Hardware

Cadalyst Labs Review: In the Cards-Deal Yourself a Winning Graphics Hand

1 Jul, 2006 By: Ron LaFon

A round-up of the latest graphics cards for CAD users


Spring 2006 brought the introduction of entire new lines of graphics cards, so we moved this roundup forward to provide more timely coverage. The workstation-level graphics cards reviewed here range from entry-level all the way to the high end of the market. I also looked at the new Matrox TripleHead2Go graphics expansion module that offers the ability to use multiple monitor setups with a variety of graphics cards (see p. 30).

Newer, Faster Graphics Cards
Newer, Faster Graphics Cards

Both the ATI FireGL Visualization and NVIDIA Quadro lines feature new high-end cards that boast 1GB of onboard RAM, ideal for users with exceptionally large and complex models. Although the Cadalyst benchmark tests don't specifically use this much memory, users who work with extra-large models and drawings likely will find performance benefits.

In the NVIDIA Quadro line, dual dual-link DVI-I functionality has filtered down from the company's ultrahigh-end card to the midrange offerings. In the ATI FireGL Visualization line, dual-link DVI-I functionality appears across the spectrum of graphics cards—the midrange and ultrahigh-end cards incorporate dual dual-link output connectors.

You'll find forward-looking features in both lines of work-station graphics cards, such as new displays and support for 64-bit Windows and Vista. Both vendors also offer drivers for other operating systems such as Linux and integrated drivers that support all models of their graphics cards.

Driver support for NVIDIA's Quadro FX 5500 was being integrated as this article was in production, which forced me to use a different driver for this model than the one used for the other Quadro models in this roundup. Both companies update their drivers fairly regularly. Because some versions boost performance, it's worthwhile to keep your drivers up to date to get the best performance from your graphics card.

Testing Procedures

For the benchmark tests, I used a speedy new @Xi MTower 64SLI system based on the new AMD Opteron 256 3GHz processor, the first one I've had in-house for testing. The system was equipped with 2GB of DDR 400 REG ECC memory and a Tyan motherboard with the NVIDIA NFORCE 4 chipset. Microsoft Windows XP with Service Pack 2 was preinstalled on the system. Cadalyst is preparing a First Look review of this system separately. It performed well throughout the graphics card tests.

I ran the new Cadalyst C2006 benchmark with AutoCAD 2005 for the AutoCAD component of our benchmarks. Using AutoCAD 2005 with this benchmark provides a more accurate representation of system performance. The Cadalyst C2006 benchmark is available at www.cadalyst.com/c2006/ for those who want to try it on their own equipment.

I also tested the graphics cards with MAXBench 4 using Autodesk 3ds max 8 with the recently released Service Pack 2 installed (Service Pack 3 was released during the testing process, but too late to use for this particular roundup). When an accelerated 3ds max driver, such as NVIDIA's MAXtreme or ATI's MAXimum was available, I used it to test the cards. Test results for this benchmark, all of which are with the accelerated drivers, appear in the online feature table that accompanies this article at www.cadalyst.com/0706cards/.

Rounding out our benchmark series is the ProE-03 Viewset of SPEC ViewPerf 8.10 (www.spec.org). This test tends to follow the performance of the installed graphic card and so provides an idea of the graphic card/driver performance in a given system. As this issue was going to press, ViewPerf 9.0 was released. Among its many new features are two new viewsets that use very large and complex models. Cadalyst will evaluate ViewPerf 9.0 for future benchmark testing.

For drivers, I used the ATI FireGL Windows drivers v8.223.00 for the Visualization series with the company's MAXimum driver v2.6.5648 for all the ATI FireGL graphics cards.

The NVIDIA Quadro cards were tested using Windows drivers 84.27, which are WHQL certified, and MAXtreme v8.00.03 for the 3ds max tests—except for the Quadro FX 5500. For that card I used a release candidate of Windows drivers v91.25 that unfortunately had known bugs on its arrival. Although the release-candidate drivers posted good performance numbers, I wasn't able to test the FX 5500 with final drivers, which should be available by time this article appears in print.

