Rude awakenings for the Mac brigade

As platform and software convergence speed up, will the Mac continue its graphics dominance? Sutherland Lyall thinks it’s time we re-examined the PC

SBHD: As platform and software convergence speed up, will the Mac continue its graphics dominance? Sutherland Lyall thinks it’s time we re-examined the PC

PC and Mac users have a lot of fun slagging off each others’ platforms. British graphics and magazine designers use Macs. Interior designers tend to use PC because it’s more or less the building industry standard platform. And product designers use both, and, if they can afford them, workstations such as those by Silicon Graphics. The repro houses are all set up for Macs for which there is a long history of a wide range (a lot longer and wider than for the PC) of good, serviceable software so there’s a nice self-perpetuating circle.

The other Mac advantage here is that Apple and the software houses are designer-aware. The PC clone-makers and most PC graphics software houses seem to be aware only of a wide corporate and SoHo general market.

But I know at least one biggish publishing house which uses PCs – and PageMaker – and the people in the studio don’t complain. And PCs are widely used abroad for graphics work.

Quark, Photoshop, FreeHand, Paintbox, Ray Dream and Illustrator are only a number of the familiar Mac apps now available on the PC – joining the home-grown leading PC graphics program Corel, now in its fifth incarnation. And of course there’s the expensive-but-wonderful 3D Studio which is a bit like Electric Image – a bit.

As to speed, 100MHz 486 chips are now commonplace and cheap, as are the various Intel Pentiums – for which, as far as I can find out, no mainstream apps have yet been coded to take advantage of the new architecture. Cyrix and AMD promise very fast chips some time this year – MHz for MHz at least as fast as the promised second generation PowerPCs. Memory-size and other things such as efficient coding affects real-life performance so that doesn’t necessarily mean a lot. Slow, and therefore unsuitable for graphics, is something PCs don’t have to be – despite Apple’s regular knocking copy that comes through the post.

All this may belong to the past because the current state of the art is platform as well as software convergence. Apple will soon be selling its DOS Compatibility card – a PC 486DX2-66 board for the 6100 only – with shared hard drive and CD-ROM access and, oddly, only a single SIMM slot for 486-exclusive memory – the 6100’s memory also being available to the PC board.

PC users, accustomed to incremental upgrade options, won’t like having to throw away SIMMs when they need to upgrade. Nor will they like paying Apple’s relatively megabuck prices for mice, keyboards and peripherals and the slower 80ns RAM speed.

Price for the Apple DOS board will be ̼470, which will include a 16-bit Soundblaster stereo output. This needs to be seen in the context of the street price for a PC user upgrading to the same spec of about ̼250 tops for the bare board, processor and sound card. You can buy complete working computers Рeverything included: monitors, hard drive and 4Mb of memory all for about ̼600. And the DX2-66 is reckoned to be the entry level for PC users. Hmmm, looks like some Apple marketing geek is hugging him/herself at so cleverly persuading Mac users that PCs are slow beasts.

The non-hype use of mixed platforms seems to be Animation Master from Vancouver-based Hash Enterprises. It’s a high-end 3D rendering and animating program which costs about $800 (ú500) and is genuinely crossplatform, from UNIX boxes through Silicon Graphics to Mac, Windows and others. It looks and works exactly the same on all of these and files from one platform can be read on another. It’s not polygon-based but patch-based. Patches are mathematically calculated non-polygonal surfaces which, among other things, you can smoothly merge with each other.

It will also apply textures on dynamic surfaces and allow intelligent movement of joints – like when you pick up the toe of an animated leg, the rest of the leg joints know how to behave. And there’s a lot more which you would expect to find only in very expensive packages. Magic, says a mate who has been looking at demos in the US and has just bought it. We’ll let you know.

The really keen bit is the hardware it best runs on. What you do, apparently, is buy the $1000 distributed rendering software and ten or so 486DX2-66 boards with as little as 4Mb of memory each (street price of about ̼260 each) plug them into a backplane or connect them via a Novell server and once hooked up to your PC (or 7100 or 8100) you have a rendering engine which is claimed to be as fast as a base level Silicon Graphics Onyx. Onyx prices start in the stratosphere РSG rendering software is a snip at about ̼20-30 grand each. But this whole set-up could cost less than ̼6000. So far this is all second-hand but we expect to be able to report on a working system soon.

Hash is at 2800 East Evergreen, Vancouver, Canada, WA 98661 and GO ANVENA on CompuServe. Sorry, that’s all we could get before going to press.

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