Worst Game Graphics Cards – 3Dlabs Permedia

Welcome back to another episode of Worst Gaming
Cards. Today we’re gonna take a look at the second
attempt at a gaming 3D accelerator from a company that was famous for making professional
OpenGL capable chips. The gaming market was much harder to compete
in and play with the big boys as they found out and after 4 mostly, unsuccessful attempts
they went back to professional cards only. The card we’ll be talking about is the Permedia
from 3Dlabs, released at a time when 3D acceleration was the hot new thing and there was no established
leader in the market. As always we’re gonna start with little
bit of company history. 3Dlabs was founded under the name benchMark Technology in 1983 by Osmon Kent and Yavuz Ahiska in London. It was later acquired by DuPont and renamed
to DuPont Pixel in 1988. At the time, they were mostly doing products
for Sun systems. In 1993 they announced GLINT – one of the
first if not the first single chip OpenGL accelerator for desktops. In 1994 management bought the company from
DuPont and renamed it to 3Dlabs. 1995 was the most important year for 3Dlabs
as they released their 1st two products, one for professional markets and one for gaming. The Glint 300SX was their first OpenGL accelerator
and was quickly adopted and being sold by roughly 30 companies, starting their line
of successful professional accelerators. Their gaming chip named GameGlint or GiGi
was on the other hand a big failure. Sold exclusively by Creative as the 3D Blaster
VLB, it was tied to the VESA Local-Bus and 486 CPUs which were too slow for 3D acceleration. The much faster Pentium was mostly build with
PCI in mind, which along with only 13 supported games spelled the doom for this early 3D Accelerator
and was quickly forgotten. In the following year, the next generation
of chips arrived in both markets. The GLINT 500TX was usually paired with a
geometry processor called GLINT Delta and was another big success in professional markets. For gamers, 3Dlabs released a chip named Permedia. With a price tag of under $200 and good performance
on paper, it should have been a popular card. Reality however was much more harsh. Buggy drivers along with the appearance of
a new contender named Voodoo Graphics planned for release around the same time meant there
was very low interest by card manufacturers and only a few cards were released, mostly
by noname brands or at least brands not associated with high quality. There was even less interest for the enhanced
version dubbed Permedia NT. It was a regular Permedia card with an added
Glint Delta geometry chip and 8MB of memory. This model was meant for entry-level professional
markets due to the slightly higher price point than the standard Permedia and the fact that
it offered OpenGL support, which was uncommon for desktop cards at the time. 1997 was a very successful year for 3DLabs,
achieving success in both markets. OpenGL capable cards were updated with the new Glint MX chipset and Glint Gamma Geometry Engine. As regards the gaming market, the new Permedia
2 chip was overall a much better offering than the 1st generation Permedia. It was relatively fast, somewhat feature complete
and, most importantly, cheap. Many companies picked up the Permedia 2 chip
and released their own variants which led to it becoming the most successful and commonplace
chipset to come from 3Dlabs. One die-shrink later and 3Dlabs presented
a new model, under the name Permedia 2V. But as 1997 was drawing to a close and 1998
was looking like a big year for 3D accelerator releases by many strong competitors, Permedia
2 ended up quickly getting forgotten and falling to the lower end segment of the market. In 1998 3Dlabs released just a single card,
the Oxygen GMX targeted at professionals. This signaled a new era for the company which
started to transition from merely selling chipsets to board partners to instead making
their very own cards. The only exception to that would be just a
few multi-screen cards, a market which 3Dlabs didn’t seem too interested to penetrate. The following year, another final attempt
was made to really grab hold of the gaming market. 3Dlabs released the “Permedia 3 Create!”
based on the Glint R3 chip, which was rather quickly abandoned due to heavy competition
from much faster cards. The Glint R3 however also saw usage on professional
models such as the Oxygen VX1, GVX1 and the dual monitor capable GVX210, which had far
greater success than their gaming counterparts. The year 2000 saw great strategic shifts within
3Dlabs. With the release of the new Glint R4 chip
the company doubled down on their professional Oxygen line of cards and didn’t bother releasing
gamer oriented cards. With NVIDIA’s entrance to the professional
market soon after, it became pretty clear that it was really survival of the fittest. Within a small timeframe, most competitors
ended up seeking buyouts to avoid going bankrupt. 3Dlabs acquired Intense3D – the graphics
division off of Intergraph responsible for the high-end Wildcat cards. 3Dlabs had been selling mostly low-end and
mainstream cards and Intense3D was their ticket to the lucrative higher-end of the market. The following year they released 2 cards based on the Wildcat II core developed by the Intense3D team. The most important year was 2002 with 3DLabs
releasing Wildcat III and IV based cards again designed by the Intense3D team. 3Dlabs’ internal engineers were keeping
busy too though and within the same year the much simpler VP line of accelerators based
on P9 and P10 cores was released. Creative Labs ended up acquiring 3DLabs and
updating the VP line of cards in 2003. In 2004 and 2005 they even merged both lines into one big line of monster cards named Wildcat Realizm. At the time 3Dlabs was facing heavy competition
from both ATI, which later became part of AMD, and NVIDIA with no other competitor on
the market. However, the Realizm line of cards wasn’t
as successful as they had hoped and in 2006 3Dlabs stopped developing PC graphics chips
altogether. That’s all as far as history’s concerned,
