Articles: Graphics

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It’s been a long time since ATI Technologies, the major developer and manufacturer of graphics processors, lowered its gaze to the bottom of the market where entry-level DirectX 9 solutions dwell. In fact, this market sector has been wholly left for NVIDIA with its GeForce FX 5200. ATI could only offer the value RADEON 9200 GPU, which traces its origin to the RADEON 8500 and only supports DirectX 8.1. Considering that there have appeared a lot of DirectX 9 games, the GeForce 5200 has become the best-selling DirectX 9 compatible in the value category, and NVIDIA practically has had this market all for itself.

ATI and its card-manufacturing partners have realized their fault and introduced inexpensive RV350/360-based graphics cards, from the RADEON 9600 SE with a cut-down memory bus to the RADEON 9550 that works at very low clock rates. But these are all artificially cheapened solutions, created by stripping the RADEON 9600 PRO/XT of its technical characteristics, while there have still been no independent chip in ATI’s lineup targeted at this market segment.

Developing the GPU series for the PCI Express platform, however, the company marked its past errors and created a chip especially for the low-end market sector. It is the X300 processor, the first GPU manufactured with 0.11-micron tech process.

We shouldn’t be surprised at the first try of a new advanced manufacturing technology in an initially budget solution since the company did the same thing in the past, introducing its 0.13-micron tech process in the mainstream RV350 graphics core first, whereas more complex top-end processors R300 and R350/360 were made with 0.15-micron process. It is only with the RADEON X800 series that ATI started using its 0.13-micron tech process in powerful GPUs. We might call this discreetness – it’s logical to polish the new technology off on simpler chips, mastering all the related intricacies, getting rid of all defects and boosting the chip yield. After that the new tech process is ready for complex and expensive chips. Moreover, if the tech process were first employed for making complex chips, their cost would only grow up.

When developing the X300, ATI’s engineers made a good use of their existing architecture, so the technical characteristics of the new chip are almost identical to those of the X600 as well as of the RADEON 9600 PRO/XT – these GPUs all have four pixel pipelines and two geometry-processing units each, but work at different frequencies. Like the X600, the X300 GPU got native support of the PCI Express bus – so far, only products from ATI Technologies can boast this.

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