Judging the abilities of Elsa’s Winner II 3D graphics card with only the evidence of its price would be a serious injustice. With a recommended price of £79.99 for the 16MB version we tested and the knowledge that it is discounted widely, there are few other 3D cards which can match the Winner II’s bang per buck.
The Winner II uses S3′s much-improved Savage 4 chipset. Aimed unashamedly at the budget end of the market, the Savage 4 is, nonetheless, a modern 3D chipset which includes all the main features required by cutting-edge 3D games supporting the OpenGL and Direct 3D hardware accelerated standards. Elsa has used a higher-performance version of the Savage 4 which is distinguished by the ‘Pro’ label. This means it has faster memory and tests indicate this delivers a slight but noticeable edge in performance over the standard model. That said, S3 has just announced an even faster Savage 4 Xtreme chipset.
Technically, the Savage 4′s biggest claim to fame is its support for S3′s new texture compression standard, S3TC. By using on-the-fly compression of texture data, the Savage 4 chipset is capable of dramatically improving the realism of 3D scenes with minimal performance overhead. The problem is that few games so far support this feature. Notable ones include Quake III, Rage Software’s upcoming ‘Incoming Forces’, the sequel to the notable ‘Incoming’ and ‘Unreal: Tournament’ from Epic/GTi. Previews we’ve seen impressively demonstrate S3TC on the Winner II. Savage 4 also supports SPMT, or single pass multi-texturing, which should also boost performance where supported, like in Quake II.
Compared to practically anything under £100 and over a year old, Elsa’s Winner II is more than a match. It’s a different story when compared to the latest and much more expensive cutting-edge Riva TNT2 and Matrox G400-based cards which currently represent the ultimate power-gamers’ choice. But few 3D games will be badly degraded by the Winner II and performance is favourable compared with ATI’s Rage 128 generation and 3Dfx’s cheapest Voodoo3 2000 offering, which Elsa still undercuts comfortably.
No games are bundled with this card, but you do get a video clip editor called MainActor and the Winner II does have a novel option in the form Elsa’s £47 3D Revelator glasses, which give a startling pseudo 3D-realistic view of most Direct3D games using an active LCD shutter in the spectacle’s special lenses.
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