Issue: Volume: 23 Issue: 8 (August 2000)

Reviews: Zx10 VE

By Joe Greco

Intergraph has a long history in the hardware business. It was one of the first computer companies to offer turnkey systems, and in the '70s and '80s, it sold thousands of them, with a particularly strong presence in the AEC and mapping/GIS markets. Quite a lot has changed over the years for the Alabama-based company-the spinoff and sale of its Intense3D graphics accelerator business, for example-but one thing has remained the same: It still makes powerful computer systems.
The Intergraph Zx10 VE comes with Intense 3D's Wildcat 4210 graphics card.

Last October, Intergraph introduced the Zx10 line, which featured a 733mhz Pentium III processor. Then in March of this year, it rolled out the Zx10 VE, which houses dual 866mhz processors as well as a state-of-the-art Intense3D Wildcat 4210 graphics accelerator.

The Zx10 VE is easy to set up-the machine uses the Microsoft-standard colors and icons on the various ports. Its elegant design is continued down to its sculpted Logitech wheel mouse and quiet keyboard. A front panel, which raises up like a garage door, reveals the 40X CD-ROM, floppy drive, and power switch.

When activated, the Zx10's 400-watt power supply kicks in, and this, accompanied by the two internal fans, makes the Intergraph system fairly loud, though nowhere as noisy as some of its competitors-the Compaq AP 550, for example.

Opening the external case is no struggle and inside is a well-thought-out system. Accessing the drive bays and the memory banks is easy, as is reaching either of the two processors. The Zx10 contains an airflow system similar to, but not as elaborate or effective as the ones found in the Hewlett-Packard Visualize and Kayak models, but it gets the job done.

Inside there are three 5.25-inch and three 3.5-inch wide bays, with two of each still available, as well as two internal SCSI ports-one that goes to the 18gb hard disk and one that leads to the external port. There are also two IDE ports and a floppy connector.

The computer has one AGP 4X slot, three 33mhz PCI slots, two 66mhz PCI slots, and a single ISA slot that can also double as another 33mhz PCI slot. The Zx10 has four memory banks; each holds two SDRAM DIMMs. Using 1gb chips, this would make the maximum amount of memory the machine can hold 8gb, although my review unit came with a more modest 512mb of memory. The Pentium processors communicate with the rest of the components in the Zx10 VE courtesy of a 133mhz bus.

The Intense3D Wildcat 4210 3D graphics card is at the heart of the system. It features 128mb of memory for both texture mapping and frame buffering, with an additional 32mb for direct pipeline memory, which can be used to hold the graphics display list that is generated by some 3D programs. This card's memory is twice that of its predecessor, the Wildcat 4110, and four times as much as most other cards. Additionally, while the 4110 had a single pipeline architecture, the new card features dual pipelines with both geometry acceleration and drawing engines.

According to standard tests performed by Intense3D, the 4210 draws 9.72 million 25-pixel 3D triangles per second. This is almost twice the number posted by its predecessor, the 4110 (5.72 million), an extremely fast card in its own right. The $4000 4210 can drive a monitor up to 1920 by 1440 pixels at 75hz. As with other graphics accelerators, the 4210 comes with software that allows users to tweak the performance of their graphics subsystem depending on the application, such as SolidWorks or 3D Studio Max, they are using most often. However, even with this feature turned off, performance ratings were excellent (see the benchmarks table on pg. 83).

The review machine came with a helpful utility, the Intergraph Hardware Monitor, which reads the temperature of the two processors as well as the ambient air around them in the chassis. CPU and power plane voltages are also monitored and warnings can be set to go off when certain values are reached. The software also provides other data of interest-how efficiently the fans are working, for example, or if the chassis has been accessed without authorization.

I ran several hardware benchmarks created by the Standard Performance Evaluation Corp. (SPEC), including the Solid Works 99 and Viewperf 6.1.1 tests. The Intergraph Zx10 VE performed much better than the average of the two 600mhz systems that I had on hand, and also edged out another 866mhz system, the single-processor Kayak from Hewlett-Packard. It should be noted that representatives of Solid Works mentioned that only a few of that application's operations take advantage of dual processors. This was reflected in the CPU portion of the benchmark, as the Intergraph system was only about 10% faster. However, with the 4210 card, it scored much higher on graphics chores, especially the graphics-rich Viewperf.

Overall, I enjoyed working with the Zx1 VE. It is fast, looks good, and is backed by a three-year warranty. Most users working with large CAD assemblies, animations, scanned 3D data, or other high-end imaging will have no trouble justifying its $10,679 pricetag.

Joe Greco is a freelance writer specializing in CAD-related topics.

Price as tested: $10,679
Configuration as tested: Dual 866MHz Pentium III processors; 512MB of RAM; 18GB hard disk; Intense3D Wildcat 4210 graphics accelerator
Huntsville, AL