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Video Card Choice

Raven

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Your typical Pentium box has 16-bit ISA slots and PCI slots (I know early ones only have ISA) - what's the best video card, and video card bus, to use on these. I'd imagine that PCI cards are much faster, but there could be other factors besides clock speed. Example - Card "A" on ISA might have superior 2D speed and feel snappier under Windows, DOS, and 2D DOS games, even if Card "B" on PCI is faster at 3D games. Is there a disparity like that, or are PCI cards just faster all-around?

I have an S3 Virge PCI card I was thinking of tossing into a 100Mhz Pentium box - do you think this will provide enough kick for anything the rest of the system can do without bottlenecking it?

Aside from that specific case, what's the best card all-around, the best for 3D (Duke3d/Quake/etc.) and the best for 2D (assuming there's a disparity between 2D and 3D speed on various cards as mentioned as a possibility above)?
 

deadcrickets

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Your typical Pentium box has 16-bit ISA slots and PCI slots (I know early ones only have ISA) - what's the best video card, and video card bus, to use on these. I'd imagine that PCI cards are much faster, but there could be other factors besides clock speed. Example - Card "A" on ISA might have superior 2D speed and feel snappier under Windows, DOS, and 2D DOS games, even if Card "B" on PCI is faster at 3D games. Is there a disparity like that, or are PCI cards just faster all-around?

I have an S3 Virge PCI card I was thinking of tossing into a 100Mhz Pentium box - do you think this will provide enough kick for anything the rest of the system can do without bottlenecking it?

Aside from that specific case, what's the best card all-around, the best for 3D (Duke3d/Quake/etc.) and the best for 2D (assuming there's a disparity between 2D and 3D speed on various cards as mentioned as a possibility above)?


From old experience and from vaguely remembering magazines like Byte and Family PC the PCI video cards were very noticeable in performance improvements. A caveat is made in reference to the video card itself in regards to 64-bit compared to 128-bit. The 128-bit obviously performing well.

Some of the best PCI video cards of the Pentium 1 era were those by #9. Image quality was solely in the realm of Matrox and the S3 Virge Trio64 was fairly well performing. Game wise the Voodoo was about the only real game in town. Now, there was an Intel i740 out at some point but it Intel was one of the first companies to be caught cheating at the benchmarks.
 

Raven

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On my Voodoo box I run a Diamond Monster II with an S3 of some sort (can't recall, I believe it's AGP) and it runs well, since it only needs the performance kick in the 3D department and the Voodoo provides there. That's one of the nice things about those..

But specifically I meant non-Glide titles, because obviously when you get into those the only choice is 3dfx or a wrapper, and wrappers will always pale in comparison (unless you're talking modern hardware) for performance.

I've never heard of "#9", and I have no Matrox cards (except one very rusty card from an outdoor yard sale that never closes that I got for free and doesn't work), so my choices are between the random cards in my bins that include STB, S3, a few overly-new PCI cards and numerous ISA cards (no Tseng, but I have Trident, OTI, Cirrus..).

Is there a tool to test these old cards to tell if they're 64 or 128-bit (under DOS)? What exactly does that figure refer to, the GPU or the data bus to the memory? Something else?
 

glitch

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+1 for Number Nine (#9). Pretty good cards, though most newer versions of Windows won't have drivers for them, or available to install. Definitely go with PCI over ISA if you need performance or higher resolutions. I've got a few Diamond SpeedStar VLB cards that perform well too, but I don't have any Pentium systems that use VLB.
 

Raven

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I've heard good things about Speedstar cards, but in my experience have used several machines with onboard WD-branded Speedstars and they always have buggy or broken VESA support.
 

Lord Moz

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I'll put my vote in for the Matrox Millennium G200. Exceptional 2d performance, 2d & 3d image quality, available in PCI & AGP formats, and perhaps most significantly, the drivers are still available from Matrox directly, for all the classic OSes from DOS to XP, inc. OS/2 (http://www.matrox.com/graphics/en/support/drivers/latest/ & http://www.matrox.com/graphics/en/support/drivers/latest/previous/)

The G400 is supposedly available in a PCI version, but I've not had any luck finding one. eBay is filled with AGP versions.

I fitted my first PC with a Millennium II pair with a ViewSonic PT775, and it was very very nice. I'm not the biggest gamer, but it ran the games I did throw at it fine - as long as you aren't counting on it's OpenGL capabilities :p

I stayed with Matrox from the Millennium II, through the G200, G400 and G550 I believe, before finally moving to ATI with their Radeon 8500. I guess I have a thing for Canadian video card manufacturers. Interesting that I'm also a fan of AMD, and then they bought ATI... now Matrox is the only Canadian GPU vendor left I guess.

G200 card can be had extremely cheap on eBay. I purchased a lot of 5 for about $8 each to put in a few of my older setups (486 - ~400Mhz K6-2s).
I think the driver availability is awesome, as I had the worst time trying to find drivers for various specific chip model/ram types of MACH32/64 cards, or TSENG, or any of the other vendors really.
__
Trevor
 

Raven

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That sounds pretty good, actually, but I don't have any functioning Matrox cards kicking around. If I wanted OpenGL capabilties I'd probably use a Voodoo *with* the Matrox. ;D

I may well get one of these when I get some cash, perhaps a G250 since they're "factory overclocked" OEM versions according to Wikipedia.

