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3D Performance

There are now many competing 3D graphics accelerators on the market spanning a broad range of performance and price. Of these the 3DLabs Permedia II chip set is probably the best bang for the buck for those with limited means. The Permedia II gives you most of the OpenGL performance available in the ultra high end cards at a fraction of the cost. The 3DLabs Permedia II objectively blows away all the following chips in OpenGL performance by a large margin: Number Nine Ticket to Ride, Matrox MGA2164W, ATI Rage II, Intel740/Real3D, VooDoo, SGS-Thompson Riva 128, Rendition's Verite 2100.

If money is no object Mitsubishi's 3DPRO/2mp chip set using Evans & Sutherland Realimage Technology is one of the fastest OpenGL PC chips on the market, but it is costly. The 3Dlabs Glint MX & Delta chip sets along with the Intergraph TD225 are close contenders that in some cases even outperform Mitsubishi's 3DPRO/2mp. We think the 3Dlabs Glint MX & Delta chip sets are probably the best bang for the buck in the ultra high end OpenGL market. The Glint MX has a broad range of driver support and vendor support which is important for ensuring the long term value of your investment. Note also that many vendors are clearing out older cards based on the 3Dlabs Glint TX chip set. You may find good bargains on these card as well if you don't want to pay the full price tag of the new Glint MX based cards.

You'll find the 3Dlabs Glint chips in cards made by AccelGraphics, Diamond Multimedia, ELSA, Leadtek, Omnicomp and Symmetric. The Leadtek come highly recommended by Byte Magazine. I think they base this mainly on price. They are good cards but we have heard of problems with the Leadtek cards locking up under NT. The AccelGraphics and ELSA cards appear to be working very well indeed. AccelGraphics has been repeatedly recommended due to their great support and excellent driver quality. The only complaint we've had on the ELSA cards is that you can not switch resolutions without rebooting or a system lock-up may occur. I think most of us can live with this limitation. Furthermore, many of the cards from AccelGraphics and ELSA have good X Windows support now which is important to many of our UNIX/Linux users.

Dynamic Pictures's Oxygen chip set is a little slower than the 3Dlabs Glint 500TX chip set. However, the Oxygen cards support multi-threaded OpenGL libraries. Their dual or quad processor graphics cards (Oxygen 202 and 402 respectively) multi-thread very well on a dual Pentium II system.

It is impossible to say that one chip set is faster than another because each excels in different areas. However, the standard performance evaluation corporation (SPEC) has done about as good of a job as can be expected. For a list of their results visit the OpenGL Performance Characterization Project's Home Page. OpenGL is the 3D API of choice for professional 3D under Windows NT and UNIX. SPEC have developed a standardized series of benchmarks each one specialized to measure performance for various classes of applications. The Viewperf DX-03 tests use IBM's Visualization Data Explorer application as a scientific and data analysis package. The viewset simulates fluid flow through a constriction. The object represented contains about 1000 triangle meshes each containing about 100 vertices.The Viewperf Awadvs01 uses Alias/Wavefront's Advanced Visualizer, a package used by animators for its comprehensive tools for 3D modeling, animation, rendering, image composition, and video output. You can use each respective benchmark to elucidate which card is best for each type of application. The Viewperf CDRS-03 test is based on an application owned by parametric Technologies Inc. that is used mainly for CAD/CAM/CAE & industrial design. The Viewperf DRV-04 viewset uses Intergraph's Design Review application used specifically for designing plants with complicated 3D structural elements such as pipes, beams, ducts, and electrical raceways. Finally the Viewperf Light01 is useful for designing complicated lighting scenarios and viewing their effects on different kinds of materials because of Lightscape's radiosity algorithms with physically based lighting interfaces.

You should also look at the benchmarks presented on the manufacturer's WWW sites, such as 3Dlabs' benchmark page.

Ranking these chips roughly in order of CAD OpenGL performance (not necessary in the order of Direct3D or 2D performance) we might rank these chips roughly as follows (Fastest on top and slowest on bottom):

Scientific Visualization OpenGL
ViewPerf DX-03: Windows NT 4.0 at 1024x768 @ 24-bits, Pentium II 300MHz, 64MB SDRAM or specified

Product

Benchmark

SGI Onyx2 Reality (IRIX on Dual 195MHz R10000, 128MB RAM, $125,120.00)

21.90

3Dlabs Glint GMX 2000

15.21

SGI Octane (IRIX on 195MHz R10000, 128MB RAM, $36,495.00)

