Karbosguide.com - Module 7b.4

The video card (continued)


The contents:

  • 3D graphics
  • 3D accelerated graphics cards
  • Intel Combination 2D/3D graphic chip sets
  • The fusion of graphics controller and motherboard chip sets?
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  • 3D graphics

    3D images, where you can move around in space, is a technology, which is expanding to the PC world. Ordinary PCs today are so powerful, that they can actually work with 3D environments. Ordinarily, our screen images (such as in Windows 95/98) are two-dimensional. But we know 3D effects from movies and from some computer games.

    Over the last few years, more and more 3D standards have arrived in the PC market. That includes:

    Top

    VRML

    A "language" which provides 3D space on the Internet.

    DirectX 3D API

    A Microsoft API which enables programming of 3D games for Windows 95/98. This API is especially used for flight simulators and racing games.

    OpenGL

    This is another API for 3D developers. OpenGL is needed for 3D-action games like Quake, Unreal etc.

    For games, like Quake and others, it is extremely important that the accelerator card has drivers for both DirectX and OpenGL.

    No office use

    The 3D technologies are of no consequence for ordinary office programs. Actually, the ordinary video cards are optimized to show 2D images. 2D cards can construct 3D design movements, but it will take time to bring the images to the screen. That is because of the very complex calculations needed. Therefore, hardware accelerators have been designed. They can give drastic improvements. Also, special functions are included in the video card chip, allowing it to calculate 3D movements lightning fast.

    But many 2D video controllers, like Matrox G200, G400, and G450, Intel i752, S3 Savage3D and ATI Radeon, also have 3D accelerators built in - some of them very powerfull.


    3D accelerated graphics cards

    All ordinary graphics cards can show 3D games. That is really no special trick. The problem is to present them smoothly and fast. If the PCs video card is made for 2D execution only, the CPU must do the entire workload of geometric transformations etc.! And that task can cause even the fastest CPU to walk with a limp.

    When we talk about accelerating 3D programs, we are primarily talking about games. The three-dimensional games like Forsaken, Battlezone and Quake are very demanding for the PC to execute. The users want to see the games with good details in a large screen window and with as many FPS (Frames Per Second) as possible. See a description of the geometric transformations which occur in a 3D environment. In recent years there has been an enormous development in 3D graphics cards. Let me briefly describe those here. Originally there were two types of graphics cards, which could be used for 3D acceleration:

  • Combination 2D/3D cards. These are ordinary graphics cards, which have been equipped with extra 3D power.

  • The pure 3D cards, which only work as accelerators.

    The pure 3D cards required that there also is an ordinary (2D) graphics card in the PC. In beginning the pure 3D card yielded the best acceleration, but there soon came good combination cards into the market.

    The real 3D card

    The 3Dfx company has set the standard for 3D execution with their Voodoo accelerator chips. The first version was launched in 1997 and it set the standard for 3D acceleration.

    The Voodoo2 accelerator chip came in 1998 at also became an enormous success. This card cannot display 2D-images, so it needed to be installed in combination with an ordinary graphics card.

    The Voodoo2 cards are special in that they do not use AGP. Many think that this is a big flaw in the architecture. At least this means that you cannot show 32 bit color depth (which is 24 bit colors with 8 additional bits for transparency). However, the difference between 24 bit and 32 bit colors is not always visible - according to experts ... Bundling two parallel Voodoo2 cards, each with 12 MB RAM, working in tandem (called SLI mode) in the same PC, yielded lots of power. That gave 3D games in a resolution of 1024X768 in 60 FPS.

    The Voodoo2 controller operated at 95 MHz and was produced using 0.35 micron technology. It was a chip set of three controllers (one pixel processor and two texture processors).

    The Voodoo3

    The later Voodoo3 controller operated at up to 183 MHz and was produced using 0.25 micron technology. It only supported AGP 2X, which gave a great disappointment within the press.

    The Voodoo3 RAMDAC operates at up to 350 MHz.


    Intel Combination 2D/3D graphic chip sets

    To relieve the CPU, you can add certain 3D accelerator characteristics to the chip on the graphics card. Many companies have done that in recent years; of them Intel are intersting.

    Intel's i740

    Back in 1997 Intel teamed up with a company called Real 3D to produce a new graphics chip. The i740 chip was constructed to give maximum performance within two demanding areas:

  • 3D scenes
  • Video playback

    The processor allows parallel data processing and gives precise pixel interpolation. Using AGP, an i740 based controller will be able to process very large amounts of data at a high speed.

    The i740 board works as a "normal" video card as well as 3D accelerator. However, it never became very popular and today it is outdated.

    i752

    The chip i752 (code named "Portola") is the new generation 2D/3D graphics controller from Intel. It should be 5 times better than the i740. It includes 2D graphics, 3D rendering and digital video acceleration. The i752 also features AGP 2X.

    According to Intel the power of the 752 set is found in:

    The 3D visual quality being enhanced using Intels new HyperPipelined 3D architecture. The Pixel Precise Engine includes new features as a 16 tap anisotropic filter, emboss bump mapping, texture compression, and texture compositing.

    Enhanced digital video streams from a wide variety of input sources: VCR, camcorder, TV tuner, MPEG-2, and Web video streams. Software DVD is accelerated through a high-precision hardware-based motion compensation algorithm.

    A 128-bit 2D engine and support for high-resolution flat panels.

    You find the 752 graphics controller integrated in the Intel chip set 810.

    i754

    The chip i754 (code named "Portola") is the next generation of this Graphics chipset, featuring AGP4X.

    A later high-end version is code named Capitola.


    The fusion of graphics controller and motherboard chip sets?

    With the more intense focus on 3D graphics performance and development, it has come to many changes in the industry the recent years.

  • In the summer 1999, chip manufacture S3 fusioned with card and multimedia manufacture Diamond.

  • The chip manufacture 3dfx fusioned with the card manufacture STB Systems. Hence no other company will have the Voodoo chips for card production.

    There seems to a trend in all this. The traditional business of graphics chips have to re-arrange to survive. Many vendors want to integrate the graphics controller with other processors on the motherboard.

    Perhaps it all started, when Intel made their first own graphics controller, the ill-faited i740. Here Intel made an attempt to move into a new productional area, and this must have caused some worry among the producers of graphics controllers. On the other hand, integration of a graphics controllers with the CPU or the chip set is a logical thought. This disadvantege is the reduced flexibility; you cannot choose the graphics controller yourself since it is a part of the motherboard. The advantage is of course the reduction in price.

    We have seen these actions supporting the trend:

  • Intel's focus on the chip sets i810 and i815 which include graphics engines.

  • In June 1999 Chip set producer SiS came with the 630 chip set for Celerons and the similar SiS540 for AMD K6-III. These sets hold 2D/3D graphics engines as well as a lot of other features - all in just one chip.

  • On April 11, 2000 the company S3 announced that they had agreed to transfer its PC graphics chip business to the successfull Taiwanese chip set producer VIA

  • ATI's has also announced, that they are devoloping full chip sets integrated with their own graphics controllers. We have not seen them. ATI and Matrox seems to survive in the market by delivering high-end graphic chip sets without getting involved with the motherboard manufactures. NVidia lives them same way serving the market for game PCs.


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    To learn more

    Read about video basics in Module 7a

    Read about sound cards in Module 7c

    Read about digital sound and music in Module 7d

    Read about FPU work in 3D graphics

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