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Nvidia drives into pro 3D market with Quadro

First product of SGI tie-in

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Nvidia today unveiled its entry into the graphics workstation market, the Quadro, based on the company's 256-bit GeForce graphics chip. The part's name comes from the GeForce's QuadEngine set-up, transform, lighting and rendering technology, which, thanks to its support for OpenGL, is as applicable to professional graphics as it is to games. Not that serious 3D content creation has generally been a design goal for companies like Nvidia. The potential benefit to graphics professionals of boards from the major 3D companies has been clear for some time, but few vendors have moved to support the in-window rendering used by 3D applications as opposed to the full-screen rendering scheme preferred by games. Most 3D apps need to operate in what's essentially a 2D world -- the GUI of the system's host OS. Games don't, and since it's easier for a card to maintain its own frame buffers rather than share them with the OS and switch between the two as necessary, the more games-oriented graphics companies (3dfx, Nvidia and S3) have largely steered clear of the professional graphics markets, leaving it to the likes of 3D Labs and, to a lesser extent, ATI. Nvidia's new-found interest in the professional graphics market has clearly come about through its acquisition of SGI's graphics technology expertise. That said, given how quickly the latest games-oriented 3D technology becomes a low-margin commodity product, companies like Nvidia were always going to have to tackle related but higher margin markets like professional graphics sooner or later. Nvidia claims Quadro can generate up to 17 million triangles per second and fill up to 540 million pixels per second, which is a smidgen faster than the GeForce. Not surprisingly, the part will ship with Windows NT drivers (suitably enabled for Athlon and Pentium III), but it's interesting that Nvidia is choosing to ship Linux drivers instead of MacOS software. Given there's more professional 3D work being done on a Mac than Linux, this suggests Nvidia isn't quite as keen on supporting 3D professionals as it might like us to believe. ®

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