S3: I can't really say I'm a big
fan of S3 these days, since their acquisition of Diamond did little more for
computer users than remove one of the better board manufacturers from the list
of worthy competitors using nVidia's chipsets. S3 isn't exactly a pioneer in 3D
graphics, but they make acceptable budget chipsets from time to time. I have
heard nothing about their next-generation chipset, so it looks like the Viper II
is the newest offering they'll have for a while.
Savage 4 Pro: This is a card for those on a really tight
budget, as it's a year old and slower than pretty much every other 3D card out
there. However, an OEM version of this card with 16 megabytes of memory can be
had for under $50. There are 32-megabyte versions, which of course cost more.
Price: About $50 to 70.
Viper II: Based on S3's
Savage 2000 chipset, this was another card that didn't deliver on its designing
company's promises. Well, I guess I should say that almost no 3D card ever lives
up to its company's marketing department's promises, but this one fell
especially short. While it is pretty cheap and faster than the Voodoo3s, there
are other, superior cards that aren't much more expensive. Its drivers have
matured somewhat so its performance and image quality are better than they used
to be, but it is still not a competitive card. The introduction of the GeForce2
MX will truly make the Viper II obsolete, as its performance is inferior to that
of the GeForce 256 SDR, which costs only tens of dollars more. It does have
hardware T&L, but I'm still unclear on how much of it is used even with the
newest drivers- its initial drivers did not use the T&L unit at all.
In any case, its T&L unit is not as powerful as that on the GeForce 256 cards. There is little reason to consider this card since it's slower than the GeForce 256 SDR and GeForce2 MX, which cost about the same. Price: $115-130. Note: Recently a new card manufacturer, the name of which I can't remember, started making both 32-megabyte and 64-megabyte cards based on the Savage 2000 chipset (all Viper II cards have only 32 megabytes). The review of the 64-megabyte version showed that it was barely faster than the 32-megabyte version, and not really worth consideration due to its higher cost. I simply can't remember which hardware site I read this review on. If you know, send me an email so I can update this section. These other boards were surely cheaper than their S3/Diamond counterparts, and might be worth consideration if they're in the $80-$90 price range.
Final thoughts and general recommendations
The quick evolution in video cards is quite exciting, and games are only going to keep looking better and better as cards get more and more powerful. It'll still be while before we have games that are photo realistic, but being able to play games at 1600x1200 at 32-bit color with FSAA isn't all that far off. We'll be looking back and commenting on how bad current games look. I remember how DOOM and even older games had such great graphics in their time, and marvel at how far computer graphics have come. But today's especially rapid advancement in video speed makes it hard to keep your system's video card competitive. So for future reference, keep the following suggestions in mind:
1. Have a look at the games you currently play and those you plan to buy in the next year and see if any benefit significantly from new hardware features like FSAA, T&L, or environment mapping. Make sure your new card supports such features if you can afford one that does.
2. Don't get a card that's more powerful than you need it to be or will need it to be until you can afford a replacement. That's not to say you should get the cheapest card out there, but you clearly don't need to run out and get a GeForce2 GTS or Voodoo5 5500 right now if you're content with using lower resolutions. The most powerful cards tend to have poor price/performance ratios.
3. Don't spend too much on a new card. This goes hand in hand with the first suggestion. Compare prices, features, and performance levels on cards in your price range, then decide on a card that's right for you. Realize that the very newest cards aren't all that much faster at most things than the past generation, so if you can get 80-90% of the performance for 60% of the price (and you'll be happy with that performance level), do so. Don't allow yourself to be tempted into getting the latest and greatest just because it's the fastest around, because in a few months it won't be the fastest anymore. If you're content with 640x480 or 800x600, you can often get away with getting a much cheaper card.
4. Likewise, don't spend too little on a new card. If you can afford an extra few tens of dollars, and spending it will get you a card with much better performance than one you're considering, go for it. Finding the balance between too much and too little isn't necessarily going to be easy, but there are generally several choices at most price ranges. You might be sorry if you spend too little since the card may become obsolete faster than you'd hoped.
5. Try and wait before getting a new card. Of course you can't wait too long, but you shouldn't run out and spend a bunch of money on a new video card just because your current card doesn't feel new. As long as your current card runs everything you need it to at a speed, resolution, and image quality you like, there's no reason to get a new card. You might wait for a new game you're dying to play to come out, as it may well be too much for your old card to handle. Time inevitably lowers the price of video cards, so don't be afraid to hold off if the card you have now is good enough.