps Quake-2 Timedemo2 / fps
K6-2-300 (3 x 100MHz) 74.45 81.10 7.50 35.4 34.5
K6-2-350 (3.5 x 100Mhz) 78.25 82.87 8.01 37.1 36.7

Done @ 640 x 480 with OpenGL for Quake II V3.05 and @ 1024 x 768 for the rest of the other tests.

The results from WT98 for OpenGL are alarmingly low because it has no full OpenGL ICD yet and currently 3Dfx provides a Mini-OpenGL for games that use OpenGL. The drivers at the Creative Web-site are not so updated as the reference Banshee drivers at 3Dfx which is better tweaked for performance. Overall the Performance is very good in all areas considering it's running on an AMD K6-2. Performance will still improve as the Banshee is young and has yet to have a full OpenGL ICD.

The Banshee can perform better than a V2 when the games do not use or take advantage of multi-texturing becuase the Banshee is clocked higher than the V2. But in games that do take advantage of multi-texturing, e.g. games like Quake-2, the V2 & TNT win hands down becuase both of them have twin-texel engines where as the Banshee has only 1. Currently only few games support multi-texturing, but in the future, more games will and the Banshee might suffer then. But for time-being it does it's job well.

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The Bad

The installation method was straight forward but the given drivers on the CD are old & buggy. Definitely one has to get the newest drivers from Creative's web-site. But since the Creative drivers are not as updated as the Banshee reference drivers on 3Dfx web-site, people who want best performance must either wait for Creative to update their drivers or forgo the extra options and get the reference drivers from 3Dfx for more performance.

Since the Banshee is a 0.35 micron chip and because Creative just uses a cheap Heatsink, the card gets quite hot. Definetly you need to replace it with a heatsink+fan combo or must get the Just Cooler FC100 - Slot fan. With either of these, the card's temperature is much bearable.

Although it worked very well on my system, there is word that the drivers are still not matured enough and may cause some problems in running games for some unlucky systems. So just beware although most of the time it works.

Also all Banshee cards may need some fixes or patches to run 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.

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 future as it will really slow down game-play.

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Test System Configuration

Processor(s) AMD K6-2-300
Ram 64MB 100MHz LGS-7J SDRAM Dimm
Motherboard AOpen AX59-Pro
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 Banshee Mini-OpenGL 1.43
Video Card(s) Creative 3D Blaster Banshee
Video Card Bios Ver: 1.01.1
Video Card Drivers

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It's a well recommended card for many people who need to have really fast 2D and looks as good as the G200 & having good performance in games with a budget of $200 or less. It plays any game and works in many systems and it offers good value. But the future doesn't look that good due to lack of 32-bit Z-buffer, multi-texture support & no AGP texturing.


Overall Rating (Out of a maximum of 5 Star)

Installation ****1/4
Performance ****
Price ****
Software Bundle ***
Material Quality ****
Overall Rating ****

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Copyright 1998, Singapore Hardware Zone. All rights reserved.
Last updated December 10, 1998.

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