It's A New Game Of Cards
Many of those who want to buy an OpenGL workstation nowadays are confused. ELSA has declared itself insolvent. The FireGL division in Starnberg/Germany has trekked through a long odyssey, from Diamond Multimedia via S3/VIA/SONICblue, and now it belongs to ATI Technologies. The third serious contender, 3Dlabs, was taken over on March 11 by the multimedia giant Creative. So what are the implications for the customer?
Even with all the confusion, the OpenGL teams at ELSA and ATI seem to have weathered the worst of the storm. NVIDIA wants to keep the ELSA brand at least, along with its established clientele. Not much has changed for the FireGL developers in Starnberg. Their new parent company does not interfere with their traditional areas of expertise. ATI supplies the chip, while the drivers are optimized, and later certified, for use with major customer applications such as 3D Studio Max, AutoCAD, SolidWorks, Pro/Engineer and the like.
The future of 3Dlabs, however, is written in the stars. Creative, which turned its back on the graphics business not long ago, not only wants to supply the desktop and mainstream markets with NVIDIA graphics cards, but also wants to cover the OpenGL workstation segment with Wildcat cards from the 3Dlabs division. It remains to be seen just how successful this new strategy will be.
In this preview we test two products in the medium price range, the ATI FireGL 8800 and the ELSA GLoria4 750XGL. Both of these OpenGL graphics cards retail for roughly $1000. ATI and ELSA will present the finalized versions of their boards at CeBIT 2002. However, even though the hardware is ready, the drivers will still need some time to mature.
During the tests at least, the cards performed stably, although, when used with typical applications, it was by no means optimal. Therefore, we primarily present you with the features here, while the benchmark results are provided merely to give you some rough guidelines. We will not be able to make a final judgment until some time in the future.
The following table shows the technical specs, features and prices.
|Graphics card||ATI FireGL 8800||Elsa Gladiac Gloria4 750XGL|
|3D chip||ATI Radeon 8800 (R200W)||NVIDIA Quadro4 750XGL (NV25)|
|Transitors||60 Mill.||63 Mill.|
|Process Technology||0.15 Micron||0.15 Micron|
|Memory clock||290MHz (x2) DDR||275MHz (x2) DDR|
|Memory bandwidth||9.300 MB/s||8.800 MB/s|
|Max. Fillrate||1,000 MPix/s||1,100 MPix/s|
|Max. Triangle Rate||75 MTriangles/s||54 MTriangles/s|
|Dual Monitor Support||yes, VGA DSub15 + DVI-I||yes, VGA DSub15 + DVI-I|
|Multiple Desktops||yes, HYDRAVISION||yes, nView|
Tip: VGA DSub15 allows you to hook up an analog monitor. DVI-I permits hooking up a digital TFT or an analog monitor.
ATI FireGL 8800 With The RADEON 8800
ATI, the Canadian graphics specialist, has left a spin-off of the established Radeon 8500 chip (code-named R200) to its German branch. The hardware of the OpenGL variant Radeon 8800 has been slightly modified, with the basic difference being that the drivers have been optimized for OpenGL. Aside from the conventional display drivers, it includes a special plug-in for 3D Studio Max.
The retail version of the Radeon 8800 chip runs at a clock speed of 250 MHz. The DDR RAM clock runs at 290MHz, or '580MHz' if you want to believe the marketing. ATI plans to offer optional ATI cards with modified clock speeds to the OEM market. Here the customer gets to put in his two cents. Apart from the typical specs for graphics chips, the marketing department of ATI definitely does itself proud in an attempt to appeal to the customer with futuristic-sounding words. To name a few:
- SMARTSHADER enables more complex and realistic lighting effects
- TRUFORM technology provides models with richer, life-like textures
- HYPER Z II technology conserves memory bandwidth for improved performance * CHARISMA ENGINE II supports Transformation, Clipping and Lighting (T&L) * PIXEL TAPESTRY II ensures fast fill rates in 32-bit true color resolution
ATI FireGL 8800 With The RADEON 8800, Continued
Let's jump ahead and point out a second model, the FireGL 8700, which retails for $400. This cheap model sports the castrated version of the R200 chip and is intended for the low-end market.
The board comes furnished with a VGA connector for analog monitors and a DVI-I port. The latter (image on the left) gives you the option of connecting either a second analog monitor or a digital TFT.
ATI FireGL 8800 Drivers
This tab is especially recommended for graphics and DTP applications. Values such as gamma or RGB colors can be selectively adjusted.
The configuration menu offers ready-made profiles for many OpenGL applications. The 3D Studio Max settings shown here are less relevant, since ATI supplies its own plug-in for 3DSM (we will discuss this in detail in the benchmark section).
ATI FireGL 8800 Drivers, Continued
The information window shows the basic specs of the graphics chip and the driver version.
ELSA GLoria4 With Quadro4 750XGL by NVIDIA
Times are tough for the German manufacturer ELSA. How in the world can you regain the trust of your customers when you have declared yourself insolvent? A positive sign came from NVIDIA - it seems that there is an interest in keeping the brand alive. In addition, the team that develops the drivers for OpenGL products is on NVIDIA's payroll. At any rate, there is still hope that the profitable business segments - which includes that of the OpenGL graphics cards - may be revitalized.
