Product News – ATI PCX FireGL Range

ATI launches a new range of PCI Express FireGL workstation graphics cards.

While I was driving to the ATI FireGL launch I passed a Ferrari 250 GTO coming the other way. Now, it’s not often that you see a car worth around £5-million on the open road, but then I was 100 yards away from the Silverstone race circuit at the time.

The reason that I was driving past Silverstone is that the Jordan F1 team has chosen ATI FireGL cards as the platform on which to design its cars. With this in mind ATI chose the Jordan factory as the location to launch the latest range of FireGL products.

Unlike the Radeon range of consumer orientated graphics cards, the FireGL cards are aimed at the professional graphics workstation market. In the workstation arena compatibility and stability are the most important factors, as opposed to the obsession with frame rates seen in the consumer market. The FireGL cards are certified for use with all the major workstation applications such as AutoCAD, CATIA, 3ds max, LightWave 3D and Maya.

The new range based on PCI Express technology covers every inch of the workstation market. The entry level card, the FireGL V3100, sports 128MB of RAM coupled with a 128bit memory interface, two vertex pipelines and four pixel pipelines, and output via DVI or D-SUB. Despite its relatively low spec, the V3100 is still fully certified and comes in at an estimated price of $249.

The next card up is the FireGL V3200 which shares the same basic specification as the V3100, but sports dual DVI outputs instead of one D-SUB and also supports Stereo 3D.

Things start to get interesting with the FireGL V5100 which still has 128MB of RAM but uses a 256bit memory interface. The vertex pipelines jump up to six and the pixel pipelines rise to 12. Like the V3200, the V5100 has dual DVI outputs and Stereo 3D support.

But it’s the FireGL V7100 that really interested me, and that’s not just because I’m a sucker for top of the range products. The memory leaps up to 256MB with a 256bit interface, while the six vertex pipelines are complemented by 16 pixel pipelines. Of course you get dual DVI and Stereo 3D as well, but it’s the Dual Link that really sets the V7100 apart from the rest of the cards. Dual Link allows the V7100 to be used with a very high resolution LCD display like the ViewSonic 2290b (a full review of this screen will be up on the site tomorrow).

Since the FireGL V7100 has one Dual Link and one Single Link, a screen like the ViewSonic 2290b is split into thirds, with the Dual Link controlling two thirds and the Single Link taking care of the remaining third. Previously, you needed a Matrox Parhelia card to drive screens like this, which split the display into quarters in order to create the image.

However, it’s worth noting that you wouldn’t want to use a 3,840 x 2,400 resolution screen for your main desktop, so you really need dual display support. Unfortunately with all three signals needed to drive a screen like this, there’s no way to drive a second monitor. Of course the obvious solution would be a PCI solution just for your Windows desktop on a second display, with the FireGL V7100 driving the high resolution monitor. I asked Dinesh Sharma (Director of Workstation Products ATI) if there were any plans to implement this kind of solution and was told that “It was a good idea”. Hopefully this means that it’s something that will be addressed in the near future.

Finally, the new mobile FireGL chipset was also announced. The Mobility FireGL V3200 has 128MB of RAM and sports similar specs to its desktop namesake.

ATI announced HP, IBM, Dell, NEC and Fujitsu-Siemens as launch partners for the new range of FireGL products, so expect to see FireGL equipped workstations from all of them soon.

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