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WINDOWS Magazine, May 1997
Read the Story | Editor Mike Elgan on 3D | Discuss 3D | Related Links |
May Issue | Go to Cover Story Online Front Page


Glossary Of 3-D Terms
Stop Playing Games and Get Down to Business
Have More Fun with Graphics
When Only 'Too Fast' Is Fast Enough
I Want My Web 3-D
Port in the 3-D Storm
3D on NT
The Shape of 3-D to Come
3-D Picture Is Clear for Blur
Ex-Toaster App Cooks for Game Maker
Architect Puts Clients Into Plans

WINDOWS Magazine
May 1997, Cover Story

May 1997 Table of Contents

Port in the 3-D Storm
Board-level technology boosts 3-D graphics speed.

-- by Jim Forbes

Those animated 3-D graphics you've drooled over may no longer be the private domain of the high-end workstation. A new technology from Intel called the Accelerated Graphics Port (AGP) could blast arcade-quality graphics through your computer's bus at lightning speeds for a surprisingly reasonable price.

AGP comprises a connector specification, a new video standard and a new way of handling graphics on your computer's bus. Its 133MHz speed represents a quantum increase over the current 33MHz PCI standard. Initially, it will be offered only on computers that use one of two forthcoming Intel processors. The two Pentium II processors, developed under the code name Klamath, will have clock speeds of 233MHz and 266MHz. Systems based on these processors with AGP support should ship later this year. Since AGP requires special core logic and will use a different edge connector from the one today's PCI cards use, it's unlikely the technology will be offered as an upgrade for existing desktop computers equipped with P54C or P55C Pentium processors (including Intel's new 233MHz P55C product), industry sources report.

Socket or Slot

System vendors will offer AGP in two configurations, according to Intel. Some will use add-in cards and others will socket AGP, along with the requisite new video controllers, directly on the motherboard.

Intel's motivation for developing AGP is threefold. First, AGP will improve the performance of virtually all graphics-intensive applications. Intel sources claim improvements could be as great as 30 percent, but graphics board suppliers, including Diamond Multimedia, are more conservative, estimating an increase of about 15 to 20 percent. Because the technology is scalable, the more video memory and system memory your new computer has, the better its performance. Second, AGP is designed for 3-D rendering; Intel believes this technology is closely tied to the future of desktop computing. Finally, AGP is a cornerstone for future Intel products, including a silicon-based, 3-D rendering engine the company is jointly developing with aero-defense giant Lockheed Martin.

AGP is a physical data-transfer pipe that connects the video controller back to memory. It allows your system to dedicate unused system memory and bandwidth to processing graphics. The AGP bus comes directly out of the core logic chipset. Intel says it has up to 10 times the memory bandwidth of the traditional PCI bus. Although AGP operates at a clock speed of only 66MHz, it sustains most of its operations on the two edges of the clock cycles, where it transfers 4 bytes (32 bits) of data at twice that speed, up to 133MHz.

Most system and graphics card suppliers are convinced AGP could herald the age of a new class of computers. Though high-end users and graphics professionals will be the first to try the new technology, mainstream computer users will join in by next year.

A typical AGP-enabled system will include a Pentium Pro MMX processor, a 3GB hard drive, an AGP graphics card with 2MB or 4MB of VRAM and 1024x768 video as its native resolution, 32MB of SDRAM, up to 1MB of level 2 cache and Microsoft's Windows 97 or NT 5.0 operating system.

Speed at Any Cost?

AGP's cost will depend on the type of system you use. If you buy a new 233MHz or 266MHz Klamath-equipped desktop with a motherboard from Intel, AGP will be built in. According to a survey of vendors readying AGP-enabled systems, prices will range from roughly $2,900 for an entry-level system to $4,000 for one that's fully configured. If you purchase a system with an empty AGP connector and decide to move to this technology, you'll need an appropriate add-in card. Vendors such as Diamond Multimedia Systems predict the cards, initially equipped with either 2MB or 4MB of VRAM, will cost less than $250.

The demand for AGP cards should be strong. In fact, card suppliers expect to sell their initial products almost exclusively to computer manufacturers, most of whom are now jockeying to form relationships with AGP card suppliers. By the time AGP goes mainstream, Intel could be ready to launch a faster version of the specification and will have introduced its 3-D rendering engine.

If history is any indication, Intel's rendering engine may take a slower route to success. In years past, the microprocessor manufacturer failed several times in its attempts to popularize a graphics coprocessor product line called the i860. Today, Intel is but one of about 30 entries in the 3-D silicon market.

The company may be convinced AGP could help drive mainstream acceptance of 3-D, but few 3-D applications exist outside of computer-aided drafting programs and games.

James Bell is an Albany, NY-based freelance writer. Lou Grinzo is the author of Zen of Windows 95 Programming (Coriolis Group, 1995). Contact them care of the editor at the addresses listed on page 20.

3-D Graphics Cards

Creative Labs 3D Blaster PCI

Platforms: 95

Price: $199.99

Creative Labs

800-998-5227, 408-428-6600

Circle #878

ELsa Gloria Series

Platforms: 95, NT

Price: $999 to $2,499


800-272-ELSA, 408-935-0350

Circle #879

Intergraph Intense 3D 100

Platform: 95

Price: $169

Intergraph Computer Systems

800-763-0242, 205-730-5441

Circle #880

Intergraph Intense 3D Pro 1000

Platforms: NT

Price: $2,499 (additional 4MB of texture memory, $425)

Intergraph Computer Systems

800-763-0242, 205-730-5441

Circle #881

Leadtek WinFast Series

Platforms: 95, NT

Price: $499 to $1,795

Leadtek Research

510-490-8076, fax 510-490-7759

Circle #882

MicroStep AGC-GL Series

Platforms: 95, NT

Price: $800 to $2,900


818-964-5048, fax 818-964-6278

Circle #883

Number Nine Imagine 128

Series 2 8MB

Platforms: 95, NT

Price: $699

Number Nine Visual Technology

800-GET-NINE, 617-674-0009

Circle #884

Omnicomp Graphics 3Demon

Platforms: 95, NT

Price: $1,195 to $2,995

Omnicomp Graphics Corp.

800-995-OMNI, 713-464-2990

Circle #885

Orchid Technology Righteous 3D

Platforms: 95

Price: $199

Orchid Technology

800-577-0977, 510-651-2300

Circle #886

Symmetric GLyder Series

Platforms: NT

Price: Glyder/TX $1,995; Glyder/MP $3,495


214-931-5999, fax 214-931-7028

Circle #887

VideoLogic Apocalypse 3D

Platforms: 95

Price: $199


800-578-5644, 415-875-0606

Circle #888

3D on NT

Windows Magazine, May 1997, page 198.

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[ Go to May 1997 Table of Contents ]