13.66

3Dlabs Glint GMX 1000

13.52

Sun Creator3D Series2 (Solaris on 300MHz UltraSparc, 128MB RAM, $22,495.00)

13.52

HP Kayak Visualizefx4 ($14,408)

11.73

Mitsubishi 3DPRO/2mp

7.06

3Dlabs Glint Permedia 2

6.83

3Dlabs Glint DMX 1000

6.79

Dynamic Pictures Oxygen 402
(On Dual PII 300MHz Pentium II)

5.05

Intergraph Intense 3D Pro 2200

5.02

SGI O2 (IRIX on 200MHz R5000, 64MB RAM, $8,495.00)

3.47

Matrox Millennium II (On PP200 32MB)

1.66

Rendition V2100

N/A

Nvidia RIVA 128

N/A

ATI Rage Pro

N/A

 

CAD/CAM OpenGL Performance
ViewPerf CDRS-03: Windows NT 4.0 at 1024x768 @ 24-bits, Pentium II 300MHz, 64MB SDRAM or Specified

Product

Benchmark

HP Kayak Visualizefx4 ($15,907)

103.4

SGI Onyx2 Reality (IRIX on Dual 195MHz R10000, 128MB RAM, $125,120.00)

92.72

3Dlabs Glint GMX 2000

85.5

3Dlabs Glint GMX 1000

68.5

Sun Creator3D Series2 (Solaris on 300MHz UltraSparc, 128MB RAM, $22,495.00)

50.67

SGI Octane MXI (IRIX on 195MHz R10000, 128MB RAM, $45,495.00)

48.63

AccelECLIPSE II (Mitsubishi 3DPRO/2mp)

47.38

3Dlabs Glint DMX 1000

38.2

Intergraph Intense 3D Pro 2200

32.89

SGI Octane SI (IRIX on 175MHz R10000, 64MB RAM, $21,495.00)

32.00

Dynamic Pictures Oxygen 402

27.11

3Dlabs Glint Permedia 2

23.94

SGI O2 SC (IRIX on 200MHz R5000, 64MB RAM, $8,495.00)

18.51

Matrox Millennium II

5.57

Rendition V2100

5.26

Nvidia RIVA 128

5.07

ATI Rage Pro

4.7

Most 3D Games are written with the Direct3D API for Windows 95. Direct3D performance is not directly related to OpenGL performance. The high end professional 3D graphics engines tend to be bundled with drivers optimized for OpenGL API, while the low end game oriented 3D cards tend to come bundled with drivers optimized for the Direct3D API.

The Riva 128 is the clear leader in Direct3D game performance. The ATI Rage Pro, Rendition's Verite, 3Dlabs Permedia 2 and the 3Dfx Voodoo Rush also perform relatively well.

At higher resolutions and color depths the performance of the ATI Rage Pro and the 3Dlabs Permedia 2 tend to move closer to the Riva 128. The 4MB memory limitation of the Riva 128 and the Rendition's Verite 2100 can become a serious limitation under these conditions.

3D Game Performance
Direct3D API under Windows 95
All Cards shown are PCI
Pentium 233MMX 64MB

 

640 x 480 resolution

800 x 600 resolution

nVidia RIVA 128: Diamond Viper V330

278

260

nVidia RIVA 128: Canopus Total3D 128V

272

252

nVidia RIVA 128: STB Velocity 128

270

252

Rendition Verite 2200

266

209

Rendition's Verite 2100: Diamond Stealth II S220

256

198

ATI Rage Pro: ATI All-In-Wonder Pro

224

221

ATI Rage Pro: ATI Xpert@Work

224

220

3Dfx Voodoo Rush: Intergraph Intense 3D Voodoo

224

185

3Dlabs Permedia 2: Hercules Dynamite 3D/GL

223

201

ATI Rage Pro: ATI Xpert@Play

220

220

3Dlabs Permedia 2: AccelGraphics Accel Star II

218

194

3Dlabs Permedia 2: ELSA Winner 2000/Office

218

186

3Dfx Voodoo Rush: Jazz Adrenaline Rush 3D

215

156

3Dlabs Permedia 2: Leadtek WinFast 3D L2300

208

182

3Dlabs Permedia 2: Diamond Fire GL 1000 Pro

206

179

3Dlabs Permedia 2: ELSA GLoria Synergy

204

166

Number Nine Revolution 3D

178

120

S3 ViRGE GX2

 92

 67

Matrox Millennium II

 66

 56

3D Terminology:

Alpha blending is a way of allowing one object to show through another to give the illusion of transparency. Color keying is another way of doing transparency.

Anti-aliasing helps clean up the jagged edges at the seams between mapped textures by using transitional pixels of blended colors.

