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Professional 3D Accelerators in 3D Studio MAX 3.1, January/February 2002, Part 1

February 16, 2002



Part 1: Introduction, participants, configurations, terms & conditions

In this review we continue testing professional video cards produced for a sector of professional 3D graphics. Note that ee have changed the testing technique.

This time we tested the following professional 3D accelerators:

  • Quadro 2 mxr
  • Quadro 2 pro
  • Quadro DCC
  • FireGL2

and two most powerful gaming models:

  • ATI Radeon 8500
  • NVIDIA GeForce4

Cards

NVIDIA Quadro2 Pro

The Reference card NVIDIA Quadro2 Pro card has an AGP x2/x4 interface, 64 MBytes DDR SDRAM located in 8 chips on the right side of the PCB.

Brief technical characteristics:

  • Graphics Core: 256-bit
  • Triangles per Second: 31 Million
  • Pixels Per Second: 1.0 Billion
  • Memory Bandwidth: 6.4 GBytes/s
  • NVIDIA Shading Rasterizer (NSR)
  • Second Generation Transform and Lighting (T&L)
  • Unified Driver Architecture (UDA)
  • 32-bit Z/Stencil Buffer
  • 64 MBytes Unified Frame Buffer
  • AGP 4X with Fast Writes

The NVIDIA Quadro2 Pro serves a base for only one card - ELSA Gloria III which is a reference card from ELSA; it comes with special software, including a driver for operation with some packets for 3D modeling - MAXTreme (it is freely available at the NVIDIA's site).

NVIDIA Quadro2 MXR

The Reference card NVIDIA Quadro2 MXR card has an AGP x2/x4 interface, 32 MBytes SDR SDRAM located in 4 chips on the right side of the PCB.

Brief technical characteristics:

  • Graphics Core: 256-bit
  • Triangles per Second: 25 Million
  • Pixels Per Second: 400 Million
  • Memory Bandwidth: 2.93 GBytes/s
  • NVIDIA Shading Rasterizer (NSR)
  • Second Generation Transform and Lighting (T&L)
  • Unified Driver Architecture (UDA)
  • 32-bit Z/Stencil Buffer
  • 32 MBytes Unified Frame Buffer
  • AGP 4X with Fast Writes
  • Digital Vibrance Control (DVC)

The NVIDIA Quadro2 MXR serves a base also for only one card - ELSA Sinergy III which is a reference card from ELSA; it comes with special software, including a driver for operation with some packets for 3D modeling - MAXTreme.

NVIDIA Quadro DCC

ELSA Gloria DCC on the NVIDIA Quadro DCC has an AGP x2/x4 interface, 64 MBytes DDR SDRAM located in 8 chips on the right side of the PCB.

Brief technical characteristics:

  • Graphics processor Quadro DCC by NVIDIA
  • Over 3.2 billion texture mapping pixels/second
  • Memory range of 7.3 GBytes/second
  • nFinite FXT engine-fully programmable effect processor for realistic 3D representation, e.g. volumetric fog, particle effects, reflective bump mapping and animated water surface
  • Hardware acceleration of up to 8 light sources
  • 64 MBytes ultra-fast DDR RAM graphics memory (unified memory)
  • 350-MHz RAMDAC displays even resolutions of 2048 x 1536 pixels ergonomically and in TrueColor
  • Connection of analog or digital monitors (digital up to 1280 x 1024)

The NVIDIA Quadro DCC is also used for only one card - ELSA Gloria DCC which is a reference card from ELSA; it comes with special software, including a driver for operation with some packets for 3D modeling - MAXTreme.

ATI FireGL2

The ATI FireGL2 card has an AGP x2/x4 interface, 64 MBytes DDR SDRAM located in 8 chips on the right and back sides of the PCB.

Brief technical characteristics:

  • Graphics controller - IBM Chipset: RC 1000 256-bit Graphics Rasterizer and GT1000 hardware geometry engine with integrated features including;
  • VGA Controller - 2D/3D Raster Engine and dual Texture Unit;
  • 8-bit Double Buffered Overlays;
  • Video Overlay Unit;
  • 2 DMA / BLIT Units;
  • Polygon Setup Processor;
  • 300 MHz / 30-bit Palette DAC, including four color lookup tables and gamma correction table;
  • 256-bit Rasterizer & DDR memory interface;
  • Bus type - AGP 2X/4X v2.0 Compliant;
  • Memory configuration - 64 MBytes DDR SGRAM, Unified Framebuffer;
  • 3D performance:
    • 27 million Triangles/second, G-Shaded, Z-buffered, non-Textured
    • 31 Million Anti-Aliased Vectors/second
    • 410 Million Pixels/second fill rate, G-Shaded, Z-buffered, non-Textured
    • 200 Million Pixels/second Trilinear Texture fill rate (Mip-mapped)

This card was released by Diamond Multimedia yet before it amalgamated with S3 (today's Sonic Blue). When Sonic Blue decided to leave a video card sector its gaming and professional video cards were were sold to other companies. ATI Technologies became an owner of the FireGL family. Until now these accelerators were based on the IBM processors. And only starting from the RADEON 8500 the Canadian company announced a new line FireGL 8700/8800 based on its own GPU.

