Price When Reviewed: £1,899 plus VAT
PURE from ART (Advanced Rendering Technology) is a full-length PCI card designed to accelerate 3D graphics. Unlike conventional graphics cards, PURE doesn’t affect OpenGL display graphics, but speeds up raytraced production-quality renders. This is the latest version of the package to feature the latest interface software called RenderPipe, which supports Alias Maya, Discreet 3DS Max, and RenderMan. The card is a spin-off product from the companies flagship device, the RenderDrive, a rackmountable, standalone ‘rendering appliance’ featuring an array of up to 36 ART-designed raytracing processors. The AR350 chip is the second generation of processor designed by ART – and the PURE card features eight of these chips on a single full-length PCI card that slots into your workstation. Hardware and software installation is simple, and all the drivers are supplied on CD. For the RenderPipe installation, you simply need to copy the plug-ins to the correct directory in your 3D program. In use, the software is just as simple. 3DS Max users need to configure the paths so that Max can find the RenderPipe plug-in, then you need to change the default renderer to RenderPipe and choose PURE from the list of devices. More than one card can be used to render a single frame, either locally or across a network. This makes it easy to maximize your investment. Because the RenderDrive is so expensive, a PURE card is a way for the less financially endowed 3D artist to enjoy accelerated raytrace-rendering on the cheap. Cheap being relative in this case, since a single PURE card will still set you back two and a half grand. However, what you get for your money is a significant speed boost for raytrace-rendered images. But, just like in life, things are never that simple. Let’s look at the broader picture. What RenderDrive and PURE offer is speed – there is no question of that – but their speed becomes massively significant when you load the odds in their favour, for example by saturating the scene with raytracing. As the test shows, the less raytracing in your scene, the less benefit using PURE will offer. It can’t handle shadowmaps, for example – so to get soft shadows, it has to raytrace them. Most 3D artists will be aware of the speed penalties that result in enabling area shadows in their 3D program, and so tend to avoid using them most of the time. PURE accelerates raytracing, so why not use it? The problem is in evaluating the benefits of rendering with PURE (or RenderDrive) over software rendering. If you render the same scene with the same settings using PURE and the built-in software renderer, then the PURE card is going to show decent speed gains. However give the scene to a talented 3D artist to optimize, and the difference may become less impressive – and the aesthetic and creative benefits they might bring complicate the comparison even more.