The problem with the cutthroat pace
of video card advancement is that it's difficult for the average user to always
have a respectable video card without spending a few hundred dollars twice a
year. By respectable I don't necessarily mean a 64-megabyte GeForce2 GTS DDR or
a Voodoo5 5500, as there are several alternate options that are a lot cheaper
and not all that much slower. After all, not everyone wants to play games at
1600x1200 or even 1024x768. I'll list my comments by manufacturer and give
details about each video card. Anything not on this list is probably not worth
considering. Some of these cards here are borderline obsolete already, but may
have some saving graces which appeal to some people, so I'll still include them.
This isn't to say that I recommend them, but their inclusion here means they have at
least one redeeming quality. Note that different video cards may be more or
less effective depending on what processor and chipset combination is used, so if possible, try
and look at some benchmarks on a system similar to your own before buying. Unless otherwise mentioned,
all cards are AGP.
3dfx: All 3dfx cards (and only 3dfx cards) support
Glide, which is 3dfx's proprietary graphics API (basically a specialized version
of OpenGL). Glide is becoming less and less popular these days, but there are
still some older games that only work with, or run best with, Glide. However,
these are not the best solutions for those who will be doing serious 3D work
that doesn't involve games, because 3dfx is all about gaming. Cards based on the
Voodoo3 core and its variants run pretty hot, so make sure your case has good
ventilation if you plan to use a Voodoo3-based card that doesn't have its own
fan. Voodoo3 cards also don't support any special AGP features, but that doesn't
make much of a difference.
Velocity 100: This is 3dfx's budget card, and is basically a Voodoo3 2000 with only 8 megabytes of memory and one of the texture units disabled in software. There is a way to edit the registry to enable the second texture unit,
found on AnandTech. This should give speeds similar to that of a Voodoo3 2000
when memory quantity isn't a concern. The Velocity 100 also suffers all the
drawbacks of the other Voodoo3 boards, as described below. If you can afford an
extra few dollars, though, just get a Voodoo3 2000. Price: $55-60 OEM, $60-$70
Voodoo3 2000 and 3000 (AGP and PCI): These are cheap but
acceptable cards that are available in both AGP and PCI versions. Unfortunately,
these cards are aging and not exactly feature-rich (e.g. they can't run 32-bit
color in 3D and don't support large textures), but they are very good solutions
for those who don't want to spend a lot but need decent 3D performance. These
cards have heat sinks but no fans, so heat might be a concern in poorly
ventilated systems, especially with the 2000 as its heat sink is significantly
smaller. Both carry 16 megabytes of memory. Price: $75 OEM to $100 retail for
the 2000, $110 OEM to $130 retail for the 3000.
Voodoo3 3500: If you want a decent 3D card with an
integrated TV tuner, this is a good option. However, like its weaker siblings,
its 3D hardware is feature-poor and it's not exactly cheap for what you get in
3D performance, as it's are slower than the GeForce 256 SDR. It also has only 16
megabytes of memory and uses only a heat sink, so again heat may be an issue in
cramped cases. Price: $150-$160 for retail box.
Voodoo5 5500: With its good hardware FSAA and image
quality, this is a great card for those who play games where image quality is
more important than frame rate but who still want a card that's very fast in
general. Overall, the V5 5500's game performance is second only to the GeForce2
GTS, although the GeForce 256 DDR beats it by a little in some cases. Price:
about $270 for OEM box, $290 for retail box.
Voodoo5 5000 PCI (unreleased): If this comes out at a
reasonable price, it'll be the card to get for anyone that wants the fastest PCI
card around. It only has half the memory of the 5500, though, and probably won't
be that much cheaper. Price: expected MSRP < =$250 at release, probably about
$225 street price.
Voodoo5 6000(unreleased): If 3dfx can release it in a reasonable amount of time, this will compete with the newer GeForce2 GTS cards with the faster DDR memory for the speed crown. It'll be very expensive, though, so only a few will be able to afford it. Price: expected MSRP < =$600 at release, probably about $550 street price.
(next-generation card series, hopefully to be released at the end of 2000): The
Rampage cards will use DDR memory and supposedly will also have a dedicated
T&L chip. These won't be around for a while but I thought I'd mention the
chipset. If you already have a good card but plan to replace it in a few months,
watch for these cards.