The layout of ELSA's GLoria is essentially the same as that of the GeForce4 TI4600 reference design. No wonder - the hardware of the Quadro4 750XGL chip is merely a slightly modified version of this chip. The chip clock has been set for 275 MHz. RAM clock speed is marketed at '550 MHz,' reflecting the double data rate system (DDR); the physical frequency, however, is 275 MHz. Aside from OpenGL drivers for Windows XP, Windows 2000, Windows NT and Windows 98/NE, GLoria 4 comes with additional drivers for applications such as AutoCAD or 3D Studio MAX/VIZ. DirectX and Linux (XFree86) are supported as well. The Quadro4 graphics cards will hit the shelves in mid-April, retailing for $999 (Quadro4 750XGL) and $1830 (Quadro4 900XGL), respectively. The 900 version has the same RAM but the clock speeds for the 3D chip and RAM are higher. The Quadro4 750XGL has standard features identical to its GeForce4 counterpart:
- nfiniteFX II Engine
- Accuview Anti Aliasing
- Light Speed Memory Architecture II (LMA II)
- Crossbar Memory Controller
- Unified Driver Architecture (UDA)
ELSA GLoria4 With Quadro4 750XGL by NVIDIA, Continued
The Quadro4 card comes furnished with an analog VGA port. Furthermore, you can also connect a monitor at the DVI-I port. The DVI-I composite connector has both digital signals for TFTs and analog signals for conventional monitors. Running two monitors at the same time is therefore not a problem.
ELSA GLoria4 Drivers
This menu item lists the hardware data and the current driver version of the Quadro4 graphics card.
Anti-aliasing preferences can be made in this tab. A separate 'Maxtreme' plug-in exists for 3D Studio Max, in which you can make the special settings for 3DSM. We will cover the Maxtreme tool in the benchmark section of this article.
ELSA GLoria4 Drivers, Continued
The settings for several monitors are made in the nView menu. For example, you can activate clone mode (cloning of screen content) or spanning (stretching the desktop).
The user has special OpenGL settings from which to choose. We turned vertical sync to 'off' for the benchmarks to get the best-possible performance.
For enthusiasts only: The overclocking feature is not included in the standard drivers and can only be unlocked with a special utility. Those who decide to overclock should note that overclocking more often than not causes system stability to suffer. You should proceed with great caution.
|Socket 478 Platform|
|Processor||Pentium 4 2200 (400 MHz QDR FSB)|
|Memory||512 MB, PC800 RDRAM, memory bandwidth possible: 3.2 GB/s (Dual Channel) @ 400 MHz, Samsung|
Intel 850 Chipset, 3.2 GB/s max. memory bandwidth (Dual Channel)
|Harddisk||40 GB, ATA100, 7200 RPM, 5T040H4, Maxtor|
|Graphics card:||ATI FireGL 8800
3D chip: ATI Radeon 8800
chip clock: 250MHz
memory clock: 290MHz(x2) DDR
|Graphics card 2:||Elsa Gloria4 750XGL
3D chip: NVIDIA Quadro4 750XGL
chip clock: 275MHz
memory clock: 275MHz(x2) DDR
|Drivers & Software|
|NVidia/Elsa graphics driver||Version 27.52|
|ATI graphics driver||Version 220.127.116.1124|
|3D Studio Max 4.2||SPECapc R3.1 Benchmark patched for R4.2|
|Desktop resolution||1280x1024 @ 32 Bit Farbtiefe|
|V-Sync||'off' in all benchmark apps|
|Operating System||Windows XP|
Synthetic benchmarks, such as Viewperf, are great for letting you quickly rate the performance. Version 6.1.2, however, is starting to show its age.
Plug-in Drivers for 3DSM 4.2 - Speed Settings
ATI and ELSA offer plug-ins for 3D Studio Max. If you switch to 'speed,' the quality of the rendered scenes suffers but productivity gets a boost. This setting is ideal for the initial stages of projects.
'Speed' Results: R3.1 Benchmark for 3DSM 4.2
When processing the graphics rendering at the 'speed' setting, the ELSA's Quadro4 750XLG is a nose ahead of the FireGL 8800.
Looking at the overall results, however, the FireGL 800 scored better, since great emphasis was put on the drivers, which in turn effectively reduces the load to the CPU. You can see the complete results for
Plug-in Driver for 3DSM 4.2 - Quality Settings
Here are screenshots of the settings for 'quality.' If a project is in an advanced stage, the monitor shows the details more precisely.
'Quality' Results: R3.1 Benchmark for 3DSM 4.2
Here you see clearly that the ATI developers have made greater strides than ELSA in driver optimization. The FireGL 8800 leads in both disciplines.
Conclusion: ATI Leads, NVIDIA and ELSA Show Potential
Technologically speaking, NVIDIA's Quadro4 750XGL offers advantages over ATI's Radeon 8800. The OpenGL segment requires more than just standard drivers, though. In order to attract customers, it is not only important to guarantee great system stability but also to put a lot of effort into the drivers. They must be optimized (and eventually certified) to run on widespread workstation applications such as 3D Studio Max, AutoCAD, Pro/Engineer, SolidWorks or Catia.
ELSA and ATI have been persistently striving for certification, albeit without success; after all, we're still dealing with the early stages of the driver. If one of these two were to rush ahead to its large customers, it would cause envy rather than success. Until the product has been launched, ATI and ELSA will still have a bit of time to work on their drivers.
This preview does show, however, that the engineers at ATI Research have been able to get quite a jump with the FireGL 8800 card. ELSA, slightly stricken by the revamping of the company, still has its work cut out in making the drivers pass the qualification procedure with satisfying results. The final verdict has yet to be made. We will review both OpenGL graphics cards again once both companies are ready for showdown.
After concluding the test for the preview we have run the same benchmarks with newer drivers. Here are the results:
In 3D Studio Max the Quadro4 740XGL now performs significantly better