Draw me like one of your mipmapped textures

How reliable is 3D Mark 99? I don’t really know. Testing a few graphics cards gave me some unexpected results, to say the least.

To start with, here are the reference pictures:

reference1
Racing game Reference. Not Wipeout enough.
reference2
First person shooter Reference. Looks Unreal-ish.
reference3
Subpixel accuracy. I don’t really know what it means. I’ll just assume that anything too different is a bad thing.
reference4
Mipmapping test. After all, nobody likes shimmering.
reference5
Additive alpha blending. Uh, what? It’s some kind of alpha blending, I guess. My unpreparedness really shows.
reference6
Multiplicative alpha blending. Read above.
reference7
Alpha blending! Finally something I know.
reference8
Bilinear filtering test. No point in trilinear in a 2D image anyway.
reference9
Texture quality test. Looks like that’s actually pretty big.

So without further ado, let’s start. We have already explored the Voodoo 3 last time. Once again, I’m gonna put up the most notable differences, rather than all of them. It saves time, after all.

S3 Savage 3D (8MB)

A relatively obscure graphics card that came out in 1998. Even at the time, its speed was nothing to write home about. Most of the problems were due to bad drivers. My benchmarks put it below the G200, at least when OpenGL is involved. It recovers in Direct3D, but not without rendering issues. At least for this test, however, we’ll only be looking at image quality.

savage3d1
There is the vague feeling that in some ways, this is actually better than the reference image. Look at the swerving tubes above the image. The filtering isn’t too good, however.
savage3d2
Multiplicative alpha blending actually looks better too! At least in some ways.

Notice the Engineering mark at the top: I was using some experimental 1999 drivers. The original drivers were a lot buggier. But this is a good showing overall. Pretty much all of the other images were the same as the references. For a card cursed with horrible drivers, this is quite impressive. Performance was pretty good as well. If it didn’t cause a slightly overblown brightness on my monitor, I might even use it regularly.

Ati Rage LT Pro (8MB)

Pretty much a laptop card, so the low performance is to be expected. Don’t be fooled by the best version of Tomb Raider available: the Rage LT Pro is quite slow. It should, however, have all of the modern features of the time.

But something is wrong.

ragelt1
Texture crawling in the distance. Isn’t the card using mipmapping? It wouldn’t seem so.
ragelt2
Same problem here, I’m afraid. Shimmering abounds. Bilinear filtering without mipmapping, as seen in Turok.
ragelt4
Mipmapping seems to work properly here. So it’s hard to say what exactly is wrong.
ragelt5
Ouch. Why the color stepping?
ragelt6
Not a good sign. Some issues with bilinear filtering, then? But why?

Imae quality is overall okay, but something is clearly wrong with filtering. Either bilinear doesn’t work as it should, or mipmapping is the one to blame. The tests seem to point to bilinear, but the game images seem to point to mipmapping as the problem. Of course, it could also be that the issue is 3D Mark itself.

Either way, it’s not unheard of for these budget cards to mess up their bilinear implementation.

Intel 740 (8MB)

The nightmare of the late 90’s. A graphics card that was created to solve the problem of limited texture memory, and that in the end suffered exactly with textures. You’d think someone would notice during development. At least it was strong in polygons, its price was very low, and to be fair, image quality was usually pretty good.

intel7401
So, uhm… about that good image quality…
intel7402
… well… nice weather today, don’t you think?
intel7405
I’ve heard it might rain tomorrow, but I’m sure it won’t!

Enough. All the other images were essentially gray or black screens anyway. I can’t really explain this… previous tests with the Intel 740 were good, and I was using the same drivers as always. Maybe something happened to the chip. I really doubt that’s how the card would normally do.

Well, let’s move to the last card of the day.

Matrox Productiva G100 (4MB)

This little baby is effectively a Matrox Mystique with bilinear filtering support and more memory, not to mention an AGP connector. This is actually quite interesting, since I’m pretty sure the G100 shouldn’t support AGP texturing, but it was able to render up to 16MB textures somehow. And it was faster than the Savage3D in that!

That aside, OpenGL support is still missing, and alpha stippling is the best you get. So don’t get your hopes up there. Matrox is always great when it comes to image quality though, so perhaps they can do something here.

g1001
Argh. This is probably the best the G100 could do, but it just doesn’t look very good. The lack of alpha blending is the real problem of this card. It also runs at roughly 6fps.
g1002
Same here, but notice also the very low resolution textures (as expected of a 4MB card) and the lack of proper lighting.
g1003
This is the most different image of the four (the others weren’t worth showing).
g1004
Mipmapping at least seems to be resolved well. In practice however, with very limited texture memory, it is quite useless.
g1005
The brightness doesn’t change at all. The lack of alpha blending support causes this. At least the colors look good?
g1006
Notice that the image looks the same as the previous one, which shouldn’t happen.
g1007
Alpha stippling shows its true colors (pun intended). It’s like the Saturn all over again.
g1008
While the card is supposed to have bilinear filtering, the implementation just isn’t good at all. Looks almost like nearest neighboring. Low bandwidth, maybe?
g1009
The G100 was the only card to fail the texture quality test. Not unexpected, with 4MB. The 8MB cards did better than the Voodoo 3, thanks probably to AGP texturing.

I guess there’s only so much you can do with limited features.

One thing to point out, is that the Rage LT Pro actually showed semi-proper filtering in 3D Mark 2000 instead (and of course was running horribly slow). So I have my reservations about the reliability of 3D Mark 99. And of course that Intel 740 result is anything but acceptable.

Anyway, outside of the Savage 3D, nothing is really doing well enough. And of course they are real slow as well. No reason to change my Voodoo 3, then.

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