The integrated drivers from each vendor typically include application-specific settings for programs such as AutoCAD, Pro/ENGINEER and 3ds max, and I used the appropriate settings for the benchmark at hand for each test. Vertical sync was turned off for all benchmark tests.

Once testing was completed, all the graphics cards in this roundup were evaluated on performance, price and warranty coverage, and a letter grade was assigned based on the grade point average. Note that the grades assigned for performance were based on actual benchmark scores for each card. A lower grade doesn't mean that a card targeted for entry-level or midrange use is a poor performer, just that you need to evaluate performance vs. cost in choosing a graphics card for your workstation. It would obviously not be wise to put an expensive ultrahigh-end graphics card in a CAD or DCC workstation that won't be used for large or complex models.

Extra-credit bonus points were assigned to any graphics card that offered features or capabilities that were beyond the norm for its category. In this case, cards that offered 1GB of memory earned extra credit. Such cards certainly will be welcomed by some segments of the industry. After I assigned grades, I computed a total grade point average. Any graphics card that received a grade point average of 9.0 or higher received the Cadalyst Highly Recommended rating—in this group, three cards were so rated.

You should be able to find a workstation-level graphics card from these new introductions to fit virtually any need, from entry-level workstations to top-end powerhouses. When I refer to entry-level, midrange, and high-end graphics cards, I am speaking in a general sense, because each of the vendors included here has a different definition of each category. With prices ranging from $295 to $2,499, there's bound to be a card that's friendly to almost any budget.

Cadalyst labs report card
Cadalyst labs report card

ATI Technologies

FireGL V3400, FireGL V5200, FireGL V7200,
FireGL V7300 and V7350
ATI Technologies
866.284.2093
www.ati.com
Prices: $295–$1,999






FireGL V3400

The least expensive graphics card in this roundup at $295, the ATI FireGL V3400 is well positioned for economical, entry-level workstation use. A single-width PCIe card that doesn't require an extra power input, the V3400 features 128MB of onboard GDDR3 memory with a 256-bit ring bus memory controller.

The ATI FireGL V3400 with Avivo technology is an entry-level workstation graphics card with 128MB of onboard memory.
The ATI FireGL V3400 with Avivo technology is an entry-level workstation graphics card with 128MB of onboard memory.

All of the new ATI FireGL V series—the V is for visualization—incorporate ATI's Avivo technology, which allow them to reproduce more than one trillion colors. Avivo technology provides 16-bit per RGB color component HDR (high dynamic range) and offers a full 10-bit precision display pipeline. Avivo offers advanced support for 8-bit, 10-bit and 16-bit per RGB color components, so it supports today's display technology as well as emerging high-definition color displays that are in development.

The ATI FireGL V3400 implements full Shader Model 3.0 support and a scalable ultrathreaded architecture with 128-bit floating point precision, 5 parallel geometry engines, and 12-pixel shader processors. The card provides a single dual-link output connector and a standard DVI-I output. You can drive two monitors with the FireGL V3400. Resolutions of 3840x2400 with 16.7 million colors at 48Hz and 1920x1200 with 1.07 billion colors at 60Hz are possible using the dual- and single-link connectors, respectively. The card can drive an analog display at 2048x1536 at 75Hz.

The FireGL V3400 is optimized and certified for numerous OpenGL and DirectX CAD and DCC applications and carries a three-year warranty.

I tested the ATI FireGL V3400 on the @Xi Computer MTower 64SLI system using the ATI drivers current at the time of testing—v8.223.00, along with the ATI MAXimum accelerated driver v2.6.5648 for the 3ds max components of the benchmarks. The FireGL V3400 produced a total index score of 128 on the Cadalyst C2006 benchmark with AutoCAD 2005. Using MAXBench4 with 3ds max with Service Pack 2 installed, the V3400 generated a low frame-rate score of 114.2 and a high frame-rate score of 92.98, for an averaged high/low score of 103.5. The SPEC ViewPerf 8.10 ProE-03 viewset, which tends to follow the general performance of the graphics card, produced a weighted geometric mean score of 56.57.

