October '98 Video Accelerator Comparisonby Anand Lal Shimpi on October 12, 1998 8:42 PM EST
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It's All About Looks - Riva 128
The predecessor of nVidia's latest chipset, the Riva 128 gained its fame for dethroning the 3Dfx Voodoo as the fastest overall 3D accelerators of its time. The Riva 128 is still an average performer by today's standards, while it's not going to give the next generation chipsets a run for their money, it gives you what you need, and lots of it. The Riva 128 features proven Direct3D and OpenGL support, and a generally welcomed presence among games.
In situations where multi-texturing hasn't been completely taken advantage of, the Riva 128 can even perform at levels greater than its "more powerful" brother, the TNT on lower end systems. Games such as SiN perform just fine with the Riva 128, even better than some of the latest and greatest video accelerator offerings from S3, and even nVidia themselves. If this were a perfect world, then the Riva 128 would probably be looking quite appetizing right now, unfortunately this isn't a perfect world (thankfully in some cases, who would want to live in a boring world?) which is what leads us to the weaknesses of the Riva 128.
Not to be superficial, but the appearance of the image quality on the Riva 128 is simply horrid by today's standards. The quality of the 3D output is extremely poor, and aided by its still flaky OpenGL ICD drivers, the Riva 128 is by no means a viable solution for someone that actually wants to enjoy their games. If you're just looking for a card to handle 2D and 3D with no real care as to how your games look and feel, then the Riva 128 is great for the money, however if you actually feel like using your video accelerator for its purpose, then the Riva 128 can be thrown out of the comparison just as easily as it was introduced.
While the Riva 128 is available in an AGP 1X compliant card (and the 128ZX as a 2X version), the AGP implementation is quite poor, and doesn't help the card break its 960 x 720 resolution limit and definitely doesn't help it eliminate the noticeable 800 x 600 resolution performance penalty. For lower end systems the Riva 128 isn't too bad, however if you've got a high end system and are running a Riva 128 it is best that you keep that fact on the silent side as you're doing your system a huge disfavor with such a combination.
Live and Learn - The Riva TNT
The best overall video accelerator money can buy, the Riva TNT is everything the Riva 128 was during its time, and more. Boasting outstanding performance on higher end systems, and above average image quality, the Riva TNT picks up where the 128 left off. Taking a complete 360 degree turn from their history, nVidia worked hard to ensure that the Riva TNT's usage of the AGP 2X specification was the best on the market, and this they did with incredible success.
The 0.35 micron, extremely hot running, chip, uses a twin texel 32-bit graphics pipeline allowing for incredible multi-textured performance on par with if not greater than that of the 3Dfx Voodoo2. While its performance under single textured environments is generally lower or equal to that of a Voodoo2, its ability to scale incredibly with its host processor speed gives it the edge over 3Dfx on the high end. Unlike the introduction of the Riva 128, the Riva TNT ships with a full OpenGL ICD out of the box, a truly excellent driver implementation as well, since the TNT doesn't seem to have any noticeable problems with its OpenGL performance and its image quality.
The 24-bit hardware Z-buffer support leaves the TNT prepared for the next wave of 3D gaming titles, and as mentioned before, its processor scalability will ensure its domination over most of the competition for months to come. The full support for 3D resolutions up to 1600 x 1200 make the TNT an appetizing solution, however performance rapidly degrades after 800 x 600, and unless you have an extremely fast processor, the TNT isn't a smooth performer at 1024 x 768. In a few months nVidia will introduce the 0.25 micron version of the TNT which will run at a 125MHz clock speed versus the 90MHz clock of the current TNT chipsets. This increased clock speed will come with at least a 20 - 25% boost in performance as AnandTech has hinted at in the first tests of a TNT at 125MHz, it should also remove most of the heat problems the current TNT cards experience as a result of the 0.35 micron chip design. It is highly recommended that you get a fan for your TNT if you want the most reliable performance out of your card.
Unfortunately the current drivers for the TNT do require a bit of maturing before rising to the level of the Voodoo2 or other predecessors, especially with Super7/Socket-7 systems. Most Pentium II users won't have that big of a problem with the TNT's drivers however if you are experiencing any problems you may want to give up the conveniences of your manufacturer supplied drivers in favor of the nVidia reference drivers.
The winner, hands down, out of the entire roundup of chipsets in terms of overall quality, performance, and even price is nVidia's Riva TNT. A beautiful salvation of the name from nVidia, the TNT is everything a gamer could ask for, except for maybe a Voodoo2 SLI killer.