By George Maestri
Nvidia, a driving force in the consumer market for many years, is now becoming a huge player in the workstation market. Its Quadro series of graphics cards are popular with studios, and even the consumer-level GeForce cards work well in a number of professional applications. Nvidia is aggressively courting the high end with the Quadro FX3000, a robust card that now supports genlock.
The Quadro FX3000 is available as an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) part from Nvidia and is bundled with systems from vendors such as Dell, Hewlett-Packard, and IBM. The new FX3000 also is offered though PNY in the retail channel. An OEM direct from Nvidia, the card I reviewed came with drivers for Windows and Linux. I installed the card on a Windows XP Professional machine with a 2.8ghz processor and 2gb of RAM.
|The new FX3000 graphics accelerator from Nvidia works well for 3D applications, editing, and more.
Opening the box revealed the FX3000 as a substantial piece of hardware. The heat sink is massive, and the card is double width, taking up both the AGP slot and the neighboring PCI slot on the system. Most of this extra room is needed for airflow and cooling, though the FX3000G uses some of the extra space for a daughterboard and the genlock connectors. The card's power requirements are fairly hefty, calling for power through not only the PCI slot, but also a standard 4-pin molex connector, the same type used on hard disk drives.
As with most Nvidia cards, the FX3000 supports dual monitors. The card contains two DVI connectors on the back for flat-panel monitors. A standard SVGA monitor can be connected with the supplied adapters. Dual-monitor operation is supported through Nvidia's nView control panel, which manages screen resolution and the way menus and dialog boxes behave over multiple displays. The FX3000 also can support single uXGA monitors with up to 3840x2400 resolution.
One of the bigger features of the FX3000 is the option to genlock the card, sold as the FX3000G. Genlock enables applications to sync multiple cards across multiple systems, which is important for applications that need more than two displays. This is terrific for creating multisystem reality centers used in collaborative engineering and design reviews. And the card can sync to standard video formats and to house-sync signals for video postprocessing and editing solutions, making it a perfect choice for real-time 3D broadcast applications.
At SIGGRAPH, Nvidia showed demos of high-quality images rendered in real time using its hardware and the Cg language. While these demos are amazing, getting that level of quality requires a lot of work. Software vendors, such as Alias, Softimage, and Discreet, are starting to integrate graphics hardware more tightly to applications, a trend likely to continue. Applications such as Alias's Maya are using the technology to offer hardware-assisted final rendering. The Maya hardware renderer actually is a subset of the software renderer, so it doesn't have all the features of the main renderer, but it can produce images in a fraction of the time.
In terms of raw specs, the card is very impressive. Its memory bandwidth is nearly 27.2gb per second, twice that of the FX2000, translating to performance gains. Judging from benchmarks published on Nvidia's Web site, the gains are only on the order of about 10 percent; yet, a big difference is evident in applications that use lots of textures, where the extra video memory and bandwidth help considerably.
I tested the card using Viewperf 7.1. My results were 24.2 with Discreet 3ds max, 39.5 with Pro/Engineer-02 (PTC), and 42.1 with Unigraphics' ugs-03. Although a bit lower than Nvidia's, my numbers are very high, making the FX3000 one of the fastest cards on the market. Of course, raw numbers mean nothing if the card is not compatible with your chosen application. I tested it with 3ds max 5, Softimage|XSI 3.0, and Maya 5.0—all of which worked great. Over the years, I've found that some cards work great with 3D apps, but fail with more pedestrian tasks, so I left the card in the system to check its stability. I used the card for all sorts of tasks, from image and video editing to web browsing and game playing. I had absolutely no problems, and I'm happy to report the FX3000 is rock solid.
At almost $2000 for the retail version, this card is not for the faint of heart. For most artists working in 3D, a less expensive card may be fine for the majority of applications. Those needing the ultimate in performance, however, will find this card fast, solid, and ready to tackle any task.
George Maestri is president of Rubber-bug, a Los Angeles-based animation studio specializing in character animation.
Minimum System Requirements:
Windows XP, 2000, or NT 4, a PC with Pentium III or higher, 128mb of RAM, a free PCI slot, and a 350w power supply.