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The Viper V550:

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by Diamond
About a month or so ago, I was in desperate need for a computer upgrade. Besides my new (overclocked) Intel Celeron 300a, 440 BX motherboard, and 8.4GB hard drive, I needed a new and fast 3D accelerator, one that would benefit from my new AGP slot.  The Diamond Viper V550, which uses Nvidia Riva's new TNT chipset with 16MB of 125Mhz SDRAM and a 250Mhz RAMDAC capable of 1920x1200 resolutions, had just been released and I had read many preview articles that boasted very high framerates in Quake 2. This piqued my interest since I'm an avid Quake 2 player, so I figured what the heck, it's only $199, I could always add a Diamond Monster II later. Most people have to budget their computer spending. Me? I just go into credit card debt.

After opening the box up and finding the typical manual, driver CD, free game CD, video card, and lotsa empty box, I inserted the card. So I turn the power on and BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! I turned the machine off and my friend took a look inside to find the card not fully pushed into the slot, "You gotta make sure the card is all the way seated," he says. Oops, shows what I know about AGP video cards. I turn the power back on and presto! We had liftoff!

I took a  look at the manual and found a quick installation guide and a step by step process for installing the driver software. I also noticed a small  box  warning that  you won't get the full benefits of the AGP bus if you're using less than version OSR2 of Windows 95Diamond thoughtfully included Windows 98 drivers and Incontrol Tools on their driver CD; no downloading from the net required, very cool. After installing the card and the drivers with Incontrol Tools,  I rebooted the machine. Windows 98 loaded up and to my surprise the picture was crystal clear; in fact, this was the best picture I had ever seen. Not to knock  my Diamond Monster 3D, but its pass-through cable caused some 2D signal degradation.

Now that everything was working beautifully in Windows 98,  I needed to try the 3D support.  I launched Quake 2 and went directly to the video mode settings and for the first time I changed from 3Dfx OpenGL to the default OpenGL setting. I then cranked the screen resolution up to 1024x768 and BOOM! Quake 2 in glorious high resolution! So I proceeded to the Quake 2 console and typed "timedemo 1" and "demo1.dm2", then sat back and watched Quake 2 literally scream through the timedemo. I had never witnessed such a display of speed before, so I figured I better test out all the resolutions to see what my new wonderful piece of hardware excellence would do. For you Quake 2 gurus out there here's what I got:

Quake 2 Resolutions demo1.dm2 demo2.dm2 massive1.dm2
640x480 55.3 54.3 42.8
800x600 52.8 52.4 41.4
1024x768 39.2 39.9 34.7


I was simply amazed, I never thought I'd see the day when something outperformed a 3Dfx card. These numbers actually performed close to SLI linked Diamond Monster IIs. And unlike SLI 3Dfx cards, the V550 could do 1152x864 resolution in Quake 2 and still stay above 30fps. And if you've ever read those studies on the human eye,  you know that we can't see any difference beyond 30fps.

Even though Quake 2 is my favorite 3D accelerated game, I figured I better test this card with some Direct3D titles too. So I downloaded the demo of X and Forsaken and ran some benchmarks. Here's what I got, and by the way this is with DirectX 6.0 installed: 

X Average FPS
640x480 73.39
800x600 55.127
1024x768 50.162


Forsaken Average FPS
640x480 85.16
800x600 78.76
1024x768 54.32

Once again I was impressed. The V550 was a miracle worker in OpenGL and Direct3D, but I had that little voice in the back of my head repeating, "What about the Glide games . . . this isn't a 3Dfx card. . . you won't be able to play any 3Dfx games . ." This worried me so I thought I'd hunt through the store shelves to see if there were any really cool games that used 3Dfx only. I found only one game that wouldn't support my new V550 and that was Unreal. Unreal was developed around 3Dfx hardware and as of now has no Direct3D support, not even OpenGL. This will of course change within the next few months,  however,  since the developers of Unreal are hard at work on the patches.

The image quality of my new V550 is actually better than my Diamond Monster 3D ever was. The only problem I found was that Quake 2 had some really dark-looking textures. This was actually more Quake 2's fault than the V550's, as I soon found out. Quake 2 has a setting in its config.sys file called "gl_modulate." The default setting is "1", but I found that if you set it up to "2", then Quake 2 is a whole lot brighter. Joy! I should also mention that I got a free game with my V550 called Motorhead, a futuristic racing sim that really shows off some of the awesome graphic effects of the V550.

HIGHS: Low price, awesome 2D/3D solution, OpenGL ICD support, crystal clear picture and textures, high framerates, AGP 2X support, 5 year warranty.

LOWS: No Glide support.

BOTTOMLINE:  Right now, the best 2D/3D AGP solution to your desktop and gaming needs.

--Jon Hall