By Joseph Moran
Probably best known as a purveyor of high-end, 3D graphics workstations that have multiple processors, run NT, and set you back five figures, Intergraph isn't the company you think of when you think of consumer fun. But Intergraph has decided to move into the consumer market. And it has chosen to begin the move with a 3D gaming board, the $199 Reactor. We tested the beta versions of the board and software drivers.
Intergraph chose the much-heralded (and long-awaited) Vérité 1000 processor from Rendition to power the Reactor. The Vérité chip provides multiple functions on a single slab of silicon. So in addition to the de rigueur 2D graphics and motion-video acceleration, the Vérité has a 3D pixel engine and an internal programmable RISC processor that performs triangle setup, which off-loads that chore from the host CPU.
In addition, every Reactor board comes with 4MB of EDO DRAM, which is particularly nice considering the Reactor's low price. Unlike many other 4MB 3D-enabled boards we've looked at recently, the Reactor's memory isn't divided into 2MB for the frame buffer and 2MB for textures. Instead, you can dynamically allocate the entire 4MB, letting the Reactor achieve 16-bit color depths at 1,280-by-1,024 resolution, rather than merely at 1,024 by 768 (a few hundred kilobytes are reserved for running the Vérit é's micro-code). Although the Reactor's memory is sufficient for running 24-bit color at 1,024 by 768, Intergraph doesn't recommend running 24-bit color at a resolution higher than 800 by 600. High-resolution, high-color-depth modes require faster DACs (170 MHz or higher, compared with the Reactor's leisurely 135 MHz), and some chip optimization, to display at acceptable refresh rates.
Because the Reactor replaces your current 2D graphics accelerator, we compared its performance in this area with that of the S3 Trio 64V+ in our testbed, a Dell Dimension P200 with a 200-MHz Pentium and 16MB of RAM. Overall, on 2D chores, the Reactor performed essentially the same as the Dell's native graphics chip. While their Winstone 32 scores were equivalent, the Reactor scored about 12% higher than the Dell on Graphics WinMark 96 (see the benchmark chart).
To gauge the Reactor's 3D performance, we ran the Direct3D Test contained on the DirectX 2 SDK, which measures polygon throughput. We configured the test to display 16-bit Gouraud-shaded, texture-mapped polygons, with Z-buffering, perspective correcting, and bilinear filtering enabled. The Reactor returned a score of 157,730 polygons per second, which is about 29% slower than the Diamond Monster 3D's score. The Reactor's score was close to twice that of the S3 Trio 64V+ (see benchmark chart), illustrating the importance of the 3D acceleration hardware the Trio 64V+ lacks.
The Reactor card comes with four titles: IndyCar II and the shareware version of Quake, which are DOS-based and take advantage of the Vérité hardware directly, using Rendition's Speedy 3D API; and Monster Truck Madness and Hellbender, both from Microsoft, which use DirectDraw and Direct3D to access Vérité's 3D acceleration features. All of the games are attractive, and all showed a marked improvement in their quality and frame rate when configured to use hardware acceleration.
It's hard to find much to dislike about the Intergraph Reactor. For $199, you get excellent 2D and 3D performance, 4MB of EDO graphics memory, and the added bonus of lower CPU usage when running 3D applications, thanks to the Reactor's geometry engine. The Reactor also comes with an entertaining software bundle (who can refuse Quake?). Best of all, now that Direct3D has arrived, the prospect of a cornucopia of new games draws even closer. Now if you'll excuse us, we've got some games to play.
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