Tuesday

Tuesday 23/07/02Meanwhile, back in the other world of farms, fantasies and loud music, Hollywood mainstay effects house Industrial Light And Magic -- still one of my favourite company names -- is throwing away its SGI Risc/Unix workstations in favour of Pentium 4 machines.

Tuesday 23/07/02
Meanwhile, back in the other world of farms, fantasies and loud music, Hollywood mainstay effects house Industrial Light And Magic -- still one of my favourite company names -- is throwing away its SGI Risc/Unix workstations in favour of Pentium 4 machines. It's also using a thousand AMD Athlon processors for its render farm, the network of dedicated computers that takes the limited quality working sketch for each frame of computerised animation and turns it into sumptuous eye candy.

In terms of price and performance, the company says, you can't beat standard kit these days. It's not the first time that a large consumer market has created products that are objectively finer than any specialist option: the engineering in a £199 VCR has been a match for most laboratory gear for decades, and the radio circuitry in my £120 GPS receiver is miraculously good. But it's bad news for people who work in the small-volume, high-margin world of top of the range engineering.

With computer graphics, the tide may turn again. Nvidia has said its Cg language will let companies move rendering away from farms and onto the desktop, as it'll couple dedicated graphics circuitry to standard workstation software. Intriguingly, that dedicated chippery will only be cost-effective if it also has a huge mass market -- if it's commonplace in home PCs, in other words. Combine that scenario with some of the grid computing software that lets you share time on your PC with large projects, and we may yet see the latest blockbuster movie being built in our own front rooms.

No sneaky editing in naughty stuff, now!

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