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Skywell Magic TwinPower Banshee Review

Date: 11th December 98
by Vijay Anand

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

- Other video cards reviews

 

Skywell products were mainly introduced this year into the local market and their presence was felt in many shops at SLS for their affordable (in comparison to other better known brands) Voodoo-2 gaming card for those who were strapped of cash and don't mind missing some software comfort features and games for a product that does it's job well. Their new Banshee card is no different and provides good performance but it's not yet seen in many shops. So for budgeters, here's another good card to stay tuned!

3Dfx always had a very good 3D engine and with their 1st mass marketed Voodoo chip, it was a success which yielded performance which that could not be matched by any competitor for a long time. Wanting to fulfil the 2D and 3D market, they then modified the original Voodoo a bit and named it the Voodoo Rush that was taged 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 with a 3D engine based on the Voodoo2.

Video Card Specifications

Interface AGP 1x
Chipset 3Dfx Voodoo Banshee
Ram EliteMT 16MB 100Mhz SGRAM 8ns
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:

Unfortunately the box does not really tell that there's a quality product behind it. It's a mix-mesh of different game shots with a not so eye-appealing colour scheme. The box cover really needs to improve to show more quality and make more heads turn. The card comes in a much safer air-pocketed electrostatic cover unlike other boards that just use an electrostatic cover. Here's a snapshot of the board:

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

  • Skywell Magic TwinPower Drivers & others

  • VCD Power Player

  • Voyetra AudioStation

  • D3D Bench Wizmark 3.0

  • Three 3Dfx demos

  • Mini-OpenGL Patch ver: 1.3

The board is compact mainly housing the Banshee chip behind the large green heat-sink and is populated by 8pc of EliteMT 2MB SGRAM of 8ns type. It has 2 feature connectors 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. For your info, the green heatsink is held by 2 plastic and spring stubs that are fairly easy to remove in-case you would like to outfit it with a heatsink + fan unit. You will need a pair of pliers for that job but be careful not to severe any signal lines nearby or you'll end up having dead Banshee!

The given 3Dfx demos are extremely old and useless (They belong to the original Voodoo!).

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The Good

The Magic of Skywell

By now you would have noticed that the PCB used is black in colour which is very high-tech looking! Just the black PCB alone gives you a feeling that it's well engineered and indeed it is. Not bad for a not so well known brand. Of course it's basically uses the 3Dfx reference design but it has been modified a little and made shorter.

It's 250Mhz RAMDAC makes the whole screen sharper in any use and is crucial for higher resolution and refresh-rate usages. And yes, it's fast too! If your demands are not too great in the 2D area, this card can replace the G200 as the best in 2D and giving you plenty of speed in 2D and 3D on the cheap.

You'll be very surprised that it has no manual, instead there's small note, the size of your hand! It would be nice to have a few more instructions to tell us to change our display adapter to standard VGA first before attempting to install this card. It is simple to install but skimping on the manual seems very odd. The CD too does not have much more than what's stated in the note on installation.

Although after intstallation you'll see your adapter name is Skywell, a quick look at the display properties will tell you that it's the same as 3Dfx reference drivers. In a way it's good as 3Dfx does update it now and then so if you need a driver update just head down to 3Dfx which is faster than waiting for the manufacturer to release the next update. The controls are easy to use and are adequate most of the time, just no extras.

3D Quality and Features

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

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

The Benchmarks

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

So here they are :

Skywell Magic TwinPower Banshee AGP 16MB 100MHz SGRAM

Benchmarking Software / 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) 73.75 127.67 7.31 36.2 35.6
K6-2-350 (3.5 x 100Mhz) 78.38 130.57 7.85 38.3 38.3

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 extremely low but that's because 3Dfx has not made any yet. Meanwhile for games that can use OpenGL, 3Dfx has made available a Mini-OpenGL which is available in the installation CD and on 3Dfx web-site. I've use the latest version 1.43 from the web because the CD's version is 1.3 and 3Dfx is constantly making it better. I also used the latest 3Dfx reference drivers instead of the one given by Skywell and it makes a big improvement in some games. You can compare the difference by looking at the benchmarks from this Skywell Banshee against the Creative Banshee using Creative's latest drivers which aren't as new as the ones on 3Dfx web-site. Overall, the results are very good considering it's an affordable Banshee running on a K6-2.

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The Bad

I really wish that there's some small printed manual for novice upgraders. The package just looks unfinished without it. The box of needs to be re-done to show more quality. The CD look horrible, it would look better if it's all silver than with it's current mix of ugly colours. There's no proper games or demos given. Basic but adequate tools provided from reference drivers.

Since the Banshee is a 0.35 micron chip , the card gets quite hot. Use the Just Cooler FC100 - Slot fan. With it, the card's temperature is much better and was just very warm.

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. 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 and type "-d3d0" without quotations. Henceforth, run the game from this short-cut.

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 Mini-OpenGL 1.43
Video Card(s) Skywell Magic TwinPower Banshee (AGP)
Video Card Drivers 4.10.01.0234-1.00

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Conclusion

As you can see, performance and build quality wise, it's as good as the branded counterparts. Priced at an affordable price of $185, and bundled with two great games (Incoming and G-Police), it is a very good no-nonsense, no-frills card that does the job well. I will greatly recommend you to get this card if you are on a tight budget, and yet yearns for the same performance of those branded ones.


VIDEO CARD RATING

Overall Rating (Out of a maximum of 5 Star)

Installation ****
Performance ****1/4
Price ****
Software Bundle *1/2
Material Quality ****1/2
Overall Rating ****

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Last updated December 14, 1998.

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