Striving to escape the intense pricing enviornment of the integrated graphics processor (IGP) market, ATI Technologies Inc. is offering chipsets with some functions typically found only in discrete parts.
ATI this week is introducing two value-end chipsets for the entry-level desktop and notebook PC game market. The Markham, Ontario, company claims the integrated graphics chipsets are the first to support Microsoft Corp.'s DirectX 8.1 programmable pixel shader. ATI hopes to differentiate its new chipsets by including the pixel shader, which usually is provided only with discrete processors.
One chipset is designed with ATI's Radeon 9100 graphics core, for low to midrange performance on desktop PCs, and the other is armed with the company's Mobility Radeon 9100 IGP for notebooks. The chipsets have AGP 8X to support an add-in external graphics card.
ATI last week tapped Arrow Electronics Inc., Melville, N.Y., to distribute its Radeon and Mobility graphics chips throughout the Americas, to allow more embedded systems designers to access its product line.
As a new integrated graphics chipset vendor of little more than a year, ATI is trying to find a niche to set itself apart from rivals in the price-competitive IGP market, said Dean McCarron, an analyst at Mercury Research, Scottsdale, Ariz.
Jon Peddie of Jon Peddie Research, Tiburon, Calif., said game enthusiasts seeking a lower-cost platform to play games on the PC could provide a boost to the IGP market. "The increased popularity of value PC systems has created a void where regular and casual gamers want to play the latest games but don't have the graphics technology to do so," he said.
Integrated graphics sales can use a jump start. McCarron said the integrated graphics chipset market is reaching saturation. IGP units have leveled off in recent years and are expected to account for 55% of all chipset sales this year, compared with 49% in 2002 and 47% in 2001, he said.
Some ATI competitors believe higher-performance graphics isn't a major criterion for IGP buyers, who usually accept a lower level of quality for minimal graphics needs. The rivals said that if they see any demand for increased IGP performance, they will be quick to add the pixel-shader function to their chipsets.
ATI will be battling Intel Corp., which licensed the chipset interface to ATI. Intel, Santa Clara, Calif., unveiled its integrated graphics 865G chipset last month, but without the DirectX 8.1 feature. An Intel spokesman said there has been no customer demand for the higher-performance IGP feature.
The new Radeon 9100 IGP and Mobility Radeon 9100 IGP will be available only to support Intel processors, said Niles Burbank, ATI's group product manager.
"At an appropriate time, we will introduce a similar IGP chipset for AMD platforms," Burbank said. That would likely come after the new 64-bit Athlon 64 processor evolves into lower-priced versions, he added. ATI's previous integrated graphics chipset using its Radeon 7000 core supported both Intel and AMD processors.
Including DirectX 8.1 in its IGP chipsets increases the memory requirement, but the company said the dual-channel DDR400 SDRAM, 128-bit bus memory is able to handle the extra performance.
The new chipsets will be priced competitively with other IGP products on the market that offer lower-performance graphics, Burbank said. "This is not a premium-priced product."
The chipsets will be available in production quantities this summer, according to the company. Motherboard manufacturers expected to offer products with the new chipsets include Arima, ASUS, Compal, FIC, Gigabyte, Lite-On, MSI, PC Partner, Quanta, Sapphire, Shuttle, and Uniwill.
The new ATI chipsets will be made by foundry Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. Ltd., using a 0.15-micron process.