Thursday, January 31st, 2013 Posted by Jim Thacker

Imagination ships Caustic Series2 raytracing boards
Imagination Technologies’ new Caustic Series2 boards on display at Autodesk University 2012. The dedicated raytracing acceleration boards began shipping today. (Warning: handheld footage.)

Updated 7 July 2014: Since this story was posted, the R2100 and R2500 cards have been discontinued.

Imagination Technologies has begun shipping its Caustic Series2 raytracing boards: an intriguing set of dedicated render-acceleration cards that fit into Windows PCs via a standard PCI interface.

The Series2 boards accelerate any application based on Imagination’s OpenRL raytracing API – at the minute, Imagination’s own Caustic Visualizer for Maya or Robert McNeel & Associates’ Neon add-on for Rhino.

A 3ds Max version of Caustic Visualizer is expected to enter beta later this year.

From semi-interactive to real-time
The hardware further accelerates what are already designed as highly optimised progressive raytraced viewports: in Imagination’s words, turning them from “semi-interactive [to] real-time”.

According to Alex Kelley, director of business development for the company’s Caustic Professional division: “The Caustic [cards] will accelerate look development for artists and designers to a level where they can view final render results while still developing their models.

Tony King-Smith, Imagination’s VP for marketing added: “Raytraced rendering is now no longer limited to non-real-time applications and server farms. By enabling totally interactive, fully raytraced viewport environments, Caustic Series2 is a truly disruptive innovation … and revolutionizes the workflow of creative professionals.”

Priced like a mid-range professional GPU
So far, two Series2 boards have been released: the entry-level R2100 and the high-end R2500, which is designed for dual-processor workstations.

At $795 and $1,495, the cards are positioned at a similar price point to high-end professional GPUs, although they have a lot more on-board memory for the money: 4GB and 16GB, respectively.

They’re also both single-slot bus-powered cards – there’s no need for an additional PCIe power connector – with a comparatively low power draw: up to 30W for the R2100; up to 65W for the R2500.

At the minute, anyone buying either card from Caustic’s online store gets Caustic Visualizer for Maya bundled for free. The plugin normally costs $299.

Industry feedback
We’ve spoken to both Imagination Technologies and some of the beta testers, and the performance stats look good. We hope to post a longer article on Monday.

Until then, you can find technical specs for the two cards via the links below. It’s worth checking out the press release, which includes enthusiastic quotes from such major players in the industry as Autodesk, HP and Dell.

Read more about the Caustic Series2 boards on the Caustic Professional website

Read Imagination’s official news release