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WinLab Reviews
Hardware
Head to Head: Video Cards
High-End Video-Card Game

-- by James E. Powell

High-end video card manufacturers often can't decide whether their products are best suited for business or gaming applications. Two new entries-the Hercules Stingray 128/3D and the Matrox Millennium II-underscore this dilemma: Each does half of what a card should do.

Both the Stingray and the Millennium II turned in average performances when running at 800x600 and 65,000 colors (16-bit color mode). For example, the Millennium II took 113 seconds to run Excel, and the Stingray took 135; that's on a par with the 126 seconds it took for both the Matrox Mystique 220 and STB Nitro 3D that won spots on our WinList in August.

That kind of performance is to be expected-these cards are designed to show their stuff at higher resolutions. The Millennium II definitely did, but the Stingray's performance fell off in our Word, Excel and Wintune 97 tests. At 1024x768 and 32-bit color, Word ran 18 percent faster and Excel ran 13 percent faster with the Millennium II installed on an AST Bravo Intel Pentium 200 with 32MB of RAM. Our Wintune 97 video scores for the Millennium II were 158 percent better than the Stingray's.

That's just part of the performance story, however. Both products offer video scaling in X and Y dimensions for high-quality video playback, and subjective and frame-per-second tests using Fox Interactive's Independence Day game yielded no discernible differences. But look more closely, and you'll find that the Millennium II doesn't support all the 3D effects the Stingray can. Both cards handle Gourard shaded rendering and perspective-correct texture mapping, but only the Hercules properly handles fog, alpha transparency and color key transparency. Furthermore, the Stingray's Polygon Throughput benchmark results were 75 percent better than the Millennium's, and its Fill Rate tests were 54 percent better.

Hercules Stingray 128/3D

The Hercules Stingray 128/3D is based on the 128-bit Alliance ProMotion-AT3D processor integrated with the 3Dfx Voodoo Rush Arcade chipset-which explains its good 3D performance. The Stingray comes with 6MB of single-cycle EDO DRAM. Its 180MHz DAC offers refresh rates up to 200Hz, and the board can handle 1600x1200 in 65,000 colors and 1280x1024 in 24-bit (16.7 million) color mode. A VMI connector for DVD and video input is included.

Like the Millennium II, the Stingray supports a good cross-section of major 3D APIs, though the focus is more on games: Direct3D, 3Dfx Interactive Glide, Argonaut Brender and Criterion Renderware. Its 3D accuracy was very good.

Matrox Millennium II

Based on Matrox's own MGA-2164W processor, the Millennium II's 64-bit graphics processor can display up to 1800x1440 pixels at 16 bits for 2D performance, or up to 1280x1024 pixels at 24 bits that is double-buffered with a 32-bit Z dimension for high-quality 3D. That's also possible because of the fast 250MHz RAMDAC on board. The card comes in a 4MB or 8MB WRAM base board, expandable to 8MB, 12MB or 16MB. We tested the 4MB board with a 4MB add-on.

The Millennium II supports OpenGL, Direct3D, DirectDraw, DirectVideo, HEIDI and ActiveMovie.

The board comes bundled with Micrografx's Simply 3D 2 and Picture Publisher 7, Kai's Power Tools, Vream's WIRL 3D Web browser, Netscape Navigator 4.0, Sonnetech Colorific color-calibration utility and CompCore's SoftPEG 2.2 software MPEG decoder.

In the cards

We prefer the Matrox Millennium II for its day-to-day high-end 2D business performance, and the Hercules Stingray 128/3D where high-end 3D performance is your key requirement, but, because of their limited capabilities, neither product is a WinList candidate.

QUICK VIEW

Hercules Stingray 128/3D

Bottom Line: Best choice where 3D is more important than 2D performance
Price: $229
Platforms: 3x, 95, NT
Pros: Very good 3D performance
Cons: Slower 2D performance
Strongest Rival: Matrox Millennium II

Hercules Computer Technology, 800-532-0600, 510-623-6030. Winfo #849

QUICK VIEW

Matrox Millennium II

Bottom Line: Better choice for business graphics
Price: 4MB, $199; 8MB, $299
Platforms: 3x, 95
Pros: Good 2D performance
Cons: Not all 3D features supported
Strongest Rival: Hercules Stingray 128/3D

Matrox Graphics, 800-361-1408, 514-969-6320. Winfo #850

Windows Magazine, October 1997, page 174.

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