SAN JOSE, Calif. ATI Technologies Inc. has tapped Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. Ltd.'s 130-nm process employing the Black Diamond low-k dielectric for the latest upgrade of its graphics controllers.
The Radeon 9600XT hits speeds of 500 MHz and greater in the performance race for market share in PC graphics with archrival Nvidia Corp.
Analysts said Nvidia (Santa Clara, Calif.) is expected to respond with its own upgrades this fall, and that the new products are not likely to upset the current balance of power as the two companies continue to slug it out.
"It's clear that the two of them are competing at a level we haven't seen in years, but I wouldn't expect any significant changes in their competitive positions based on these products," said Dean McCarron, principal, Mercury Research (Scottsdale, Ariz).
ATI (Markham, Ontario) claims its new high-end Radeon 9800XT which uses a 256-bit memory interface delivers 16.5 billion operations/second compared to 5.4 billion ops/s for Nvidia's existing GeForceFX 5900 Ultra. The product will be available in October on boards that will sell at retail for $499.
In an effort to be conservative with its flagship products, the part is built in the same 150-nm TSMC process as the past generation device. Optimizations in the ASICs metal layers, the memory controller, board level design and an improved chip cooling system helped ATI nudge engine and memory speed of the part up about 15 percent to 412 and 730 MHz respectively.
In the more mainstream Radeon 9600XT, ATI experimented with TSMC's 130-nm process, featuring Applied Materials Inc.'s Black Diamond low-k dielectric, to deliver a part with engine and memory speed exceeding 500 and 600 MHz, respectively. That part will also go on sale in October at a board-level cost of $199.
Kalpesh Rathod, product manager for the 9600 series, would not say if the low-k work is paving the way for ATI's R400 core, its next-generation graphics chip expected in the spring. However, he did say ATI was very satisfied with the TSMC low-k process.
"With these parts, we believe we have the [Microsoft] DirectX 9.0 [graphics acceleration interface] architecture to run the new games coming out in a very high performance and predictable manner for game developers," said Rathod.
A spokesman for Nvidia said the company would not comment on its upcoming product plans.
Nvidia and ATI are generally holding their relative market positions. According to second quarter statistics from Mercury Research, Nvidia has 64 percent and ATI 28 percent of the standalone graphics chip business in desktop PCs. That's within one point of the standings a year earlier.
However, in the overall PC graphics market Intel is coming on strong with integrated graphics chip sets including its dual-channel DDR Springdale 865G Pentium 4 chip set launched in May, an 845G launched last year and a new low-end derivative in the works. Intel now leads in overall graphics with about 32 percent of the market compared to about 27 percent for Nvidia and 21 for ATI.
Nvidia lost market share to Intel and others in the broader category in the past year while ATI gained a percentage point due to its strong standing in the notebook graphics which is holding up against Intel's Centrino platform, McCarron said.
The heat will rise several more notches this spring when both ATI and Nvidia are expected to roll out their next-generation cores. "They will both want to be in production with these by April," said McCarron.