Although these scores may seem low, they are good numbers for an entry-level graphics card nominally priced at $295 and likely available for less. It doesn't take a leap of imagination to expect that this card will find a home in many entry-level systems where cost is the determining factor, not blazing performance. Considering the numerous other features of the ATI FireGL V3400 graphics card, it has much to offer at a bargain price.

FireGL V5200

The next step up the ladder for the ATI FireGL V series is the FireGL V5200. Nominally priced at $595, it has 256MB of onboard GDDR3 memory, twice the amount in the entry-level V3400. The FireGL V5200 also is a single-width card that requires no additional electrical power via a supplemental wiring harness. Also like the V3400, the V5200 is a 16x PCIe card, but it offers a memory bandwidth of 22.4GB per second, compared with the 16GB per second of the V3400. The V5200 also processes 750 million vertices per second compared with the 625 million per second on the V3400. These certifications are for the entire FireGL product line supported by a uniform driver.

ATI s FireGL V5200 midrange workstation graphics card boasts 256MB of onboard RAM and two dual-link DVI-I output connectors.
ATI s FireGL V5200 midrange workstation graphics card boasts 256MB of onboard RAM and two dual-link DVI-I output connectors.

ATI considers the FireGL V5200 a midrange graphics card.

Other characteristics of the FireGL V5200 include full Shader Model 3.0 support and a scalable ultrathreaded architecture with 128-bit floating point precision, 5 parallel geometry engines, and 12-pixel shader processors. Numerous CAD, technical and DCC certifications back the ATI FireGL V5200. Drivers are available for Windows 2000/XP/XP64 and both Linux 32 and Linux 64. Early drivers for Windows Vista also are available for users working with beta versions of this operating system.

Two dual-link DVI-I output connectors drive displays at 3840x2400 with 16.7 million colors at 24Hz and 1920x1200 with 1.07 billion colors at 60Hz, thanks to ATI's Avivo technology. Avivo technology allows this graphics card line to produce more than a trillion colors using 16-bit per RGB color component HDR with a full 10-bit display pipeline. Avivo's support of 8-bit, 10-bit and 16-bit per RGB color components provides support for current and developing display technology.

I tested the FireGL V5200 with ATI's latest released drivers for Windows XP, v8.223.00, along with the ATI MAXimum accelerated driver v2.6.5648 for the 3ds max components of the benchmarks. With AutoCAD 2005, the Cadalyst C2006 benchmark generated a total index score of 137, a step up from the number posted by the V3400. With MAXBench 4 using the ATI MAXimum driver v2.6.5648 with Autodesk 3ds max 8, the FireGL V5200 generated a low frame-rate score of 120.17 and a high frame-rate score of 96.96, for a combined averaged high/low frame-rate score of 108.57. Finally, the ProE-03 viewset of SPEC ViewPerf 8.1 produced a weighted geometric mean score of 63.34.

These are good numbers for a low midrange graphics card, especially when you factor in the card's other features and its moderate price tag of $595. This card is a step up the price/performance line from the V3400 and suitable for low midrange workstation system. Like the other ATI FireGL graphics cards reviewed here, the V5200 is supported by a three-year warranty and direct toll-free telephone and e-mail access to technical support.

FireGL V7200

The next step up in the ATI FireGL Visualization line is the FireGL V7200, and here things begin to change compared with the V3400 and the V5200. The FireGL V7200 is a double-width 16x PCIe graphics card that requires auxiliary power input via a supplied wiring harness that plugs into power feeds from the system power supply.



The ATI FireGL V7200 comes with 256MB of onboard GDDR3 memory but uses a 512-bit ring bus memory controller. Both the V3400 and V5200 cards offers a 256-bit controller. Memory bandwidth almost doubles with this card—the V7200 has a 41.6GB per second bandwidth and can process 1,200 million vertices per second. The number of pixel shader processors increases by one-third, bringing the V7200's total to 16. The number of parallel geometry engines increases to eight from the five found in the V3400 and v5200 cards.