Bilinear filtering smoothes textures in a scene to lessen the blocky effect. Point sampling is a simpler method that requires less processing but usually yields undesirable results, such as flashing or jittering pixels.

Direct3D is an application programming interface (API) that standardizes communication between programs exercising 3-D functions and the graphics hardware that provides the functions.

Double buffering increases the number of frames drawn per second. As one scene is being rendered in the front buffer of the graphics board, the next scene is sent to the back buffer for processing.

Flat shading is the most basic shading technique, where a triangle is painted without reference to adjacent triangles. Flat shading creates a blocky effect because there's no smooth blending of colors, and abrupt changes can occur across an object. Gouraud shading is a more advanced method that analyzes the color of a triangle's neighbors and averages the values to determine the triangle's color. This allows curves and contours to appear more rounded.

MIP (multim in parvum) mapping uses several different resolutions of an object's texture as the object moves closer or farther. These textures can then be filtered together and applied to the scene to enhance the illusion of depth.

Open GL 3-D API SGI developed GL (Graphics Language) which eventually evolved into Open GL, the first really good open standard for 3D applications. This API is geared towards high-end graphics workstations applications like scientific visualization (such as molecular modeling), virtual reality and CAD/CAM. Open GL support is extant in nearly all operating systems.

Specular highlighting shows the reflection from a light source on an object's surface.

Texture mapping applies a bitmapped texture image to the objects in a scene--the bricks on a wall, for example.

Z-buffering is a method of tracking parts of objects that are not in view and should not be drawn. This is done by plotting each object's position relative to the viewer and to other objects according to its x, y, and z coordinates.

General 2D Performance

Below we have ranked many video accelerators in terms of their 2D performance. The first thing that strikes us is that unlike previous years, most video cards now have ample 2D power. At lower color depths and resolutions one can barely notice the difference between various models. Therefore we compare performance at a resolution of 1280x1024 to tease out performance differences. We have posted results from the Business Winstone 98 and the Business Graphics WinMark98 benchmarks. The comparing the WinMark98 isolates and compares the graphics engine only while the Winstone98 compares the total system performance.

Under Windows 95 four clear leaders emerge: the Number Nine Revolution 3D, the 3DLabs Permedia 2, the Matrox Millennium II and the ATI RAGE Pro. The results are very similar under Windows NT, however, under Windows NT the Matrox Millennium II pulls ahead of the pack.

The Matrox Millennium II is the fastest card under X Windows of those we compared (Xmarks results not shown). The Millennium II has drivers for X Windows, Windows 3.11, Windows 95, Windows NT, OS/2 WARP, Solaris, NeXTStep, AutoCAD, and Micro Station. Because of its broad support and acceptance, the Millennium II remains the general purpose choice for those who want to support the broadest range of operating systems, especially for UNIX and Linux users. For this reason the Millennium II remains our first choice.

The Number Nine Revolution 3D is now one of the fastest Windows 2D cards on the market. Number Nine's third generation implementations of the I-128, 128-bit engine dubbed the "Ticket to Ride," includes drivers for Windows NT and Windows 95. Xi Graphics now has an X Windows server for this card as well. The Number Nine Revolution 3D has excellent CAD drivers and comes highly recommended.

The Millennium II and the Revolution 3D excel at higher resolutions and higher color depths. Both use WRAM (Windows RAM) which yields a performance edge at higher color depths and higher resolutions. WRAM is faster than VRAM (Video RAM), SGRAM and EDO RAM. VRAM and WRAM are dual ported which allows the memory to be read from and written to simultaneously.

Both cards support multi-headed configurations where up to four video cards and four monitors can be used on one one workstation. Multi-headed configurations are supported by a variety of OS's including NT and X Windows (with X-inside's software).

2D Performance Under Windows 95
1280x1,024 @ 16-bit color
All Cards shown are PCI
Pentium 233MMX 64MB

