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To be able to describe more precisely the behavior of a real-time 3-D ultrasound system with either a dense array or various sparse designs, experimental data from a 2-D fully connected array prototype with 50/spl times/50 elements have been collected. The data have been processed off line to form synthetic aperture 3-D volume images. Simulated and experimental results are compared and show good correlation. The performance of the best sparse designs, all thinned to more than 50%, offer performances comparable to a dense array.