IntroductionNot terribly long ago, Mac users could purchase any add-on graphics card they liked – as long as it was made by ATI Technologies. All that is changing: while Macs still lack the wealth of graphics-card options PCs enjoy, there are now viable alternatives to the graphics card that shipped with your Mac. To determine just how viable those alternatives are, Macworld Lab tested six offerings: 3dfx’s Voodoo4 4500 PCI and Voodoo5 5500 PCI, Appian Graphics’ Jeronimo 2000, ATI’s Radeon Mac Edition, Formac’s ProFormance 3 Plus, and ProMax Systems’ DH-Max. Although none of the cards delivered the kind of performance you see from their counterparts running on a fast PC, our tests indicate that selecting the proper graphics card – which typically costs around £200 – can significantly improve a Mac’s performance. PCI support
The current crop of desktop G4s includes AGP slots, but graphics-card manufacturers have hardly abandoned the venerable PCI slot. After all, the Mac users most likely to benefit from fast 3D-graphics cards are those with older PCI Macs. Of the cards we tested, only the Radeon and the DH-Max are AGP compatible; the rest are PCI cards. And of the AGP cards, only the DH-Max fits inside a Power Mac G4 Cube. The cards also differ in their dual-monitor capabilities, output connectors, support for 3D hardware-acceleration standards, and DVD-player support. Both the Jeronimo and the DH-Max sport two video ports, allowing you to run two monitors from a single card; the other cards support one monitor. The DH-Max also includes a cable with Composite and S-Video outputs for sending your Mac’s video to a television or VCR, although only one of the card’s ports supports those outputs. Likewise, the Radeon supports Composite and S-Video output. The ATI and 3dfx cards include both VGA and DVI connectors, but none of the cards include the Apple Desktop Connector found on all current Apple monitors. (None of the cards support video capture, so they lack video-input ports.) 3D effects
The ProFormance also has a port for connecting the bundled ProCyber 3D Glasses – the only glasses we’ve seen that produce convincing 3D (without producing a crashing headache) in games such as Pangea’s Bugdom and MacSoft’s Unreal Tournament. Regrettably, neither the Jeronimo nor the DH-Max card offers 3D-hardware acceleration, making them inappropriate choices for gamers. However, the ATI and Formac cards support the OpenGL and Rave 3D standards, while the 3dfx cards support those and 3dfx’s own Glide standard. Because Apple refuses to release the information necessary for third parties to support DVD playback on a Mac, only ATI – an Apple partner – offers DVD-player compatibility. To test 2D performance, we timed how quickly we could scroll through Adobe Acrobat and Microsoft Word 98 documents on our 500MHz Power Mac G4. In both tests, the Radeon and the ProFormance were the best of the bunch; the ProFormance performed particularly well in the Word 98 test. Underpowered
The DH-Max, due to its unoptimized drivers, performed poorly – though not as poorly as the underpowered and expensive Jeronimo. The 3dfx cards turned in less-impressive results in our 2D tests than the ATI Radeon and our baseline ATI Rage 128 AGP card, but the difference was barely noticeable in actual use. The results of our Quake III tests indicate that gamers with AGP-compatible Macs may want to consider ATI rather than 3dfx. In our normal Quake III test, the Radeon cranked out nine more frames per second than the top-of-the-line Voodoo5 5500 PCI. In our high-quality Quake III test, the Radeon maintained its edge over the Voodoo cards. The ProFormance turned in frame rates similar to those of the Voodoo cards in our normal Quake III test, but performance fell off sharply in the high-quality Quake III test.