First Look: 3dfx Voodoo 5 Raises the Stakes for Mac Display
Two new models dramatically increase quality, speed and resolution of Mac graphics
As I was on my way to my last scheduled interview at Macworld, I was mentally composing the lead paragraph of my show wrap-up story, and it was going to go something like this: "While many companies offered interesting products, all of them combined were overshadowed by Apple's announcements of standard multiprocessing CPUs, the G4 Cube and a new mouse."
That's what I was thinking, anyway, until I saw the pictures coming from the two new display cards from 3dfx Interactive, the Voodoo 5 4500 and 5500. I've been doing Mac graphics professionally for more than a decade, most of that in video, and I have to tell you, I've never seen anything like this before.
The richness of the colors I was seeing could have come from the images they selected, and the fact that one of the displays they used for demonstration purposes was the jaw-dropping Apple Cinema display, so I focused elsewhere. What struck me most on first glance was the depth of the detail I saw and the rock-solid scanning.
My observation brought a smile from Brian Speece, who's directing Macintosh business development for 3dfx. "We're displaying 2,048 x 1,536 at 85 Hz," he said. "Nobody else on the Mac can handle a resolution like that at this refresh rate."
That was for 2D, however, using the Voodoo 5 4500 card. While 2D is admittedly almost exclusively what I do, I knew of 3dfx's reputation for, well, 3D. Since the day their products have been introduced, 3dfx's cards have completely dominated the PC gaming market, with the Voodoo 3 card having been the sales leader for the last 12 months. More than just sales, the Voodoo series has dominated with the caliber of their technology. It's one thing to say that the Voodoo5 was named Macworld's best display by MacWEEK, which it was, but it's saying much more for games that the PC version of this product won recently won best of show from the hard core gamers at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3).
The Mac has needed serious 3D display power to be a serious gaming platform. We have it now, thank you very much.
It's really impossible for me to demonstrate just how much better the Voodoo 5 5500 looks than anything you've ever seen on a Macintosh for the simple reason that any pictures I tried to show you would have to be seen on the Mac display card you're using. Oops.
Instead, let me run a few numbers by you. The 4500 card can display 333 megapixels per second, more than any other Mac card, according to Speece. The 5500, though, doubles it: 667,000 pixels per second. This allows display of a stunning 60 frames per second, speeds that Mac users just haven't seen without serious compromises in image quality.
In fact, though, 3dfx doesn't believe in those kinds of compromises. "We support all three Macintosh 3D display technologies [OpenGL, QuickDraw 3D Rave and GLIDE]," says Speece. "No one else supports all three. No one else can handle our kinds of display speeds in any of those three. So coming out of the gate, we offer better speeds and higher resolutions than any Mac display card using any display technology, and we do it in a single product."
Coming out of the gate this strong was no accident, of course, and took considerable planning on the part of 3dfx. While the first clue many of us had about their plans was their announcement earlier this year that they'd be introducing Mac cards, Mac compatibility has been engineered into the silicon of their VSA-100 chip for more than a year. The development team for the Mac product line includes engineers from nearly every major company that's ever worked on Mac graphics hardware.
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