Issue: Volume: 25 Issue: 3 (March 2002)

Quadro DCC

By George Maestri

Over the past few years, Nvidia has become the dominant force in 3D graphics processors. The company has been pushing the envelope in terms of price and performance to the point where the line between professional and consumer cards has be come gray indeed. With the introduction of the Quadro DCC line of cards, Nvidia has pushed the high end of its product line even further.

The Quadro line got its start last year with cards promising superior performance and features over Nvidia's consumer cards. Previous Quadros were extensions of the GeForce 2 chipset, while the current Quadro DCC (Digital Content Creation) card is an enhanced version of the Ge Force 3 chipset, introduced last year. For the retail channel, Elsa exclusively distributes these cards under the Gloria DCC name, but Nvidia also produces a line of OEM cards that manufacturers such as Dell and HP bundle with their machines. The graphics board reviewed here is the Nvidia version.

On the surface, the Quadro DCC looks nearly identical to the GeForce 3 card I reviewed last year (see pg. 60, September 2001). There are the same green heatsinks covering 64mb of DDR RAM, as well as a hefty fan to cool the main chipset. The card sports both a DVI and VGA connector to support LCD or analog monitors. Only one of these connectors can be active at a time. The Quadro MXR card Nvidia produced last year supported dual monitors on the card by using a DVI-to-analog converter cable. It would have been nice to extend this functionality to the current line of cards.
The Elsa Gloria DCC is the version of the Nvidia Quadro DCC card that is available through the retail channel.

The specs of the accelerator are virtually identical to the GeForce3's. Both cards have essentially the same core, such as a 350mhz RAMDAC and 64mb of 128-bit DDR memory. Clock rates are also the same. The big difference is in software support. The DCC has additional OpenGL and DirectX 8 extensions so that the cards perform better under high-end 3D applications such as Discreet's 3ds max and Alias|Wavefront's Maya.

One nice addition to the software is the inclusion of Elsa's Maxtreme drivers for 3ds max, which have been purchased by Nvidia so that anyone using a Quadro-based card can use them. I really like the Maxtreme drivers, as they offer max users many additional features on top of max's standard OpenGL drivers, allowing you to optimize the viewports for speed or quality. The drivers support three levels of transparency, and five levels of texture mapping. Higher quality texture mapping means slower speed. The coolest feature is the ability to display accurate fog in the viewports, which enables you to fine-tune your fog and animation before you render. The drivers also support stereo, which I did not test, but they should be able to show you your 3ds max scenes in glorious 3D, which might help the modeling and animation process.

The performance of the card was almost identical to that of the GeForce3. On my dual 800mhz machine, the card ran the 3ds max benchmark file Tex ture2.max at 49fps (frames per second) compared to 45fps on the GeForce3. This is probably due to the Maxtreme drivers, which speed things up a bit. Further testing showed a Viewperf ADWavs score of 47.32, compared to the GeForce 3's 46.58. My year-old system is already getting a bit long in the tooth, so I also popped the Quadro DCC into a 2ghz Pentium IV machine, which brought the Viewperf score up to 50.64, which is certainly faster, but more a function of the speedy processor than anything else.

The big feature in the GeForce3 as well as the DCC cards is the addition of vertex and pixel shaders to the hardware of the card. This allows developers to program special effects normally done in software rendering, such as reflections, glows, and surface deformations. For those using 3ds max 4, discreet's Hardware Shaders plug-in allows you to use custom vertex and pixel shaders. For those developing games for the Xbox, which also runs Nvidia graphics, this allows artists to create Xbox shaders and animation within the 3D authoring environment, letting you see the game in 3ds max exactly as it would look on the Xbox.

Overall, I liked the card. Since Nvidia sells it directly to manufacturers, I could not get a firm price. A quick check of prices on the Internet showed that Elsa's version of the card sells for approximately $650. Compared to the GeForce 3's $300 street price, the Quadro DCC is pretty expensive, especially considering that performance numbers are virtually identical. Anyone on a budget would probably choose the GeForce3 over the Quadro DCC. Both cards work fine with most major 3D applications, including 3ds max and Maya. The big benefit to the Quadro DCC is in the Maxtreme drivers and more complete support of advanced OpenGL and DirectX 8 features.

George Maestri is a writer and animator living in Los Angeles.

Quadro DCC
Price: $650
Minimum System Requirements: Windows NT/200/98/XP or Linux. Maxtreme Drivers require 3ds max 3.x/4.x