Hardware Issues

  1. Graphics Cards
    1. ATI Xpert98 AGP
    2. 3dfx Voodoo 3/2000 PCI
    3. I/O Magic nVidia TNT2 AGP
  2. Game-Specific Issues
    1. Might and Magic 7
    2. Flight Simulator 98

I want to say right off that I'm not a videophile. I don't care about having the crispest, fastest, most colorful and densely textured graphics available. All I care about is whether a game is playable. That said, here are my notes regarding my experiences with graphics cards.

UPDATE: These cards are all over 5 years old now. They might not even work in modern games. Meanwhile, modern graphics cards are so stable and quirk-free that I have nothing bad to say about them (and therefore nothing to add to this page). Therefore, this page is primarily of historical interest: "remember the bad old days of 3D cards..." The only reason I'm keeping it active is that maybe it'll help someone trying to get games to run on an old pc.

1. Graphics Cards

This section contains my notes about specific graphics cards that I've installed and used:

1.1 ATI Xpert98 AGP

Aliases: Xpert@98, Xpert@Play 98
Chip Details: ATI 3D RAGE PRO AGP 2X
Memory: 8 MB
Drivers Tried: 4.11.2560, 4.11.2548, 4.11.2440
Vendor: Maximus Computers (defunct)
Purchase Date: August 1998

My ATI card came pre-installed on a computer I got from Maximus PC, who have since vanished. This might have been a decent card at one time, but ever since I got it, I had numerous experiences with incompatibilities and unplayably poor 3D rendering.

Now, I want to say that well-written 3D games like Unreal and Carmageddon 2 ran just fine for me on my ATI card. And of course 2D games like Heroes of Might and Magic III and Roguelike games gave me no problem. Several games, however, either didn't run at all, or were so slow that playing them was either downright impossible, or so unpleasant that I gave up in frustration:

To make matters worse, there were several sets of drivers for this card, and no single set worked for everything. Some games required the latest drivers, some required older or beta drivers, some needed the original Win98 drivers, some needed GLSetup... It was a mess. I kept hoping that ATI would release a single, dependable driver update so that I could stop playing the switch-around game, but that never happened.

To see what the ATI card looks like in action, check out my hardware and software screen grabs for: Might and Magic 7 and Flight Simulator 98.

I'd been fed up with my ATI card for a long time, but kept putting off the upgrade (waiting for those magic drivers!) And I waited, and waited and waited...

1.2 3dfx Voodoo 3/2000 PCI

Chip Details: ? PCI
Memory: 16 MB
Drivers Tried:
Vendor: Office Depot ($99)
Purchased: February 2000

Meanwhile, my dad had an HP Pavillion 4440, which is this ultra-integrated, ultra-cheap contraption that I don't recommend to anyone who's interested in either performance or hardware upgrades. His Pavillion came with a 2 MB "card" which isn't really a traditional card because it seems to be embedded in the motherboard. Sigh. Additionally, the 4440 doesn't have an AGP slot, and has the notoriously weak AMD (333 MHz) processor. My dad was getting frustrated by the extreme choppiness in Flight Simulator 2000, so he decided to get a new card. (Unlike me he doesn't dilly-dally.)

I did some research and found that the most recommended sub-$100 card for my dad's configuration is the Voodoo 3/2000 PCI. I located one at Office Depot and installed it in Dad's computer with no problems.

So how is it? The Voodoo 3 is a HUGE improvement over the Pavillion's little 2 MB card. Flight Simulator 2000 runs very smoothly at the lower levels of graphics detail, and that's all Dad cares about. :) His frame rates (which FS 2000 reports) at least quadrupled, even when we increased the level of graphical detail.

It was such a dramatic improvement that I decided that I just had to get myself a decent graphics card. And the next day I did...

1.3 I/O Magic nVidia TNT2 AGP

Aliases: MagicVideo TNT2
Chip Details: nVidia Riva TNT2 Model 64
Memory: 16 MB
Drivers Tried:
Vendor: Circuit City ($109, my price: $59)
Purchased: February 2000

"I/O who???" Exactly. I rushed out a day after Dad got his Voodoo 3 and upon the recommendation of a guy at Office Depot (bless him for his honesty!), I went to Circuit City and picked up this no-name TNT2 card for $59. I got a really good deal - this card was both a returned item and a display item; it normally runs at $109 (which is still cheap). I raced home and installed it, and it works beautifully!!! It's gobs faster than the ATI card, and about twice as fast as Dad's Voodoo 3. More importantly (to me), it's made every game I've tried so far playable... :)

One small problem: I tried installing the latest drivers provided on the I/O Magic site, but they didn't work. One of these days I might get around to installing drivers from nVidia themselves, but my card seems plenty fast and compatible for now.

If you've been suffering with a clunky card like my ATI 8 MB and have been putting off upgrading... then stop procrastinating and upgrade now! (Do I sound like a salesman?) Buy a card (buy, buy, buy!), have more fun playing games (which is what you really enjoy), rather than spending hours and hours a week researching which card you should buy. No matter how fun researching something can be at times, actually using that thing is even more fun and productive!

Anyway, I'll keep you posted on my new card. So far, I've very happy and am going to stop typing now so I can go play some games! :)

2. Game-Specific Issues

This section discusses graphics card issues pertaining to specific games:

2.1 Might and Magic 7

This section illustrates some problems I had running Might and Magic 7 with my ATI Xpert98 card.

Software mode is playable, though a little sluggish. Hardware mode is black and white, unplayably blocky, and extremely sluggish; it behaves the same way in a window as it does full screen.

If you have encountered similar problems or have any suggestions on how to get hardware mode working, then please contact me. I'll update this page so that others can benefit from our research. Thanks!

2.1.1 MM7 - Hardware Mode:

Here's a screen shot of Might and Magic 7 in hardware mode:

click image to view the same scene in Software mode MM7 in hardware mode

2.1.2 MM7 - Software Mode:

Here's the same view, but with software rendering:

click image to view the same scene in Hardware mode MM7 in software mode

2.2 Flight Simulator 98

This section illustrates some graphical "issues" I had while running Microsoft Flight Simulator 98 on my ATI Xpert98 graphics card.

In hardware mode, terrain textures look so smooth that surfaces appear distractingly flat; polygon edges also look too sharp. In software mode, ground textures are very pixelated, and the frame rate is much lower. You can't win!

2.2.1 FS98 - Hardware Mode:

Here's a screen shot of Flight Simulator 98 in hardware mode:

click image to view the same scene in Software mode FS98 in hardware mode

2.2.2 FS98 - Software Mode:

Here's the same view, but with software rendering:

click image to view the same scene in Hardware mode FS98 in software mode