Life goes on as it has always done, and so does my testing. Occasionally, I manage to find something interesting, such as this Riva 128 which had been abandoned in a waste management center. Might as well give it a new home.
I already have a Riva 128ZX, but it was disappointing. Bad results in Direct3D and even in OpenGL left me somewhat cold. Some research, however, showed that the ZX came in two flavors: slower 64-bits SDRAM and faster 128-bits SGRAM. The former was much more common, meaning that you are more likely to find it around today. For comparison, the original Riva 128 was limited to 4MB, but always SGRAM. That alone wouldn’t explain the quality issues, though, since my tests were way worse than I expected. So I thought it could be a drivers issue, and tried the same universal drivers available on the Nvidia website. Indeed, same problems. But here comes STB to the rescue.
As it turns out, this specific Riva 128 is a STB Velocity 128, a fairly common model of its time. And STB made its own drivers for the card. Which I managed to find. I forgot the website, alas, but I downloaded them already. So now they are safe for posterity. After some extensive testing, I did find one useful set: drivers 0132 give me the best Direct3D quality and speed overall.
Only one problem then: OpenGL support is not available. For that, you gotta use the newer 0166 drivers, and those have the exact same issues in D3D as the latest drivers on Nvidia’s website, if not worse. Anyway, OpenGL works well with those, so I was able to test Quake 2 and still get much better framerates than the ZX, which at this point I’m assuming is because of the latter’s SDRAM memory. Unfortunately, with just 4MB of video memory, 1024×768 is never an option. But arguably, this wasn’t the kind of card you’d have wanted to run at anything higher than 800×600 anyway.
I wish I was able to test the ZX with those same 0132 drivers, but there’s a hardware check: when I tried to install the drivers, it let me do it, but then refused to boot Windows 98 due to “wrong hardware”. Crafty. I had to remove the drivers from safe mode. Either way, I’m guessing the scores would have been appreciably lower, just like in Quake 2.
One weird thing: the newer drivers show multitexturing among the available features, although obviously the card cannot support it. With the STB drivers, this wasn’t the case. Perhaps Nvidia added it at the very end of the Riva’s life to make it more appealing to the average consumer. Or maybe the drivers will manage textures to reduce the workload for the CPU. I’m not sure.
And while the STB drivers don’t have the same issues with subpixel accuracy and mipmapping, filtering is still lacking and trilinear is of course absent. So the card has its limits, to be sure. But at least this experience goes to futher show that, on older grapgics cards, drivers could make all the difference.
Now, what is my next card going to be? Maybe another trip to the waste management center tomorrow will show me the way…