The Voodoo That They Righteously Do

By Anne Doyle

With the latest generation of 3DFX graphics accelerator boards out, I got a chance to compare two of the hottest:

Intergraph's Intense 3D Voodoo and Orchid's Righteous 3D II

Both are phenomenally fast, impressive, yet distinctive - one is an add-on to use with your current video card and the other is a combination card. I'll review each, with their ups and downs, then my preference.

This single 2D/3D combo card offers DVD compatibility, 6MB RAM for faster performance over similar cards and a rush of realism when playing computer games. Since I only had to deal with one card for my video and display needs, all I had to do was remove my old Stealth video card and pop in the Intense 3D Voodoo card. When I turned my Pentium 100 back on (yeah, yeah, I know, it's an oldie already, but it does the job), Windows 95 readily saw the card and prompted me to install the drivers for it. The CD-ROM included made it a snap to install everything I needed, including the latest version of DirectX.

The I3D Information tab provides info on the Voodoo display resolution, driver version, refresh rate, etc; card information - it's memory size and BIOS; whether the desktop gamma and video chroma features have been enabled; and whether or not the Intergraph Multimedia Center features are operating (this is if you want to hook up a TV to the card - way cool!). There's also a Performance button. This allows sound problems to be automatically fixed when playing video clips but warns it may lower performance. The default is unchecked, so I left it that way.

I moved over to the Monitor Control tab - this allows you to center the screen and override the refresh rate for the resolution your monitor is set at. Mine is normally set at 1024x768 (for non-game mode), so my refresh rate is set at 75hz.

The Intergraph Video Center is for the TV mode (NTSC and PAL for TVs and VCRs, plus S-video outputs for camcorders), if you decide to use it (I haven't tried it yet, though I will for home video editing).

There are handy HELP buttons on each of the tabs with easy-to-understand instructions. In addition, an icon is added to the Windows Taskbar where you can adjust red, green and blue gamma for the Windows Desktop and Direct3D titles or adjust the red, green and blue gamma for Video playback (MPEG, AVI..etc.) and Glide games.

So far, so good.

Now I wanted to see just what this card could do. On the 2D front, everything looked crisper than it was before, which made me very happy. I installed the games included with the card: Moto Racer; AH-64D Longbow FX and Turok: Dinosaur Hunter. My first game to tryout was Moto Racer - I'd played it when it first came out and wanted to see what the difference was in 3D. Well, to put it mildly, WOW! I felt like I really was the motorcycle driver, the graphics were more realistic and the video performance was quick enough that there was no flickering or hesitation. After I lost a few races (groan), I switched to AH-64D Longbow. I'm not much of a pilot, much less a helicopter pilot, so I let the hubby take a stab at this. He has the non-3DFX-enhanced version of the game. As I watched him maneuver his Longbow along the terrain, even managing some tricky loops (which were so realistic I was actually feeling airsick), I realized I was going to have to kick him off my computer if I wanted it back. Turok: Dinosaur Hunter is best played at night with as many lights out as possible. It's guaranteed that when those darned dinosaurs jump from all kinds of places you'll jump out of your chair. I'm not much of an action gamer, but I had fun with this game, even if I did keep dying.

I decided to try out the Intense 3D Voodoo on something else I had - X-Files Unrestricted Access. Included in this compendium of everything you ever wanted to know about the X-Files and more are video clips from the TV show. The biggest complaint I had prior to getting the Intense 3D Voodoo was how choppy and slow the video was. It drove me nuts! So I opened up Unrestricted Access, found a video clip and started it. My Quicktime Viewer popped up and my jaw dropped. The video was virtually seamless. No jerky movements, no sound cuts - it was like watching the show on TV (albeit the window size is a lot smaller). If video looked this good on a plain old CD-ROM, I can only imagine what a DVD video would look like. Now I'm anxiously waiting for my birthday - a DVD player is on my wish list!

Available from your local retailer or Intergraph Corporation

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This latest 3D offering from Orchid is for the ultimate, serious gamer. If you are really, really into flight sims, racing sims, detailed graphic games, this is the card for you. The 3D II is a dedicated card, which means you need a video card already in place in your computer before you can use the 3D II. A connector is provided with it for easy hook-up and you do need an extra PCI bus slot for the card. But if you have that (and the cash), you'll get a super powerful graphics accelerator.

My husband snagged this card from me when it came in. Since he has the more powerful computer, a Pentium Pro and he is also a serious gamer, I relented. I watched him as he installed the 12MB card (there is an 8MB card also available), hooked it up to his Intergraph Reactor video card and booted up his computer. Windows 95 recognized the new card and he went through the driver installation process.

In the Control Panel, the Display settings had a similar set-up as my Intense 3D Voodoo - only it was one extra tab for the Righteous 3D II versus my three. But the one tab did everything mine did. . .and more. You can click on the Test settings button and in a flash a rotating 3D graphic of the Righteous 3D II logo appears on a mountain-type background. As you switch from one video resolution to the other (from 512x385 to 1024x768) the graphic slightly changes as it shows how many frames per second (FPS) you get at that resolution. Since my husband plays most of his games at a lower resolution, usually 800x600, he was pretty impressed with the 86 FPS it showed (he uses 1024x768 for web surfing and his mainstream applications). You can attain 100+ FPS, but only if you use the 512x385 resolution. Although the graphics still look okay, they won't be realistic enough for the more complicated games and sims.

He's a Star Wars nut, so he fired up Jedi Knight right away. As he played, I noticed he was moving side to side and ducking as though he were really in the game. The graphics were unbelievable (yes, a bit better than my Intense 3D Voodoo) - very crisp, sharp and rendered images quite well. He completed his mission in style (he never seems to crash or die like me) and tried out the other games. He pointed out how the backgrounds, characters and other things in each game were much sharper than if they were played with a regular 2D video card. He was happy with the FPS throughout each game he tried, even if they dropped a bit in the more complex scenes.

Then he went to some of his own racing sims, like NASCAR II, F-15 and Pro Pilot. He turned off all the extras in NASCAR II and the cars literally flew - the FPS were amazing. He turned on all the extras, including the crowds in the stands, the trees, sky, advertising billboards, etc and the cars still flew even though the FPS dropped a bit. The graphics remained outstanding. He gave me his thumbs-up on the card. And he kept it.

Available from your local retailer or Orchid

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Now the hard part. Which video card do I prefer?

Personally, I like the Intense 3D Voodoo because it's an all-in-one card and offers lots of extras, such as DVD, TV inputs, stereoscopic inputs, etc. It's memory is good, but weak compared to the Righteous 3D II, but for what I use it for, the Intense 3D Voodoo is more than enough for me. Plus the price is right - comparable to similar boards that don't do half as much and have less memory.

HOWEVER, if you ask a serious gamer, such as my hubby, I know they would rather have the Righteous 3D II. The 12MB RAM, the phenomenal rendering of the graphics and the frames per second will make any gamer whoop with joy. Serious gamers tend to not mind spending a little extra to make their system "the best" - so what it all comes down to is a matter of taste. And budget.

I'm more than happy with my Intense 3D Voodoo.

And you all know my hubby is very happy with the Righteous 3D II.

Anne Doyle is a regular contributor to Compute Me. Visit her web site at Shiba Hill.

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