Octane Render (GPU based rendering)

The Belgian/New Zealand team at Refractive Software created the "Octane Render" system. This is a GPU (graphics card) based rendering system, using physically based algorithms for realistic and fast lighting calculation. It relies on CUDA support, which requires a fairly recent nVidia card to be installed in your computer. It is not-free, but cross-platform and the current beta-license is reasonably cheap (€99).

There are already plugins for Maya, 3ds Max and Blender and support for SketchUp and Cinema4D is in preparation. You can load Wavefront *.obj models or RenderMan *.rib scenes.

I've tried using it on my Macbook Pro. You need to first install the nVidia CUDA drivers and CUDA toolkit and then the Octane software. I actually did it in reverse order, but managed to get it running. Then you can load one of the example scenes or try to load one of your own models (e.g. export an OBJ file from your modeling software).

As it did seem to work, the speed was not that good and this is due to the hardware in the Macbook Pro. It has two GPUs: a modest integrate Geforce 9400M one and a better 9600M GT (more memory, faster CPU, more cores). You can even enable Octane to use both, but the truth is that they are only modest (if not slow) compared to current GPU cards. This is one of those cases where a Desktop PC would allow you to buy a €100 card and insert it. Not with laptops. The Device manager allows you to see the specs of the GPU and even add all of the available cards in your system to the GPU pool (alas, the whole system froze when I activated both GPU cards).

So it worked more or less for me, but not with the advantages that you would use such an application for.