The ATI FireGL V7200 is a high-performance workstation-level graphics card featuring Avivo technology, 256MB of onboard memory and two dual-link DVI-I output connectors.
The ATI FireGL V7200 is a high-performance workstation-level graphics card featuring Avivo technology, 256MB of onboard memory and two dual-link DVI-I output connectors.

The ATI FireGL V7200 provides two dual-link DVI-I output connectors and a stereoscopic 3D output connector. The FireGL V7200 can drive displays at resolutions up to 3840x2400 with 16.7 million colors at 48Hz or 1920x1200 with 1.07 billion colors at a refresh rate of 60Hz. The target of the dual-link is a widescreen 30" display with resolution of 2560x1600 at 60Hz.

As with other ATI FireGL V graphics cards, this card can produce more than one trillion colors using 16-bit per RGB color component HDR with a full 10-bit display pipeline. The card's Avivo technology also supports 8-bit, 10-bit and 16-bit per RGB color as well as HD components.

ATI considers the FireGL V7200 a high-end graphics accelerator in terms of its placement in the new FireGL lineup. The V7200 carries an estimated street price of $935 and is covered by a three-year warranty that includes direct toll-free telephone and e-mail access to technical support.

I ran our benchmarks with ATI Windows XP display drivers v8.223.00 and the ATI MAXimum accelerated driver v2.6.5648 for the 3ds max benchmarks.

Using AutoCAD 2005 with Service Pack 1 installed, the card posted a total index score of 162 on the new Cadalyst C2006 benchmark test. Using the ATI MAXimum driver with Autodesk 3ds max 8, the MAXBench 4 test returned a low frame-rate score of 140.04 and a high frame-rate score of 108.03, for an averaged score of 124.04. The final benchmark, the ProE-03 viewset of SPEC ViewPerf 8.1, produced a weighted geometric mean score of 65.58.

In many ways, the V7200 represents the sweet spot in the new lineup of graphics accelerators from the ATI FireGL Visualization line, with a good combination of price and performance. The company makes two ultrahigh-end FireGL graphics cards—the V7300 and V7350. Both provide more onboard RAM for working with large or complex models, but don't appear to offer significant benefits for day-to-day operations such as what the Cadalyst benchmarks are designed to evaluate. The ATI FireGL V7200, based on our evaluation of performance, pricing and warranty coverage, receives Cadalyst's top rating. Highly Recommended.

The new ATI FireGL V7350 features 1GB of onboard GDDR3 memory and two dual-link DVI-I output connectors.
The new ATI FireGL V7350 features 1GB of onboard GDDR3 memory and two dual-link DVI-I output connectors.

FireGL V7300 and V7350

The next step up from the high-end V7200 are two ultrahigh-end ATI graphics cards—the FireGL V7300 and V7350. Both are double-width graphics 16x PCIe cards that require additional power support via a wiring harness that hooks into feeds from the power supply in your system.

Aside from the amount of memory installed on each, there's really no difference between the FireGL V7300—which offers 512MB of onboard memory—and the FireGL V7350, which incorporates 1GB of memory. Both models are Genlock and Framelock ready—ATI expects to ship an add-on daughter card that will enable these functions in both the V7300 and the V7350.

Cadalyst reviewed the ATI FireGL V7350 in its July 2006 issue. Because I was able to use a speedy new workstation and was reviewing other graphics cards from the ATI lineup, I decided to retest the ATI FireGL V7350 and include the test results in the feature table (www.cadalyst.com/0706cards/) for comparison purposes.

Although the significantly higher memory on these two graphics cards should provide better performance for those who work with extra-large or extremely complex models, there don't appear to be any other significant performance benefits between these cards and the FireGL V7200. If you can take advantage of the extra memory found in these top-of-the-line ATI FireGL graphics cards, they are a great choice. Likewise, if you need Genlock/Framelock capabilities, they are essential. Otherwise, you'll get more bang for the buck from the FireGL V7200.

