Jaton 3D Game Card IIReview date: 25 November 1998
Last modified 03-Dec-2011.
Graphics accelerators based on 3DFX’s Voodoo 2 chipset are all much the same. 3DFX’s reference board design is hard to improve on, and so there are about a dozen boards out there with performance figures all within 5% or so of each other. Clock speed differences can make the gap larger, as faster Voodoo II cards frequently run at 95 or 100MHz, as opposed to 3DFX’s standard 90MHz.
Most of the cards on the market today are the 12Mb versions, with 8Mb of texture memory; the extra memory isn’t needed by most games, but it doesn’t hurt, and can reduce drive-flogging in games that use tons of textures.
Jaton’s 12Mb 3D Game Card II is, at $320 (Australian dollars) or so for a 12Mb card, pretty cheap. Unfortunately, it’s also pretty slow. It runs at only 90MHz and it has slower RAM than most competitors, and so clocks in at the low end of the Voodoo 2 speed spectrum, about 15-20% slower overall than other mainstream models like Diamond’s Monster 3D II.
Besides its unamazing performance, the Jaton card is a plain reference design board right down the line. It comes with a decent manual, a Scan Line Interleave cable and some bundled software, the only interesting component of which is the PC version of Sega Rally.
Like all Voodoo cards, the Jaton’s easy to install – any PCI slot will do, and it uses no IRQs or DMAs. Like all Voodoo 1 and Voodoo 2 cards, it also needs to work in tandem with a 2D video card of some kind – you connect a passthrough cable from the 2D card to the Voodoo card and the Voodoo provides another 15 pin socket for your monitor cable. When the Voodoo’s needed, it takes over. When it isn’t, it just passes through the signal from the other video card.
How slow is slow?
Even a slow Voodoo 2 is a pretty fast graphics card. My gaming machine is a 300MHz Celeron (the old Covington core version with no level 2 cache, not the newer 300A with the Mendocino core) overclocked to 450MHz. It previously packed a Diamond Monster 3D Voodoo 1 card, and swapping in the Jaton was a painless exercise. The Jaton comes with 3DFX’s standard reference drivers; I downloaded the latest drivers from http://www.3dfx.com/download/download.html. Driver setup is simple enough; extract the driver archive to wherever you wish, tell Windows that’s where the drivers are, restart and you’ve got a Voodoo panel in your Display Properties.
The difference in speed was impressive. The old Voodoo 1 didn’t do the high speed CPU justice, and so the new card more than doubled Quake framerates in 640 by 480 resolution, and was still considerably faster in 800 by 600. Standard checking on demo2.dm2 doesn’t tell the full story; both the standard Crusher and Massive1 demos also showed respectable speeds. As one would expect.
Yup, it’s a Voodoo 2. If you didn’t know it was slow, you wouldn’t be able to tell. The important point for 3D gaming is not what your peak framerate is – with modern hardware, it’s probably faster than your screen refresh rate, and so hardly relevant. No, what matters is your MINIMUM framerate – the speed you get when everything starts happening at once and the shell casings fall like rain. That’s the time of maximum hardware load, and it’s also the time when you most want your computer to keep things flowing. And the Jaton card does about as well as any other Voodoo 2 in this department.
The standard rule when it comes to hot-rodding hardware is that any performance enhancement of 10% or less will not be noticeable. It’s open to debate whether 20% is noticeable. You can boost the speed of 90MHz Voodoo 2 cards with an overclocking utility such as those you’ll find here, but you’ll need good cooling for the chips. If your PC has reasonable ventilation and the gods are with you, you ought to be able to get the Jaton card within 10% of the rest of the field. And, again, even at 20% slower it’s no slouch.
If the performance difference is minimal, you might as well buy on price.
So it comes down to price and bundled stuff. The retail price of the Jaton card is around 320 Australian dollars at present. It comes with Sega Rally and Trispectives (a fairly old 3D cad-ish program which does not appear to actually support Voodoo cards in any way) and a hatful of demos of Sega games. Discounters are currently selling 12Mb Diamond Monster 3D II’s for $340, perhaps with bundled games, perhaps not. Twenty bucks for 20% more speed is a good deal. If you can find the Jaton cards considerably cheaper than the bigger brands, though, go ahead. They’re fast enough.
The Voodoo 2 is not as obvious a choice as it was when it was released, and it’s nothing like as advanced, compared to the competition, as the original Voodoo chipset was on its release. Voodoo 2 (and the upcoming Voodoo 3) only have 16 bit colour output, which is pretty good looking but loses its prettiness rapidly when, for example, cloud effects are overlaid. And the 800 by 600 maximum resolution from a single Voodoo 2 board is well down on the possibilities from newcomers like the Riva TNT and Matrox G200 chipsets. Without Z-buffering, a single Voodoo 2 can do 1024 by 768, and a Voodoo 1 can do 800 by 600, but not many games can make do without it. Since Voodoo 2 is no longer a premium product, tight pricing has to be the rule.
For the money, the Jaton card is not bad. But hey, for the money, a $50 second hand Voodoo 1 card is hard to beat. For only a little more money you can have a brand-name Diamond card that’ll give you at least 10% higher frame rates than the Jaton. Check the prices when you plan to buy, and see how much the difference means to you.