2-D Benchmark Tests

ZD Business Winstone 98

ZD Business Graphics WinMark 98

Number Nine Revolution 3D

17.1

109

3Dlabs Permedia 2: Diamond Fire GL 1000 Pro

17

106

3Dlabs Permedia 2: Hercules Dynamite 3D/GL

16.9

105

3Dlabs Permedia 2: AccelGraphics AccelStar II

16.9

104

3Dlabs Permedia 2: ELSA Winner 2000/Office

16.9

100

Matrox Millennium II

16.8

106

ATI 3D Rage Pro: ATI Xpert @Work

16.6

106

nVidia RIVA 128: Canopus Total3D 128V

16.5

 90

nVidia RIVA 128: STB Velocity 128

16.4

 91

nVidia RIVA 128: Diamond Viper V330

16.4

 89

ATI 3D Rage Pro: ATI Xpert @Play

16.3

104

Rendition's Verite 2100: Diamond Stealth II S220

16.2

 67

3Dlabs Permedia 2: Leadtek WinFast 3D L2300

16

 81

3Dlabs Permedia 2: ELSA GLoria Synergy

16

 73

ATI 3D Rage Pro: ATI All-In-Wonder Pro

16

106

3Dfx Voodoo Rush: Intergraph Intense 3D Voodoo

15.7

 63

3Dfx Voodoo Rush: BioStar Venus 3D Rush

14.9

 52

3Dfx Voodoo Rush: Jazz Adrenaline Rush 3D

14.6

 50

 

 

2D Performance Under Windows 95
1280x1024 @ 16-bit color
All Cards shown are AGP
Pentium II 266 64MB

Bold type denotes first place within each category.

ZD Business Winstone 98

ZD Business Graphics WinMark 98

3DLabs Permedia 2: Diamond Fire GL 1000 Pro

22

130

Number Nine Revolution 3D

21.9

136

MGA2164: Matrox Millennium II

21.9

135

ATI 3D Rage Pro: All-In-Wonder Pro

21.7

134

ATI 3D Rage Pro: Xpert@Work

21.6

134

ATI 3D Rage Pro: Xpert@Play

21.4

134

3DLabs Permedia 2: AccelGraphics AccelStar II

21.4

119

Nvidia Riva 128: Diamond Viper V330

21

107

Nvidia Riva 128: ASUS 3DexPlorer 3000

21

105

 

MPEG Performance

 

High End MPEG Frame/Sec on WinNT 4.0: at 1024x768 @ 32-bits
Product Benchmark

Number Nine Revolution 3D

25

Matrox Millennium II

17

Matrox Mystique 220

13

Diamond Stealth 3D 3000

5

 

Low End MPEG Frame/Sec on Terracide
Product Benchmark
Mystique 220 4MB 33
Diamond Stealth 3D 2000XL 13
STB Nitro 3D 4MB 5
ATI 3D Xpression + PC2TV 4MB 21
3D Blaster 4MB 24

 

Graphics RAM Types and Performance

The first graphics accelerators used DRAM (Dynamic Random Access Memory). This is the same RAM used in SIMM's. DRAM is called single-ported RAM because input of new graphic data and the output of screen refresh data must be processed via the same port. In other words, graphic updates (writing to memory) and screen refresh operations (reading from memory) have to take turns. Higher performance graphics cards utilize a type of Dual ported RAM called VRAM (Video RAM) that can simultaneously refresh the screen and input new graphics data updates. This doubles the bandwidth of the RAM.

Recently new single ported graphics memory has been introduced including: SGRAM, SDRAM, RAMBUS and EDO DRAM. All these RAM types are faster than DRAM but slower than VRAM except for SGRAM which is faster than VRAM at very low color depths (8-bit color). However, like their DRAM predecessor, these new single ported memory types decrease in speed linearly with increasing color depth, resolution and refresh rate.

WRAM (Windows RAM fabricated by Samsung) is another dual ported RAM that is faster than VRAM. Currently this RAM is in allocation so only Matrox has an ample supply. WRAM is currently the fastest RAM available. Unlike single ported RAM, dual ported RAM maintains higher performance at higher color depths and resolutions.

Resolutions, RAMDACS, DOT Clocks, Vertical and Horizontal Refresh rates

When choosing a graphics card and monitor you must consider what resolution, refresh and color depth you want to support. You'll want your display to have a vertical refresh of 72Hz or above. This means your entire display will redraw 72 times per second. Most humans can not detect flicker above 72Hz, however, this number will vary depending on how the amacrine and horizontal cells in your eyes dampen the transmission of nerve impulses from your cones and rods to your retinal ganglion cells via your bipolars. This is varies widely from person to person. Therefore, we encourage you to find a refresh rate that is acceptable to you.

Monitor Resolutions are measured in pixels (dots). For example, 1024x768 means that a display has 1024 pixels across the top and 768 pixels along it's side for a total of 782,432 (1024x768) pixels. Most resolutions have a width to height ratio of four to three such as: 640x480, 800x600, 1024x768, and 1600x1200. For example 1024 divided by 768 = 1.333 = 4 divided by 3. 1280x1024 is sort of an odd ball with a ratio of five to four.

