Stability and Quality are First and Foremost
The market for high-end OpenGL graphics boards is not very well defined. This
Instability and ineffective rendering when running industrial applications are unacceptable to designers, and neither is any compromise on image accuracy. The high-end OpenGL graphics user expects to see the precision of engineering drawings reflected in what is seen on the display where any mistakes in a design, if not caught or overlooked, can result in cost overruns, and unnecessary expense. The demand for precision and quality means that developing an OpenGL solution for high-end users is not cheap and manufacturers pass their development costs on to the customer. For example, the cheapest graphics card in our test, the Elsa Gloria III with NVIDIA's Quadro2 Pro chip, retails for $1,000.
You have to shell out even more for an ATI Fire GL4 or a Wildcat II 5110 - to the tune of $2,500 in the case of the Wildcat. Nevertheless, these prices are mostly intended to provide customers with a point of reference since virtually all OpenGL cards are sold as part of a workstation through a systems integrator (SI) or independent software vendor (ISV) partner. You may find PCI versions of some high-end cards through retailers, but a general search for high-end OpenGL cards in the retail channel may prove fruitless. That may change in the next year as economic pressures drive users to upgrade their workstation systems rather than opt for new purchases.
A Comparison of OpenGL Systems
When choosing hardware, the customer is normally only interested in the total price for a workstation. We've totted up the costs for your standard full system set-up. Dell was our choice here since this PC manufacturer carries all the graphics cards we tested. These days a typical graphics workstation is furnished with two monitors.
|Basic System||Dell Precision 330|
|CPU||Intel Pentium 4 1.5GHz|
|Motherboard||Intel 850 chipset (Dell)|
|Memory||512MB PC800 ECC RDRAM|
|Hard disk||40GB, IDE, 7200 RPM, ATA100|
|Sound||16-Bit AC97 sound chip onboard|
|Network||3Com Fast Ethernet with WOL onboard|
|1st Display||21 inch CRT TCO95|
|2nd Display||19 inch CRT TCO95|
|Operating System||Windows 2000 Professional|
The price for this basic system can vary, as seen below.
|Elsa Gloria III (Quadro2 Pro)||USD4,525|
|ATI Fire GL2||USD4,824|
|ATI Fire GL4||USD5,227 *)|
|3Dlabs Wildcat II 5110||USD6,035|
*) Estimates are based on information provided by the manufacturer. When this card was reviewed, this product was not yet available in stores.
The cheapest solution is currently a workstation with the Gloria III from Elsa, a system costing less than $4,525. PCs supplied with the Wildcat II 5110 cost approx. $1,510 more than the cheapest configuration.
Elsa Gloria III - Best Bang for the Buck
NVIDIA's march on the graphics card market isn't specific to OpenGL systems. Unlike the Fire GL series or 3Dlabs's Wildcat, NVIDIA swoops in from an entirely different direction. While its competitors have many years of experience using OpenGL systems, the Quadro2 Pro is nothing more than a slightly modified version of the 3D gaming chip GeForce2. A word of warning to skeptics - the Quadro2 Pro on the Elsa Gloria III packs quite a wallop. While its predecessor, the
Of the cards in this review, only the Gloria III is available from retailers. Users who want to build their own workstations can purchase this product for approximately $1,000 through retail channels.
Elsa Gloria III - The Details
The Gloria III has one
The heart of the card, the Quadro2 Pro chip, is clocked at 250MHz, whereas the DDR SDRAM is clocked at 200MHz. This means that the chip and memory clocks run asynchronously. As a gauge of performance, you can consult the basic specifications of this chip. It attains a polygon rate of 31MPoly/s, a pixel fill rate of 1000MPix/s and a texel fill rate of 2000Mtexels/s. These numbers can give rise to false hopes. Theoretically speaking, these graphics cards should be able to beat the other two cards tested hands down. Our benchmarks prove, however, that this is not the case.
