TAIPEI, Taiwan -- Fresh off its acquisition of the PC graphics division of Trident Microsystems Inc. (see June 12 story), Taiwan startup Extreme Graphics Innovation (XGI) is expected to field two lines of processors this fall that will inaugurate its pursuit of the mainstream and high-end markets.
XGI next month will launch a desktop PC graphics chip that company president Chris Lin promises will be a "totally new architecture" with significant improvements over the Xabre line of chips developed by its parent, chip set maker Silicon Integrated Systems Corp. (SiS). Soon after, XGI says it will roll the next generation of Trident's notebook graphics chip into production.
The launches will mark the beginning of a major brand-building campaign for XGI chips, something that SiS failed to do with the Xabre line.
As an independent company, XGI's new mission is to focus more on discrete processors instead of considering the constraints of a core that must also go into one of SiS' low-cost chip sets, XGI's executives said.
For the past few months, XGI has been coordinating the work of two graphics teams, one from Trident and the other from SiS. The company plans on maintaining separate cores from each team through the fall, but by the end of the year Lin will unify the architectures and use process technology and feature sets to address different market segments.
Right out of the gate, XGI will run afoul of the graphics market leaders, Nvidia Corp. and ATI Technologies Inc. One key difference between them is that XGI's Xabre targeted entry-level and low-end mainstream add-in cards, with XGI trying to leverage a low-cost structure to slowly build market share.
But XGI now has its sights set on the mainstream and high-end markets -- ATI and Nvidia turf -- in the belief it has both the cost structure and the expertise to field a chip that can challenge those companies' midrange and high-performance chips. In the future, XGI will also try to challenge the duo's top-of-the-line products.
"For a graphics vendor, if you just totally focus on the entry level it is not easy to build your brand name," Lin said. "So in order to get back into being a real graphics vendor for discrete parts, we need to offer a full product line to the market, including high end, mainstream and entry level."
Building a brand will be tricky. Few companies in Taiwan have done it effectively. Some might call it simplistic, but Lin believes XGI will make its name by delivering performance. In reality, the company will likely win over graphics card vendors by delivering performance at the right-cheaper-price.
Lin acknowledged this point, especially when facing resource-rich North American market leaders. Still, he noted that gross margins in the graphics business are shrinking and, like executives at many Taiwanese companies, he sees opportunity in a maturing market. "Cost structure is very important, so a team in Taiwan should be more competitive," he said.
XGI will likely also get favorable wafer pricing from one of its key investors, the Taiwanese foundry United Microelectronics Corp.
At the moment, XGI is tight-lipped about the performance specs of its desktop graphics chip series, code-named XG40, XG41 and XG42. It will launch the chips in September, and is holding back the details until then.
The notebook chips will be based on Trident's XP4 core, which has been used in PCs from Toshiba Corp. and Fujitsu Ltd. as well as in Taiwanese products. The core's code name at XGI is XP5, and its speed will be 200-MHz or 230-MHz, with a 128-bit memory interface to either 32-, 64- or 128-Mbytes of 250-MHz double-data-rate memory. It supports Microsoft Corp.'s DirectX 8.1. The chip should roll into production during the fourth quarter on UMC's 0.13-micron process, the company said.
During the next year, XGI expects to aggressively expand its engineering team. It currently employs about 250 people, but Lin said he wants to grow that by at least 50 percent.
"As I said, we are serious about this market," said Lin.