Diamond SpeedStar 24X. (accelerator card) (Hardware Review) (Evaluation)
by Rick Broida
Diamond Computer Systems' new SpeedStar 24X accelerator represents a minor coup in computer video. Not only does it outperform virtually every accelerator on the market today, but it costs little more than a standard VGA card.
Indeed, at $249 retail--and with street prices under $200--the SpeedStar 24X offers the best price-to-performance ratio of any video card currently available. Not to be confused with the SpeedStar Plus or the original SpeedStar 24, the 24X employs Western Digital's unique WD90C31 chip set to achieve true 24-bit color and blazing speeds. Accelerators based on the ubiquitous S3 chip improve only Windows performance; the 24X hastens DOS applications as well.
On a standard 33-MHz 386 machine, the SpeedStar 24X's Windows benchmark test scores were mediocre--only about 5 times the speed of normal VGA. On a 33-MHz 486 setup, however, the numbers improved dramatically--about 12 times the speed of normal VGA. This ranked the 24X above the fastest accelerators from competitors like ATI and Orchid, and even above the up-and-coming local bus video accelerators.
But numbers don't mean much in real-world computing, so I put the 24X through what I call the Wing Commander test. Origin's Wing Commander II is perhaps the most graphics-intensive game on the market, and it can make even a 486 computer seem slow. On my 33-MHz 386 with a standard VGA card, the animation was jerky and poorly timed with the digitized sounds. The 24X card
brought the game to life, making the animation faster and much more fluid.
Another of the 24X's charms is its ability to run Windows in extended graphics modes. Its 24-bit color capabilities allow for a palette of 16.7 million colors in the 640 x 480 mode, and it has drivers for displaying 32,000 colors at 800 x 600, 256 colors at 1024 x 768, and 16 colors at 1280 x 1024. The 800 x 600 mode is what I use most often, and the 32,000-color driver made Windows glorious to behold. Alas, at least one application balks at the extended spectrum: Aldus PageMaker 4.0 would not load with that driver installed. A quick call to Aldus, however, revealed that PageMaker has inherent troubles with 32,000-color drivers, so the hardware wasn't to blame.
The 24X comes with DOS drivers for everything from AutoCAD to WordPerfect, plus a copy of the Halo Desktop Imager for Windows (an impressive image-editing program) and one of the best instruction manuals I've ever read. The card is backed by a five-year warranty and unlimited technical support. Diamond also maintains a 24-hour BBS for downloading driver updates.
A few technical notes: The initial release of the 24X did not function properly on 50-MHz 486DX machines, but the problem has been corrected. As of this writing, the BIOS on the card is version 1.02. If you have an earlier BIOS, contact Diamond for an upgrade. Currently, there are no OS/2 drivers for the 24X, but a representative at Diamond indicated that the drivers are now in development.
The SpeedStar 24X is the perfect steroid to pump up lackluster video performance. Faster, cheaper, and more flexible than most accelerators, it gives graphics-intensive software new life.