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3dfx Interactive Voodoo3 3500 TV AGP Review
Reviewed by CPU-zilla
Date : 6th October 99





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

- Other video cards reviews


3dfx Interactive has been in the business of making 3D graphics card for quite some time already. Its previous products were actually add-on PCI cards that help boost 3D game performance. This solution gained quite a lot of attention, especially from the gaming community as it provided never before experienced 3D gaming performance. Most users opted to buy the Voodoo 3D cards in order to add 3D gaming functionality to their normal 2D video cards which is almost hopeless when it comes to 3D. Thus, 3dfx made a name for themselves as the leader in making cards specifically for 3D gaming purposes.

Other graphic chipset makers soon started developing 2D/3D solutions in one card. However, most of these first generation cards failed to deliver the kind of performance that users wanted. I remember when 3dfx released the Voodoo2 line of graphic add-on cards, most 3D gamers rushed to get one of them. I remember admiring the Voodoo2 display in the Creative booth during a local computer show. I was at once dissatisfied with my Riva 128 and was already considering to purchase a 12MB version of the Voodoo2 card.

Chipset companies like nVidia soon caught up with an equally good product that provided gamers with good 2D and 3D support. Users no longer had to deal with the lack of PCI slots, as they can free up the PCI slot occupied by their Voodoo2. In response to that, 3dfx came up with the Voodoo Banshee which is a single graphic card incorporating both 2D and 3D, but its 3D performance was still not up on par to that of the TNT or even the Voodoo2.

The timely acquisition of STB by 3dfx saw the end of Voodoo cards manufactured by other vendors. 3dfx decided to manufacture and produce their own graphic cards. That helped them to bring their products into the market faster, and so we saw the release of the Voodoo3 line of graphic cards. The 3D performance was, of course, much better as compared to the Voodoo2.

It has been quite a while since the first release of the Voodoo3 graphic card. And here, we see the final entry into the line of Voodoo3 products before we are presented with the next generation of graphic cards by 3dfx. The final Voodoo3 3500 TV is clocked at an impressive 183MHz (both memory and core). It also comes with TV output and video capturing support. Seems almost like an all-in-one card. Anyway, enough of history lessons, and let's get on to some action.


Video Card Specifications

Interface AGP 2x
Chipset Voodoo 3
Ram Hyundai (HY57V161610D TC-55) 5.5ns SDRAM
Data Path 128-bit
RAMDAC 350 Mhz
TV-Output S-Video or Composite Video Out via I/O pod
Video Playback MPEG-1, MPEG-2 (software playback), Directshow, Indeo & Cinepak
Supported Resolutions 640x480 - 2048x1536
Supported Refresh Rates 60 - 160 Hz

The package includes the following : These are the contents of the package:   These are the utilities & software
that are given on the installation CD:
  • (1) Voodoo3 3500TV video card
  • (1) Quick Installation guide
  • (1) Driver+softwares CD
  • (1) Unreal game CD
  • (1) Warranty Registration Card (3 years)
  • (1) Stereo Audio cable
  • (1) External I/O pod
 
  • Voodoo3 3500TV Drivers
  • MS DirectX-6.1
  • InterVideo WinDVD 1.2
  • Ulead Video Studio 3.0
  • 3dfx Visual Reality
  • 3dfx Tool
  • Unreal (Full version)

When I first got the product, I was surprised to find that the box was pretty heavy. Most products have large boxes, but almost empty in its content. I was actually complaining to my brother about its weight. When I got home, I was surprised to see that the box was packed full of goodies. Well, at least all the packaging space was well used.


I apologise for the poor picture quality, but that's the best my webcam can do.

Besides the card and software CDs, the box also contains an external I/O pod. The I/O pod has a long thick cable that connects to the Voodoo3-3500 card. On the same end, there's another connector for you to connect to the monitor. On the I/O pod end, there are input and output connectors for S-video, composite video and audio.

The card itself is packed with components, so much so it is heavier than most cards I've ever used. The largest component was the RF box for the TV input which contributes to much of the weight. The heatsink was also another monster. Unfortunately, it was disappointing to find that there was no active cooling for the graphic chipset.

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The Good

Besides its superb 3D performance which was due its higher core and memory clock speed, the card also offers video capturing capabilities. The card has a built-in tuner which allows you to connect directly to your TV antenna or cable outlet. This enables you to view TV programs directly on your monitor without the need of purchasing a separate TV tuner card. The 3dfx TV software contain functions for tuning TV signals of up to 125 channels. I doubt we will need that many in Singapore, even if you subscribe to SCV. Besides tuning to TV signals, it also doubles up as an FM stereo tuner. In addition, it also boasts of support for closed captioning and teletext PAL versions.

