Diamond Viper 550
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Diamond Viper 550 AGP Reviewed

As with almost all of the new generation of graphics accelerator chips currently in release, nVidia's Riva TNT, the powerhouse around which the Diamond Viper 550 is built, were designed to run on Intel based systems. This very fact alone caused a lot of hair-tearing, cursing, fist pounding fury in the owners of super7 based systems that rushed out to buy the card in the first weeks of it's release. Nor has there been any mad scramble to put together driver support for the VIA and ALI based systems. Happily though, with the passage of time, new, more mature drivers are now available which correct 95% of the difficulties experienced by the super7 platform and it is now a great time to analyze and review both the Riva TNT chip and the Viper 550 AGP.

It has often been reported that the Riva TNT was rushed to market before it could be implemented in it's entirety. nVidia had promised a 0.25micron, 250 Mpixel/sec powerhouse and instead released a 0.35micron, 180 Mpixel/sec chip to market while, they said, the fully developed TNT was still in progress and would be released in the first half of 1999. (Due to recent price drops in TNT based cards it is a good bet that it will be out early in '99). However, early release or not, the chip and card both come to market with more raw graphics power than can fully be realized by current super7 systems. The Viper 550 has more graphics horsepower, as it were, than can be harnessed by socket 7 processor currently on the market. Does this mean that it is a waste of money for all of us who put our faith and hard earned dough in the super7 platform? Absolutely not! With the new generation of socket 7 CPUs and mainboards capabilities for operation at even higher external CPU frequencies, and the on-chip cache of the upcoming K6-3, it won't be long before the super7 platforms tames even this beast of a graphics controller.

While driver support has improved, those of us relying on ALI's Aladdin V chipset will still experience random lockups while running OpenGL based applications. This is especially true when attempting benchmarks rather than actual gameplay but is still somewhat annoying.

Update Dec. 6, 1998:  With the release yesterday of ALI's AGP drivers version 1.5 all previous lockup prblems with the TNT graphics chip seem to have disappeared.  Although only tested for the last eight hours or so all of the problems mentioned here appear to have been cleared up, so please disregard any mention of difficulties with the ALI chipset - thank you

I was able to purchase an OEM version of the Viper 550 for around $150.00, and as far as the ratio of price to performance I am thoroughly satisfied. The OEM version however, lacks the TV out functionality of the retail card. And while the software bundle which accompanies the retail version is absent, the included drivers disk contains Zoran's SoftDVD, Platinum VRCreator, 3D Sensations presentation software and Portola's Fremont SE business software, as well as Microsoft's DirectX6 and drivers.

Knowing the problems many had reported using the original drivers I opted to install the newest reference drivers available from nVidia's website which I then compared with the newest drivers available from DiamondMM. After all was said and done I preferred the Diamond drivers which include not only the InControl Tools 98 (which I don't use) and a few utilities for adjusting the cards settings within the Display Properties that include a benchmark utility that is sure to lockup your ALI based system but functions normally on MVP3 based boards. Diamond's drivers tend to center the displayed image much better when running at different screen resolutions than those the monitor is normally set at and so I preferred using them for running tests.

Diamond's Viper 550 AGP Features


Controller:
  • nVidia RIVA TNT
  • True 128-bit

Bus Type:

  • PCI 2.1 compliant
  • AGP 2X/1.0 compliant

Memory:

  • 16MB 125MHz SDRAM

Integrated RAMDAC

  • 250MHz

Horizontal Sync Signals:

  • 31.5KHz-108.5KHz

Vertical Refresh:

  • 60Hz-200Hz

Maximum Dot (Pixel) Rate:

  • 250MHz RAMDAC

Monitors Supported:

  • Standard and Multi-frequency Analog Monitors
  • DDC2B Plug and Play

Video Playback:

  • MPEG-1, MPEG-2   Indeo & Cinepak
  • Multi-tap X and Y scaling and filtering
  • Color space conversion

Connectors:

  • DB-15 analog monitor connector (VESA DDC2B)
  • Video port connector
  • Composite & S-video connector (retail only)

Complete 3D Feature Set:
  • Alpha-Blending
  • Anisotropic Filtering
  • Anti-Aliasing
  • Bilinear Filtering
  • Bump Mapping
  • Environment Mapping
  • Fogging
  • Gouraud Shading
  • Hardware Triangle Setup
  • MIP Mapping
  • Perspective Correction
  • Specular Highlights
  • Subpixel Precision
  • 9GFLOP Floating Point Geometry
  • Texture Mapping
  • Transparency
  • Trilinear Filtering
  • TwiN Texel Engine
  • Z-Buffering

Drivers

  • Windows® 95/98, including DirectX 6 and OpenGL® ICD
  • Windows NT 4.0, including OpenGL ICD
  • Microsoft WHQL Certified

 

Minimum System Configuration (PCI Version)

  • Intel Pentium® 90 or compatible CPU
  • One available PCI 2.1 compliant slot
  • Windows 95/98 or Windows NT 4.0 with Service Pack 3
  • 16 MB Memory
  • CD-ROM drive

 

Minimum System Configuration (AGP Version)

  • Intel Pentium II or compatible CPU
  • One available AGP 1.0 compliant slot
  • Windows 95 OSR 2.1, Windows 98 or Windows NT 4.0 with Service Pack 3
  • 16 MB Memory
  • CD-ROM drive

v550-logo.gif (6564 bytes) Features next generation nVidia RIVA TNT controller, which is the first chip optimized for DirectX 6

TwiN Texel engine and true single-pass multitexturing for high-quality rendering of the most intricate environments

128-bit architecture provides the raw bus width to provide the highest performing 2D operations


Increased speed and quality in graphics rendering with exceptional processing power and triangle and fill rates

Single-pass multitexturing and a widened 32-bit color pipeline for high-performance gaming with fast frame rates and the highest quality

24-bit z-buffer with 8-bit stencil and per-pixel precision delivers unsurpassed quality

Ultra-high 3D resolutions up to 1920x1200

Advanced 3D features such as TwiN Texel engine, 100% hardware triangle setup engine, full scene anti-aliasing, anisotropic and trilinear filtering, sub-pixel precision, hardware environment mapping, 9 GFLOP floating point geometry processor, bump mapping, per-pixel perspective correct texture mapping

Accelerates the ultimate Windows games and 3D programs with optimized drivers for Direct3D (Windows 95/98) and OpenGL ICD (Windows 95/98 and Windows NT)

Full 128-bit wide graphics engine coupled with an unbelievable buffer bandwidth provide unsurpassed 2D graphics performance

16 MB of RAM and 250 MHz DAC for high resolutions at the highest quality

Dazzling visual display, with true color up to 1920x1200 and support of monitors up to 23" and above

Provides MPEG-1, MPEG-2 (AGP only), Indeo and Cinepak playback

Display graphics and video on your TV (retail only)

Software DVD for theater quality video on your PC (AGP only, U.S. and Canada only)

Upgradeable to Diamond's DTV 2000 for video capture and TV on your PC

Supports multi-monitor display, AGP 2X and the On Now feature of Windows 98

Blazing Windows 95/98 and Windows NT drivers including DirectX and OpenGL ICD

Microsoft WHQL certified for compatibility

Super7 Performance 

 

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