Elsa Gloria III - Drivers
The tests on the Quadro2 Pro chip on the Gloria III were carried out using version 12.10 of the driver. The manufacturer would have had much poorer scores during the test had it supplied the old 7.58 drivers , since this older version was not optimized for use with a Pentium 4 processor. The improvements the new driver makes to the performance is described in the next section.
Customized Maxtreme Driver for 3D Studio Max
In addition to the standard driver, Elsa also offers two special drivers for 3D Studio Max and AutoCad. In the picture, you can see the 3DSM plug-in. We used this plug-in during the benchmark tests for this application because it improves performance considerably.
Elsa Gloria III - Driver, Continued
Brightness, contrast and gamma can be set under this tab.
Elsa Gloria III - Driver, Continued
The most important menu for many users is the OpenGL settings menu. This allows you to optimize certain applications. A hint - during the benchmarks, we had v-sync set to "off", as you can see in the screenshot.
Elsa Gloria III - Driver, Continued
Anti-aliasing acts to smooth lines on wireframe models. Provided that the models haven't been overlain with complex textures, you can activate the option 2X or 4X without having performance suffer too much. Users have to decide for themselves whether they want to present textured objects or not, since selecting this option really chews up your bandwidth, causing your performance to plummet.
Not until the next model, the
After the 12.10 driver has been installed, the auto detect feature doesn't work properly with some devices, as was the case with our Iiyama reference monitor. The standard refresh rate offered by the card is only 75 Hz. If you want to attain higher frequencies, you have to "push" the frequency manually.
ATI Fire GL4 - A Jump in Performance with a Copper Cooler
Graphics cards pundits notice one thing right away - although using copper heat sinks with Gigahertz CPUs is pretty common by now, graphics boards generally haven't been graced with this feature in the past. The reason for this in the mainstream segment is abundantly clear - manufacturers have to make every penny count when assembling the components.
ATI Fire GL4 - The Details
This OpenGL card comes generously equipped. A year ago, most PC buyers were still dreaming of 128MB RAM. The Fire GL4 has this much memory - on a graphics board! The memory type on the board is DDR SGRAM.
As you can see in the picture above, ATI chose to install DVI-I ports only, which allow you to choose between hooking up analog monitors or digital output devices. Unlike the Elsa Gloria III, a DVI-I-to-VGA adapter comes with the board. The design takes using digital flat panels into account as well. Thanks to the two PanelLink chips, you can also connect two digital TFTs - a feature not provided by the Gloria III.
3D goggles from
ATI Fire GL4 - The Details, Continued
Attentive readers might remember that we performed a test 5 months ago on the Fire GL2. You may ask, what happened to the Fire GL3? This product is still on offer, although the Fire GL3, despite being relatively new to the market, is already approaching the end of its life cycle. To be complete, we've included the GL3 card in the features chart at the end of this article.
What's the difference between the 3-series and the 4-series? Like the GL4, the Fire GL3 has 128 megabytes of video memory, but in response to requirements set by OEM customers, ATI has chosen not to cool the board actively with a fan. Instead, the GL3 does the job using passive heat sinks. However, this doesn't allow clock speeds to be raised for the geometry chip, the rasterizer and the memory clock. This keeps the GL3's specs at the same level as the Fire GL2's - 27MPoly/s, 410MPix/s and 200Mtexel/s. By cooling actively on the Fire GL4, ATI has been able to increase clock speeds, pushing up the polygon rate to 29MPoly/s, pixel rate to 512MPix/s and texel rate to 250Mtexel/s. For the graphics chips behind these numbers, they've stuck with the old ones, the GT1000 geometry engine and the RC1000 rasterizer (both from IBM, see picture above).
ATI Fire GL4 - Driver
Isn't the manufacturer called ATI now? Legally speaking, it is. Oddly enough, however, this tab merrily proclaims its maker to be "Diamond Multimedia", which is, I suppose, a sign of the historical pedigree of the drivers, if nothing else. The type of memory listed, DDR SDRAM, is wrong as well. ATI specifies DDR SGRAM in its data sheet. But don't worry, in all other aspects these Fire GL4 drivers proved to be stable and performed well. ATI still ought to correct this misleading information as soon as possible.
