By George Maestri
Elsa has been in the workstation graphics market for a number of years now. Historically, the company has provided excellent cards at affordable prices. Elsa's latest line represents its association with Nvidia, the new darling of the graphics card business, and these cards include the Synergy III, a mid-range accelerator, and the Gloria III, a high-end card.
Elsa's Synergy III is based on the Quadro2 MXR chip and includes 32mb of SDR memory and a 350mhz RAMDAC. The card supports both analog and digital monitors. One big advantage of the Synergy III is its ability to support dual monitors through the one card, with the second monitor attached through the digital port (Elsa provides an adapter for an analog monitor to attach to this port.)
|Elsa's high-end Gloria III gets a performance boost from 64MB of DDR memory. |
Dual monitors are ideal for anyone who uses applications that contain a large number of floating palettes, such as Adobe Systems' Photoshop or After Effects. The second monitor gives you the ability to place your palettes on one screen, allowing for an unobstructed view of the image on the other screen. A problem with this configuration could be one of memory. Since the Synergy III only has 32mb of RAM, you may have to sacrifice some texture memory to accommodate the second monitor.
The Gloria III, the high-end card, contains the Quadro2 Pro chip, along with a full 64mb of DDR frame buffer memory, and a 350mhz RAMDAC. The DDR memory operates at twice the speed of conventional memory, giving the card a performance boost. Like the Synergy III, the Gloria III also supports both digital and analog monitors. Unlike its little brother, however, the Gloria III does not support dual monitors, which seems like an odd omission.
For users of Discreet's 3D Studio Max, Elsa provides custom drivers, dubbed Elsa Maxtreme, for Max 3.x. These drivers are simply the best I've seen for this application. They support a wide range of options for tweaking your environment for maximum speed or maximum quality. In terms of quality, the drivers sup port three levels of quality for transparency, and five levels for texture mapping. The coolest feature is the ability to display accurate fog in the viewports. This enables you to fine-tune your fog and animation before you render.
At the time I was reviewing the cards, Elsa had not yet ported the Maxtreme drivers to 3ds max 4, which I was using. I did experience a few initial problems with the card and max 4, but a call to Elsa tech support and a few tweaks to my system's BIOS quickly resolved these issues.
I tested the cards with several other applications, including Softimage|XSI 1.5 and Alias|Wavefront's Maya 3.0, and they performed quite well. In the past, lower-end Nvidia cards were problematic with Maya Artisan, in that the brush cursor would not display properly when sculpting a surface. Neither card exhibited this problem, and both performed well with Artisan. It would be nice if Elsa provided custom drivers for these applications as well.
To test each card's speed, I ran the SPECviewperf benchmarks using a dual 800mhz Pentium III system with 512mb of RAM. As expected, the higher end card performed better, but not by as much as expected. In the viewperf Adwavs-04 test, which simulates 3D content creation, scores were 63.72 frames per second for the Gloria III and 51.30 for the Synergy III. The ProCDRS-03 test simulates industrial de sign. Here, scores were a bit further apart, with the Synergy hitting 18.10 and the Gloria III reaching 32.98.
|One advantage of the Synergy III, Elsa's mid-range graphics card offering, is its ability to support dual monitors.|
I also ran a speed test using the standard 3D Studio Max benchmark file, Texture2.max, with Max Version 3.1 and the Maxtreme drivers. The Synergy III clocked in at 42 frame per second, while the Gloria III made it to 56.
I liked both these cards, but it seems as though the Synergy is the most cost-effective-and it has the dual-monitor capability. While the Gloria III performs well, I don't think it is fast enough to justify a price double that of its sibling. Other manufacturers' cards in the $1000 to $1500 range outperform the Gloria III on scores as indicated on the SPEC Web site at www.spec.org/gpc. The big reason to buy this card would be for hardcore 3ds max users who need top performance.
Elsa is doing a great job providing fast workstation-class graphics cards for a modest price. Either card would make a great addition to any 3D artist's workstation.
George Maestri is a writer and animator based in Los Angeles.
Price: $499 (Synergy); $1199 (Gloria)
Minimum System Requirements: Intel-compatible PC running Linux or Windows 98/NT/2000. Maxtreme Drivers require 3D Studio Max 3.x.