Mac Daniel's Advice

Picking a PCI Video Card

Korin Hasegawa-John - 2001.08.20

A graphics (or video) card is a very important part of your Mac. It controls the screen, updating and changing the information constantly. If you have a lousy graphics card, images will load slowly, and scrolling documents or viewing multimedia won't be as pleasant. All of these cards are PCI, allowing them to be used in anything from a Power Mac 7200 to the newest Quicksilver G4s. None of these cards are new, with the exception of the ATI Radeon and the ProFormance3 (both of which you can get used). I would check eBay and local university surplus auctions.

Ratings go from • to •••••, with one being worst and five being best.

Gaming Cards

These cards are for gamers. They support GLIDE or OpenGL, two 3D standards, or both. Generally, they have 16 MB to 32 MB of VRAM (Except the Voodoo5 5000, 64 MB).

Cards with GLIDE support

Glide is a graphics protocol used to display 3D images, developed by 3dfx Interactive. It's mostly used in games. No longer supported by new cards, since 3dfx got bought out. Basically, any card in the Voodoo series supports Glide. These cards are pretty cheap, ranging from the under-$50 Voodoo3 3000 to the $100-150 Voodoo5 5500. They run games such as Unreal, Quake III et al pretty well.

Pros

  • 3dfx cards support OpenGL as well, a newer 3D standard.
  • They're really good for games.
  • They're also pretty inexpensive.

Cons

  • No RAVE support. RAVE is QuickDraw3D's graphics protocol. These cards won't accelerate your QuickDraw3D based games or 3D scenes.
  • No Mac OS X support. Possibly, 3rd party drivers will come out, but to the best of my knowledge there's no planned OS X support.
  • Voodoo5 5500 (12" PCI) won't work with Performas.
  • Voodoo3 has to be Mac-Rom flashed. (a pain)

Ratings

  • Voodoo3 3000: •••• - It's an OK card at a great price, but ROM is a pain.
  • Voodoo5 4500: •••• - A good card, and a decent price. Hard to find.
  • Voodoo5 5500: ••••• - Very good, and loads of VRAM.

Cards with OpenGL

Any ATI 128 card supports OpenGL. These cards range from the $100 Rage 128 Orion (16 MB) to the Radeon Mac PCI ($160). They have support from Apple and ATI, and are good for OpenGL games and RAVE acceleration.

Pros

  • OS X support.
  • RAVE support, so will accelerate QuickDraw3D.
  • Good OpenGL support

Cons

  • Radeon 2D acceleration sub-par
  • No GLIDE support.
  • ATI's Mac support is lousy.

Ratings

  • Rage 128 Orion: ••• - It works, but performance isn't great for the money.
  • Radeon PCI: ••••• - Can't be beat for OpenGL or RAVE, but pricey.

Formac ProFormance3

I've never actually used this card, but have heard good things about it. It costs $100 and up on the used market, but can be hard to find. I am unsure about OS X support.

Pros

  • OpenGL support
  • 3D glasses, supposedly work very well
  • RAVE support
  • Good 2D acceleration for when you aren't playing games.

Cons

  • No GLIDE support
  • Relatively hard to find
  • Somewhat pricey for what the card is.

Rating

  • Never used it, but from what I've heard: •••• - 3D glasses nice touch, decent performance.

Non-Gaming Cards

If you don't use 3D intensive games, or use non-RAVE 3D, the following cards might be for you. They are much cheaper.

ATI XClaim 3D PLUS

This card is based on the Rage Pro chip from ATI. It has 8 MB VRAM and supports RAVE. That's it. No OpenGL or Glide. However, it's good for scrolling those Excel spreadsheets or that Word doc. Has OS X support. $50 or thereabouts.

Pros

  • Supports RAVE
  • OS X support
  • Cheap

Cons

  • Lousy 3D performance, but will accelerate RAVE games.
  • No GLIDE support
  • No OpenGL support

Rating: •••• - It supports some games, and it's cheap.

ixMicro Pro Rez 3D

This card was made by ixMicro, based on their TwinTurbo 128 chip. It has 8 MB of VRAM, and accelerates RAVE very well. It doesn't support GLIDE or OpenGL, but does have good 2D performance. OS X support. $40.

Pros

  • Supports RAVE, good performance
  • OS X support
  • Cheap
  • Good 2D performance

Cons

  • No RAVE gaming support
  • No GLIDE support
  • No OpenGL support
  • 12" PCI, won't work with Performas

Rating: ••• - Hey, it's cheap, but no games support.

There are many other cheap older graphics cards which I won't get into now, like the Radius Thunder series. However, this is a guide to some of the better cards that are currently available for PCI Macs. If you are considering a second video card or a replacement, this is a helpful starter's guide.

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