Another interesting feature is its video capturing capabilities. It provides real time MPEG-2 and .AVI capturing via software codec. This feature allows you to capture videos that's directly fed into the card via the I/O pod (composite or S-video signals) or through the TV tuner on the card. The software provided contains a VCR function which gives you the ability to capture movies directly into the hard drive. And get this, they are encoded real-time in MPEG-2 format. This means, high quality video as the MPEG-2 encoding is far better than the conventional VCD MPEG-1 quality. The timer function on the VCR lets you capture movies at a particular time. This is one reason why you may no longer need to purchase a VCR. However, you may need a larger hard disk space as the encoded files are huge. So, what do you do with all the captured movies? Well, you can choose to view it on your monitor, or, feed it to your large screen TV via the I/O pod. It seems like the modern home computer is slowly replacing your household electronic items. I wonder what they will think of next, a rice cooker built on top of your Pentium-!!! heatsink?

Anyway, here's the complete list of TV features :-

The Installation, Driver features and Programs

Installation of the card is like any other graphic card. However, there is an audio in/out jack on the card where you're supposed to connect to your sound card in order to have the TV tuner audio played back on your sound card. If your sound card does not have an AUX input, you could always connect to the CD input with the cable provided, and connect your CD output from your CD-ROM to the Voodoo3 card. It works somewhat like a pass-through cable. Anyway, if you're confused, don't worry, as installation instructions are illustrated in detail. On the other hand, installation of the drivers are quick and easy. The drivers were similar to those you would see on the other Voodoo3 drivers. Besides the normal 3dfx Info and 3dfx Tweaks tab in the Advanced Display Panel, there is an additional 3dfx TV tab.

Anyway, here are some of the controls that you will see in the Voodoo3 driver. Although there are not many options, I suppose it is made fo ease of use. Please ignore the tab "Voodoo3 OC" as it did not come with the drivers. I installed that to help disable Vsync in the benchmarking.

The info tab displays everything you need to know about your display setup. Good utility to have when you are unsure whether you have the latest drivers installed. It also tells you at what frequency the core and memory is clocked, and as in this case, the Voodoo3 3500TV is clocked at 183MHz. I know most of you have overclocked your Voodoo3 2000/3000 to more than 183MHz, so this is really no big deal.
The 3dfx Tweaks tab allows you to configure both Direct3D and OpenGL/Glide. This is nothing foreign to most Voodoo3 users.
The 3dfx TV tab allows you to enable TV output. There is also an idiot proof signal type selection for those who don't know which TV system they are using. As the card is PAL version, you will only see countries using the PAL system here. That being the case, there's quite a good chance that the TV output may still work if you forgot which country you reside in.

After installing the drivers, you will also notice a lot more additions to your system devices. You will notice the addition of some codecs, the capture driver and also the TV adapter for WebTV.

The bundled Visual Reality TV/FM software by 3dfx is a rather interesting piece of software that allows you to tune, view and record TV programs on your PC. It is pretty easy to use, with all the common functions of a TV and VCR. It even has the feel and look of the real thing. You can set the software to record TV programmes at a particular time, just like a normal VCR. And the great thing is, the MPEG-2 encoding is all done real time. The only drawback is, the file size is pretty large, and you would need a huge harddisk to store all of your favourite TV programmes. I tried recording short video clips and the size turned up to be about 13.4MB for a 49 second clip. Or in other words, about 270KB for every second of video. A simple calculation would give you about 1GB for every hour of video recording. Thus, you would need a large 25GB hard disk to give you enough space for 25 hours of videos. That's 3 times more than what I would normally need for a week of sitcoms shown over the local TV network. I intended to include a short video clip but the size was just too huge to be included in this review. Anyway, the recording function was pretty good, considering that there were no dropped frames at a resolution of 352x288. One thing you should keep in mind, your harddisk should be fast enough to keep up with the capturing process.

Besides the Visual Reality software, the package also includes a copy of Ulead Video Studio 3.0. It is a a nifty program for video capturing and editing, with a friendly, easy to use interface. However, I was unable to capture any decent videos as I kept getting dropped frames which is a real letdown. I suspect that it has to do with the driver as I could not even capture an uncompressed AVI file without getting dropped frames. Even my simple Brooktree Bt848 video capture card could do better on my Pentium II-450 as compared to the Pentium !!! 600 test system I used to test this card. So, if you're thinking of using this card for capturing videos with high-end video editing softwares like Adobe Premiere 5.1 or Ulead MediaStudio Pro 5.0, you should think again. Perhaps I might have missed out something, but that is already enough to dampen my interest.