ATI Special Drivers for 3D Studio Max
3Dlabs Wildcat II 5110 - Heavy-Duty Performer for High-End Apps
3Dlabs sent our test lab the Wildcat II 5110. This board isn't just the most expensive board of the three in this roundup, but is also the largest. Originally, Wildcat products were built by
The board occupies the entire length of the ATX form factor, making the installation of stabilizers in the workstation case necessary. The Wildcat's ability to gobble up power is also impressive. 3Dlabs specifies 50 watts. The power supply and the motherboard have to be able to endure this kind of stress. So it's no surprise that 3Dlabs doesn't want to deal with "tinkerers" in the retail market, but instead only sells this card through OEMs.
3Dlabs Wildcat II 5110 - The Details
Like the Fire GL4, the Wildcat II 5110 takes up two slots in the PC case. Although the port for
An analog VGA port and a DVI-I connector are factory-standard features on this OpenGL flagship. Due to the use of only one PanelLink chip on the board, it isn't possible to connect two digital flat panel displays. Nevertheless, 3Dlabs has designed its dual monitor support for two analog output devices to be very convenient. This allows users to work effectively. In order to connect two VGA monitors, the DVI-I port has to be supplied with the necessary adapter.
3Dlabs Wildcat II 5110 - The Details, Continued
The Wildcat II 5110 has two independent geometry and two independent rasterizer chips. The cumulative might of these two chips is generally available for the majority of OpenGL applications, but in a dual-display configuration, the chips can operate separately.
When it comes to the number of hardware-supported light sources, the Wildcat II 5110 is the king of the hill - 24 can be handled simultaneously. The Fire GL4 can manage up to 16, while the Quadro2 Pro on the Elsa Gloria III can only take on 8 at a time. The memory allotment of 128 MB is more than sufficient and is split up into 64 MB of frame buffer and 64 MB of texture memory. In certain circumstances, while operating monitors independently in dual-monitor mode, each chip can even reserve 32 MB for itself.
3Dlabs lists the polygon rate at 15MPoly/s. At first, this might appear puny, but the Wildcat turns out to be a real performance monster. Its texel fill rate of 332 million trilinear filtered texels seems relatively paltry as well. In this area, though, the Wildcat II 5110 has been perfectly optimized for use with numerous OpenGL applications.
3Dlabs Wildcat II 5110 - Driver
The hardware information only reveals the most important features.
This tab looks somewhat lonely if you're only using one monitor.
3Dlabs Wildcat II 5110 - Driver, Continued
Calibrating the color is a snap in this tab. Since the Ramdac offers 10-bit resolution per color channel (R, G or B), there are no color bandings whatsoever in grayscale. Even when it comes to using medical applications, the Wildcat II 5110 is the first-draft pick.
In addition to the synthetic benchmarks in SPECViewperf 6.1.2., we also used two application benchmark scripts released by www.spec.org. The 3D Studio Max one has a broad user base.
There currently exists a script for version R3.1, which is being used as a benchmark. Although version 4.0 was launched on the market long ago, there is no benchmark available. 3DSM R3.1 is officially only being offered for Windows NT 4, although some unsupported patches for Windows 2000 have begun making the rounds on the Internet.
ProEngineer 2000 i2 is in an entirely different situation. ProEngineer's developer, PTC, is offering this not particularly cheap program for both NT4 and Windows 2000.
All the benchmarks were run under either NT4 or Windows 2000 at a resolution of 1280 x 1024 pixels, refresh rate of 85 Hz and True Color. Due to the limitations we mentioned above, 3D Studio Max 3.1 was only tested under NT4.
