SAN FRANCISCO, June 15 (Reuters) - Advanced Micro Devices Inc’s ATI unit and NVIDIA Corp., the two big rivals in the graphics chip market, are rolling out new products that point to the rising stakes in the increasingly important industry.
NVIDIA (NVDA.O) announced late on Sunday its GTX 200 series graphics processing units, which include the GTX 260 and the GTX 280. The GPUs have some 240 processing cores — or electronic brains — compared with the two or four cores that PC microprocessors have today.
AMD AMD.N, for its part, is introducing three ranges of its latest graphics chip: the ATI Radeon HD 4850, ATI Radeon HD 4870, and a yet-to-be named ultra high-end chip that is code-named the R700. The three are aimed at the performance, enthusiast and ultra-enthusiast classes of video gamers and PC users.
Both the companies’ offerings are for desktop PCs.
AMD, Nvidia and Intel Corp (INTC.O), the world’s biggest computer chipmaker, now all stress the importance of visual computing: The ability of ever more powerful computer chips to deliver more lifelike video games, reformat home videos for playback on devices like smart phones, manipulate digital content like photographs and play high-def movies.
Intel has plans to produce its own so-called discrete graphics chip, which is separate from the microprocessor and used to render graphically intense images, but it won’t have its product out until 2009 or 2010, said Jon Peddie, president of market research firm Jon Peddie Research.
Nvidia and ATI, which is now known as the Graphics Products Group within AMD following the chipmaker’s 2006 acquisition of ATI, have long been bitter rivals, trading market-share leads every three to four years.
“Nvidia has been king of the hill, but now we’re at a juncture point,” Peddie said. “And it’s a juncture point because ATI has taken a totally different approach in the development of their latest chip and Nvidia has taken a really aggressive approach in the development of their chip.”
Nvidia is betting that by building the world’s biggest graphics chip with 1.4 billion transistors, it can continue to please the most demanding video game enthusiasts, then over time roll out that technology to different segments of the graphics market.
ATI — whose GTX 200 series chip has “significantly less than 1 billion transistors,” Peddie said — targets the mid-range of the market and then stacks up the chips in a single package to boost performance to the highest levels.
“This is one big step in getting us back in the gamer and enthusiast markets,” said Rick Bergman, who runs AMD’s graphics products group, in an interview, noting that the size of the ATI chip is less than half that of Nvidia’s.
“I think the industry is going to say, ‘Hey, these guys are back in the game,’” Bergman said. “You’re going to see a nice market share swing (back to ATI) in notebooks and desktops with these products.”
David Kirk, chief scientist for Nvidia, said in an interview that its GeForce GTX 200 chips incorporate complex physics calculations to realistically depict, for example, hailstones and windblown leaves in video games.
“We’ve gotten to a point where everything in the scene in a video game is moving,” Kirk said. “GPU computing is really going to start impacting consumer applications.”
The ATI chips also incorporate a more realistic portrayal of physics in video games, the company said.
Nvidia’s new chips are available now in retail stores. The three different versions of ATI’s chips go on sale in the next week, with the highest-end version available in about eight weeks, Nvidia said. (Reporting by Duncan Martell; Editing by Gary Hill)