Intergraph beefs up 3-D

Intergraph Corp. last week introduced the first of a new generation of graphics technology that is designed to dramatically improve 3-D graphics performance on Microsoft Corp.'s Windows NT-based workstations.

Announced at the Special Interest Group on Computer Graphic's Siggraph '98 show in Orlando, Fla., Intergraph's new Intense 3D Wildcat 4100 graphics engine and ParaScale graphics architecture provide graphics users with performance that is "higher than any other graphics available either on NT or Unix," said Steve Pesto, executive director of graphics products at Intergraph.

ParaScale is a new graphics architecture that Intergraph designed to be the foundation for the new 3D Wildcat series of graphics cards. ParaScale provides a scalable architecture that allows users to add dedicated chips to handle various graphics calculations through separate graphics pipelines.

"It makes the highest-end graphics in the world available to the federal marketplace," said Tom Baybrook, Intergraph's vice president of federal marketing and CAD-2 programs. "We expect the greatest impact to be in simulation, visualization and training as government organizations switch from Unix to NT."The new 3D Wildcat 4100 was designed for entry-level users and will be available for a list price of $2,995 in December, Pesto said. In addition, Intergraph is planning to release more powerful versions of the graphics card during the first half of 1999 that will be capable of two and four times the performance level of the 4100.

Jay Moore, a senior analyst of Windows NT workstations at the Boston-based research firm Aberdeen Group, said Intergraph's announcement "really steals the thunder from Hewlett-Packard [Co.'s] Visualize fx6" graphics card. However, the 3D Wildcat 4100 will not be available until December, and that "gives everybody else five months to catch up," he said.

The geometry accelerator for the 3D Wildcat 4100, which handles 3-D lighting and other calculations, is equipped with 9.5 million transistors— 2 million more than Intel Corp.'s Pentium II processor— and provides what the company is calling a dramatic improvement in 3-D performance. The 3D Wildcat 4100 using the ParaScale architecture represents "a major shift in the price-performance paradigm," Pesto said.

Intergraph test results show the 3D Wildcat 4100 is capable of achieving a score of 200 on the Viewperf CDRS test, an industry standard 3-D graphics benchmark that measures frames per second. An older Intergraph engine achieved a score of 65 in April. In addition, the ParaScale architecture will allow users to daisy chain several cards for achieving a CDRS score of up to 1000, according to Intergraph officials.

Moore said the new technology is impressive and demonstrates that Intergraph has a product that can compete with Silicon Graphics Inc.'s Infinite Reality system for a fraction of the price.

More importantly, Intergraph's new technology "demonstrates that Unix will not hold on to the high-end workstation market as long as Sun Microsystems [Inc.] would want you to believe," said Moore. "It doesn't mean Unix is dead, but it may mean that [NT graphics solutions] might be ready for prime time a little earlier than originally thought."

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