Number Nine #9GXi LITE. (Evaluation)
by Tom Benford
Number Nine's #9GXi LITE is the most technically sophisticated graphics accelerator board reviewed here; it's intended for the serious power user who needs the advanced capabilities it delivers, particularly for CAD applications. With a price tag that starts at $995 for the basic configuration, it's not for the casual or budget-conscious PC user. The review unit had a RAM option installed, adding to the price of the board.
Innovative is perhaps the best word for an overall description of the #9GXi LITE. At the heart of this half-length board is the Texas Instruments TI 34020 graphics coprocessor chip. This special graphics processing unit (GPU) is optimized for graphics functions: At 10 MIPS (Millions of Instructions Per Second), it's faster than the CPU of the IBM PC, which runs at 9 MIPS. Because the GPU frees the CPU to do its work, your system can move right along.
The graphics processor is supported by several other processors and support chips, including the TI 40 MFLOP (Math Floating Logical Operations Processor) and 128K static RAM. The board supports up to 4MB of DRAM for offscreen bitmaps and instruction memory as well as up to 2MB of high-speed VRAM. Two proprietary Number Nine ASICs (Application Specific Integrated Circuits) and flash BIOS memory contribute to the overall speed of the board and make its amazing zoom, pan, scroll, and virtual screen capabilities possible.
In addition to being a high-speed graphics coprocessor, the #9GXi LITE has its own on-board Super VGA chip, so it can be used as the sole video board in a PC. One of the features I particularly like about the #9GXi LITE is its VGA pass-through connector, which permits you to use your own favorite VGA card instead of the on-board VGA, so your current video board doesn't have to become obsolete. This feature is especially appealing to me, since my standard video board is an expensive (about $1,000) Truevision Video VGA with Overlay.
By using the included VGA loop-through ribbon cable to connect the #9GXi LITE to my Truevision board, I have the best of both worlds: the dazzling speed and unparalleled image-manipulation capabilities of the #9GXi LITE and the Super VGA resolution and recordable video output of my Truevision.
The unique features of the #9GXi LITE don't stop there, however. In addition to the 15-pin D connector, a multicolored status LED is located on the mounting bracket. This LED indicates flash memory loading as well as proper operational condition of the board.
A monitor cable provided with the #9GXi LITE facilities connecting the card to monitors with four discrete BNC jacks (a type of shielded cable connector). You also get a VGA terminator plug that works with the pass-through connector when it's used. Software comes on both 3 1/2-inch and 5 1/4-inch disks. The user's manual is excellent.
Without a doubt, the video-manipulation features of the #9GXi LITE make it unique among this month's boards. For example, the board supports a superfast hardware zoom feature that increases or decreases screen magnification by two, four, or eight times; it takes but a single keystroke to activate the zoom and only 1/60 second for the screen to regenerate at the desired zoom level. Virtual screen panning and scrolling are also possible, since the board supports resolutions up to 2048 x 1024. In these resolutions, the screen becomes a movable "viewport" on a much larger picture that you can see by moving the cursor beyond the screen edge to scroll.
AutoCAD users will appreciate the included Power9 software features, which present a menu of display options including pans and zooms, system fonts, definable macros, and much more.
For any power user with high-level graphic application demands, the #9GXi LITE is the card of choice.