NVIDIA

Quadro FX 1500, Quadro FX 3500 and Quadro FX 5500
NVIDIA
408.486.2000
www.nvidia.com
Prices: $490–$2,499



Quadro FX 1500

The new NVIDIA Quadro FX 1500, which NVIDIA considers a midrange graphics accelerator, is a single-width card with 256MB of GDDR3 memory. An auxiliary power connector is not used—the FX 1500 draws all its electrical needs, up to 65W, from the 16x PCIe bus. The Quadro FX 1500 replaces the Quadro FX 1400 card and offers substantial improvements in several areas. Its memory bandwidth is 40GB per second compared with 19.2GB per second for the FX 1400. As for performance with 3D primitives, the FX 1500 is capable of 144 million triangles per second and a fill rate of 6 billion texels per second compared with the 117 million triangles per second and fill rate of 2.8 billion texels per second on the FX 1400, so the FX 1500 provides substantial improvement in overall speed.



The FX 1500 includes two dual-link DVI connectors and an HD-Out connector instead of the stereo connector found in other midrange, high-end, and ultrahigh-end Quadro cards. The NIVIDIA Quadro FX 1500 can drive as many as two IBM T221 9-megapixel displays at resolutions of 3840x2400 at 24Hz or two Apple or Dell 30" LCD panels with resolutions of 2560x1600 at 60Hz. Note that the Quadro FX 1500 does not support SLI frame rendering, so is not recommended for dual-card SLI configurations.

NVIDIA s Quadro FX 1500 is a midrange PCIe graphics card with 256MB of onboard memory and bandwidth of 40GB per second.
NVIDIA s Quadro FX 1500 is a midrange PCIe graphics card with 256MB of onboard memory and bandwidth of 40GB per second.

I tested the NVIDIA Quadro FX 1500 on the @Xi Computer MTower 64SLI test system based on an AMD Opteron 256 3GHz processor with Windows XP Professional with Service Pack 2 installed. I used the NVIDIA drivers v84.27, which are WHQL certified, for testing this card. Cadalyst's C2006 benchmark running on AutoCAD 2005 (Service Pack 1) generated a total index score of 166. Running on 3ds max 8 (Service Pack 2) with the NVIDIA MAXtreme v8.00.03 accelerated drivers, MAXBench4 produced a low frame-rate test score of 158.79 and a high frame-rate test score of 142.74, for an average high/low score of 150.77. Finally, the ProE-03 viewset of SPEC ViewPerf 8.10 delivered a weighted geometric mean score of 69.19. These are good numbers for a moderately priced, midrange workstation graphics card.

With an estimated street price of $490, the NVIDIA Quadro FX 1500 offers an excellent price-to-performance ratio. The card is covered by a three-year warranty and is available from major U.S. OEM vendors, PNY Technologies (United States and Europe), Leadtek (Asia Pacific) and ELSA Japan. Supported operating systems include Windows 2000/XP (32- and 64-bit) as well as Linux—a full OpenGL implementation, complete with NVIDIA and ARB extensions (32- and 64-bit), with support for both AMD64 and Intel EM64T. Beta drivers also are available on the NVIDIA Web site for those working with prerelease versions of Microsoft Vista.

Its relatively low price and increased performance capabilities make the Quadro FX 1500 an excellent choice for midrange workstations. Based on our evaluations of performance, pricing and warranty, this graphics card earns Cadalyst's Highly Recommended rating. Highly Recommended.

Quadro FX 3500

The next step up in the new Quadro model line is the Quadro FX 3500, a single-width 16x PCIe graphics card that boasts 256MB of GDDR3 memory. Considered by NVIDIA a high-end graphics card, the FX 3500—though it uses a single PCIe slot—requires an auxiliary power input adapter.



The Quadro FX 3500 offers two dual-link DVI connectors and a stereo connector. It can drive two digital displays at resolutions of 3840x2400 at 24Hz. The FX 3500 is SLI capable should you wish to run two cards in tandem using an SLI bridge.

All benchmarks for the FX 3500 were run using the WHQL-certified NVIDIA drivers v84.27 for the Quadro line. For the 3ds max 8 tests, I used NVIDIA's MAXtreme v8.00.03 accelerated driver. All drivers were the most current available from NVIDIA at the time testing commenced.