A copy of Intervideo WinDVD is also included in the package. Bear in mind that the Voodoo3 does not have hardware support for DVD playback. Thus, DVD playback is always performed by software and you would need to ensure you have a system that's fast enough to perform decent DVD playback. A 400 MHz Pentium II system should do the trick.

3D Quality & Features

The card was tested with all the usual 3D games and benchmarks. I only have to say that the card performed as expected, delivering fast 2D and 3D performance.

Here's the 3D feature set for the Vodoo3 3500TV as detailed in their product specs.:
  • 8 million triangles per second
  • 366 megatexels per second fill rate
  • 100 billion operations per second
  • 128-bit 3D acceleration
  • Dual, 32-bit texture rendering architecture
  • True multi-texture support (2 textures per-pixel, per-clock)
  • Full hardware triangle setup
  • Single pass, Single-cycle Bump Mapping
  • Single pass, Single-cycle Trilinear Filtering
  • Sub-pixel, Sub-texel correction with 0.4x0.04 resolution
 
  • Per-pixel atmospheric with programmable fog zones
  • Floating point Z buffer
  • 8-bit palletized textures with full bilinear filtering
  • Texture compression through narrow channel YAB format
  • Full integrated 128-bit VGA and 2D engine
  • High-speed 128-bit Windows GUI acceleration
  • Internal 256-bit datapath

The screenshots below were taken using 3DMark 99 Max and we can see the comparison between the Vodoo3 3500TV and the G400Max. The images were captured at 640x480 in 32-bit mode. Click on the screenshots to view the image in full size.

3dfx Voodoo3 3500TV Matrox G400Max 3DMark99
Reference Shots
Description
Alpha Blending

The Voodoo3 is obviously behaving the way it is, screwed up.
Texture Resolution

The texture resolution test is always inferior on the Voodoo3. How come I'm not surprised?
Game-1

The image quality between the two graphic cards are almost identical here. However, if you look close enough, you would find that the G400Max gives a little more detail. Anyway, you can hardly notice the difference if you are zooming away in the game.
Game-2

In this rendered scene, it is easier to spot the difference. The vents on the lower left wall are much smoother in the G400Max as compared to the jagged lines on the V3-3500.

Let's get on to see some numbers, shall we?

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The Benchmarks

I ran the benchmarks in Windows 98 Second Edition with the default DirectX 6.1. I was fortunate to have a Pentium III 600MHz processor to run the benchmarks. I did not try overclocking the card as I did not have any form of active cooling present. In itself at 183MHz, the chipset was already hot enough to fry an egg. However, I believe you could easily push the clock speed up to 190MHz, or maybe more, but I doubt anyone with a sane mind would do such stunts on an expensive card like this. Although no active cooling was present, the card ran without any problems, no glitches and no hang-ups. However, as my test bed was in the open air, it would be difficult to tell whether it will behave the same inside an enclosed and warmer ambient.

Well, to begin, let's take a look at some Quake II benchmarks. Here, we shall compare some framerates between the Creative TNT2-Ultra with the Voodoo3 3500TV. You should be wondering why I compared the Voodoo3 to the Matrox G400Max in the image quality section but pulled out the TNT2-Ultra in the benchmarks. I suppose the reason is clear. The G400Max still has no match against these two cards. However, I do hope Matrox will turn the tables with the release of their TurboGL drivers. But for now, we'll just have to see how these two high-performance cards perform in Quake II.

Quake II v3.20



demo1.dm2


demo2.dm2


crusher.dm2

massive1.dm2

As you can see from the results in all the four bar charts above, the Voodoo3 3500TV is truly a winner in raw framerates. However, in the crusher demo, the TNT2 Ultra came out tops at 640x480. Still, I'd consider the Voodoo3 the winner in this category.

Now, let's take a look at how the Voodoo3 fare in newer games with more complex 3D rendering.

Quake III Test 1.08

q3demo1


q3demo2

In the Quake III Test category, the TNT2 Ultra is the clear winner. The Voodoo3 3500TV just cannot perform as well as the TNT2 Ultra in Quake III, except at low resolutions (640x480).

Well, how about 3D Mark 99 Max? The overall scores were pretty close. However, the Voodoo3 win hands down when it comes to the Fill Rate with Multi-Texturing category. However, the TNT2-Ultra performed almost consistently in the Fill Rate tests whether it involves Multi-Texturing or not. Click on the thumbnails to see the detailed results.

