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Monday, August 7, 2000
PC Reactions to PCI V5 5500
3:46 PM | Michael Eilers | Comment on this story

As the Mac version of the 3dfx Voodoo5 5500 PCI begins to arrive in stores and on the doorsteps of eager Mac gamers, the PC version of this card has also made its debut. The usual round of PC hardware sites have already posted reviews of this card; as expected, the PCI version of the V5 exhibits similar but slightly-slower performance than the AGP version, due to the narrower bandwidth of that type of bus interface.

What this might mean for Mac gamers is unclear. As we discovered in our preview of the Voodoo5 5500, the discrepancy between Mac and PC benchmarks was very large, due to a variety of factors and unoptomized drivers. However, the fact that the card was PCI is clearly not as limiting a factor as we assumed, as the PC benchmarks reveal the PCI version of the V5 to be 80-90% as fast as the AGP version in many tests. In particular, the results posted at Firing Squad show that the PCI version of the V5 suffers no dramatic loss of speed when compared to its 4x AGP equivalent when compared with high detail and medium resolution settings.

GA-Hardware found similar results; their review is interesting because it includes a comparison with the ATI Radeon, which is due to ship for the Mac in both AGP and PCI this Fall. One question that appears over and over again in these reviews is, why make a PCI version of this card at all? On the PC side, PCI graphics cards are already a rarity, and many high-end cards are AGP only. Here's GA-Hardware's answer to this question:

So why did 3dfx make the V5 5500? Because there are VERY MANY users whose computers do not include an AGP slot. Many of the bargain PCs (which are common first computer purchases) are based on chipsets that have a built-in video card (such as Intel's i810). Although these machines perform well enough in common Windows tasks, they perform horribly in gaming. Also, another reason for PCI cards is Apple Macintoshes. As PCI is the primary bus used in Macs as well, this allows 3dfx to target two rather large groups, many of whom would like to get better gaming performance than they currently are able to.
Our CGA partner Stomped also has a review of the PCI V5 posted; in their analysis, the reason that the PCI card is so competitive with the AGP version is that the PCI configuration does not transfer any texture memory over the AGP bus, but instead uses the very large (64 MB) SDRAM buffer to store textures. Stomped's benchmarks are particularly interesting, as they are from a real-world system (450 MHz Pentium III) rather than the uber-tweaked 1.2 GHz machines used by many hardware reviewers. This provides results that are very similar to the ones we obtained in our own preview of the Voodoo5 5500 - in fact they almost match perfectly. This weakens 3dfx's argument that the Mac OS bus is limiting the performance of the V5 5500, and strengthens the idea that the card is both CPU limited (due to ported games and Apple's OpenGL drivers) and driver limited (due to unoptomized drivers from 3dfx.)

Definitely more food for thought. IMG will have a final review of the Mac Voodoo5 5500 PCI in several days; we have decided to wait for the next driver revision, due shortly. In the meantime check out these reviews for more details and IMG's own V5 preview for more information.

3dfx V5 5500 PCI Mac Preview
3dfx V5 5500 PCI Review at Stomped
3dfx V5 5500 PCI Review at GA-Hardware
3dfx V5 5500 PCI Review at Firing Squad

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