Anyway still gotta figure out what to use for now.
 

saundby

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On the buses, if you have a mixed PCI and ISA bus motherboard, avoid using the ISA slots in the system if you can. The presence of any boards in the ISA slots will cause the entire system to run slower. If you've got an early board with only ISA/VESA, then obviously it doesn't matter. If it's got VESA, you'll want a VESA video card.

If you've got PCI or a mixed system, you'll benefit a lot from a PCI video card. My favorite of all is the Voodoo 3/3000. I also like the Matrox boards a lot, like Trevor. The Matrox boards are better for professional apps, the Voodoo 3 is better for games and no slouch when it comes to business stuff, but not as well supported by the software (AutoCAD, etc) as the Matrox boards.
 

Raven

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Nice thing about Voodoo 2s is they require a second board to handle 2D and any non-Glide 3D, so you can take your pick. V2+Matrox sounds like best of both worlds..

As for not using ISA slots, in most cases this isn't possible, because I would want a SB16 in there, but I suppose that with the right era of machine I could stick a PCI card with SB emulation in it, or just go without SB sound since the machine could be dedicated to Windows stuff.
 

Anonymous Coward

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I think the people at Vogons prefer one of the S3 Virge cards for DOS games. I would imagine that the later ones have pretty decent 2D output for windows as well. As everyone else said, for 3d just add voodoo.
 

Unknown_K

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If you just need a 2D PCI card get a Matrox Millenium I or II, they had very nice picture quality and decent 2D speed and are common as dirt since even OEMs used them.
 

Shadow Lord

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Raven,

You ask a complex question. The first thing you really need to answer is what you want the card for and then you can go from there. Like others have said PCI >> ISA in general. Also PCI was introduced at a time when memory was cheaper and better parts were readily available. As such you'll find PCI cards w/ more memory and higher res/colors then ISA. In fact I don't think I have ever seen an ISA card w/ more than 2MB of memory.

If you want a video card to run on your Pentium system any PCI card will do. I used a Trident 8900 card for many years on a P200 MMX until I got me a Voodoo Rush (which I just removed from another system yesterday). It played most games of the time (those before Quake) and was supported by just about everything.

If you want superb DOS performance, good to very good Windows performance but no 3D HW acceleration I suggest a Tseng ET6000 based PCI card. Tseng was the king of DOS in the ISA years and was top three in the Early Windows years.

If you want super picture quality, great windows 2D performance, and good to very good dos performance I suggest a Matrox Millennium II. I have one of these upgraded to 12MB WRAM providing 2D to my 12MB Voodoo2 SLI rig.

As you yourself have pointed out if you want 3D HW accel 3Dfx is the only game in town for that era.

If you don't mind overkill, a bit of incompatibility in DOS mode (specially w/ pre-VESA std. software) then a Banshee PCI should do the trick nicely. Its fast in DOS, Windows, and does very good 3D accel.
 

Raven

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I don't care about resolution much, what I do care about is the card being fast enough to play any game released for DOS, 2D or 3D, including Quake and Quake II, Stargunner, C&C, etc.

I want to know what provides the capability to play any DOS game you throw at it while still being supported by older OSes such as Win3x/OS2/Win9x - i.e., not a "modern" card.

When I say "every DOS game" there is one exception - I don't care if it can do Glide stuff, because I have a separate box for that, and a Voodoo 2, so I could pair it with any card for non-Glide that I want, as the Voodoo 2 is a passthrough card.

Games like Duke3D and Quake - I know Quake *can* run in OpenGL and thus be accelerated by a 3DFX card, but what do they use otherwise? Is it just software rendering handled by the CPU, and the GPU doesn't matter?

Is there any sort of 2D acceleration, or is that just a matter of "how much RAM do you have, how much raw power, and does it support VESA"?

Basically I've just been using random video cards in most of my old boxes, with little rhyme or reason to why aside from "PCI and VESA are faster than ISA", and "Trident has a cool logo". :p

I also use a lot of All-in-One machines, and these usually have integrated graphics that can't be swapped, so I haven't faced the choice in these systems either.

What I'm looking to do, as I mentioned above, is set up a system capable of handling anything under DOS I throw at it gamewise, and still be able to handle a GUI with proper color depth. Most of the DOS games I play are pretty old stuff that'd run on a 286 or above, but I do play games as new as PowerSlave, Duke3D, Quake, etc. as I mentioned, so the box would have to do that.

It would be nice if the machine wouldn't lag running non-Glide 9x titles, so it's a bonus if the card anybody recommends has DirectDraw and/or Direct3D support (not too advanced, but DX6/7 would cover every single thing).

Is there something I could pair with a Voodoo II that would provide satisfactory Win3x drivers, D3D/DirectDraw support, and work well with Quake, Duke3D and friends?

Edit: Some of my Pentium boxen (the box where my Voodoo II currently resides, for one) have AGP slots, so if that's what it takes to fit the bill then feel free to suggest a card on that bus too.
 
