Super7 3D Chipset Comparison

Introduction

Before we begin I guess I should get a few things straight with you. First of all, being a new site, and running on a shoestring, we will almost always be reviewing OEM versions of hardware. I understand that some manufacturers use less than stellar quality components in their OEM products. Unfortunately, with our budget constraints, I must use these products whenever possible. That being said, you may take into account that the retail product you buy may be of slightly better quality than the one I review. Also, unlike most of the other hardware reviewers, I prefer real life testing of components. What does this mean? Simply put, I test the products on an existing working computer. Not newly reformatted empty hard drives or machines just set up for benchmarking. I believe that in this Plug 'N' Play world you ought to be able to buy a component, install it, and install the drivers, then use it. If there is a problem doing that I think you all ought to know about it.

I am sure that we're all aware that fastest 3D cards are currently any of the 3D add on cards powered by 3Dfx' VoodooČ chipsets. Happily, we are at the beginning of the so-called next-generation of graphics controllers which is most likely the cause of the recent price drops in the low-end 3D Accelerator market. Coincidentally, with the recent growth of the Super7 market, for around $250 you can pick up a decent K6-2 & motherboard combo and for an additional $80 - $140 you can get an excellent 3D accelerator. However, things aren't always that simple, not everyone will immediately upgrade to a K6-2 and the performance of the low-end 3D accelerators varies depending on the processor.

So, now you've got your new Super7 motherboard and, you've got the AMD K6-2 or, you are going to wait for the next Socket 7 processor release but you've got an old tired 2D/3D or 2D graphics card and you know it's time to upgrade. How are you going to decide on the right card for your system? Well, the quality of today's graphics controllers in 2D is so outstanding that no matter which you choose you'll not go far wrong, but what about 3D? Well, as you'll see there are differences here, and, we'll show you how they fair a little later.

The cards tested were chosen as representative of the general performance of the chipsets they are based upon.
The test system used was a Socket-7 Processor (K6-2 300, 6x86MX 200+, or Pentium MMX 200) on an FIC VA-503+ Super7 Motherboard, with 64MB of (Corsair PC100 SDRAM, PNY SDRAM or Generic EDO RAM) The 2D card present for the Voodoo tests was an AGP Millennium II (4MB) card. The test system was running Windows 98 on the first of a pair Western Digital Caviar 33100 harddrives. Quake 2 (retail w/v3.14 patch installed) was used as the benchmark and loaded on the first partition of the 2nd HD the second partition was used for all other driver files.


All cards tested here either used their own OpenGL drivers, or those included with Quake 2, listed below are any and all third party drivers that were used in the tests:

  • 3Dfx Voodoo 1 / Diamond Monster 3D (PCI) / 3Dfx Glide 2.43

  • 3D Rage Pro / ATI All in Wonder Pro (PCI) / ATI Quake 2 OpenGL ICD

  • Intel 740 / Real3D StarFighter (AGP) / Real3D OpenGL ICD

  • nVidia Riva 128 / STB Velocity 128 (AGP) / nVidia Riva 128 OpenGL Drivers ( enhanced with AMD 3DNow! Drivers)

  • Matrox MGA G200 / Millennium G200 (AGP) / DirectX6 beta Wrapper (Note! - The DX6 wrapper is a temporary solution. OpenGL ICD drivers are due out for the G200 by Sept.98.)




    I think it is important to note that Windows 98 was used because, even though it does have a few problems, it facilitates the installation of the individual cards. We do recommend Win98 for use with Super7 systems but you will need to check the FAQs on the individual Chipset's websites for installation procedures.It is also important to note that out of the box some of these cards are difficult to install without following certain procedures. For instance with the Via MVP3 Chipset onboard Via recommends that you must first enable USB in the BIOS Setup, install Win98, install Via's Miniport IRQ Router and finally it's latest AGP virtual Device Driver.
    NOTE - When installing a new grphics card it is very important to remove the existing card from the system through the Device Manager. It is also a good idea to remove all of its existing drivers and .inf file if possible.

    The easiest of these cards to install has to be the Millennium G200. I know that there are many out there that will say that this is an unfair comparison because of the inclusion of this card. While technically it is a nex-gen chipset I included it because it is available now and it's price is within reason. After positioning the card firmly in the AGP slot, securing the case and rebooting; Windows 98 will prompt you for the driver installation disk. It will then reboot and you can set the dispay adapter to your preferred setting.
    ATI's Rage Pro in the All in Wonder Pro is a full length PCI card so be aware if you are short on PCI slots (as the test board was) that you won't get a Voodoo2 daughter card in as well in most of the Super7 mainboards. It is however natively recognized by Win98 and will ask for the Win98 CD to install the drivers. ATI has since come out with an upgrade driver and this was used for the tests.
    Diamond's Monster 3D isn't too difficult but require a second card for 2D to perform and this must be taken into account. Once in though it isn't difficult to configure thanks to Diamond's excellent installation CD.
    Real 3D's Starfighter is a bit of a bear. While there is plenty of documentation out there disputing the ability of the earlier MVP3's ability to run the Intel i740 graphics chip, I decided to pursue it because 1) It is an important graphics chip platform and 2) I'm stubborn and love to tinker. You will need to download all of the latest patches from Intel and remove and reinstall the Via AGP driver Device and Miniport IRQ Router. This may not be such a problem in the newer 1.1B version of the mainboard. I must say though that , in the long run, getting this device to work was worth the effort.
    The STB Velocity 128 was for me an absolute nightmare. I installed the card and drivers after removing the All in Wonder Pro and mistakenly left behind a few driver files. Instead of replacing, ignoring or overwriting these files the 128 produced error after error stating that the card was incorrectly installed or not functioning. I nearly sent it back but was saved by Win 98's Automatic Skip Driver utility which helped me to determine the problem. Even after removing the conflicting files and reinstalling the 128's drivers I was unable to adjust the display properties until I went through three boots into safe mode. Because this was the only nVidia card I had I don't know the problems I had were with the chip itself or the STB board it was mounted on.





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