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Thursday, April 26, 2001
ATI "Reader Interview" On Present & Future
1:24 PM | Michael Eilers | Comment on this story

PC technology site Anandtech has posted a lengthy article which features reader-submitted questions answered by Dave Orton, president and COO of ATI Technologies. While the long and in-depth article contains much PC-specific information, Orton's comments about the present and future of ATI and their products are an interesting read. Among the many things revealed in the article is the news that ATI's answer to NVIDIA's GeForce 3 chip, code-named the R-200, may not be available until Q4 2001; while October 1st doesn't seem that far away, NVIDIA has a chance to grab considerable high-end marketshare in the interim. One of the possible reasons for the delay is that ATI has never seen $400 as a viable price point for a product, and most of their current shipping line is well under $200, so they may be working on developing a product to undersell NVIDIA's offerings.

The Mac platform is mentioned as one of the areas where ATI has a dominant hold on both existing and shipping products. ATIs work on the Nintendo GameCube's "Flipper" chip (the console was code-named Dolphin) is also discussed, another move which puts them squarely at odds with NVIDIA's NV-20 chip powering Microsoft's X-Box. Orton also reveals that ATI is stepping up both their driver release schedule and their product development schedules, with two full teams working on future products.

Another area which inspires some discussion is the fact that graphics hardware and its abilities is now far outstripping the actual game developer's abilities to take advantage of it -- for instance, hardware transform and lighting, a card technology that has existed for two years, is only now being used aggressively in next-generation engines. Here is ATI's response to this dilemma:

With NVIDIA in the Xbox, the Mac, and having a serious hold of the retail and OEM PC market, what is ATI doing to ensure game developers are coding their products to work well with the ATI cards?

A: ATI is in the Nintendo Gamecube, which will begin shipping this summer. We are in the lion's share of shipping Mac products, and for the third year running ATI continues to be the world's leading producer of stand-alone graphics chips (with 40% market share according to the latest Mercury Research data).  Combined with the success and great reviews our RADEON™ products have been experiencing, there are plenty of compelling reasons for game developers to invest their support behind ATI's products. 

One of the difficulties that developers face is that the design cycle for cutting edge games is in the 18-24 month range, while graphics companies are releasing new versions of their products every 6-12 months.  ATI is investing more to develop features for the greatest gaming visuals while requiring minimum effort for game developers to implement, as well as maintaining easy backwards compatibility with older hardware.  The response we've received from developers has been great so far, and you'll start seeing the results in games later this year.

Orton also weighs in on what the "next big thing" in PC graphics will be:
I think there will be a significant shift away from concentrating on frame rate, as we have been for the past several years, and instead focusing on visual quality and realism.  This is not to say that frame rate won't be important, but consider this:  If you think about what makes for good special effects in a movie today, does frame rate even cross your mind?  The reason it doesn't is that it's taken for granted that the image will move smoothly, and instead you focus on how cool the images look.  With the performance and fill rate of todays graphics chips soaring to astronomical levels, it will be the ability to display the most detailed and realistic images that becomes the key differentiator.  Of course, this will make it a whole lot more difficult to write meaningful benchmarks...
It seems too fantastic to even dream of a time when FPS just plain won't matter, but that indeed may be on the horizon. Orton also addresses competition with rival NVIDIA, targeted areas of the graphics card market and many other aspects of ATI's future, so for those of you with an interest in the technical side of 3D hardware this should prove an interesting read.

Reader Interview: ATI's President & COO Dave Orton

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Mac Games News for Wednesday, April 25, 2001

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