New from Elsa in its expanding Gloria range
of professional graphics cards is the DCC (aimed at the digital content creation market). The card is derived from the nVidia Quadro DCC processor. In fact, it’s the same card – just with an Elsa badge.
The card is a standard half-size unit featuring 64MB DDR RAM. This fast, double data-rate RAM is cooled using two large green heatsinks, while the processor itself is thermally regulated by a fan/heatsink combination. Installed in our machine’s AGP slot (the machine is a relatively slow 700MHz Athlon with 512MB of RAM) the fan comes rather close to the neighbouring PCI slot – not a problem for most PCI cards, but some units feature raised components or fixings on their backs that may collide with the fan. Because the card is aimed at content-creation professionals, there are both VGA and DVI connectors at the back allowing you to hook up to the latest LCD displays.
The Quadro DCC has some of the more advanced features that 3D graphics professionals require compared to cheaper, gamer-oriented GeForce3 cards
– and more importantly, it’s qualified to run with professional applications such as Discreet 3DS Max, Alias|Wavefront Maya and the like, which the GeForce3 cards are not.
The Quadro DCC also features the nFinite FX engine, a fully programmable effects processor that can be used to deliver impressive real-time effects such as volumetric fog, proper bump mapping, and reflections. Don’t get too excited, though: you’ll need to program these features yourself – fine if you’re working in games production, but for most other 3D animators, the nFinite FX is next to useless.
The Elsa OpenGL drivers have always been good, though there have been some display problems with Gloria cards’ overlay planes in Alias|Wavefront Maya, especially when using Artisan. Fortunately, we didn’t encounter this problem with the new DCC card. The drivers are well written and seem stable, and for Discreet 3DS Max users, there’s a special set
of Maxtreme drivers to allow the card to perform optimally with that program.
Overall speed was good in real-world tests. Manipulation of high-resolution objects in LightWave – always a good test – showed the card to be a solid performer. We were able to reach polygon counts of around 20,000, and keep interaction in real-time in Modeler. Things started become becoming stodgy at around 45,000 polygons, and at 60,000, usability becomes slightly impaired. The point is that you can get work done at the extremes of polygon density using the DCC. In layout, things were better, where objects of 50,000+ polygons can be manipulated using bones at decent speeds.
The Gloria DCC scores well on two counts: reliability and speed. It isn’t the fastest card you can get, but its price/performance ratio makes it a good buy – plus if you shop around, you’ll find it offered at quite a bit less than the £800 that Elsa suggest.