Resolutions
3D Mark overall scores
Fill Rate performance
(MTexels/s)
640x480




800x600




1024x768




16-bit and 32-bit rendering comparison

There's nothing I can do in this category as the Voodoo3 does not support 3D 32-bit rendering. This has been a topic of debate amongst many hardcore gamers. I think we all know what the arguments are, so I shall just leave this part to your imagination.

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The Bad

As indicated in the earlier part of the review, I failed to capture any decent videos with the Ulead software due to dropped frame rates. I might have missed out something in the process, but I have tried almost every different methods I could think of, and I still could not capture any proper videos. They should have included more detailed instructions to help users get pass the painful learning stage. But as for me, I spent many hours trying to figure out why, but yet never got pass the hurdle. A total waste of time. However, I did manage to capture some beautiful MPEG-2 videos using the Visual Reality software by 3dfx.

The card does not come with an active cooling device like most modern cards like the Creative TNT2 Ultra and the Matrox G400Max. A fan would have done the card a lot of good as the heatsink was extremely hot. I ran some repeated benchmarks for about 10 minutes and took the temperature using the thermocouple provided with the Microstar 6163Pro motherboard. The temperature was astonishingly high even though the system sat opened to the ambient. Imagine what will happen when the card is used in an enclosed environment. It gets worse if you have a PCI card slotted next to the card. The amount of heat accumulated is unthinkable. Frankly speaking, I would be a little scared if you were to ask me to use this card without any additional cooling. However, additional cooling would mean sacrificing an additional PCI slot. So, do consider this point carefully if you intend to get this card. The picture below shows the temperature of the heatsink only after 10 minutes of benchmarking, and it is already at a whopping 63 deg. Celcius. Be prepared to add another 5-10 degrees if you're going to use it in an enclosed environment.

The provided I/O pod and cable is extremely huge and stiff. It is a real pain in the butt when you only have a small space to work with. In addition, you would have to attach the I/O pod and cable even if you don't have any use for them, as the card uses a special adapter, and only the cable provides the proper adapter for your monitor. Without the cable, there's no way to plug the monitor to the card.

The TV Out quality is somewhat less impressive to me after what I have witnessed with the G400Max. This didn't mean that the output quality was not sharp on the 3500TV, but I was more disappointed with the TV-out function. This is due to the fact that you have to reduce your monitor refresh rate and resolution in order to output to both your TV and monitor at the same time. In addition, the screen output is almost always not centered. Although there's a panel for you to centralise the image on the TV, it doesn't work as well as you want it to. Oh bummer.

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Test System Configuration

Processor(s)

Intel Pentium !!!-600

Ram 128MB PC100 Mitsubishi SDRAM Dimm
Motherboard MS-6163 Pro
HardDrive(s) IBM Deskstar 22GXP (DJNA-371350)
Operating System Windows 98 Second Edition (Build 4.10.2222A)
DirectX Version MS DirectX Version 6.1
Other software used

Ulead Video Studio 3.0

Video Card(s)

3dfx Voodoo3 3500TV
Creative Labs TNT2 Ultra
Matrox G400 Max

Video Card Drivers Matrox G400 drivers 5.21 (latest version)
nVidia Reference Drivers 2.08
3dfx Voodoo3 drivers 1.02.13

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Conclusion

The Voodoo3 3500TV is surely 3dfx's answer to competitors like the ATI All-in-Wonder and the Matrox G400 Marvel TV. It provides stunning performance for both 2D and 3D graphics with the additional support to output the display to your TV. In addition, it also doubles up as a TV/FM tuner with video capturing capabilities. Although this is the final card in the Voodoo3 series with the highest core and memory clock speed, there has been a lot of report on how overclockable the Voodoo3 2000/3000 cards were. One could easily overclock the cheaper cards to 183MHz without much problems. I personally have clocked my Voodoo3 2000 to 183MHz without any problems. With this in mind, the 3500TV may not be an ideal card to get unless you want the TV Out and video capturing capabilities. In addition to my fears of the card overheating, I also had trouble getting the video capture function to work properly using the Ulead Video Studio provided in the package, although the Visual Reality software worked flawlessly. However, if good 3D performance and TV functions are what you need in one card, be prepared to spend more than S$400 for it.

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VIDEO CARD RATING

Overall Rating
(Out of a maximum of 5 Star)

Installation *****
Performance ****½
Price **½
Software Bundle *****
Material Quality ****
Overall Rating ****

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