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NVIDIA Launches New Graphics Family

NVIDIA said its graphics chips might not have the power to recreate the quality of HDTV or a Hollywood movie just yet, but they are getting closer all the time.

The Santa Clara-based graphics chip maker Tuesday took the wraps off of its next generation GeForce 6800 models of graphics processing units or GPU .

The chip family was introduced at a launch event in San Francisco with a flagship GeForce 6800 Ultra ($499) and less powerful GeForce 6800 ($299). Both are designed for high-performance desktop computers such as an enterprise workstation or something that a hardcore gaming enthusiast might have.

The chips are manufactured using IBM's 0.13-micron process technology and are currently shipping to leading add-in-card partners, OEMs, system builders, and game developers.

The company said retail graphics boards based on the new chips should start showing up as separate components in the next 45-days. Already, HP, NEC and Gateway have pledged support for the GPU in their high-end systems.

NVIDIA, which regularly jousts with Markham, Ontario-based ATI for leadership in the GPU marketplace, is in need of a boost. In addition to their usual battles for desktop and notebook platforms, workstation, set-top boxes and digital televisions, the rivals also compete in the gaming console marketplace.

Recently, ATI inked a deal with Microsoft , supplanting NVIDIA as the graphics chipmaker that powers the Microsoft's Xbox. Production delays have hindered sales of NVIDIA's GeForce 5800 series of chips.

Calling it the "biggest generation-to-generation performance leap" in company history, NVIDIA said the GeForce 6800 series includes a 16-pipe architecture that delivers more than twice that of current NVIDIA GPUs.

New features include GDDR3 memory, compatibility with the new Pixel Shader 3.0 programming model, Microsoft DirectX 9.0 Shader Model 3.0 features set and an on-chip video processing engine, which allows for high-definition video and DVD playback.

"For every pixel you see on the screen, we can throw in 8 operations at a 60th of a second so that it is smooth like a movie on a screen," Derek Perez NVIDIA director of product communications told internetnews.com. "We've got a ways to go to replicate what can be done in the movies like the shading in "A Bug's Life" or "Monster's INC." Where we are close is in emulating HDTV in terms of video processing."

The chips each come with 222 million transistors, which Perez said is like having the power of three Pentium 4s processing the same problem. The new GeForce chips also have support for OpenEXR, which is an open standard for filtering in graphics as well as support for MPEG encode and decode, as well as support for Windows Media Video 9, The GPU's loops and branches are also programmable and are able to write video code to the chip.

The company also updated its ForceWare software to give developers a running start to develop for the GeForce 6800. The software features custom game profiles, HDTV output, overclocking, and multi-display support.

The company has also adopted a new icon to help market the chips. Replacing the "Dawn" and "Dusk" fairies is a scantily clothed mermaid named "Nalu" whose hair underwater consists of some 300 million polygons.