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  1. Technology
February 8, 1988


By CBR Staff Writer

The introduction of the three-dimensional VAXstation 8000 (CI No 859) is a clear indication of DEC’s serious intentions to muscle into the workstation market if the price of the 2000 range and the price peformance of the 3000 haven’t convinced the customers yet. DEC reckons that by offering a top end three-dimensional machine for solids modelling, rotation, walk-through and animation it can now offer its customers a complete range of workstations from the bottom end of the market to the top. It is consistent with DEC’s strategy of offering networked VAXes and cost-effective workstations. In designing the architecture, DEC considered the fact that design engineers spend the majority of their time manipulating complex wireframe objects, and after manipulating the object into position concentrate on interactive solid shading. The key features of the 8000 are its ability to rotate an object in real time in three dimensions with anti aliasing, depth queuing, six-sided volume clipping and colour mixing at the line of intersection. It can render polygons in a number of positions at speeds of up to 10,000 polygons per second. The central VAX 8250 processor handles the compute intensive tasks while the three MicroVAXes serve as high performance input-output controllers. DEC reckons no-one has achieved the performance that it is able to provide with its 8000, which is aimed at specialised applications in the automative, aerospace and manufacturing industries, in computer animation, command and control, molecular modelling and fluid dynamics. The built-in real time anti-aliasing – that’s removing the jagged edge effect in a rotating line or curve as the line crosses pixel borders, and is achieved through the hardware in the graphics system as opposed to the more commonly-used software solution – gives the system greater performance. The high resolution on a 1,024 by 864 pixel raster screen is achieved by a processor which divides each pixel eight times to achieve the 8,200 by 6,900 resolution. The Evans & Sutherland Computer Corp graphics subsystem, which contains seven custom VLSI chips, performs over 400m arithmetic operations per second for graphics and display processing. Ultrix soon It includes a 10m 32-bit arithmetic operations-per-second – AOPS – structure processor relaying object data through the graph-ics system. It also has a 104m 32-bit AOPS manipulation processor, 40m 32-bit AOPS rendering processor, 263m AOPS pixel processor, 6Mb of frame buffer memory and 4Mb of display list memory. The graphics processors are linked via a graphics bus to a 1Mb MicroVAX II which controls the keyboard, mouse, eight-dial box and optional graphics tablet and links into the applications engine via the BI system bus. The applications engine comprises the 8250 processor with cache and 16Mb of memory plus an optional additional 16Mb, and two further MicroVAX IIs to handle input output. One, which supports a 159Mb disk (71 Mbyte optional), handles output, the other, which is attached to a 95Mb streaming cartridge tape and an Ethernet controller, handles input. The company says it is a couple of months way from offering X Window Version 11 under Ultrix and an Ultrix VAXstation 8000. The licence for this will include a full implementation of the Sun Microsystems Network File System, allowing network-wide directories for field and data sharing under Ultrix. The VMS licence will include support for Local Area VAXcluster software and Ethernet clustering by the end of the year. DECwindows will allow a common interface and application environment for VMS, Ultrix and MS-DOS users. It is not planning versions of X Window 11 for the other VAXstation products because it will be providing DECwindows, which is a superset of X Window, soon. DEC is also supporting VAX PHIGS, DEC’s version of the proposed standard programmer’s hierarchical graphics system three dimensional software library under VMS.

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