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The Good Old Days
Harken back, fellow fanboys, to a few years ago on the PC Gaming scene. 3DFX ruled supreme, Matrox had that killer G400 card, ATI was holding its own and Nvidia was starting its move. Things seemed so straight forward. We had options - lots and lots of options. We were making that transition to 3D shooters with full hardware support, all kinds of impressive textures and lighting. In fact, the momentum for 3D was so strong, companies were going nuts trying to take full advantage of the marketplace. We saw more 3D shooters coming out than candy-eating geeks at a Clearisil convention. They were pushing the envelope and driving an entire industry forward. It was all pretty exciting at the time, but who knew where it would all go?
Players In The Game
3DFX, the champion of 3D, was doing well in retail. They had done the Voodoo 1 and Voodoo 2 add-in cards quite well. For a time, the Voodoo 2 SLI with 12 meg per board ruled the roost for 16 bit gaming. I forked out $500+ for the setup, and I was jazzed about cranking pixels at 1024x768 like nobody's business. It was just awesome. Then their Voodoo Banshee worked to integrate 2D and 3D on a single board and set the stage for what was to come next. The Voodoo 3 2000 and 3000 were very well received products. They had excellent 2D quality, solid color saturation and pretty decent drivers. High performance 2D and 3D on a single 3DFX card - just what fans had been waiting for. Most importantly, they did one heck of a job of making 16 bit games look about as good as they could. The move was going to 32 bit, though slowly, but these cards were the right solution at the right time and people snapped them up at retail. They even came out with another well received product in the 3500, which had all kinds of TV and video capture gadgets going on. They seemed to be on a roll. While D3D and OpenGL were doing ok, the Glide API was still going strong and serving the needs of the 16-bit community very well indeed.
ATI was in a period of transition. They had always been a good corporate/OEM solution, and their Xpert 98 was a great value for what it gave you. Their All-In-Wonder products, while not perfect, had a solid cult following and showed they could continue to be competitive with their rivals in terms of multimedia products. They decided to forward their agenda and take a stab at the gaming market with their Rage 128 line. It had all the legendary things ATI was famous for, like great 2D, but pushed the envelope by focusing almost exclusively on 32-bit color performance. At first, the product seemed well received, as it showed 32 bit could be competitive, but they had some nagging complaints about 16 bit color modes and there seemed to be a growing groundswell of concern about their drivers. They were quirky, working in some situations, not in others. It seemed that revisions came slowly, and when they did come, they sometimes broke more than they fixed. There were some nagging issues with motherboard compatibility as well. All of these issues combined to cast a shadow of doubt around the ATI product line. It didn't help when their MAXX product came out and was plagued by all sorts of driver and timing issues. It was a complex product, and it looked even more obvious that ATI's driver teams were just not up to the challenge when it came to supporting such advanced concepts. Fixes were slow to come and never really solved some of the key issues users had, and the product ended up being a bit of a lead weight.
To go off on a tangent here, for just a minute, did anybody see that awesome Musical episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer? I swear, that is one of the best episodes of television in the last year. I was totally blown away I've you're not yet a Buffy fan, give it a shot. It's a whole lot deeper than people give it credit for. (Uhh…to each his own. -Ed)