That is why this card has a BIOS from S3 Corporation and a software set from Diamond Multimedia.

And now two gaming cards. I will just briefly dwell on them as their capabilities were examined earlier.

NVIDIA GeForce4

The Reference card NVIDIA GeForce4 4600 on the NVIDIA GeForce4 has AGP x2/x4 interface, 128 MBytes DDR SDRAM located in 4 chips on the right side and in 4 chips on the back side of the PCB.

All technical characteristics can be found in this review.

There are quite a lot of experts in professional 3D graphics who use accelerators of the gaming class based on the NVIDIA processors. They work excellently in packets of the 3D Studio MAX level thanks to a debugged and multifunctional OpenGL driver.

ATI RADEON 8500

ATI RADEON 8500 on the ATI RADEON 8500 Graphics has an AGP x2/x4 interface, 64 MBytes DDR SDRAM located in 8 chips on the right and back sides of the PCB.

All its technical characteristics are shown in this reveiw.

The RADEON 8500 is the latest gaming accelerator which is not meant for professional 3D graphics and its software is not optimized for these purposes, but it was interesting for us to look at this card in the 3D Studio MAX, especially considering that there is already one gaming card on the NVIDIA and it is desirable to take a look at its competitor.

Test conditions

Testbeds:

  • Pentium4 based computer (2100 MHz):
    • Intel Pentium4 2100;
    • ASUS P4T-E (i850) mainboard;
    • 512 MBytes RDRAM PC800;
    • Quantum FB AS HDD, 20 GBytes;

  • Athlon XP 1800+ based computer:
    • AMD AthlonXP 1800+ (1533 MHz);
    • EpoX 8KHA+ (VIA KT266A) mainboard;
    • 512 MBytes DDR SDRAM PC2100;
    • Seagate Barracuda IV HDD, 40 GBytes;

The tests were held under the Windows XP Professional. For a new accelerator we reinstalled the system to avoid possible errors. The tests were carried out in 1280x1024 at 32-bit color depth. We didn't use a resolution of 1600x1200 as the performance difference in these resolutions is not considerable. However, the higher resolution was used to check whether the 3D MAX could still work in it. The tests were primarily held in the OpenGL API as in Direct3D API all accelerators showed low results. The Quadro cards were also tested with the MAXtreme driver.

All scenes use omnidirectional light sources.

There are 5 scenes:

  1. Scene 1 consists of 3 light sources and 50 objects combined in one. The number of vertices is 37,256 and the number of triangles is 67,139. Here is a rendered screenshot of the scene:
  2. Scene 2 is more complicated, it consists of 1 light source and 118 objects. The number of vertices is 306,468, and the number of triangles is 26,051. Here is a rendered screenshot of the scene:
  3. Scene 3 is the most complicated; there are 564,196 vertices and 1,098,352 triangles. There are also 13 objects and one light source. Here is a rendered screenshot of the scene:
  4. Scene 4 doesn't contain much geometry; it is used to test operation of accelerators with a great number of light sources. There are 4 irregular-shaped geometric objects, 24,960 triangles, 12,488 vertices and 10 light sources of the Omni types. Here is a rendered screenshot of the scene:
  5. Scene 5 is identical to the previous one, except light sources which are now of the Spot type. This light type is more complicated for calculation. Here is a rendered screenshot of the scene:

In these tests we focused on estimation of the speed of operation in different variants of shading of the preliminary rendering both in a large window and in small ones. We also fixed errors which occurred during the operation. The tests used standard settings of the 3D MAX and specially developed scenes which were different in complexity.

Each scene was viewed both in a full window and in 4 modes:

  • Wireframe
  • Facets
  • Smooth + HighLights
  • Smooth + HighLights, texture on

and in the 4-window mode, each window having its own mode - clockwise starting from "1 o'clock" - WireFrame, Facets, Smooth+HighLights, Smooth+HighLights texture on.

We didn't use the Smooth+HighLights mode with texture and correction on as the difference between the modes with and without correction is inconsiderable. Settings for each scene can be changed in the contextual menu. All viewport parameters are set in the Viewport Configuration menu.

