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The Idiots Build The Perfect Gaming Beast: Upgrading A Beige G3 Minitower, Part 2
August 31st

Gary: Got enough of the three button damage yet, little buddy?

Randy: Just you wait until I get a USB card. I will frag you at any game you can name.

Gary: I gotta admit, I love mine. I got the Belkin dual port PCI card, and it works flawlessly. For about thirty bucks, it doesn’t make sense not to upgrade your PCI Mac if you call yourself a gamer.

Randy: Suddenly, you will be able to use tons of game controllers, from flightsticks, to game pads, to steering wheels, and more. Not to mention all the other non-game related peripherals you can add through USB, like scanners removable drives and printers.

Gary: Last week, we covered the results of upgrading to a USB card and a Firewire card. The Firewire card is not really a game accessory, but we needed it for digital video capture. This week, we will cover the other two upgrades we made to our beige beauty: the Powerlogix 466 MHz ZIF processor upgrade, and the ATI Nexus 128 2D/3D PCI video accelerator.

Randy: Since two of the PCI slots were taken by the USB and Firewire cards, and the third had a Voodoo 2 card in it, the plan was to pull the Voodoo card and replace it with the ATI Nexus 128, getting 3D acceleration that was as good, if not better than the Voodoo 2 card, and getting vastly improved 2D acceleration than the onboard Rage II chipset could provide.

Gary: That was what we hoped. It didn't work out that way, however. We installed the Nexus, ran the Universal installer (version 4.0), and tested the card. First, the good news.

Randy: The ATI card has the ability to scale QuickTime movies without degrading the picture quality, and this feature worked great. QuickTime movies played full screen with little loss of quality at a solid thirty frames per second. Also, the hardware allowed for much faster rendering in Infini-D, and in general, the 2D acceleration was faster.

Gary: But not as fast as I expected. I thought Photoshop would run many times faster and that windows would scroll so fast that I wouldn't be able to keep up. I just got about a 20-30% percent increase in 2D acceleration than my lowly Rage II, based on informal tests. Certainly not worth $250.

Randy: And then came the big test. Games.

Gary: Here is where the 32 MB ATI Nexus card fell flat on its face. It simply could not hold a candle to the 12 MB Voodoo 2 Game Wizard from Micro Conversions. Not even close.

Randy: The first thing we did was to fire up Unreal and watch the castle flyby. We immediately noticed choppy playback, and a cartoony quality to the renderings. In fact, it was unclear the the water was water, and the fog flickered so much that it was distracting.

Gary: We tried 32-bit rendering versus 16-bit rendering. We tried to tweak the advanced controls in Unreal (which usually made things worse). We consulted ATI's web site for a fix. We prayed to the gods above. None of this worked.

Randy: Playback in Unreal was much closer to the Voodoo card. The quality of the rendering, though was just too cartoony, not nearly as dark and threatening as the Voodoo card.

Gary: Disappointed, we moved on to Carmageddon 2, which advertises, "Out of the box support for RAGE and Glide acceleration." When we launched C2, it complained that it could not find the Game Wizard. We flushed the prefs, but C2 always complained. Since the main C2 app just checks the hardware configuration, and then launches the appropriate hardware-specific application, we were able to work around this by directly launching the C2 RAVE app.

Randy: But we were sorry when we did. Carm ageddon 2 play was horrible. It was so choppy that it was impossible to drive with any precision. The game was always a second behind as we played. In fact, it was so bad that we thought we must be in software mode. But the smoke and fire effects were there, assuring us that we were using hardware acceleration.

Gary: So, we quit out and checked the C2 disk. There were Carmageddon-specific ATI drivers there. We tried them, but no go. And then it hit us. When we had the Voodoo card, it just worked. We never worried about drivers for specific games. But with the ATI card it was a constant concern. That was the last straw. The Nexus card came out, the Voodoo 2 card went back in, and we returned the ATI card for a refund.

Randy: Yeah, we were pretty bummed about ATI's Nexus card. Considering that 3Dfx's newest chips, the VooDoo 3 handles 2D acceleration and 3D in a window, it is beginning to make more and more sense for Apple to offer 3Dfx chipsets as a build-to-order option. I know a lot of developers who have been constantly frustrated be ATI's inability to keep it's drivers up-to-date. Terminal Reality's belated title FLY!, for one, has been delayed because of the ever-changing driver issue.

Gary: You even had problems with your original ATI 5-in-1 Xclaim VR Rage II card, didn't you Randy?

