3D Animation Workshop: Lesson 33: 3D Hardware Update
Lesson 33 - 3D Hardware Update - Part 1
The last few lessons on VRML have been a lot of fun, but it's time to refresh our screens and turn to some new subjects.
So much has happened since we last spoke to the 3D hardware experts at XERT that I decided to give them a call to get their perspective. Those of you who didn't get a chance to read our earlier interview with the XERT folks should take a look at Lesson 11 for some background. I've stressed many times that 3D hardware is a fabulously complex and fast-changing subject. The 3D artist or animator must understand the hardware picture, if only to purchase and upgrade his or her own equipment. But "understand" is perhaps too strong a word. A person who spends all his or her time operating 3D graphics software, no matter how sophisticated, is not likely to have the time and brainpower to master the hardware side of the equation as well. That's why it's so important to find real expertise in this area--people whose opinions you can rely on. The folks are XERT are of this rare breed, and I'm lucky to be able to turn to them and share their knowledge with you.
Note that we'll be talking only about the Windows NT picture--where all the action is. The global situation with Apple is very unsettled, as everyone is aware, and there is nothing like the range of choices and issues on the Macintosh that one faces when choosing from the exploding world of Windows 3D workstations.
When I asked Eric Wiesen at XERT to characterize the changes since our interview in Lesson 11 last June, his answer was immediate. Prices have been crashing. Radically.
It's convenient to think of workstations in three classes--low, middle and high. According to Eric, last year's low-end station ran about $5,000, the mid-level machine was around $12,000, and a top-of-the-line professional system was about $18,000. These numbers represented a revolutionary break from the prices of only a year before, but the price slide has only accelerated. Today (February 1998), XERT prices its low-end systems around $4,000, its mid-range systems around $6,500, and a first-class system runs $9,500. Thus prices have been cut nearly in half in the mid-to-upper range. Nor are we entirely comparing apples with apples, because the standard microprocessor today is a 300 MHz Pentium 2, as opposed to last year's less-powerful 200 MHz Pentium Pro.
Eric configures a $4,000 low-end system with dual 300 MHz Pentium 2's, a 17 inch monitor, 128 MB of SDRAM and a 4 GB ultra-wide SCSI Quantum Viking hard drive. Make no mistake. This is a powerful system for running 3D applications. The graphics display is a Permedia-based card. We'll take a complete look at the important issue of 3D display hardware later in this lesson.
The mid-range configuration at XERT today is also a dual 300 MHz Pentium 2 system, but with twice the memory--256 MB of SDRAM. The monitor size jumps up to 21 inch, a big improvement for 3D applications which typically divide the screen into four working quadrants and use a lot of space for menus and interface. The hard drive is now a high speed 4 GB Cheetah, with a 10,000 rpm spindle speed. Professional or large-scale 3D projects are fabulously taxing on system memory resources. With the fast access time of a high speed drive, swaps to virtual memory are much less noticeable and irritating, especially on video playback. The graphics system in this mid-range package is the powerful Oxygen 402 from Dynamic Pictures.
So what to you get at the $9,500 level?
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Created: February 2, 1998
Revised: February 2, 1998