|PC PRO UK- NOVEMBER 97|
HAWK 3D DX
graphics card manufacturers. The accelerated video card
market is more crowded, faster moving and has less
well-defined user needs than ever before, especially in
the ultra competitive middle market. What do people want?
A2D card? A3D card? Or a compromise between the two?
Will mainstream business users actually need a good 3D performer or will the demand continue to come from the games players?
All these questions have to be answered and solutions developed with little more than a crystal ball for guidance.
The Hawk 3D DX falls firmly in the compromise camp, the so-called 2D/3D market, offering good 2D and adequate 3D performance but not quite excelling in either area. However, as compromises go, its a good one, especially at a sub-£100 price for the 4Mb version reviewed here.
The silicon that powers the card is an evolution of the S3 VIRGE (video and rendering graphics engine) chipset, known as the VIRGE DX. It offers improved memory management, a faster RAMDAC and more extensive 3D features than its forbear.
The Hawk 3D is made by California Graphics, a small US manufacturer well known Stateside and elsewhere in Europe, but new to the UK. Other products in the companys range include Sunray motherboards and Trio 64/ET6000-based video cards.
Installation was simple and painless, with specially- tweaked drivers supplied along with a control utility called CGP Reality. This is launched as an application, rather than entwining itself around the Windows 95 Display Control Panel as Matrox, VideoLogic and other manufacturers choose to do. On launching, it pops an icon into the system tray, though its logic is rather odd. When its running, the panel isnt registered as an application so < Alt-Tab> wont switch to it; you have to minimise all open windows until its presence is revealed on the desktop. Clicking on the icon in the system tray prompts you to close the control panel, but wont bring either the applet or the Exit dialog box to the front. Of the ten buttons on the panel, five select preset resolutions, with shortcuts to DOS, Shutdown, the Zoom feature, Display control panel and Help.
The Zoom feature is bizarre it magnifies whatever is under the cursor in a tiny unsizable window. The control panel allows you to switch colour depth, resolution and screen refresh setting. Theres also a tab that allows you to associate particular resolutions and colour depths with individual apps. So, for example, you can work in 256 colours at 1,280 x 1,024 while in Excel, but switch to 1,024 x 768 in 24-bit mode for Photoshop work. Its an excellent idea and well implemented. Its also pleasing to be able to change colour depth without having to restart Windows, which Matrox enforces on its users.
The drivers were completely stable over a couple of weeks testing, but the Web site also carries regular updates. In general business use 2D performance is excellent, but then very few apps push anything to the limit. In the PC Pro benchmark tests, the Hawk 3D held its own well, factionally slower than the Matrox Millenium II, lagging behind in the graphics-intensive CorelDraw!, Photoshop and Excel scentific tests.
On the 3D side, the shopping list of features is good hardware support for bi- and trilinear filtering (interpolating and blending extra pixel groups in low-resolution textures), mipmapping (textures gain detail smoothly as you zoom in on them) and a host of other 3D goodies. For products with simple Direct 3D support, its certainly much faster than previous generation cards like those based on the S3 Trio 64 chipset. But if serious polygon shifting is your aim, then dedicated 3D processors like Power/VR or 3Dfx will serve the function much better.
For business users, the Hawk 3D makes good sense. The promised explosion of data visualisation, 3D spreadsheets and complex VRML applications has so far failed to materialise, and for the time being VIRGE DX can hold its own. Its not as fast as the Millenium II, but its cheaper.
Performance-wise, its also one of the better VIRGE DX cards. These factors will no doubt find it homes in quite a few machines over coming months.