but now lets move on to our Permedia card. Its a PowerColor C3000 with the core clocked
at 70MHz. Memory should supposedly be clocked at 100MHz,
however since we only have press releases to trust and no reliable tool to detect the
clocks ourselves, we can only guess that on this card they might actually be much lower. Card has 4MB of SGRAM memory connected through
a 64bit bus. It supports both DirecX and OpenGL, which
was actually very rare at time of its release. Price was set at a reasonable $195 and the
theoretical texel rate peaked at 42 mtexels/sec at 80MHz core clock. The card will be compared to a Diamond Monster
3D using the 3Dfx Voodoo Graphics chipset with 4MB of EDO memory clocked at 50MHz. In games with texture bugs, the Voodoo 1 will
be replaced by an STB Velocity 128 using the Nvidia Riva 128 chip with 4MB of memory clocked
at 100MHz. The drivers feature a for the time wide range
of options. Unfortunately, they’re not really very intuitive
and it’s kinda hard to tell which ones you’re supposed to leave enabled and which ones not. To make matters even worse, the default settings are far from best if you want to play games optimally. For example, if you want to play GLQuake,
you need to enable Texture Compression in the OpenGL tab, otherwise most textures will
end up missing on cards with 4MB of memory. This compresses the size of all textures in
the game and sadly renders all in-game text unreadable. But overall it’s still a nice boost over
software rendering. Final Reality reveals that some basic hardware
features are missing. Even worse for image quality are the absent
alpha blending modes. You’ll also need to set 8 Bit RGB Textures
ON in the drivers for the card. The Missing Alpha blending modes make the sky disappear, as well as everything with translucency. Despite this, the framerate is really low
compared to Voodoo 1. 3DMark produces decent framerates, however
we can’t exactly take it at face value since only a very low number of objects are actually
rendered on-screen. Fillrate tests indicate that this is the second worst performing card of the ones tested so far. The Tomb Raider 2 demo, apart from having a bit washed out colors, actually looks quite good. Sadly, it looks like someone enabled wallhacks! Some objects like the chopper here and the
water texture can be seen through walls. This is actually a somewhat common occurrence
in D3D based games as you’ll see later. Forsaken looks quite decent. But the framerate is low and dropping even
lower in fights. And yeah, we’ve got another instance of
wallhacking here. Carmageddon 2 is too slow to be playable. Also objects visible through walls can be
distracting. GLQuake runs fine thanks to native OpenGL
support. But its slow and many textures are muddy due
to the aforementioned texture compression. Even with this driver hack enabled, some texture
issues persist as you will see in 2nd level. Missing blending modes also hurt the visuals,
especially when looking at explosions. Turok’s framerate is okay, but image quality
suffers a lot due to the heavy use of alpha blended textures and modes not supported by
the Permedia. Croc is pretty funky with missing textures
all over the place. Epilepsy issues aside, the framerate would
have to be much higher to become playable. Incoming isn’t much slower than on the RIVA
128 and explosions look fine too. However, image quality suffers greatly by
what appears to be some form of stippling which also happens with Matrox Mystique cards. Oh, the chopper is flying without rotor blades
too. Half-Life “works” in both rendering modes,
but as you can see OpenGL is useless thanks to missing all of the textures. Direct3D looks much better, but it’s still
far away from reference image quality. Also, that wallhack issue is very prevalent
in this game. Warhammer Dark Omen is a fine example of an
early 3D strategy game that’s playable on almost every card that came out at the time. Voodoo 1 once again produced texture issues
because of the fast CPU we paired it with, so it was replaced by a RIVA 128 instead. It manages to hit 30FPS most of the time,
rarely achieving 60FPS even! Remember, this is using double buffered V-Sync! Permedia unfortunately never exceeds 20fps and sometimes you get some translucency errors on the units. Expendable is a hot mess on the Permedia. Too slow and broken as hell. Aliens VS Predator runs for about 3 seconds
and then crashes. Not really a big issue, since you’ll see
that in that short time, what’s being rendered on screen doesn’t even remotely resemble
the game. As always the hardest test is the last one. Will it run Unreal? Unreal runs only in OpenGL mode and by the
looks of it, it would be better if it didn’t start at all . Finding many positives to talk about will
prove very difficult this time round. The Permedia is faster than an S3 ViRGE 325
and in general, as far as performance is concerned, it hangs in the middle compared to other cards
of its time. OpenGL support is very unusual though! Sadly, it’s just not fast enough for 640×480
resolutions. Most games would need about 10 more frames per second on average to approach competing cards. The lack of alpha blending modes causes missing
transparency in most games. Also, most D3D games in first person suffer
from issues with objects getting rendered through walls. OpenGL support is unusual like we said, however
it’s counter balanced by memory hungry drivers, so most games become unplayable on cards with
4MB of memory. Retro gamers shouldn’t worry however since
the card is quite rare, so there’s a fairly limited chance that you’ll manage to handicap
your retro PC with the Permedia. We award this card with 2 stars, mostly due
to the fact that performance is one step above garbage territory. The list of things going against it however
is just too long, so it mostly serves as a curiosity. That’s all for today, thanks for watching
and as always you can now watch the demo of 3DMark 99 rendered on the Permedia. Or at least all the footage we managed to
get before it caused a system freeze!