Electron guns at the back of a monitor shoot beams of electrons (cathode rays) that strike the surface of the monitor which is coated with a light emitting phosphor. Hence the name CRT (Cathode RAY Tube). Aperture Grill tubes like Trinitrons have three sets of guns while Invar tubes have only one set. These guns scan horizontally across the tube and then return and repeat the scan for the next line down until they reach the bottom. If the display is running at 1024x768 then the gun must pulse 1024 times for each horizontal scan. The maximum number of times a gun can pulse is called it's Dot clock and is measured in MegaHertz (MHz) or millions of Hertz. The horizontal refresh rate is measured in KiloHertz (KHz) or thousands of Hertz and measures the number of horizontal lines that can be scanned per second at a given dot clock and horizontal resolution. The vertical refresh rate is measured in Hertz and reflects the number of times all the horizontal lines on a monitor can be refreshed per second. Thus the vertical refresh rate is directly proportional to the horizontal frequency divided by the vertical resolution. Hence the greater the resolution the lower the refresh rate. This is demonstrated by the table below:

Maximum Refresh Rates
Based on Matrox (Other brands vary only slightly)

Resolution

Vert Refresh with a
220MHz RAMDAC

Vert Refresh with a
175MHz RAMDAC

1600 x 1200

85 Hz

72 Hz

1280 x 1024

100 Hz

90 Hz

1152 x 882

120 Hz

100 Hz

1024 x 768

130 Hz

120 Hz

800 x 600

160 Hz

120 Hz

640 x 480

200 Hz

120 Hz

The maximum value of the horizontal Refresh rate are determined by the absolute Dot clock of video cards RAMDAC chip. Most OEM and bulk video cards generally have 175MHz RAMDAC's while Retail video cards have 220MHz RAMDAC's. The 220MHz cards are not faster at drawing graphics than the 175MHz cards. However, the 220MHz RAMDAC's can produce more pulses per second and hence yield higher refresh rates. The 175MHz cards have a lower refresh rate and hence more flicker. 220MHz RAMDAC's can produce a maximum vertical refresh rate of 200Hz. 175MHz RAMDAC's can produce a maximum vertical refresh rate of 120Hz. However, the actual refresh rate produced may not exceed the dot clock of your monitor or you may damage you monitor.

To estimate the refresh rate at a specific resolution with a given dot clock you can use this formula:

Resolution x (Vertical Refresh desired)x1.5 < DOT CLOCK

For example:

1600x1200x(85Hz)x1.5 < 220MHz

Video Memory, Color Depth and Resolution

Color depth is measured in bits per pixel. The more bits of memory used per pixel the greater the number of colors that can be represented. The number of colors is equal to two to the power of the number of bits. A monochrome display uses only one bit per pixel for either black or white. Eight bit color has 256 (2^8) colors. Sixteen bit color has 65,536 (2^16) colors and is often abbreviated 65K. Twenty-four bit color has 16,777,216 (2^24) and is often abbreviated 16M. Most users find that 65K colors is more than adequate for photographic quality. Graphics professionals use 24-bit or even 36-bits per pixel.

As a general rule of thumb you'll need a 2MB graphics card to display 1024x768 at 72Hz and 65K colors. This resolution, refresh and color depth matches well with the refresh rates of most 14, 15 and cheaper 17 inch monitors. To achieve 1600x1200 at 72Hz and 65K colors you'll need a 4MB Video card and a high end 17 inch monitor or a 21 inch monitor. Note that most high end 17 inch monitors can only do 1280x1024 at a reasonable refresh rate.

If you need to calculate the exact amount of Video Memory needed for a given color depth and resolution, remember that there are 8 bits per byte.

  1. Take the number of colors, say 16,777,216 and convert it to bits (LN is the Natural Log):
    LN[16,777,216]/LN[2]=24bits
  2. Now convert that to bytes:
    24bits/8bits per byte = 3 bytes
  3. Now multiply this by the resolution to get the total memory:
    1280x1024x3bytes = 3.9MBs or 4MB's of VRAM, DRAM or WRAM
  4. Or just use this formula:
    Number of MB's =
    (Vertical Pixels)x(Horizontal Pixels)x(LOG[Number of Colors])x(0.415241)
  5. For example:
    Number of MB's =
    1280x1024x(LOG[16,777,216])x0.415241 = 3.9MBs.

If you want to use Open GL or other accelerated 3D modes you'll also need an additional 2MB's to achieve the same color depth and resolution. For example in the example above you'd need 5.9 or 6MB's of Video Memory to run Open GL at 1280x1024 with 24 bit color.

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