The NVIDIA Quadro FX 3500 provides the best price-to-performance ratio in the Quadro graphics card line.
The NVIDIA Quadro FX 3500 provides the best price-to-performance ratio in the Quadro graphics card line.

On the Cadalyst C2006 benchmark using AutoCAD 2005, the Quadro FX 3500 produced a total index score of 176. On MAXBench4 running on 3ds max 8 with Service Pack 2 installed and the NVIDIA MAXtreme accelerated drivers, the FX 3500 produced a low frame-rate score of 177.62 and a high frame-rate score of 166, for an averaged high/low score of 171.85. The final benchmark, the ProE-03 viewset of SPEC ViewPerf 8.10, generated a weighted geometric mean score of 81.86. These good numbers are a substantial improvement over those posted by the FX 3400 series that this card updates. When I received the system from @Xi Computer that I used for all the benchmarks in this roundup, I ran a baseline average using the Quadro FX 4500 that was installed in the system at arrival, and the scores produced by the FX 3500 were very close throughout to what the FX 4500 produced.

The Quadro FX 3500 has an estimated street price of $928 and, like all NVIDIA Quadro graphics cards, is covered by a three-year warranty. NVIDIA Quadro graphics cards are available from major OEM vendors, PNY Technologies in the United States and Europe, Leadtek in the Asia Pacific area and ELSA Japan. Operating system drivers are available for Windows 2000/XP (32- and 64-bit) and Linux. Beta OS-level drivers also are available for prerelease versions of Microsoft Vista.

The Quadro FX 3500 seems to be the sweet spot in the Quadro lineup, offering the best price-to-performance ratio. If you don't need the absolute highest performance and your work doesn't involve extremely large, complex models that can benefit from the additional onboard RAM found in the ultrahigh-end Quadro FX 5500, then the FX 3500 gives you the best performance per dollar spent. Based on performance, pricing and warranty coverage, the NVIDIA Quadro FX 3500 receives the Cadalyst Highly Recommended rating. Highly Recommended.

Quadro FX 5500

The ultrahigh-end graphics card in the new NVIDIA Quadro lineup is the Quadro FX 5500, a double-width 16x PCIe card that incorporates 1GB of GDDR2 memory. The FX 5500 requires an auxiliary power input connector and uses 96W of power.

The FX 5500 offers two dual-link DVI output connectors as well as a connector for stereo devices. The card can drive two high-resolution LCD displays at a resolution of 3840x2400 at 24Hz. SLI configurations for the FX 5500 also are supported for users who wish to run two cards in tandem.

As the released NVIDIA WHQL-certified Windows drivers v84.27 that I used to test the FX 1500 and FX 3500 did not yet support this new graphics card, I tested the Quadro FX 5500 using release candidate drivers v91.25. At the time of testing, these drivers had known bugs that required resolution before a formal release. The scores I obtained were good—the best numbers across the board for any graphics card in this roundup—so I opted to include the results here, but with the caveat that performance numbers with the final driver release may vary. The drivers performed well—no obvious glitches—but a bug in configuring them on a per-application basis made this aspect of testing difficult.

NVIDIA ;s new Quadro FX 5500 ultrahigh-end PCIe graphics card has 1GB of onboard GDDR2 memory, a stereo connector and two dual-link DVI-I outputs.
NVIDIA ;s new Quadro FX 5500 ultrahigh-end PCIe graphics card has 1GB of onboard GDDR2 memory, a stereo connector and two dual-link DVI-I outputs.

On the Cadalyst C2006 benchmark, the Quadro FX 5500 produced a total index score of 177. Though this number is only marginally higher than the score for the FX 3500 for the AutoCAD component of the tests, other benchmark numbers were somewhat higher. With Autodesk 3ds max 8 using Service Pack 2 and the NVIDIA MAXtreme accelerated drivers v8.00.03, the MAXBench4 test produced a low frame-rate score of 186.56 and a high frame-rate score of 179.38, for an average high/low score of 182.97. The ProE-03 viewset of SPEC ViewPerf 8.10 generated a sizzling weighted geometric mean of 91.81. The latter numbers, within the context of the driver issues, seem to indicate that the FX 5500 will be particularly useful for those whose work involves 3ds max, but AutoCAD users may derive less benefit.

