AMD Pushes ‘Cinema 2.0’ With Superfast Chip

SAN FRANCISCO – Hail, hail the GPU. At least that seems to be rallying cry of competitors ATI (owned by AMD) and nVidia, two of the leading purveyors of graphics processors. At a media event here today, AMD previewed its next generation Radeon 4000 chip capable of up to a teraflop performance.

“This chip can execute a trillion floating point operations per second or the same as a teraflop computer. This is a phenomenal leap for a chip that only measures a centimeter on a side,” said Rick Bergman, senior vice president of AMD’s graphics products group.

He said the Radeon 4000 will be available next week in PC add-in cards, branded Radeon HD, for about $200. Desktop and notebook computer makers will eventually incorporate the chip as well.

Want better gaming and graphics? Bergman claimed the Radeon 4000 offers more performance that all previous game consoles combined. He also said it has 100 times the compute capability of the IBM Deep Blue supercomputer that beat world chess champion Garry Kasparov back in 1997.

AMD (NYSE: AMD) spent the better part of a 90-minute presentation describing its vision of “Cinema 2.0,” an ecosystem of developers and companies that hold the promise of delivering movie-quality realism with the interactivity of today’s most popular videogames. Some demos included video games with near lifelike animations in science fiction-themed scenarios.

“Experts claim we are about seven years away from getting to the visual quality of movies” on the desktop, said Bergman. “We believe those estimates are off by seven years.”

“Sin City” director Robert Rodriguez said of the Cinema 2.0 effort, “The industry’s been dying for this.” In pre-taped comments, Rodriguez said moviegoers are no longer satisfied with passive observation. “They want to be part of the process …. It’s almost like a Roman mob, they want more.”

He said movie studios are excited by the potential of this new generation of graphics technology which will enable more realistic, interactive video games to be released the same time or shortly thereafter the theatrical release.

The core of the issue

Analyst Jon Peddie said AMD is in a horse race with nVidia, which announced a new family of GeForce GTX 200 graphics processors today, slated for availability starting tomorrow. nVidia said the new chips deliver fifty percent more gaming performance over the company’s previous GeForce 8800 Ultra GPU through a whopping 240 enhanced processor cores that can generate resolutions as high as 2560 x 1600.

AMD did not make all the technical specs of the Radeon 4000 available in advance of next week’s release, though one source briefed said it will offer twice the number of cores of nVidia.

AMD Cinema 2.0
AMD said its latest Radeon 4000 chips will bring
movie-quality graphics to interactive games.

Both companies are taking a very different approach to advanced graphics than Intel (NASDAQ:INTC). At its Research Day event last week, Intel’s CTO Justin Rattner said that long term Intel views the traditional approach of raster graphics driven the GPU as “problematic.”

He said Intel thinks a new architecture based on aggressive ‘many core’ processors “will deliver a vastly better visual chip.”

Rattner also said the first example will be Intel’s forthcoming Larrabee architecture a many-core design for visual computing he said will be previewed at the Siggraph conference in August.

“ATI (AMD) and nVidia are the leaders in raster graphics and they see Intel’s view as ridiculous,” Jon Peddie, principal analyst at Jon Peddie Research, told “Intel wants to push the CPU and x86 processors as the solution.”

Peddie notes that the Larrabee, due out next year, will have 24 to 48 cores, a fraction of the number offered by dedicated graphics processors from AMD and nVidia. “You can’t expect a general-purpose processor to compete with a specialized one, it’s absurd,” said Peddie.

Still, he conceded, “Intel is the 800 pound gorilla” in the chip market and they will get a share of the graphics market “just for showing up.”

Last week, Rattner noted Intel “has nothing against GPUs. We probably build more of them than anyone else.” But he suggested Larrabee and other many-core processors are the chip giant’s longer term direction.

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