V3-3000 Review
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Introduction
Its recent merger with video board-making giant STB a done deal, 3dfx made a brilliant decision moving from R&D and chip technology to actual hardware manufacturing. This very lucrative channel now opened, 3dfx/STB has now only to deliver the performance promised in their staggering 20 million dollar advertising campaign. Can they?

A little more than a week or so ago we reviewed the low-end graphics card in the 3dfx family - Voodoo3 2000. Their mid-market offering, the Voodoo3 3000, while based on the same Voodoo3 core differs in the working frequency - 166MHz (Voodoo3 2000 =143MHz ), and integrated RAMDAC's operating frequency, which has increased from 300MHz to 350MHz. The Voodoo3 3000 is also equipped with a TV-out port connector. The V3 chip is loosely based on 3dfx' Voodoo2 chipset with an added 2D renderer. All mashed together into a neat 0.25 micron die chip, the manufactory of which renders widely varying speed-grade yields. This is primarily the basis for producing the three different cards from the same chip. The V3 chips are AGP x2 parts but only as AGP x2 is related to the transfer rate between the card and main memory. AGP texturing is not supported.

The V3 2000 is clocked at 143 MHz, the V3 3000 is at 166 MHz, and the V3 3500 is at 183 MHz. These higher speeds increase the fillrate and overall data throughput on the whole family of V3s over their V2 predecessor. The cards have a massive fillrate of 283, 333 and 366 Mtexels per second, respectively. An amazing increase over the V2's 180 Mtexels and the Voodoo Banshee's 100 Mtexels per second. These figures alone provide a major clue as to the V3's increased performance capabilities.

Apart from the new TV-out connector and chip, the physical construction of the V3 3000 is quite similar to that of it's baby brother however it comes equipped with 8 2MB faster 6ns SDRAM memory chips (16MB). Also included is a remarkably huge heat sink that is now riveted, rather than glued. to the card itself.

Packaging
Apart from it's included drivers and control panel applet, the V3-3000 ships with Epic's Unreal, Electronic Art's Need For Speed III and Interplay's Descent 3: Sol Ascent For Voodoo3. All of which really show off the card's capabilities and are a significant improvement over the software bundled with the 2000 model. You'll also find a small NTSC TV-out connector for which you will need to supply a length of video cable if you plan on using the V3's TV-out feature.

Installation
Easy as it can be. Simply follow the instructions in the Quick Start Guide and you'll be up and running 10 minutes after you open the box. The driver installation program itself is a fully developed and thorough application that provides access to the 3dfx Tools Control Panel applet and MiniGL for selected games as well as Microsoft's DirectX 6.1.

Voodoo3 3000 3D Feature Set
  • 7 million triangles per second
  • 333 megatexels per second fill rate
  • 128-bit 3D acceleration
  • 2.66GB per Second Peak Bandwidth
  • Dual, 32-bit texture rendering architecture
  • True multi-texturing. 2 textures per-pixel per-clock
  • Full hardware setup of triangle parameters
  • Support for multi-triangle strips and fans
  • Single Pass, Single-cycle bump mapping
  • Single Pass, Single-cycle trilinear MIP-mapping
  • Sub-pixel and sub-texel correction with 0.4x0.4 resolution
  • Per-pixel atmospheric fog with programmable fog zones
  • Floating point Z buffer (W buffer)
  • True per-pixel, LOD MIP mapping with biasing and clamping
  • Highly accurate LOD calculations
  • Texture compositing for multi-texture and special effects
  • Support for 14 texture map formats
  • 8-bit palletized textures with full bilinear filtering
  • Texture compression through narrow channel YAB format
2D Feature Set
  • Fully integrated 128-bit VGA and 2D engine
  • High-speed 128-bit Windows GUI acceleration
  • Hardware acceleration for Bresenham line draw, 2-edge polygon fill, scissor/rectangle clippers and full 256 ROPs
  • Internal 256-bit data path
  • Source and destination chroma-keying for DirectDraw
  • Color expansion and single-cycle block writes
  • Accelerated 8, 16, 24 (packed), and 32-bit modes

Video Subsystem

  • Support for ultra-high resolution displays on PC monitors
  • Resolutions of up to 2046 x 1536 at a full 75Hz screen refresh rate
  • YUV 4:2:2 and YUV 4:2:0 planar support
  • 30 frames per second DVD playback with no dropped frames
  • Supports the latest MPEG2 software CODECs via DirectShow
  • De-interlacing using Bob and Weave
  • Auto page flipping using VBI smoothes video motion
  • 350MHz integrated RAMDAC
  • Up to 24bpp (16.7 million colors)
  • Sub-pixel image scaling technology

Capable of performing over 100 billion operations per second, the V3 3000 pushes the limits of ultra high-resolution gaming. With full hardware setup of 7 million triangles a second, the V3 3000's Single-Pass, Single Cycle Multi-Texturing provides excellent visual quality at resolutions as high as 2046x1536. This ultra-high resolution, high frame rate performance make game play very fluid and visually enjoyable and, add to the mix a very wide range of component compatibility and you'll just have to accept that there is currently not a better all around graphics card for super7 systems.