This screenshot was created by the ProEngineer benchmark (version 2000 i2).
|Workstation||Dell Precision 330|
|Processor||Intel Pentium 4 1.5GHz|
|Front Side Bus||100MHz Quad Pumped|
|Mainboard||Dell Precision 330 Mainboard|
|Chipset||Intel 850 / Tehama|
|System Memory||512MB PC800 RDRAM from Samsung|
|i850 drivers for Windows 2000||Intel drivers (V2.90)|
|i850 drivers for Windows NT4||Intel standard drivers|
|3Dlabs Wildcat II 5110||v04.02.02.04|
|ATI Fire GL4||v5.12.2195.2069|
|Elsa Gloria III||v12.10|
|Software und Settings|
|Operating Systems||Windows NT4 SP6a and Windows 2000 Professional SP1|
|Screen Resolutions||1280x1024x32, Vsync=off for all OpenGL tests|
|3D Studio Max R3.1||SpecAPC 3DSMAX 3.1 benchmark (NT4 only)|
|Viewperf||SPECopc Viewperf 6.1.2 (NT4 and W2K)|
|Pro Engineer 2000 i2||SPECapc Pro/E 2000 i2 benchmark (NT4 and W2K)|
Elsa Gloria III - Performance Push from 12th Generation Drivers
Before we plunge into the synthetic benchmarks, we would like to mention an important feature of the Elsa and NVIDIA drivers.
Switching from version 7 of the driver to revision 12 produced enormous improvements in performance in some of the benchmarks, provided that a Pentium 4 system was the workstation used. This is principally thanks to features optimized to work with new processor features such as SSE2. As you can see in this chart, in some cases performance can be improved by more than 100%. These three Viewperf categories only show the most favorable scenarios, however. You can't always expect a performance boost when using a Pentium 4.
The competitors 3Dlabs and ATI aren't about to let the grass grow under their feet, either. During the test, we were able to improve performance by running the most recent drivers as well - although with percentage increases that weren't as spectacular as was the case for the Elsa Gloria III.
Synthetic Benchmarks with SPECviewperf 6.1.2
The Wildcat II 5110 is the first OpenGL card at Tom's Hardware to break the 200 fps barrier during Awadvs-04.
In DRV-07 Elsa's Gloria III, which is based on the Quadro2-Pro-Chip has to surrender. The Fire GL4 and the Wildcat fight for first position.
SPECviewperf 6.1.2, Continued
During the DX-06 test, the Wildcat II 5110 takes the lead.
In this category we observed problems with the drivers for the Wildcat II 5110. NT4 and W2K scores differ considerably.
Application Benchmarks with 3D Studio Max R3.1
By no means should you over-inflate the importance of synthetic benchmarks. The performance when running the right applications in the real world is where it's at! The Fire GL4 from ATI hits the first bull's-eye with the ever popular 3D Studio Max.
Application Benchmarks with PTC ProEngineer 2000i2
PTC's ProEngineer is very expensive, and targeted at high-end mechanical engineering markets primarily, which explains why this program isn't as well-known as 3D Studio Max or AutoCad, for example. The SPEC benchmark for ProEngineer 2000 i2 uses very complex models. The flagship Wildcat II 5110 is the victor here.
ProEngineer 2000i2, Continued
The following charts were generated from sub-benchmarks measured during this 2-hour long test.
ProEngineer 2000i2, Continued
The following charts show the results in selected sub-categories:
Tips and Recommendations
3Dlabs's Wildcat II 5110 kicks up quite a brouhaha. Not only was it able to break the 200 fps threshold in Viewperf AWadvs-04 in our testing platform, but it takes the lead in more than half the benchmarks. You can see that 3Dlabs has fine-tuned this product to work impeccably with high-end applications like ProEngineer. Anyone working with expensive, top-of-the-line software such as ProEngineer ought not to make do with the cheaper competitors when it comes to getting a graphics card. The Wildcat II 5110 is also the most expensive product we tested which goes to prove that quality does have a price in the high-end OpenGL market.
Not just in size, but also in price, ATI's Fire GL4 is a mid-range product. Anyone who works a lot with an application like 3D Studio Max ought to pick this card. The Fire GL4 does very well when handling complex models, provided that the textures used aren't too detailed. For the lion's share of projects dealing with wireframe models and shading models, the Fire GL4 can satisfy any and every designer.