The visualization modes we took for the tests - wireframe, facets, smooth+highlights and smooth+highlights with texture on - are used most of all in the everyday work:

  • Wireframe - a mode of displaying geometry in the form of a wireframe. It is the most convenient for creation and editing of geometry. Although it doesn't always give an idea about a rendered scene, this mode is used most of all. If you doesn't use preliminary rendering modes at all, you should pay attention exactly to these results.
  • The Facets mode displays geometry in the form of triangles of the material's color and gives an idea how figures will look like and how they will be illuminated. It is rough, but you can get it very fast.
  • The most informative, or close to the final form of a scene, is the smooth+highlights mode and its variant - smooth+highlights with texture on. Anti-aliased imaging of illuminated surfaces with textures allows us to estimate an appearance of a scene, though an illumination is rough.

Testing technique for the accelerators in the 3D Studio MAX 3.1

The method below is used to test the accelerators in the first three scenes.

  1. Installation of the Windows XP Professional on a blank hard drive.
  2. Installation of drivers of an accelerator and a mainboard of the computer.
  3. Installation of the 3D MAX 3.1 in a standard configuration.
  4. Start-up of the 3D MAX and choose one of the hardware APIs.
  5. Loading of the first demo scene. The test consists of several stages: estimation of quality and stability of operation, estimation of performance in working windows in different shading modes and at different rendering speeds. (To change a viewing mode we use a screen configuration menu which can be displayed by pressing the right button on a mark in any upper left-hand corner of any of 4 viewport windows).
  6. Viewing of a scene in a full window in the following modes: wireframe, facets, smooth+highlights with textures off, and smooth+highlights with textures on. The camera is turned to move and turn objects. We record subjective estimation of an operating speed, smoothness of motion of objects, a speed of redrawing of the scene while objects are moving, and take screenshots.
  7. Subjective estimation of a speed and quality of operation with 4 viewport windows activated in the following modes: wireframe, facets, smooth+highlights with textures off and smooth+highlights with textures on (each window has its own mode). We also estimate a speed of drawing of the changes in each window while objects are moving or the camera is rotating. Screenshot.
  8. Rendering of an image into files: 320x240 and 800x600, and recording of the rendering time. Before it, a scene must be reloaded as changes in coordinates of the objects or of the camera can affect a rendering speed.
  9.  

  10. Test #1. Viewing of the animation in the preliminary mode in a full window. Wireframe mode. We estimate smoothness of the animation, check whether any frames are skipped, and record an average FPS of the scene.
  11. Test #2. The same as item 9, but in the facets mode.
  12. Test #3. The same as item 9, but in the smooth+highlights mode with textures off.
  13. Test #4. The same as item 9, but in the smooth+highlights mode with textures on.
  14. Test #5. Viewing of animation in the preliminary mode in 4 viewport windows. Windows are the same as in item 8. The wireframe window is animated. We estimate smoothness of the animation, check whether any frames are skipped, and record an average FPS of the scene.
  15. Test #6. The same as item 13, but now the facets window is animated.
  16. Test #7. The same as item 13, but now the smooth+highlights window with textures off is animated.
  17. Test #8. The same as item 13, but now the smooth+highlights window with textures on is animated.
  18. Changing of a screen resolution for the higher one without leaving the 3D MAX to check whether the 3D MAX remains operable. Then changing the resolution back to the lower one to check whether the 3D Studio MAX remains operable again. If something becomes different we will take a screenshot.
  19. Repeat of items 6-17 with the next demo scene.
  20. When all tests are carried out (items 6-18) with all demo scenes we carry out the same analyses (items 6-18) on other APIs or another driver (if they are supported by the accelerator's drivers).
  21. Analyses of the obtained data.

The testing method for the fourth and fifth scenes is simpler - a scene is viewed under all APIs, but we estimate only an average FPS and quality of the scene.

The fundamentals of the testing technique were developed by Bulat Dautov (infernal@ixbt.com)

Cards' settings and drivers used

Settings of the cards' drivers are equal for both platforms. We used the latest driver versions. When the driver was installed we didn't change any of its settings except disabling of the vertical synchronization mode and anti-aliasing. Besides, if optimization for the 3D MAX was available it was enabled. All other settings remained default.

ATI FireGL2

The card worked on the driver of the v20.82

ATI RADEON 8500

The card worked on the driver of the v6.011.

NVIDIA Quadro2 MXR

The card worked on the driver of the v21.85.

NVIDIA Quadro2 PRO

The card worked on the driver of the v21.85.

NVIDIA Quadro DCC

The card worked on the driver of the v21.85.

NVIDIA GeForce4

The card worked on the driver of the v27.20

Apart from the OpenGL drivers the Quadro cards had its own driver ELSA MAXTreme v3.01.04 (it was installed from a disc supplied with the ELSA Gloria DCC. This driver can be taken free at the NVIDIA's and/or ELSA's site). Here are its settings:

Now when we finished our introduction let's dive into the test results.

[ Part 2 ]


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