Image Quality & Performance
After posting the V3-2000 review I was harangued by those who were upset that I didn't cover the fact that the V3 is only capable of performing in High Color mode (16bpp) and that the Z-buffer is similarly handicapped (16-bit Z-buffer). While this is primarily true 3dfx states that in fact the image rendered to the monitor is actually closer to 22bpp through a special filtering and compression decoding techniques (although how this is done is never stated). As to Z-buffering 3dfx has developed an algorithm by which the graphics processor stores the Z-axis value of each pixel in a floating point process which balances out near and far depth by trading off up-close precision for greater depth precision. To be quite frank, you would need to be a mathematician to understand all the ramifications of the Z-axis and Z-buffering, so, I'll just go by what I perceive on the monitor screen and it looks pretty remarkable. There is some blocky looking aliasing when moving at slow speeds through game space but at the increased resolutions they are barely noticeable.

Saving screen captures using the Voodoo3 chip presents some special problems. Most screen shots are saved to the clipboard directly out of the frame buffer and. while this is okay for most cards, the V3 uses a special filtering process that occurs between the buffer and the RAMDAC thus using traditional methods the images appear somewhat hazy and blocky with edges that do not resemble at all the way the image actually appears on-screen.  3dfx recommended the use of a shareware application from Hyperionics called HyperSnap-DX.   While the program does a better job, I found that the images it secured lacked the overall verve of the true screen renderings.  For a full size screen capture, see the list below.

Quake II Screenshot

Unreal FlyBy Screenshot

Click for a larger view

3D Mark 99 MAX Race - Click for a larger view.

3D Mark 99 Max Fist Person - Click for a larger view.

Full Size Screen Captures

3D MARK 99 MAX Image Quality Tests

The absence of this special filtering is is quite evident when you look at the image quality test as performed by Futuremark's 3D Mark 99 MAX graphics subsystem benchmark application.  This is most notable in the alpha-blending and texture rendering tests as you can see below.

Alpha Blending Reference

V3-3000 Alpha Blending

Texture Rendering Reference

V3-3000 Texture Rendering


Benchmark Scores
For this review I decided to go super7 all the way.  Choosing Gigabytes GA-5AX rev. 4.0 for it's ability to handle a wide array of processors meant that the CPU's L2 cache was limited to only 512KB but the card performed with amazing stability no matter what the situation.

Test Configuration for Voodoo3-3000

Mainboard Gigabyte GA-5AX rev. 4.0
Chipset ALI Aladdin V
L2 Cache 512kb PBSRAM
Processor(s) Rise mP6 PR266
IDT Winchip2A 300
AMD K6-2 400MHz
AMD K6-III 400MHz
Memory 2x64MB PC100
Generic (CLK3) 8-ns
Hard Drive Quantum Fireball EX
12.7G Ultra ATA/33
Graphics Adapter 3dfx Voodoo3-3000
Operating System Windows 98

  To provide a real-world assessment of the V3-3000's capabilities all benchmark applications were performed at the card's default settings, with V-synch enabled, and sound on where applicable.  Testing done with the AMD processors was conducted at a screen resolution of 1024x768 and due to their limited capabilities the WinChip and mP6 tests were rendered at a resolution of 800x600. All scores are averaged over three runs of each benchmark application

Using Ziff-Davis 3D Winbench 99 v1.01 rendered 3D WinMark score that are about what you'd expect.  The benchmark application does favor Intel processors somewhat, nevertheless the scores are as high as any I've ever seen on a super7 system at default settings.

Futuremark's 3D Mark 99 MAX takes 3DNow! optimizations into consideration when running the benchmark against capable CPU's and therefore the scaling against Intel CPU's is balanced.

Framerates in Quake II's demo1 timedemo generate the speed at which you can expect the graphics card to perform under normal gameplay. Using the included MiniGL driver I ran the Q2 timedemos with the largest possible texture sizes, again, with V-synch enabled.  Remember these scores are what you can achieve at default settings at a screen resolution of 1024x768 for the AMD processors and 800x600 for the mP6 and Winchip2A.

Three Finger's Crusher Timedemo really pushes the graphics subsystem to it's limits as far as the CPU you use will go.  Therefore, the framerates you see above don't really reflect the card's capabilities as much as they reflect the CPU's.

To gauge D3D performance Rage's Incoming Lux et Robur Gameindex was run and I must say that I've never seen Incoming at such a high resolution look so good. There were 3D shading and transformations apparent that I had never noticed before.  While TNT-based cards seem to handle anti-aliasing a bit better at the edges, the V3 brought out the best that I think the game can render.

Impressions
The V3 chip can only provide support for 256x256 textures and while at present this and the 16-bit color isn't a major limitation, things progressing in the gaming world being what they are, that is sure to change and soon.  The V3-3000 compensates for the lack of these key features by pushing the frame rates that are frankly astounding. Those of you who need to tweak your systems to the very edge would be astonished at the frame rates the card can render with V-synch disabled and the core and memory speeds ramped up to the bleeding edge, but are you willing to sacrifice image quality for speed?  If so, you may want to delve deeper into this personality quirk with a licensed therapist.

On a bright note, 3dfx has always remained a top performer for driver support and frequent enhancements. This leads me to believe that it won't be long until the software-end of the V3 will undergo a change or to that will only improve it's already amazing capabilities. And for those of you that may have missed the V3-2000 review, I cannot proclaim enough that the card is as compatible with the super7 platform as we are ever likely to find.  Don't get me wrong, you may still run into a minor (and I mean that on a super7 scale) glitch from time to time, but for the most part, the V3 means smooth sailing for the super7 gaming enthusiast.  With a manufacturer's suggested retail pricetag of $179.00 (which you can ignore only if you're willing to work at it), the V3-3000 offers great value for money if you use you PC for gaming.  But, heck, if you didn't do that you'd have never gotten this far in the review. 

For more info on this and other 3dfx products check out their web site at http://www.3dfx.com

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