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Re: Which Graphics Card?

You had to ask....

Andy's suggestion of nVidia's Geforce3 based cards is a good one.  In fact,
for doing "professional" work with a "gamers" video card I feel your only
options are nVidia's products.  ATI's radeon is another popular gamers card
that performs almost as well as the Geforce line but ATI has historically
delivered poor drivers (this comment is based on hardware reviews, not on
personal experience).  But, the GF3 isn't your only option.

nVidia segments their market by offering consumer and professional products
based on the same core technology (consumer lines are based on the
GF/GF2/GF3 and the professional lines are based on the Quadro).  AFAICT, the
only real difference between the consumer cards and the pro cards is that
the pro cards sport a different BIOS, a few resistors and better OpenGL
drivers.  How much better?  I wish I knew since that might drive my next
purchasing decision.  Maybe someone with a Quadro would be willing to do
some benchmarks?

When purchasing a Geforce2/Quadro based card there are a few things to look
out for.  All Geforce chips are limited to some extent by memory
bottlenecks.  Card manufacturers have used this fact to segment the market
to the point of mass confusion.  When shopping for a GF2, you will find 64
and 128 bit SDR based cards and 64/128 bit DDR based cards with RAM speeds
that vary from 7.5 to 4 ns.   The best performance will be had with the
128bit DDR based cards with the fastest RAM available.  These products are
generally labeled "ultra" as in the WinFast Geforce2 Ultra.

If you are looking at a Geforce3 things are a little simpler.  This card
started hitting the streets last month and there are only a few variants
available.  All seem to be shipping with 128 bit DDR running at 4ns.  Your
only options look like TV out, DVI-I, and the amount of RAM (64 vs 128MB).
I highly doubt that you would ever make use of 32 let alone 64 MB of video
memory so don't waste your money on the 128 MB version.

A bonus option with the GF cards is that they offer full scene anti-aliasing
(at the cost of raw speed).  I have found this feature to be indispensable
when rendering 3d scenes for animation and am now rendering final animations
on my Geforce based workstations exclusively. (on side note, with newer
driver revisions make sure your desktop is set to 32 bit and the default
color depth for textures is set to "desktop color depth" or 32bpp otherwise
IDL will bomb when opening an object graphics window when anti-aliasing is

I know I sound like a commercial here but stick with me....

nVidia has also released the geforce2go chip.  This is the first real step
forward for portable 3d in years.  For those looking for a portable only
solution or for a laptop that can actually render high poly scenes this is
your only choice.  Don't think you are going to get this in that ultra slim
vaio though.

For you Macatista's, rejoice that decent 3d power has come to your world
too.  The GF3 was released for both the PC and Mac.  Since this is the first
nVidia product for the mac I don't know what shape the drivers are in but at
least you got the hardware.

For the penguin's, nVidia is producing drivers for XFree86 4.x.  Last time I
checked they were lagging behind windoze platforms in performance but
quality has been steadily improving.

If you do end up with an nVidia based card (especially the GF3), I recommend
ditching the vendor's drivers and using the reference drivers available from
nVidia's site.  You may lose vendor specific add-ons (TV-out) but the
drivers will be "fresher".  With GF/GF2 based cards this is not as simple
since with the latest release (v12.49) performance in IDL object graphics
has decreased a bit.

good luck!

-Rick Towler
Object Graphics Junkie

"David Fanning" <davidf@dfanning.com> wrote in message
> Hi Folks,
> OK, the wife came home from the last day of school with
> a brochure for a special deal on computers. (Thanks to
> the recent passage of the mill levy all classrooms are
> getting an updated PC.) The company (a large one who
> has not done too well lately) has offered to let school
> district employees in on the deal. The prices are
> fantastic. (But, alas, that super-thin Sony laptop
> I've been lusting after ever since the chiropractor
> told me to stop lugging my mammoth Dell machine around,
> is not on the list.)
> But this baby needs a graphics card. Here's my question:
> what's the best graphics card on the market for under $500?
> It should make IDL object graphics scream. :-)
> Cheers,
> David
> --
> David Fanning, Ph.D.
> Fanning Software Consulting
> Phone: 970-221-0438 E-Mail: davidf@dfanning.com
> Coyote's Guide to IDL Programming: http://www.dfanning.com/
> Toll-Free IDL Book Orders: 1-888-461-0155