Issue: Volume: 23 Issue: 5 (May 2000)

SPOTLIGHT: New Graphics Boards for Spring

Among the new buzzwords some marketers have been employing with regard to the new cards is the term graphics processing unit (GPU) to denote a board's controller or processor. According to market analyst Jon Peddie of Jon Peddie Associates in Mill Valley, Cali fornia, the term GPU simply reflects the growing importance and complexity of graphics controllers. "The graphics controller has been assimilating one function after another in its never-ending challenge to the [workstation's] central processor," explains Peddie. "The once-lowly VGA controller has grown to a couple of million or more transistors, chal lenging the CPU for complexity and size."

The chart be low categorizes the graphics processors employed in current 3D accelerators at the workstation level. These processors provide the foundations for the following new boards in the high-, mid-, and low-range sectors of the market.

According to Intense3D, its new Wildcat 4210 graphics accelerator will offer double the speed of the company's own Wildcat 4110 board-itself no slouch. The dual-pipeline card will deliver 6.4 gigaflops of geometry performance, thus accelerating 3D operations while offloading transform, lighting, and clipping calculations from the host CPU. The 4210 will have 256mb of frame and texture memory, and dual-screen support for both analog and digital monitors. The card's target market includes MCAD, scientific visualization, medical imaging, oil and gas exploration, and digital content creation. According to Intense3D, the 4210 is an addition to, rather than a replacement for, its former best performer, the Wildcat 4110. No price is available for the 4210, as it will be available on an OEM basis only. The board will include support for Windows NT and 2000 drivers.

3Dlabs has begun shipping the Oxygen GVX210, which replaces the company's GMX board as its highest performance offering. The GVX210, based on two 3Dlabs Glint R3 rasterization engines with the Glint Gamma G2 geometry processor, can drive two monitors from a single AGP (accelerated graphics port) slot and is able to accelerate 3D volumetric textures such as those used in medical and visualization applications. The board also features Pentium III-optimized PowerThreads OpenGL drivers that dynamically distribute geometry and lighting loads between the onboard geometry processor and the host CPU for optimal system throughput. The price for the GVX210 is approximately $1299.

Elsa's new mid-range offering is the Gloria II, based on Nvidia's Quadro processor. This board is designed for game content development and the creation of film effects and visualizations. In addition to enhanced support for anti-aliased points and lines, the Gloria II enables two-sided lighting, full transform, front-buffer 3D clipping, and shared back-buffer support for powerful 3D modeling design and drafting performance. The $799 Gloria II has shown strong price/performance value in recent SPEC/GPC workstation benchmark tests (see the "Dollar-per-Composite" chart at right, and "Elsa Cards Provide Bang for the Buck" on pg. 9 of the April 2000 issue.)

New for the desktop Linux market is the E&S Lightning 1200LX, one of the first 3D cards developed specially for the burgeoning OS. According to Evans & Sutherland, the new board delivers to Linux users OpenGL graphics features that were previously available only on Unix and NT-based systems. The board sells for $489, and includes E&S's RealImage chipset, which enables features such as 24-bit Z-buffering, MIP-mapped texturing, anti-aliased lines, transparency, fog, and overlay planes.

Gamers are the primary target for Elsa's new Erazor X(2), which is built on Nvidia's GeForce 256, a processor that provides increased geometry processing, dynamic lighting, and real-time environment reflection capabilities-all calculated to im prove gaming performance The X(2) costs $299.

3Dlabs has also introduced two new versions of it entry-level unit, the Oxygen VX1, which is built on the Glint R3 processor. The first, the VX1-16, is a 16mb version that costs about $150. The second, the Oxygen VX1-PCI, is a 32mb card that runs on PCI-based systems and costs about $300.
-Jenny Donelan

(Elsa; Aachen, Germany;
(Evans & Sutherland; Salt Lake City, UT;
(Intense3D; Huntsville, AL;
(3Dlabs; Sunnyvale, CA;