The late summer and fall 1998 will bring us a bunch of new 3D graphics chips, most of them already announced for quite a while. The expectations are high, since the chip announcements were sounding miraculous in many cases. This article is supposed to give a preview of some of the new chips. Some of them are still in early stages, so that there should be room for performance improvements. Before I get into the actual review data, I would like to quickly go through the chips that are supposed to be available soon, discussing the facts, hype and rumors about them.
3Dfx Voodoo Banshee
Banshee is 3Dfx' first 2D/3D solution, unlike the Voodoo Rush it doesn't require an additional 2D part. 3Dfx was putting a lot of effort into the 2D hardware, offering 'all Windows GDI functions in hardware', thus saving a software layer between the driver and the graphics hardware. This is supposed to make it the fastest 2D chip available. It offers an integrated 250 MHz RAMDAC, to enable good quality 2D. The 128 bit 2D core is also supposed to make Banshee the fastest DOS game platform, important for people who still like re-playing System Shock (I love it) or Privateer II. Banshee also comes with 'full DVD support', enabling 'hardware assist' for software DVD and a 'full' VMI interface for single slot hardware DVD.
The first 0.35 micron part will run with either SDRAM or SGRAM at 100 MHz memory bus, thus offering 100 MPixels 3D fill rate, the later 0.25 micron part will do 125 MHz, thus 125 MPixels fill rate.
The most important thing about Banshee is of course the 3D core. Here 3Dfx was being smart and simple at the same time. Banshee has an only slightly different 3D interface as Voodoo2 and can so not only run the Direct3D software as all its competitors, but also all the numerous Glide titles programmed for Voodoo and Voodoo2 as soon as Glide 3.0 is available with it. This will be the greatest strength of Banshee, making it look considerably more appealing than all its competitors with their young proprietary 3D engines, which lack any special software support.
The main difference between Banshee's 3D engine and Voodoo2 is the missing 2nd texture unit of Banshee. This second 'TMU' enables Voodoo2 to render complicated scenes using both texture units in parallel and thus faster than if it's done sequentially. Quake 2 is a typical example, it uses at least two 'passes', which can be done at the same time with Voodoo2. Banshee will not be able to do that. On the other hand the raw fill rate of Banshee is higher than Voodoo2's. Whilst Voodoo2 runs at 90 MHz and thus offering 90 MPixels/s, Banshee will do 100/125 MPixels/s. Games that don't use 'multi-pass texturing' will so run slightly faster on Banshee than on Voodoo2. Those games are right now in the vast majority, but this will change in the nearer future.
After looking at Banshee's specs, it seems obvious that Banshee will be a great success. It runs the majority of the current (single-pass) Direct3D games faster than a single Voodoo2 card, it runs all the Glide games (e.g. Unreal) as well and multi-texturing games slower, but not that much slower than single Voodoo2. It offers a very good 2D engine and it comes at an attractive enough price. This is exactly what the market was waiting for. Scott Sellers opinion that game developers need a reliable platform which has a decent longevity, will show to be absolutely right, particularly with Banshee. The Glide support makes it unrivaled in the market of 2D/3D chips.