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NVIDIA, ATI Release Dueling Graphics Chips

Two of the largest graphics chipmakers squared off in Silicon Valley this week, each toting its new processors as the next best thing to reality gaming.

At the Game Developers Conference (GDC) 2003 in San Jose, Calif., rivals NVIDIA and ATI Technologies both debuted PC graphics chips (GPU) for the mainstream market. Santa Clara-based NVIDIA released its GeForce FX series -- 5200 and 5600, while Markham, Ontario-based ATI countered with its 9800, 9600 and 9200 RADEON processors.

GPUs from both companies highlight faster speeds and 3D effects that lift the burden from the CPU so it can free up cycles that can be used for other jobs.

After several months of product delays, NVIDIA estimates it will ship 1.5 million of its chips by the end of April. The processors should start appearing in graphics cards about the same time through NVIDIA's add-in-card partners, including Abit Computer, AOpen, ASUSTeK, BFG Technologies, Chaintech, Creative, eVGA.com, Gainward, Leadtek Research, MSI, Palit Microsystems, Pine XFX and PNY Technologies.

The company, best known for powering Microsoft's Xbox, said it is using the "cinematic" FX-series chips to eventually phase out its current GeForce 4 Ti 4200 and 4600 products.

The GeForce FX 5200 is designed for entry-level systems. Cards featuring the 5200 chip are expected to retail from about $99 to $129. The 5600-based products, made more for the mid-level systems, should retail between $149 and $199. Nvidia said it is planning a version of the 5600 with 256 megabytes of memory. The company released its high-end GeForce FX 5800 in November 2002. System cards based on that chip currently go for $399.

The company also released updated versions of its Quadro FX the company's professional workstation graphics processor. The GPU have 128-bit floating-point capabilities with an eight pipeline, programmable graphics engine. NVIDIA also highlighted its Cg high level shading language (HLSL), which the company calls "C for graphics."

"With this new generation of NVIDIA hardware, software tools and the Cg programming language, developers have all they need to take us on an incredible journey of cinematic gaming," said NVIDIA executive vice president of marketing Dan Vivoli.

Not to be outdone, ATI launched three of its own visual processors for desktop PCs. The company's board partners, including Connect3D, FIC, Gigabyte, Hercules, Hightech, PowerColor, Sapphire, Tyan, Visiontek, Wistron and YUAN, are expected to announce and ship products based on RADEON 9800, RADEON 9600 and RADEON 9200 technologies starting this month.

Gateway, Fujitsu Siemens and NEC are all announcing systems powered by the new RADEON boards.

The high-end RADEON 9800 features a 256-bit memory interface and eight powerful pixel pipelines programmable shader engines, full speed, full floating-point precision and support for the latest Microsoft DirectX 9.0 and OpenGL feature sets. The 9600 GPU offers similar features and is the first of ATI's products to be developed using 130-nanometer production process.

The value-priced RADEON 9200 supports the AGP 8X and Microsoft DirectX 8.1 standards, and streaming video de-blocking capabilities.

"Last year we took the performance crown in the high-end. This year we deliver performance to the whole market," said ATI Senior Vice President Rick Bergman. "By rapidly driving our high-end technologies into the mainstream, we bring a compelling game experience to users across the board."

Cards based on ATI's RADEON 9000 series usually sell between $129 and $399. The company did not release its prices for the new GPUs.