On Monday, Metabyte Inc. is expected to announce a technology that will allow two graphics chips mounted on its PC add-on cards to run in parallel, reducing the need to buy next-generation products.
According to the company, Metabyte has developed a technology similar to that employed by 3Dfx Interactive Inc., which allows its own 3D graphics chips to run in parallel, dividing up the rendering tasks between the two. However, Metabyte's technology reportedly will allow the same chips from virtually any chip manufacturer to do the same thing.
"I can publicly confirm that we have the technology in house, and we have it working," said Kerry Philpott, national sales manager at Fremont, Calif.-based Metabyte.
As defined by 3Dfx, the scan-line interface (SLI) technique allows its two Voodoo 2 chips to process every other line displayed upon the PC screen. According to analysts, Metabyte's technique divides up the screen into horizontal regions which can be resized according to the processing demands on each chip.
Metabyte has crafted custom software drivers used to power each chip, allowing cards designed to plug into a PCI or Accelerated Graphics Port (AGP) slot to work together, effectively doubling the number of 3D polygons and pixels each chip could normally process. The software reportedly redirects the rendering commands, passed along the AGP or PCI bus, to the appropriate chip.
The Metabyte technology should also prove to be a rare, high-profile opportunity for a graphics card manufacturer to add a unique level of innovation to a graphics chip, instead of merely serving as a vehicle for its distribution. In addition, it could allow OEMs to buy a pair of Metabyte add-on cards using cheaper, older chips that together offer top-level performance, analysts said.
"If this is implemented successfully with [Nvidia Corp.'s] Riva TNT and [S3 Inc.'s] Savage4, it's still going to be all relative," as far as the performance of each graphics architecture is concerned, said Bob McQuillan, PC add-on card analyst for market research firm Jon Peddie Associates, Tiburon, Calif.
"But this is going to force people to compare whether a chip works best as a single-board product...or whether you can get the same performance from a different chip using two boards," McQuillan added.
Analysts predicted that the innovations would be eagerly welcomed by the small cadre of dedicated PC game players who purchase the highest-performing chips. Metabyte's technology may also add another level of complexity to measuring 3D graphics performance using benchmarks, and to arguments over those benchmarks' merits.
Instead, they added, those arguments may become more focused upon the quality of images those chips produce, and away from simply which chip is the fastest at any given time.
"PC OEMs are more concerned about the black-and-white world of benchmarks, while gamers are more concerned with how [the game] looks on the screen, and what the chip's actual performance is," McQuillan said.
Although it was not known whether Metabyte intends to license the technology, observers speculated that Metabyte's innovation would be duplicated by other companies. A spokeswoman for card maker Creative Labs Inc., Milpitas, Calif. declined to comment. But Rick Myllenbeck, director of public relations for Creative, said, "I think we're working on something similar in our labs, but I'm not sure."
Likewise, a spokeswoman for card maker Diamond Multimedia Inc., Fremont, Calif., also declined to comment on the company's research efforts.