Randy: Yeah, I remember when I got it there were some serious sound issues with ATI and Catalyst motherboards used in my old PowerMac 7200, and my Power Computing Power Tower Pro. After a $35.00 tech support call to ATI, I was told that this was a known incompatibility and I would just have to wait until a fix was released. What a long three months that was. I remember my frustration then, and I relived it when we tested your Nexus board.

Gary: Don't get us wrong, ATI has consistently released great products for the Mac, even during the dark years. However, it is very frustrating to see that the software that drives these great cards is consistently buggy. Even after years of experience, ATI seems to always come up short when it comes to up-to-date, reliable drivers.

Randy: On the pleasant side, Gary and I were very happy to find that after were installed the Powerlogix 466 MHz ZIF processor upgrade and removed the ATI Nexus card, the 2D video performance was at least as fast as the preformance with the Nexus and Gary's old 266 stock processor.

Gary: True enough! In the end, the faster processor and my VooDoo 2 card provided me with all the speed I needed. However I am still looking for the one card that can give me all the 3D speed I need for tasks like Infini-D (3D in a window), 3D games (Full screen 3D), and 2D for things like Photoshop and Quicktime acceleration. Maybe VillageTronic's Banshee based MP850 board or a VooDoo 3 board will be the answer...

Randy: But let's not linger on the video card when the processor upgrade was such a treat.

Gary: Powerlogix is Mmmm, Mmmm Good. This was my first ZIF upgrade, and boy, was it easy. Unlike daughter card processor upgrades where you are gingerly tugging away on your fragile motherboard's expansion slot, ZIF upgrades drop in easily. After installing the control panel for the new card, I just flipped the lever on the side of the ZIF slot and my old processor raised out of the slot. I then cranked the adjustable clock setting on the Powerlogix upgrade up from 466 MHz to 500 MHz and then I dropped it into the ZIF slot. One smooth press of the lever and my new brain locked down into place. I booted up the new beast and have not had a lick of trouble since.

Randy: Even over clocked up to 500 MHz?

Gary: It has been flawless. Even after running for several days on end it has remained stable.

Randy: But Gary, how's the speed compared to your old stock 266 MHz processor?

Gary: Well Randy, just look for yourself.

Randy: Zoinks! Pass me a new Depends. That's fast! I remember when the glass ceiling for the processor test scores was a lowly 1000. 1544 on Mac Bench 5.0 is just stunning.

Gary: Oh yeah, I am very pleased with this purchase. Needless to say, the game performance with the new processor and the VooDoo 2 board is nothing short of amazing. The most noticeable difference has been in Carmageddon 2. Often times during C2 there would be certain spots, particularly in vast outdoor scenes with lots of other cars, where my machine would just bog down until I got into a smaller area. Frame rate would drop and car control would just go out the window. It would only last for a second or two but it was very noticeable.

But no more. Even the biggest most complicated scenes play silky smooth. In fact I even used a patch to bump up the number of competing cars to 18. Even with this added strain the new processor and the VooDoo 2 card powered through every race at 40 plus frames per second.

For another more real world test I also put a clock to the SETI@Home program that I currently use for Team Mac Observer. (Go Mac Observer!!) With my old 266 processor one work unit took 21 hours to complete. Compare that to the 466 processor, (clocked to 500, mind you) which took only 11 hours to complete a single work unit! And that is without any of the tweaking that our Editor says we can do.

Randy: Well, doctor, I have to say the upgrade operation was a smashing success!

Gary: Is that a Carmageddon joke?

Randy: No, I'm actually just paying you a compliment on a job well done. With the exception of the ATI Nexus card all the components you researched and picked out worked better than expected. In fact I'm even considering letting you perform that brain transplant you offered me last week.

But where did you say that brain you had came from? Abby...Abby... someone?

Gary: Uh, Abby Hoffman!

Randy: Good enough, I never trusted anyone over 30 anyway. Go to, doctor!

Gary: While I put Randy under with some Mad Dog 20/20, let's just not remind him he's over thirty too. I just want to see his reaction after he wakes up. Anybody got a bone saw out there?

Gary Randazzo and Randy Soare are the co-founders of IWS Interactive, a New York based game developer for Macintosh. The IWS in IWS Interactive stands for Idiots With Sticks. How that came about is a long and boring story, but suffice it to say that at four in the morning, it seemed like a good idea.

The demo for IWS Interactive's upcoming mystery-adventure game, Manhattan Apartment Hunter, has recently been released to rave reviews. The Idiots have been into gaming on Apple computers even before the Mac was around. Does anyone remember Choplifter on the Apple IIe? (Boy, we know we do.) Now, they are committed to help ensure that the Mac remains the premiere gaming platform on the planet.

You can email your comment and suggestions to Randy at , and Gary at .

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