3DNow! Support Comparison

What is the AMD K6-2? Nothing more than a faster version of the K6 which runs at a lower core voltage and features AMDs 3DNow! instructions. What is the K6-3? Nothing more than a K6-2 with integrated L2 cache that dramatically improves business application performance. What happens if your hardware has no 3DNow! support? Your K6-3 becomes nothing more than a K6-2 which is nothing more than a faster K6 while playing games, and all of the sudden your 450MHz "powerhouse" is cranking out a measly 40 fps at 800 x 600 in Quake 2. Weve already discussed 2D image quality, 3D image quality, and Chipset compatibility, but what about raw performance?

On Super7 systems, the performance of the fastest graphics chipset on paper can be humbled easily by a "slower" chipset with a stronger 3DNow! implementation. Of the three major manufacturers included in this comparison, 3dfx, nVidia, and ATI, only two of them claim 3DNow! support in their drivers. Of the two that claim the support, only one actually follows through with a truly noticeable increase in performance under a select few games. So which manufacturers took the time to work on 3DNow! driver optimizations?

None. Truthfully speaking, it was AMD who spent the countless hours re-working the Quake 2 OpenGL drivers in order to show off the incredible power of their 3DNow! instructions. The company to receive the most noticeable benefit in this respect has been 3dfx, whose dedication to continuing the 3DNow! support initiated by AMD has given them yet another edge over the competition in the Super7 market. Unfortunately, there is much confusion as to how to properly take advantage of AMDs 3DNow! Quake 2 patch with the 3dfx Banshee and Voodoo3 which require the use of 3dfxs MiniGL driver rather than AMDs 3dfxglam.dll driver under Quake 2 (and all other games based on the Q2 engine). The process is quite simple actually, however it isnt documented anywhere on 3dfxs site:

  1. Extract the Quake 2 MiniGL file provided by 3dfx to your root Quake 2 directory (X:\Quake2\). The MiniGL is available for download at www.3dfx.com if you dont already have it.
  2. Rename the MiniGL file (3dfxgl.dll) to the following: opengl32.dll. Be sure to delete any previous opengl32.dll files that were present in your root Quake 2 directory before doing so.
  3. Extract the AMD Quake 2 3DNow! patch to your Quake 2 directory as documented in AMDs installation FAQ.
  4. Start Quake 2. Under the video options menu, choose 3DNow! OpenGL as your rendering device, not 3Dnow! 3dfxGL

Because of the current state of Banshee/Voodoo3 drivers, the performance of a single Voodoo2 and a Voodoo2 SLI setup is generally around that of a Banshee/Voodoo3 if not greater due to a stronger 3DNow! implementation in the Voodoo2 drivers. Soon enough 3dfx should improve the Voodoo3 drivers with better 3DNow! support, however also keep in mind that it wasnt until recently that the Banshees drivers received native 3DNow! support.

NVidia claims to be working on support for 3DNow!, but even while using AMD's 3DNow! OpenGL rendering device in Quake 2 the measured performance increase over standard the OpenGL renderer is barely noticeable, at most 5 fps under Quake 2. Under Direct3D things have improved considerably, however all Direct3D games will take advantage of 3DNow! as long as they require DirectX 6.0 to operate.

As of the time of publication, the Rage 128 failed to support 3DNow! in any measurable form however support from ATI for the growing standard should follow in the future. But as you already know, ATI has bigger driver problems on their hands before they can get to 3DNow! optimizations.

3D Image Quality Comparison The Test
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