The Quadro FX 5500 offers advantages for AutoCAD if your models are particularly large or complex, because the extra memory should speed operations. I awarded a bonus score for the FX 5500, in recognition of this extra memory's benefit for certain readers. If your graphic card usage requires Framelock and Genlock capabilities combined with high performance, then the Quadro FX 5500 is a great choice.

With an estimated street price of $2,499, the Quadro FX 5500 card is the most expensive in the Quadro line and, indeed, the most expensive graphics card in this roundup by a significant margin. As with other Quadro graphics cards, the FX 5500 includes a three-year warranty and has extensive driver support for both released operating systems and forthcoming systems such as Microsoft Vista.

If you need the last word in work-station graphics card performance combined with a generous amount of onboard memory for large and complex models, this card is the right choice if your budget is big enough to cover the cost. The performance leap from the FX 3500 is not profound, which I think will limit the market for the FX 5500, particularly considering that the FX 5500 costs more than twice as much as the FX 3500. The Quadro FX 5500 does, however, redefine high-end workstation-level graphic card performance.

Matrox TripleHead2Go

Three monitors are better than one.

Matrox Graphics
800.361.1408, 514.822.6000
www.matrox.com/graphics
Price: $299


IF YOUR MONITOR'S size is too confining, you've no doubt wished for an additional display to increase the amount of information you can view on-screen simultaneously. Even users who work on two monitors often feel restricted, but a solution is at hand with Matrox Graphics' new TripleHead2Go.

Matrox TripleHead2Go lets users attach three monitors to a desktop or laptop computer.
Matrox TripleHead2Go lets users attach three monitors to a desktop or laptop computer.

Matrox has developed GXMs (graphics expansion modules), a new technology that lets you add multidisplay support using your existing graphics card. You don't even need to open the computer case to install it. The company's newest GXM model, the TripleHead2Go (three monitors), joins its DualHead2Go (two monitors). Both devices are palm-sized boxes that, for example, let users drive as many as three 19" monitors, each with a resolution of up to 1280x1024, to create a 45" total diagonal display.

The TripleHead2Go appears to your system as a single, if very wide, display and reports resolution via the standard EDID (extended display identification data) structure. The device connects to your computer using a standard RGB connector on your existing graphics hardware without reducing image quality or system speed. The TripleHead2Go provides significant monitor space in which to work, which is great for productivity and visualization. If you happen to be a gamer as well, the TripleHead2Go enables surround gaming—playing video games across three screens for an immersive experience.

Matrox's TripleHead2Go easily connects to many work-stations, gaming systems and laptops, even if those systems support only a single-display output. The device connects to your system with a standard VGA monitor cable. Once attached, it splits the Microsoft Windows desktop into three separate screens of information and displays each across three independent monitors. The original raw pixels generated from the existing graphics card show no image distortion or scaling.

Setting up the TripleHead2Go is easy—just install the software and connect the monitors. Display mode settings are made in the usual fashion through the Display Properties dialog box on the operating systems supported—Windows 2000/XP. TripleHead2Go is compatible with many professional- and enthusiast-class desktop and laptop PCs equipped with certain NVIDIA- and ATI-enabled graphics chipsets and add-in-boards, including multi-GPU configurations. Maximum resolutions supported may vary, depending on the GPU version. Visit the Matrox Web site at www.matrox.com/graphics for the most current list of supported configurations.

Included in the box with the TripleHead2Go connector box are a 2' HD15-to-HD15 (analog) monitor cable, a 2' DVI-I to VGA cable, an external 5V DC power adapter, region-specific power cables, a quick-start paper and a CD. The CD contains PowerDesk SE software—which includes image quality adjustment, center popup and window management—an electronic product manual and the Matrox Surround Gaming Utility.

Ron LaFon, a contributing editor for Cadalyst, is a writer, editor and computer graphics and electronic publishing specialist from Atlanta, Georgia. He is a principal at 3Bear Productions in Atlanta.


About the Author: Ron LaFon


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