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Graphics Cards for gamimg vs CAD-CAM workstation

Posted on 2005-03-23
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I see there is such a thing as "workstation graphics cards for 3d graphics".  FireGL is an example.  I'd like to understand what the difference is between those and game cards like ATI X800 / X850.  In other words, if I were trying to build a PC workstation for 3d CAD-CAM / general use, what advantage does the FireGL type card have? What's different about it?  Maybe better software compatability with graphics apps?  The graphics demands of CAD-CAM software doesn't seem to be that big a deal anymore, given the power of decent modern game cards.  At work I use a 64 mb FireGL 8800 card for Catia V5 (in a 3 yr old machine).  The graphics is fine.  It just doesn't strike me as demanding compared to modern games, but I suppose the tasks are different.  Does it still hold true that a workstation card is better for that type of graphics?  I have an ATI 9600 AIW card in a machine that I have run CATIA on, and it seems fine, as far as quality and smoothness of rotation.  The spaceball quits working sometimes and I have to restart the app.  I'm not sure if that's from the graphics card or what.

For high end graphics apps, they have cards that are "certified". (tested and approved).  This tends to be expensive hardware.  I suspect that cheaper ones might work fine in some cases, but just haven't been officially tested.  And they won't support it, like trying to help you find the best driver to use, if you have problems with a non-approved card.  The support is pretty poor in any case in my opinion, you're pretty much on your own.

Do cards like ATI X8xx support the same graphics as a FireGL?

Things have changed.  To run CAD-CAM apps like Catia used to require a $25,000 unix workstation with a very expensive graphics card just to get smooth 3d solid rotations.  Now they have versions of the software that will apparently run fine (maybe?) on a pretty cheap PC.  So I think the idea that you have to spend thousands for a workstation graphics card is out of date.  Of course the mega-companies involved in distributing the expensive software would also like to sell you their expensive hardware, so they are not helpful in advising which "cheap PC" would work best.  They'd like you to believe you need one of theirs.
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Question by:mark876543
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Callandor earned 2000 total points
ID: 13611713
Here's the secret: the core of a Radeon 9800 Pro is the same as that of a FireGL, and some people are modding their cards to work like the more expensive counterpart:

http://forums.rojakpot.com/showthread.php?t=12487
http://www.rage3d.com/board/archive/index.php?t-33729799.html
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by:mark876543
ID: 13614498
Interesting.  The first link seems to recommend hard modding, instead of using RivaTuner.  I assume RivaTuner is some software for tweaking graphics cards?  Is that how you OC a graphics card?

The second link talks only about RivaTuner and says it isn't supported with the latest unified drivers.  Maybe older drivers can still be found.

What's it do to gaming performance if you mod a 9800 to a FireGL?  Same?  Worse?  It sounds like there is a lot of improvement to high-powered graphics apps like Maya, going to FireGL drivers.  Still don't know why that is.

Those surface-mount resistors look tiny!  It must be hard to unsolder both ends at once to move it over, I wonder what the trick is, two tiny soldering irons and three hands?
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by:Callandor
ID: 13614725
RivaTuner is the software to use to alter clocks on graphics cards.  I couldn't tell you the impact on modding, since I haven't done it myself or followed what others have done.  I think Dynamic1 actually modded one, so if he or someone who has done it jumps in, you should ask them.  It certainly isn't for those with stone hands to try.
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Author Comment

by:mark876543
ID: 13614880
The guides get out of date fast.  One current FireGL card seems to be the FireGL X3-256 ($1099).  It uses DDR3 memory.  I wonder which ATI AGP desktop card corresponds to this model, that could maybe be modded into it.  X800?   9800 Pro?

They have a FireGL driver download for X3/X2/.... Series "Unified Driver v8.103.2   I suppose that would work with a hard mod?  Hopefull;y a modder will jump in.

The hard mod sounds better to me.  Now need to find a guide that's updated to include this model card.
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by:billmercer
ID: 13615352
There are a variety of programs available to tweak the performance of video cards, including overclocking, turning features on and off, and so forth. Many of the changes RivaTuner makes are just simple registry tweaks.
There are published hacks for converting a GEForce into a Quadro as well.

As far as CAD is concerned, there's just not much difference between consumer and professional graphics hardware these days (aside from obvious things like amount of memory and clock speeds).  The difference is more in the drivers and firmware than the hardware, and often it's a matter of tuning for one purpose versus another.

Whether to spend the extra money for a "pro" card is probably more a business decision than a technical one. If you spend tens of thousands on software licenses, spending a thousand on a workstation-grade card isn't that significant, and if you look at it as insurance against support problems or contract liability, the extra money may have been well spent.

Re the hardware mod, the resistor change from the first link is basically a way to trick the driver software into thinking the device is a different model, allowing installation of the alternate BIOS and drivers.
Part of the trick is having the right tools, including good heat sinks and a decent solder-sucker (desoldering tool). But unless you're experienced with soldering, or have boatloads of spare cards lying around, I would not recommend trying that one at home. Needless to say, your warranty is of course void as soon as you attempt something like this.


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Author Comment

by:mark876543
ID: 13616162
From playing with xbox mobos I have a little teeny iron, solder sucker, and a real good magnifier light, so I feel pretty brave about tackling something like that.  But I've seen a lot of people take the wrong type soldering iron and make a mess of their hardware.  So I agree with what you're saying.

The solder-sucker I have has a round tip with a hole in it.  Works ok on pcb components that have pins that are going into a hole thru the board.  Those surface mount resisors would be something new however.  I don't think it's quite the right tool for it.  Would be scary getting it off.
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LVL 19

Expert Comment

by:billmercer
ID: 13618444
I've got one of the ones where you pump up a vacuum and then point it at the solder and push the button and it works like a mini vacuum cleaner.  
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