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ATI Technologies’ bridge that enables PCI Express graphics processors to work on AGP 8x platforms could be ready over the next couple of months, according to ATI’s executives, who recently hold the company’s conference call. The claim means that ATI’s latest potentially competitive RADEON X700- and RADEON X800-series graphics processors mat enter AGP market shortly.

Rialto to Come Out in Two Months

“In general, we think the native solution is the more effective way to go – both in AGP and PCI Express. […] I think you’ll see it [PCI Express-to-AGP bridge] over the next couple of months,” said ATI Technologies Chief Executive Officer David Orton during the recent conference call with financial analysts.

ATI has code-named Rialto chip in its roadmaps. The Rialto is expected to allow ATI’s PCI Express visual processing units to work on AGP 8x platforms. The code-named Rialto chip is expected to be produced at one of ATI’s partners among contract chipmakers in the fourth quarter of the year, according to certain sources, but it is unclear when the actual products featuring the chip are expected to hit the shelves of the stores.

New personal computers with PCI Express x16 bus for graphics cannot work with AGP 8x graphics cards. Older systems with AGP bus also cannot handle PCI Express x16 add-in boards. For makers of graphics chips it means they either have to ship two product lineups, which may be inefficient from economic standpoint, or develop a special bridge chip that would allow to use the same GPUs to power different graphics cards.

Currently ATI remains tight-lipped over details concerning the Rialto chip specifications. It is not completely clear whether the Rialto will be able to work in both directions, e.g. to transform PCI Express signals into AGP signals and vice versa. According to Mr. Orton, the primary focus of the PCI Express-to-AGP bridge is to adopt PCI Express VPUs on AGP 8x platforms, not otherwise, but designer’s focus and actual implementation can differ. NVIDIA’s BR02 bridge chip can work in two modes, allowing graphics chip designer NVIDIA Corp.’s GeForce FX processors that were designed for AGP systems to plug into newer PCI Express-enabled computers and the latest GeForce 6600 graphics processors to operate within AGP 8x systems.

PCI Express 0.11 Chips to Emerge on AGP Boards

A chip that turns PCI Express signals to AGP signals would allow ATI’s PCI Express VPUs, such as RADEON X300, RADEON X700, RADEON X800 or newer to work in AGP systems. If the chip is able to transform AGP signals into PCI Express signals, ATI may also be able to address PCI Express market with AGP 8x chips, however, in the past ATI denounced such move of its opponent NVIDIA and may not go this route and also confirmed its commitment to “native” solutions.

AGP graphics cards powered by ATI’s RADEON X800 or RADEON X800 XL graphics processors can capture a significant part of retail AGP 8x market, as both graphics chips are made using cost-effective 110nm process technology and feature pretty competitive pricing in PCI Express segment, at the same time offering higher or inline performance compared to NVIDIA’s GeForce 6800 GT and GeForce 6800 offerings.

ATI Technologies also said it was expecting very positive Spring PCI Express refresh among large PC makers in the coming months. Currently ATI and ATI’s add-in-card partners commands nearly 100% of OEM orders for PCI Express graphics cards, according to the company.

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