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Sun claims triumph over SGI in graphics workstations

Sun Microsystems says it has overtaken SGI, the former Silicon Graphics Inc., in its workstation graphics.

Sun Microsystems says it has overtaken SGI, the former Silicon Graphics Inc., in its workstation graphics. An SGI spokesman says Sun has done so in one respect by compromising it workstations' other graphic capabilities.

David Witzel, an analyst at D.H. Brown Associates, says Sun has surpassed SGI but is shooting at too easy a target. The leader in workstation graphics is Hewlett-Packard, he said.

"Sun's numbers are good numbers," said Witzel in response to the announcement by Sun that it now offers 64 megabytes of texture memory on its Expert3D graphics accelerator board. The $3,495 board is an option on Sun's Ultra 60 and Ultra 80 workstations. The SGI Octane workstation, in comparison, offers 4 MB of texture memory, said Subra Mohan, product line manager for Sun's high-end graphics.

Texture memory is random access memory on a graphics accelerator board, devoted to storing the textures of an image. By allowing texture information to be painted into an image by the board's CPU, drawing data out of its own memory rather than out of the system's main memory, textures can be filled in more quickly, said Witzel.

Sun's Ultra 60 and 80 workstations fill in textures three times as fast SGI's Octane workstations, said Mohan.

"That's true," said Witzel, "but it's not a bold statement of performance. SGI has seriously lagged the market with its mid-tier Octane workstation line for two years."

Sun's Expert3D achieved the texture loading performance by shortchanging its geometry drawing - curves, angles and geometric figures - capability, asserted Patrice Lagrange, product line manager for SGI's Irix workstation line, including Octane.

"Sun developed Expert3D using a Peripheral Component Interconnect card. It's an improvement in texture performance, but they had to compromise the geometry performance," he said.

Sun has finally addressed the texture memory and texture acceleration shortcoming in its graphics accelerator boards, Witzel noted, but HP has been offering its Visualize Fx4 and Fx6 graphics accelerators for three years with texture memory included.

Sun's Expert3D graphics accelerators also supports high resolution, 1,280 by 1,024 pixels per square inch graphics on a 24-inch monitor. Its predecessor, the Elite3D, offered 16 Mbytes of texture memory and support for high-resolution graphics on 19 and 21-inch monitors, Mohan said.

Sun, H-P and SGI all produce graphics accelerator boards based on SGI's Open Graphics Language (OpenGL), which has become a standard among Unix workstation vendors.