I was recently asked which Second Life viewers am I using. I decided to answer that in a note since it's sorta a long answer and it turned into an article.
I use two different computers when on Secondlife or other 3d platforms like ReactionGrid. They are both Windows based systems. One is a desktop HP with an AMD processor that was bought in 2006 but has upgraded hardware and many software tweaks to personalize and speed up processing. It has an NVidia graphics (9600) card and a Soundblaster Live sound card as well as 4 gigs of memory. My laptop is a Toshiba Satellite that I hook up to 32" monitor. The processor is about a year old and it has no extras but 2 gigs of memory. The laptop is what I use most for 3d platforms due to the processor being newer, which cuts down on lag
Everyone has their priorities when seeking a viewer. Gamers look for fast rezzing and stability as well as those little extra features that tickle their fancy. Builders and designers look for features beyond the norm but my main focus when reviewing is what the average user is looking for and that's fast rezzing and stability (crashes). Many do not realize that a computer's processor is what matters in order to have the best online experience with any 3d platform, not a video card (unless you're a gamer) but the processor. The more updated it is, the better your experience because you won't lag, you can take advantage of many viewer features and your graphics will leave you in awe.
I will not substitute stability and fast rezzing for anything else. If a viewer does not offer a step up process for rezzing, I know to lower, then gradually increase my distance for faster rezzing. I'm typically on high or ultra viewing but also lower it for rezzing when first entering a sim.
I use Snowglobe for shopping, riding my chopper and sometimes exploring because it's the fastest rezzing & most stable viewer. I use my Mystitools radar when viewer does not offer one like Snowglobe but a few sims disable or make radar scanning sleep due to lag contribution, which is a minor deficit with Snowglobe.
Snowglobe viewer http://wiki.secondlife.com/wiki/Snowglobe
Ascent is one of my favorite viewers for clubbing because it has built in radar and the combined features of many viewers, yet is not as fast in rezzing as Snowglobe, if it was I'd stick with Ascent as my favorite viewer because it has all the features I want and more. Ascent Viewer http://viewerdirectory.secondlife.com/listing/show/listing_id/208
Imprudence and Phoenix, I use just to keep updated on their development and sometimes for building/teraforming, depending on my needs at the time. I do notice that both are slow at rezzing more than Snowglobe, especially with other avatars. I have to speed up avatar rezzing by switching my groups tag (this really works) but it still takes longer with Imprudence. I do notice that Phoenix is a little better than Imprudence with rezzing. A few of these new viewers share the previous Emerald viewer code but with small code changes like GUI.
Imprudence Viewer http://viewerdirectory.secondlife.com/listing/show/listing_id/184
As for other viewers, I used them for review/article purposes only and they have not impressed me. There is a new viewer out called The Dolphin Viewer, which is based on Snowglobe 1.5 source. It contains many fixes and enhancements for explorers they claim but I have yet to review this one but will soon. Dolphin Viewer info here http://dolphinviewer.eregion.de/download-and-install/
I'll restate that I do not trust any developer ever associated with the recently ceased Emerald project because I know their history and I'm not referring to the recent Emerald Gate but things before that, except for LordGregGreg Back. He had started his own project with the Emergence Viewer and I'm not sure what's up with that project but it seems kinda dead. I do suggest not using a viewer that isn't updated periodically. Greg has recently teamed up (again) with previous Emerald developers after having left them in the past due to creative differences, legalities and abuse (he stood up for himself and users, then resigned). I do wonder about the current Phoenix team (ex emerald + new developers) because their credibility is shot to say the least. If you want to risk your computer and your privacy then use Phoenix. The risk is much less now that the development team "should" be working with full disclosure (transparency). Linden Labs waited too long and gave them too much opportunity before they disqualified Emerald and the team, so I really don't trust Linden Labs in regards to monitoring 3rd party viewers. Linden Labs is accountable by US law to keep it's users safe from privacy invasion and infiltration but they've proven they take that too lightly in the past. Emergence Viewer http://viewerdirectory.secondlife.com/listing/show/listing_id/203
There is a viewer that is impresive and that's Kirstens, which is a high end viewer meant to be used for in dept photography and Machinima. It requires more computer resources than any other viewer and a technical savy user. If you can handle this viewer, I suggest you go for it but keep in mind, if you are not the above average user, stay away from it but it's well worth it if you can. The graphics alone will blow you away. Kirstens Viewer http://viewerdirectory.secondlife.com/listing/show/listing_id/116
I wish all the viewers had integrated multi media like LL viewer 2.0 for many reasons, that offer numerous benefits for advertising, education and avatar appearance. I am looking forward to the release of Snowstorm, which is a open source project with LL. It's sort of an upgrade of Snowglobe, which was the first open source project between LL and open source developers but with a GUI we are used to. Snowstorm will have features integrated from other favorite viewers as well as new additions and hopefully multi-media. Snowstorm viewer Wiki page http://wiki.secondlife.com/wiki/Snowstorm_Project
(important) I just manually updated my viewers. Keep in mind that most don't have automatic updates and with all the new viewers out and LL constant updates, I suggest checking for viewer updates at least twice monthly. Check your viewer's version and the web sites current downloadable version.
- Linden Labs 3rd Party Viewer Directory http://viewerdirectory.secondlife.com/
- Linden Labs Wiki list of 3rd party viewers (not all are on the advertised list, nor is this list updated) http://wiki.secondlife.com/wiki/Downloads
My favorites are in this order:
5. LL Viewer2.0