Elsa's Gloria III falls into the value segment for high-end OpenGL applications. This Quadro2 Pro card is available for as little as $1,000. Although this board isn't intended for use with the more expensive, high-end industrial applications, it still attains good performance scores for a wide range of application profiles. The large base of AutoCad and 3D Studio Max users will find all they need in this product. The Gloria III can handle most everyday design project needs. The Gloria III even offers some relaxation for overworked designers during their lunch break or after office hours - the performance while running Direct3D and OpenGL games such as Quake 3 is tremendous. The same can't be said for either the Fire GL4 or the Wildcat II 5110.
|Product||Fire GL2||Fire GL3||Fire GL4||Gloria III||Wildcat II 5110|
|Price||$1200||$1800||$2000||$1000||$2200 - $2500|
|Memory Type||DDR SGRAM||DDR SGRAM||DDR SGRAM||DDR SGRAM||SGRAM|
|AGP Interface||AGP 4X||AGP 4X (Pro 50)||AGP 4X (Pro 50)||AGP 4X||AGP 4X (Pro 50)|
|Monitor Outputs||Single||Dual||Dual||2x Single||Dual|
|1st Display Out||VGA D-Sub (analog)||DVI-I (analog & digital)||DVI-I (analog & digital)||VGA D-Sub (analog)||VGA D-Sub (analog)|
|2nd Display Out||DVI-D (digital)||DVI-I (analog & digital)||DVI-I (analog & digital)||DVI-I (analog & digital)||DVI-I (analog & digital)|
|3D Stereographics Out (3 Pins)||yes||yes||yes||no||yes|
|Ramdac Palette per Color (R, G, B)||10bit||10bit||10bit||8bit||10bit|
|Geometry Chip||IBM GT1000 @ 190MHz||IBM GT1000 @ 190MHz||IBM GT1000 @ 205MHz||Quadro2 Pro T&L @ 250MHz||Wildcat II 5110 Chipset|
|Rasterizer||IBM RC1000 @ 120MHz||IBM RC1000 @ 120MHz||IBM RC1000 @ 150MHz||Quadro2 Pro 3D @ 250MHz||Wildcat II 5110 chipset|
|active cooling with fan||no||no||yes||yes||no|
|Memory Clock||120MHz DDR||120MHz DDR||150MHz DDR||200MHz DDR||n/a|
|Pixel Fillrate||410MPix/s||410MPix/s||512MPix/s||1000 MPix/s||n/a|
|Texture Fillrate (trilinear filtered)||200Mtexels/s||200Mtexels/s||250Mtexels/s||2000Mtexels/s||332 MTex/s|
|Number of hw accelerated light sources||16||16||16||8||24|
|Windows NT 4.0||yes||yes||yes||yes||yes|
|Pentium III SSE||yes||yes||yes||yes||yes|
|Pentium 4 SSE2||yes||yes||yes||yes||yes|
|Manufacturer||Title||3Dlabs Wildcat II 5110||ATI Fire GL4||Elsa Gloria III|
|Avid/Softimage||Softimage 3.9, XSI||yes||yes||yes|
|Computer Associates||Unicenter TNG||no||yes||yes|
|Discreet||3D Studio Max 3.1 & 4.x||yes||yes||yes|
|ERDAS||Imagine & VirtualGIS||yes||no||yes|
|ESRI||ArcView 3.x, 3D Analyst||yes||no||yes|
|ICEM Technology||ICEM Surf , ICEM Surf 2000i||no||yes||no|
|Nemetschek AG||Allplan FT , Allplot FT, PlanDesign||no||yes||no|
|Newtek||Lightwave 6.0, Toaster||yes||yes||yes|
|PTC (system level)||Pro/E 2000i||yes||yes||yes|
|SDRC||Master Series 8||yes||yes||yes|
|Side Effects||Houdini 4.0||yes||yes||yes|
|Unigraphics||UG 16, SolidEdge||yes||yes||yes|