Wildcat VP990 Pro
Issue: Volume: 26 Issue: 8 (August 2003)

Wildcat VP990 Pro

By George Maestri

Competition in the 3D hardware market has been fierce over the past few years. ATI and Nvidia have been fighting it out in the consumer space, and this battle has crossed over into the professional workstation arena as well. Another contender, 3Dlabs has long been a major player in the professional space. Now a division of Creative, 3Dlabs unveiled the Wildcat VP series, its answer to the less expensive but still powerful cards that have been flooding the market of late. In fact, the Wildcat VP line brings a new architecture and terrific quality to price-competitive workstation cards. The VP990 Pro ups the ante by including 512mb of video RAM, more than any card currently on the market.

The VP990 Pro fits in a standard AGP slot and has the same heatsink and fan found on other VP series cards. The heatsink isn't terribly large, but it makes for a tight fit when there's another card in the top PCI slot. It's best to leave this PCI slot open, as the heat-generating VP990 Pro needs all the air it can get. On the back of the card are two DVI connectors as well as a stereo jack. For those using CRT monitors, two DVI-to-analog connectors are included as well.

The software included with the card installed flawlessly. 3Dlabs provides its own control panel for adjusting and tweaking screen resolution, as well as OpenGL and monitor settings. The OpenGL panel comes with a number of presets custom-tuned for most major 3D applications. When first using the card, I did run into a few problems with screen refreshes using the default OpenGL settings. These problems showed up both on the desktop and in applications such as 3ds max from Discreet. Switching to the 3ds max settings on the OpenGL control panel cleared up these issues and I had no further problems.

The Wildcat VP990 Pro graphics accelerator from 3Dlabs provides 512mb of video RAM.

The VP990 Pro's whopping 512mb of video RAM is great for anyone using large amounts of textures in their work. It also should help those who run high-resolution or multiple monitors. The card supports the new 9-megapixel displays from vendors such as IBM and Hitachi, as well as high-resolution dual monitors. Users creating content for feature films and HDTV will be very pleased with the results. I found images and color to be crisp and clear, due partly to the card's 10-bit RAMDACs and its good-quality drivers.

The core of the Wildcat VP is 3Dlabs' P10 visual processing unit (VPU). Most graphics cards have a single large graphics processing unit (GPU) which resembles a computer's CPU, but for graphics. 3Dlabs' VPU consists of many small, .single-instruction multiple-data (SIMD) processors tied together in a supercomputer-like array. The Wildcat VP has more than 200 of these processors on a single chip, which enables the card to parallel-process image information, theoretically making it smoother and more responsive than a typical graphics card.

These small processors also can be split up and used for different tasks, and to offload tasks normally completed by the CPU. This is undoubtedly where professional 3D graphics is headed, as it allows rendering times to be cut significantly. These processors can handle anything from antialiasing pixels, to calculating high-order surfaces, to performing such esoteric tasks as wavelet compression and photoreal rendering. This frees the CPU for other tasks, speeding up interactivity.

The VP990 shares the same VPU as the Wildcat VP970, which can crank out 225 million vertices per second. I tested the card on a dual 1.4GHz Pentium III with 1.5gb of RAM. Viewperf scores were good: The board turned in a 3ds max score of 11.9, a ProE score of 18.3, and a UGS score of 15.3. While this is fast, it lags behind some cards on the market, most notably the Nvidia Quadro FX 2000 and the ATI FireGL X1. However, these cards currently max out at 128mb and 256mb of video RAM, respectively, so the additional memory in the VP990 Pro is certainly a bonus.

Priced at roughly $800, the VP990 Pro is not cheap, particularly considering that the VP970, with 128mb of RAM, can be had for less than $400. Though not the fastest on the market in terms of benchmarks, the VP990 Pro is a solid performer. Its multiprocessor architecture is unique among graphics cards and offers many possibilities for expansion and customization. And its large amount of video RAM certainly will appeal to those using lots of textures or high-resolution displays.

George Maestri is a Computer Graphics World contributing editor and president of Rubberbug, an LA-based studio specializing in character animation.


Price: Approximately $800

Minimum System Requirements: Windows 98/Me/2000/XP-based machine with Intel-compatible processor and AGP slot

3Dlabs, a division of Creative; www.3dlabs.com