Super7 Video Accelerator Comparison - Part 1: High End Gaming Solutions (June 99)by Anand Lal Shimpi on June 28, 1999 6:56 PM EST
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Dedicated to the memory of Robert DiGiacamo. A great man and a good friend. May his dreams continue to grow and flourish with time.
Much like basketball fans individual companies have received their own groups of followers that wouldnt dream of betraying their loyalty at any cost. The greatest example of this in recent times would be the 3dfx/NVIDIA debates that engulfed so many unsuspecting gamers in flame wars across bulletin boards and newsgroups online. It seems like it is almost a fad to support a single company and no other these days, an unfortunate trend since a close minded approach to an open market such as the video accelerator market will greatly limit you. For this very reason, AnandTechs coverage of Super7 Video solutions comes with one prerequisite that you, the reader, understand one fundamental principle, there is no one "best" video accelerator available on the market today. The fact of the matter is that there is a different video accelerator for each individuals needs, so instead of wasting time arguing why 3dfx is better than NVIDIA or why S3 is the savior of the market, spend the time researching which card is right for your needs. Now that weve established that prerequisite, lets take a look at the question at hand, whats the best video card for your Super7 system?
A Call to Action
The Super7 industry has never been a flawless platform for hardware manufacturers to support, ask any motherboard or video card manufacturer and they will undoubtedly agree with you on that point. Does that mean that the Super7 industry doesnt deserve any attention? Absolutely not, as long as there are users alive that support the standard, there will be a desire for information about Super7 related topics, one of the most prevalent being video card performance. The only problem with delivering such information is that, until recently, most newer graphics accelerators had problems with the two main Super7 chipsets, the ALi Aladdin V and the VIA MVP3.
Before the release of a number of the latest video chipsets AnandTech was given the opportunity to preview the technology by a number of manufacturers. Each time AnandTech would take a look at a prerelease card/chipset solution we would pose the question to the particular card manufacturer of whether or not they had experimented with any Super7 tests. And each time the answer AnandTech received was the same "no" we had been hearing ever since the dawn of the Super7 AGP video incompatibilities dating back to the release of the first Super7 motherboards.
A call to action was essentially issued by 3dfx to the rest of the market to begin to actively support Super7 platforms as their solutions, not being fully AGP compliant, experienced virtually no problems with Super7 systems and tended to perform much better than the competitions products. Not wanting to give up the entire Super7 market to 3dfx and for once, listening to the demands of the Super7 industry, NVIDIA took the first step towards a brighter day among Super7 gamers with the release of their Detonator 1.88 drivers for the TNT/TNT2. These drivers, with full 3DNow! support gave the Super7 market possibly one of the last breaths of hope the market will allow it before the official release of the AMD Athlon (K7).
With AnandTechs last Super7 video accelerator comparison performed seemingly ages ago, this was a call to action for all reviewers as well, needless to say after days of benchmarking the comparison is ready, the winners have been crowned, and the graphs have been made. Due to length constraints, the Super7 Video Comparison has been divided into four separate sections, High-End Gaming performance, Mid-Range/Low-End Gaming performance, High-End Professional Application performance, and a final look at all three of those performance categories.
This, the first of four comparisons, concentrates on High-End Gaming performance, comparing the latest graphics accelerators from 3dfx, 3DLabs, Matrox, NVIDIA, and S3 on two of the fastest and most popular Super7 processors on the market. The Mid-Range/Low-End comparison will fill in the gaps with older graphics accelerators and slower Super7 processors, followed by the High-End Professional Application comparison which will concentrate on NT performance/stability. So without further ado, lets proceed to the next step.
For those of you that have never owned a Super7 system and are curious about the problems associated with Super7 systems and AGP video cards, the problems themselves are actually not related to the fact that AMD makes the CPUs, unfortunately the problems do lie in the chipset solutions for Super7 systems. Two main manufacturers, as mentioned before, ALi and VIA are the driving forces behind the motherboard support for the Super7 platform. Unfortunately the maturity of their Super7 solutions isnt nearly as great as that of Intels 440BX chipset that has been giving Slot-1 and now Socket-370 users solid performance for quite some time.
The first true Super7 chipset to hit the market was the Aladdin V by ALi (for the sake of simplicity of this argument we are not addressing the SiS solutions available prior to the Aladdin V), however the Aladdin V, if anything, is the best example of the rule of thumb that first isnt necessarily best. The Aladdin V unfortunately has a compatibility problem with the current batch of TNT2 accelerators. The nature of the current issues with the chipset is quite bizarre as some motherboards based on the Aladdin V will work just fine with the TNT2, while others wont. Before its official release, the Aladdin V went through over 10 different chip revisions, however there still seem to be some problems with the chipset, so anyone looking for a new Super7 system will probably wish to stay with VIA for the time being.
The VIA MVP3 is the only other remaining solution for Super7 users (the MVP4 has built in video) looking for good gaming performance. But a question that quite a few users ask is how to properly setup a Super7 system based on the VIA MVP3 chipset. By far, the absolute easiest way to start off setting up a Super7 system is to perform a clean install of your operating system, while this is not always possible it is highly encouraged as it does tend to simplify the rest of the process just in case you were using any other conflicting drivers prior to installing your new video card.