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Voodoo 5 - 5500

Last year, we were worried about the Voodoo3's longevity. Its lack of 32-bit-color rendering and its low-resolution texture support will hurt its longevity, we thought. We were right: dozens of games are using 32-bit color and high-res textures, and Voodoo3 owners are either complaining or looking for an upgrade. We're similarly worried about the new Voodoo5 5500's long-term outlook: its lack of T&L support and the lukewarm response from game developers to its biggest feature, the mighty T-buffer, has us wondering if this otherwise decent card will be a liability at this time next year.

SLI Revisited

The new Voodoo is based on 3dfx's powerful, scalable .25-micron VSA-100 video processor. Mounted on a single circuit board, these chips do perform a streamlined version of SLI (scanline interleave) mode, made famous by the Voodoo2. SLI mode means two chips share the chore of painting frames in a 3D application; they each simultaneously work on different areas of each frame. The Voodoo5 5500 uses a pair of VSA-100s in SLI mode. Unlike with Voodoo2s, however, you won't be able to buy multiple Voodoo5 5500s and chain them together.

Each chip has a pool of 32MB of SDR SDRAM. Although the board physically holds 64MB of memory, it's not used as efficiently as it would be if a single, non-SLI chip were using it. Each chip in an SLI configuration stores its very own complete set of texture data for each frame, so some of those 64 megs are caching redundant data. The memory isn't segmented, however; all nontexture data shares the remainder of the 64MB pool. Each of the chips on this massive honker of a board sports its own fan, and the Voodoo5 5500 even needs external power from one of your power supply's four-pin leads. The box contains a Y-adapter in case you're out of power connectors.

The Voodoo5 5500's feature set looks impressive at first. Although it doesn't support TV-out, we don't care (unless you're talking ATI or Matrox, TV-out is rarely done right anyway). The 128-bit dual-pipeline architecture supports single-clock multitexturing; the card does an excellent job with full-scene antialiasing (FSAA); and the T-buffer effects (motion blur, soft shadows and reflections, and field-of-vision focus) could bring some cool effects to games if developers ever decide to use them.

Performance

In raw performance benchmarks, the Voodoo5 5500 proved to be a competent Direct3D board, although the numbers paled in comparison to GeForce2 GTS benchmarks. The Voodoo5 5500 is actually more competitive with the GeForce 256 DDR, which it trounced in nearly every D3D benchmark we ran. It wasn't quite as consistent as an OpenGL performer, but its Quake III Arena numbers were still respectable.

Here's where the longevity question arises, however: We know our benchmarks consist of established games, and that all of the cards in the performance chart run them reasonably well. Think of the future, however, and know that it's likely that the card that runs current games the fastest will deal best with games that push the envelope, adding more polygons, more detailed textures, and more features. The fastest card today will probably outlast the others, and the Voodoo5 5500 is not the fastest card.

FSAA

That's probably why 3dfx has continued to downplay pure, raw frame rates in favor of visual quality--namely, antialiased games. To that extent we found that yes, the Voodoo5 5500 delivers outstanding visual quality at playable frame rates using FSAA.

 

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