18 thoughts on “Worst Game Graphics Cards – 3Dlabs Permedia

  1. What a hilariously terrible card!! I don't think that 'faster than Virge' is really a positive, considering that everything is faster than the card they called 'the 3D decellerator'. 'Has an interesting' history would be a more fitting positive. Nice video.

  2. Interesting video as always. This card has to be worse than the S3 Virge GX/DX. I had one back in the day, and some games worked… but most of the time the frame rate was either too low to be playable, or they crashed within seconds. But at least they looked better than with this card 😉

  3. Almost everything has rendering issues, leading me to wonder if the software team actually did any testing of games.

  4. Around 7 month ago I found this channel, and became interesting in overviews. Nice video, as all about graphics card before. Interesting how felt people, who bought this card in 1996 as 3D accelerator, and after found out that they can’t even play games of that year. I will not talk about 1997 & 1998. Huge fail. Are there plans in the future for NV1 or Rendition Vérité?

  5. Something with the Depth and Z sorting on the Permdia card and/or it's drivers is seriously broken. The half life track intro particularly demonstrated that. It's probably also largely to blame for the awful performance since the card is essentially constantly rendering way more than it needs to.

  6. IGN: "Performance one step above garbage, 9/10, product of the year."

    I worked at a national PC parts distributor (~3rd largest in small European country) at the time, we sold a couple of Permedia cards, most if not all came back for RMA because users assumed they were broken ;). We also carried Permedia 2 for a short while, but quickly switched to king of cheap – i740. I remember maybe 2 intel cards ever coming back broken.

    Oh, and a "fun fact". We were the official PC Chips distributor 😉 fake cache, fake chipset, fake AGP, you name it PCChips had it. Ignoring monitors half of service department by volume was bad pc chips motherboards, rest was CTX/Datsun/Creative cdroms, primax scanners, ram and mostly amd cpus.

  7. Now that's a way to start a new year! A GPU that is so bad it somehow achieves hardware-level wallhacks.
    Also, that Turok footage made me feel motion sick and whatever the hell is up with Croc got me completely baffled.

  8. The texture bugs of the Voodoo 1 should be disappear, if you downclock your CPU to ~500MHz. Try it out with 66MHz FSB and look if this would help.

  9. I remember being impressed at the Glint Pro cards back in the day, but did not know much about this one. However, I did have a Mystique hooked up to my Pentium 150, and that thing was horrible. Best Pentium card ever was the Voodoo Banshee in my opinion.

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