AGP 8X Graphics Cards1 Feb, 2003 By: Ron LaFon
Bigger Pipeline Speeds CAD Performance
Though our roundup of current graphics cards features some very strong contenders, no across-the-board leader emerged. What our tests did show quite clearly are the individual strengths and weaknesses of the various cards. Overall, we found strong 3D performance, along with some weak OpenGL and 2D test scores. It's not easy to engineer and produce a graphics card that excels in both 2D and 3D, but the lower 2D scores were a bit surprising-particularly because 2D still represents a significant percentage of the workload in most CAD firms. Some results will improve with later iterations of drivers, but drivers alone can't make up for a graphic chipset that offers weak 2D performance.
The most significant new feature is that three of these graphics cards support the AGP 8X interface standard, which can transfer 2GB of graphics information per second between the graphics card and system. This should greatly reduce at least one of the performance bottlenecks in current high-end systems and result in higher performance scores, though the real benefits of AGP 8X may not be realized until faster systems become available.
HOW WE TESTED
Cadalyst Labs tested the graphics cards on an Xi Computer MTower 4800/3600X DPR system based on dual Intel Xeon 2.8GHz processors with 1GB of RAMBUS RAM. This system has a 120GB hard disk and runs Microsoft Windows 2000 Workstation with service pack 2. We used this system because it easily accommodates the 3Dlabs Wildcat4 7110 graphics card, a full-length card that requires two slot spaces (although only one is actually used-the card is thick), and because it has an AGP 8X slot.
We tested all graphics cards with MAXBench 4 running under discreet 3ds max 5 and the Pro/ENGINEER proe-01 test from SPEC ViewPerf v7.0. These tests are accompanied by the Cadalyst Labs C2001 benchmarks, which thoroughly test AutoCAD 2002-based systems. The C2001 test is not designed to necessarily showcase the fastest CPUs, hard disks, and graphics cards. Rather, it shows how these components all work together in relation to work typically done in an engineering firm. We are always under pressure from vendors to change the C2001 test procedures to showcase specific products, but never fear, our test procedure remains unchanged.
Once again, drivers often make or break the performance of a graphics card and can make a feature (or application) virtually unusable. Driver releases continue unabated, even over the short period of time encompassed by our testing.
Just after we finished this round of testing, Microsoft released DirectX 9, and ATI was first out of the gate with DirectX 9-compatible drivers. Though DirectX performance doesn't typically affect our benchmark tests, new drivers can and often do. We've increasingly come to think of our benchmark test series as a snapshot of the state of graphics cards and drivers at the time we run our tests. As such, the tests give a good indication of the strength and weaknesses of the individual cards and their drivers, though your final mileage may vary.
With the range of drivers available on the Internet for various graphics cards, especially tweaked drivers and third-party performance drivers (often for specific applications), getting the best performance from your equipment can be a matter of doing some online research. Graphics cards change and evolve amazingly quickly, making it difficult to position these roundups to give a representation of the market. It seems that some significant new event or introduction is always just around the corner. For example, as we go to press with this article, Nvidia is about to introduce its first graphics card based on the NV30GL chip. None were available for testing and evaluation in time for this review.
Based on our experience, whatever is next for graphics cards will surely be faster, have more RAM, and offer more features. As always, Cadalyst Labs will evaluate them here.
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