Maxi Gamer Phoenix Banshee

by Anand Lal Shimpi on October 6, 1998 6:38 PM EST
Remaining fairly quiet throughout the 1998 hardware rollout season, Guillemot International hasn't had any major successes in any PC peripheral related field since the introduction of their top of the line Home Studio Pro 64 sound card which put the original Sound Blaster AWE64 to shame. 

Maxi Gamer Phoenix

With history prone to repeat itself eventually, and Guillemot well overdue for a comeback, it seemed almost fitting that Guillemot should be one of the first to jump on the next-generation 2D/3D accelerator bandwagon with one of the first video accelerators based on the 3Dfx Banshee Chipset. 

Almost predestined to follow in the footsteps of the Voodoo2 chipset, the Banshee will bring even more truth to the generally vague statement that all 3Dfx accelerators are created equal, meaning a Voodoo2 is a Voodoo2, and a Banshee is a Banshee, regardless of manufacturer.  With that in mind, let's take a look at the mold for 3Dfx's newest chipset, will it salvage 3Dfx's name in a market that is quickly falling into the hands of the competitors? 

Banshee vs Voodoo2

Before getting into the specifics of the card itself, we have to separate the top two contenders from the 3D proprietors themselves, 3Dfx Interactive.  The primary difference between the two chipsets is definitely the obvious, the Voodoo2 is a 3D-only solution while the Banshee is an integrated 2D/3D combination product.

Presented in a single chip package, the Banshee contains essentially the same 3D texture processing capabilities as the Voodoo2 with one major disadvantage in order to decrease cost.  The Banshee only has a single texture processor (known in the Voodoo2 community as a Texelfx processor) meaning it requires two passes to render multi-textured environments. 

If you look at 3D rendering as painting a wall, a single coat of paint can easily be accomplished by virtually any brush, while that same brush will require two strokes to place two separate coats of paint on the wall (1 texture processor).  Now imagine a brush capable of placing two coats of paint on a wall in a single pass (2 texture processors).  By using the latter type of brush you are essentially doubling your productivity.  In 3D gaming and rendering situations the application of such a technique is a bit more complex, yet it follows the same basic principle.  If a wall in a game, such as Unreal, happens to have a texture placed on it, such as a brick texture, followed by another layer, say a reflection from a nearby fire, you basically have two textures on that one surface. 

A Voodoo2, or any other chipset which has two separate texture processors can render that surface in a single pass (as in a single pass of a brush from the example above) while a Banshee, or any other chipset which only has a single texture processor, must make two passes (as in two strokes of a brush) to render the entire surface.

The Banshee boasts the same pixel processing unit which is found on all Voodoo2 boards, and therefore does retain some of the power of its bigger brother.  In spite of its semi-crippled nature, the Banshee can surpass even the Voodoo2 in terms of performance when placed in the proper situation; at the same time, it can also be put to shame in a slightly different one.  How can this be?

Well, in order to compensate for the lack of a second texture unit, 3Dfx clocked the Banshee at a full 100MHz clock, producing a fill rate of 100 million pixels per second compared to the Voodoo2's default fill rate of 90MP/s.  In situations where only a single layered texture is used, the Banshee will outperform a Voodoo2, however in multi-textured situations, the Banshee will be shadowed by the raw power of the Voodoo2's second texture processor. 

Also, unlike the Voodoo2, the Banshee was catered to be an AGP solution rather than a PCI slot-hog as its counterpart turned out to be.  Unfortunately, this decision came as a marketing ploy more than anything else for 3Dfx.  Since AGP is a newer technology, the market immediately assumes that it is inherently better and worth the extra attention, however in the case of the Banshee, this is definitely not true.  The Banshee's implementation of the AGP specification only allows it to take advantage of what is known as the 1X AGP Bus Transfer Mode, operating at 66MHz.  Not only does it operate at the AGP 1X specification, it also doesn't allow for the transfer of textures over the AGP bus due to its lack of support for AGP side-banding (the transfer of data on both the rising and falling edges of the AGP bus, i.e. making use of the entire width of a road rather than the central portion exclusively).  This makes the AGP capabilities of the Banshee chipset virtually useless to the gamer from a performance perspective, virtually bridging the gap between AGP and PCI Banshee based cards.

The Banshee, as mentioned earlier, is a completely integrated 2D/3D solution in a single package.  This is an obvious deferral from the standard 3Dfx methodology of graphics accelerator production which normally calls for a separate 3D accelerator.  For those of you that have been soured on 3Dfx's 2D/3D combo cards from the horrid days of the VoodooRush, the Banshee isn't going to give you the same problems you experienced with the Rush chipset.  It fully supports Direct3D as well as Glide, meaning it will be able to run all of your current games that will work on 3Dfx based products virtually flawlessly.  The inclusion of 16MB of SDRAM or SGRAM on board allows for 3D resolutions up to 1024 x 768, with 16-bit Z-Buffering (no 32-bit support, meaning you get the same image quality as the Voodoo2).   The 2D performance is pretty much on par with that of the nVidia TNT Chipset, still keeping the generous gap between itself and the 2D monster, the Matrox G200.  This performance is courtesy of the 128-bit 2D core that is a part of the Banshee chipset, unlike the original VoodooRush which contained a separate, external, 2D core which wasn't of the absolute best quality.  While the 2D image quality could definitely be improved, for most users with 17" or smaller monitors, the Banshee shouldn't be a huge disappointment.  If you are used to a Matrox or maybe even a high end Number 9 2D accelerator on a 17" monitor you may want to try the Banshee out on your system before making any final judgements as to the course of your purchasing decision.

With that said and done, and with the Banshee formally introduced, let's get to the very first review of a 3Dfx Banshee based card on AnandTech, the PCI Guillemot Maxi Gamer Phoenix Banshee.

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