Upgrading by downgrading

Last Updated on September 30, 2010 by Dave Farquhar

This is really sad. I don’t like complaining about supercheap video cards any more than you like reading about them, so yesterday I did something about it. I caught a glimpse of my components graveyard under my desk, and among the rubble I spied a Diamond Stealth 3D 2000 card. This was a mid-range card I purchased for $100 or so in mid-1997 to go with an Abit IT5H motherboard. For its day, it provided high color displays, high resolutions, GUI acceleration, and slight acceleration of some 3D-related functions.

We still have some of these in service at work and they’re adequate, so I figured it would be worth a try to swap it in for my AGP Cirrus Logic-based card. It only has 2 MB RAM on it, as opposed to the Cirrus’ 4 MB, but this system’s connected to a 15-inch monitor so that’s not an issue. I popped the hood, pulled the Cirrus, dropped the Stealth into an available PCI slot, powered on, and Win98 automatically installed S3 ViRGE 325 drivers. I’d have preferred to feed it the Diamond drivers I downloaded, but there was no harm in giving the MS-supplied drivers a shot. I let it reboot, then attempted the acid test. I loaded up Winamp, then IE. Once Winamp was running and playing, I went to The Register. Normally, when I scrolled in the browser, Winamp would screech. Not this time. Sweet silence, other than the music playing. Occasionally when viewing a particularly obnoxious site, I could coax a screech, but not consistently, and certainly not enough to be worth worrying about.

So, am I saying the mid-range chipsets of 1997 are better than the low-end chipsets of today from Cirrus and Trident, AGP notwithstanding? Yes I am, as much as it pains me. That’s not usually how technology works; for example, the low-end IDE hard disks of today kill even the high-end IDE disks of 1997. But I’m happy. That’s $75 I don’t have to spend on another TNT2 card.

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