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Unknown_K

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There is no card set that will do everything. There is no machine or emulator that will run everything either. Some early D3D games did not work well on later DirectX 6/7 cards.

You are asking simple questions to complex problems. For example there are different 2D modes in games such as , 320x240 mode, 640x480 256 color VGA, and higher resolutions and color depths that can be used with some games and VESA 2.0/3.0 2D cards. Some cards are better in different areas. VLB and PCI cards have more bandwidth then ISA, but depending on what you arev trying to do ISA is just fine, or a decent ISA card might even play the game better then a funky chipped PCI card.

Basically you need to do your own research if you are serious about collecting and playing old games written over a decade or two. It just seems you are out snagging everything and have no idea what any of it is good for. Go out to a library that has old magazines and see what hardware was popular during different times. You can download the first 100 Computer Gaming World magazines (old DOS stuff) in PDF format.
 

Raven

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No I'm not as clueless as you seem to infer in that post - I'm just rather clueless as to what contributes to card performance in each area. Take a specific example:

Duke3D.

You can choose VESA 640x480 or standard 320x240, but not rendering engine or anything. Is this software rendering? i.e., is this done on the CPU, or does the GPU have anything to do with it? If I get a really fast Tseng card will it do Duke3D well, or do I need one that's specifically slated to be a "3D accelerator"?

When you run Quake without OpenGL modes what does IT use?

Is there any 2D acceleration under DOS at all for any game?

I'm not just asking for some magical solution, if you re-read my post I keep asking intermediate questions to help guide me to the final solution. The only reason I even bother asking the blanket question of "what card" is because others have already evaluated cards for their needs and this way I can build a list of cards to look at and/or try out.
 

Agent Orange

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Ravin:

I'm running a Millenium II PCI with the 2 MB 'daughter board' in the 486 that I built this last summer. It seems to run everything that I've got- no hickups so far. Until I find something it can't handle, its won its place in that 486 box. Also, the color is great and its plently fast for yeoman chores like browsing in IE6.

Edit: I kind of suspect, but wouldn't want to get into a long conversation about it, that the 2D accelaration may be a product of the CPU speed and available video RAM. Actually, isn't 2D acceleration more or less drawing a line from point 'A' to point 'B'.
 
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Unknown_K

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2D Video acceleration is about how fast the card can draw lines, complex curves, fill in colors, and move stuff on the screen. The CPU has the job of telling the video card what it wants, then hands over the process to the video chip to accelerate it. Early 2D cards were just frame buffers meaning the CPU did ALL the work and then dumped it to the video card RAM and the card then just dumped that to the screen. The best framebuffer was the one that had the fastest RAM and interface to the CPU. All the early speed benchmarks just showed how fast the card could draw, color, and move things around.

By the later 90's pretty much all video cards accelerated the GUI of windows to the point where it could not get any faster (like scrolling down a spreadsheet so fast it was all a blur). So OS companies started doing more eye candy to bog things down again.

Getting back to games VESA modes came out in the 90's so video chip makers could accelerate specific tasks for games and programmers could just program generic tasks in specific VESA modes (resolution and color depths) and have them done faster. For Quake you have standard VGA modes, accelerated modes (needing a wrapper such as glide to do translations) and VESA high res modes which offered much higher resolutions and color but crappy speed. I played quake at 800x600 using a VESA accelerated video card (a Nvidia Riva 4MB PCI card) and it worked but was super slow. Using the same card in Direct3d mode made quake playable (and with the proper looks).
 

aitotat

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I wouldn't use any Matrox with Voodoo 1 or 2. Voodoos will weaken the signal so much that there is no benefit from the excellent picture quality that Matrox is famous about. None of the Matrox cards I've tested had perfect EGA/VGA compatibility. One good thing about Matrox is that they had VBE 2.0 (or was it 3.0) support build in BIOS.

I recommend S3 Virge (DX or GX) as a 2D card if you want to use Voodoo 1 or 2. S3 cards didn't have VBE 2.0 support build in BIOS but you could use free S3VBE, S3SPDUP and S3REFRSH utilities with them (in my opinion those are far better than SciTech Display Doctor that many people used for VBE 2.0 support).

If signal quality matters then Voodoo 3 or even Voodoo Banshee would be a good alternative. Stay away from any Voodoo Rush based cards.
 

Shadow Lord

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I wouldn't use any Matrox with Voodoo 1 or 2. Voodoos will weaken the signal so much that there is no benefit from the excellent picture quality that Matrox is famous about. None of the Matrox cards I've tested had perfect EGA/VGA compatibility. One good thing about Matrox is that they had VBE 2.0 (or was it 3.0) support build in BIOS.

Can't say I hae seen this. On my setup I use a high quality short female to female VGA cable to connect my Millenium to the Voodoo2s and to my eyes the picture is crips even at the highest resolutions - no fading, or blurriness. Now if you were to used the supplied thin cables from Monster or STB your results may differ (although honestly in a 1 foot long cable you REALLY don't need that much shielding to preserve the signal),
 
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