The iMac Channel

Why Gaming Matters

19 August 1999 - Dan Knight

You won't find a lot of game news on Low End Mac or the iMac channel. It's not that I don't enjoy games, although I don't have a lot of time to play computer games.

The simple fact is, enough people are doing a great job of following Mac gaming that I don't see any reason to do it myself.

Whether you play computer games or not, the simple fact is that gaming matters.


Yes, even if you only want an iMac for email, word processing, and web access, the state of the Mac gaming market matters to you.

Why? Because gamers will spend money - fast and frequently. If the Mac is a lousy game engine, they'll buy Wintel boxes with fast processors, fast video cards, fast drives, and lots of memory.

But if the iMac, iBook, Power Mac, and PowerBook are good game machines, they'll consider Macintosh.

Serious gamers are cutting edge types. They want the fastest, whether that's the CPU, accelerated video card, hard drive, CD-ROM or DVD reader, or internet access. Speed makes for smoother game play, which is their holy grail.

It used to be geek programmers who pushed the hardware envelope. Then is was the graphics professional. But today it's the gamer.

If enough gamers choose the Mac, Apple sales will continue their upward growth, but at an even faster pace. And the larger the market, the more units Apple builds, the lower the end user price.

So even if you don't game, a healthy Mac gamer market will help reduce the cost of your next Macintosh.

Recent History

The first iMac was a decent game machine, but the Rev. B offered more VRAM and the ATI RAGE Pro video chip, making the iMac a better game machine. The next two revisions left video alone and pushed the CPU clock to 266 MHz, then 333 MHz.

The Blue G3 uses an ATI RAGE 128 video card on a 66 MHz bus. Beyond that, it has a 100 MHz system bus and a very responsive hard drive. It's an even better game machine than the iMac, although a fairly pricey one.

And the iBook will be an even better game machine, even though it won't have as fast a CPU as the iMac or Power Mac G3. To provide the gaming kick, Apple is using the ATI Rage Mobility chip with 2x AGP, which will give it the fastest 3D video output of any stock Mac.

But they could do better.

There's a move afoot to have Apple embrace Voodoo 3, the leading 3D standard in the Wintel world - and one rapidly making inroads on Macs with PCI expansion slots.

The problem is, the iMac, iBook, and Power Book don't have PCI slots.

The solution being pushed by Mike Breeden at Mac 3dfx is simple: build Macs with Voodoo 3 instead of ATI Rage. Breeden points out that Voodoo 3 offers better 2D graphics than RAGE, and up to 3 or 4 times the performance doing 3D graphics.

Benchmarks at Accelerate Your Mac not only show the 3dfx offers superior 2D and 3D performance, but also that it scales better to high resolution screens. For instance, Quake2 Timedemo 1 in a Blue G3/400 at 640 x 480 scores 47.3 with a Rage 128 Orion card and 54.1 with a Voodoo 3 card. That's 14% faster, hardly worth getting excited about.

But bigger is better. What if you want to run at 800 x 600? Then Rage drops to 39.6, while Voodoo 3 only falls back to 53.8. At this resolution, 3dfx is 35% faster.

Still bigger, there's 1024 x 768. ATI drops to 25.3, while Voodoo 3 hardly loses any performance, scoring 52.5 At this resolution, Voodoo 3 is over twice as fast as ATI Rage.

That's the scalability advantage Voodoo 3 has over ATI Rage - the higher your resolution, the bigger the benefit of Voodoo 3. Where the ATI card had dropped to about half the frame rate at 1024 x 768, Voodoo 3 was only 3% slower.

Other benchmarks bear this out. Voodoo 3 occasionally loses to Rage 128 at 640 x 480, but always wins at higher resolutions.

Voodoo 3 2000 PCI card specifications
  • Works in 33 MHz and 66 MHz PCI slots, so a ready substitute for the ATI Rage 128 in the Blue G3
  • Processor and memory run at 143 MHz - and faster cards are available
  • 16 MB of video memory
  • Resolutions from 640 x 480 to 2046x1536

Voodoo 3 would be an excellent upgrade for any PCI Power Mac, but isn't an option for the iMac. Apple should seriously consider embracing the Voodoo 3 graphics engine for the next revision of the iMac.

This would change the iMac from a decent game machine into a world class performer, further growing the iMac market.

If you agree, consider signing the 3dfx Petition at Accelerate Your Mac and Mac 3dfx.

Further Reading

  • Mac 3dfx, primary Mac source for 3dfx news
  • iMac with Voodoo 3?, The iMac, 8/17

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