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Getting Extremely Graphic

A wide world of workhorse pro level graphics cards beckons

Today we have PCI Express, which brings us even higher in bandwidth for graphics cards, so much so that almost all current video cards can’t touch the upper limit of transfer.  Yet.

 It’s as clear as a note on the mirror in lipstick that she’s leaving you forever; graphics are driving computing innovation right now.  The ability to process and display complexity drives my livelihood, so it’s been a keen interest of mine ever since I got jealous of Josh’s PC and his incredible 17” monitor.  Yeah, 17”.

And the past few years have honestly held the most interest for me. The biggest innovation in my estimation has been the affordable dual-headed display.  The one thing that always managed to gall me, as early as just six years ago, was that I just could not get things running well with two monitors.  I mean I had this on my Mac, why was it so hard to do on my PC with Maya running?

The watershed moment in workstation graphics I say belongs to ATI’s FireGL 8800. This was the first time an affordable 3D accelerator was able to display OpenGL on dual displays on one card and not freak out and shoot up the place.  Again, I stress the word affordable.  This card was excellent, and I think really ushered in a new war for the workstation market, from home workstations all the way to high end office workstations. And this war is raging today. 


The workstation video card landscape is about as robust as it can get.  It was only a matter of a few years ago that dual head display machines were the domain of professional studios, due mainly to the sheer cost of these cards, lead by the amazing Wildcat series of cards. Now owned by 3DLabs under Creative, the Wildcat (now the Realizm) series still holds the upper edge of the field, at least arguably so.  Its price point is high for the upper end cards and is aimed for serious visualization as well as entertainment industry types.

Nvidia has an impressive array of cards and is heavily pushing the entertainment aspect.  Their cards are highly regarded in this industry and deservedly so -- they enjoy fast processors, ample RAM, and rock solid drivers. Coupled with Gelato hardware based rendering, and there is a definitive sense that they want this market sewn up.

ATI, who I firmly believe serves up a great selection of cards, especially for the cost-conscious buyer and the entry-level market, is still trying to shake the now unfair belief among users that their driver base is unsteady. When I hear people speak of ATI FireGL cards, they remark how they feel uneasy about them.  And this is something I disagree with entirely.  It is true the earlier FireGL line (mostly pre-8800 card, though the first round of these cards had weaker drivers) had issues with compatibility, but for the most part FireGLs are really solid cards that offer great speeds and very good prices.

Let’s hit the middle of the road here for PCI Express cards as an example, and take a look at the ATI V5000 and the Nvidia FX1400 cards to get a sense of today’s capabilities.  These cards were both tested in a Polywell Mini-Box 939AX AMD64 PCIe System – 512Mb Dual Channel DDR400 – Direct X 9.0c and ATI Radeon® XPRESS 200 Chipset (Thanks very much to Pollywell for loaning me this system). I would have included scores of the Realizm card, but the minibox was too small for this card -- but more to come on ALL these cards from me, so stay tuned).  SPEC ViewPerf 8.1 scores for Maya for the V5000 hit 41.2 while the FX1400 came in at 49.54, a fairly good lead. But if you take a look at the price points, you’ll notice the V5000 is at about $425 (all values in street prices) and the FX1400 at $625.

These frame rate scores are based on one of my personal Maya benchmark tests:

  3dtest 1600x1200 (60hz LCD Analog): 

 FireGL V5000 

  Quadro FX1400

  Wireframe

76.8

  114.7

  Shaded

49

   70.7

  Textured 

27.8

   31.7

  Shaded/Lighted 

17.9

  55.3

  Textured/Lighted

14.9

   25

  Street Price

$425 

  $625

 

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Related Keywords:ATI FireGL, Gelato, ATI V5000 , Nvidia FX1400, video card

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  • Getting Extremely Graphic by DMN Editorial at Sep. 01, 2005 7:25 am gmt (Rec'd 3)

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