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ATI Shares Resources with HyperMemory

Graphics chipmaker ATI unveiled a new technology it said lets its visual chips share system memory for graphics processing.

HyperMemory uses the high-speed, bi-directional data-transfer capabilities of PCI Express to store and access graphics data, the company said. The technique is loosely based on the original shared aspects of Accelerated Graphics Port (AGP) technology, which introduced a dedicated point-to-point channel, so that the graphics controller could directly access the main memory.

However, previous interconnect standards were not fast enough for real-time graphics applications, so graphics cards have since shipped with up to 256 megabytes of dedicated graphics memory to store textures and rendering data required by the graphics processor.

ATI said HyperMemory increases the performance of system bus data transfers, making accessing system memory faster and keeping the overall system cost down.

"HyperMemory uses intelligent memory allocation algorithms to optimize the use of available local memory and ensure critical components are placed in fast local memory when required," ATI said in its statement. "Optimal assignment of data to local or system storage is determined dynamically."

The company also said its new HyperMemory technology lets its board partners make graphics cards with less on-board memory and instead use system memory to handle the graphics storage requirements. ATI said graphics cards featuring its HyperMemory technology would be announced later this year.

ATI's timing is good considering PCI Express is the next step, offering transfer rates of 4.0 gigabytes per second over a x16 PCI Express lane for graphics controllers. Intel and AMD are expected to have their respective ranges of PCI Express-compatible products available next year. Already, high-end workstation users and gaming programmers are looking at PCI Express as a way to reduce the load on their Pentium and Athlon systems.

However, Jon Peddie, president of analyst firm Jon Peddie Research and Tech Watch publisher, said the physical and electrical characteristics are completely different from AGP, which may signify some slow adoption rates for HyperMemory right out of the gate.

"What that means is users will not be able to move the graphics add-in board (AIB) from their previous workstation to the new one if it has PCI Express in it," Peddie said in a recent newsletter. "Some workstations will be built using what's known as a bridge. The bridge will convert the PCI Express signals into AGP8X signals and such systems will actually have two AIB slots, but only one will be usable at a time."