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While PCI Express is rapidly replacing AGP in the new computers from makers like Dell and HP, the majority of end-users still uses older machines with previous-gen interconnection and even wants more powerful graphics cards as the time goes.

ATI’s R481, R430 Chips Attack AGP 8x Market

ATI Technologies, the world’s top developer of visual processing units, on Monday unveiled its long-awaited RADEON X850 XT and RADEON X800 XL products for computers that feature AGP 8x, targeting the so-called upgrade market. The new graphics cards hardly bring any innovations in terms of technology compared to the company’s previous-generation RADEON X800 lineup, but enable wider choice for customers looking for high-end Powered by ATI graphics cards.

The RADEON X850 is a native AGP 8x visual processor family code-named R481 featuring the RADEON X850 XT and other models. The R481 is produced using 0.13 micron process technology with low-k dielectrics and can operate at up to 540MHz clock-speed. The RADEON X800 XL originally known as R430 is a native PCI Express visual processing unit (VPU) that uses ATI’s PCI Express to AGP Bridge chip code-named Rialto, which allows PCI Express graphics processors to be used in AGP-based computers. ATI produces R430 using 0.11 micron process technology at TSMC. While this process technology does not allow extremely high clock-speeds, it gives ATI opportunity to offer the chips at lower cost compared to 0.13 micron fabrication processes.

ATI’s Product Line Expanded

The latest ATI RADEON X850 XT Platinum Edition graphics processors and cards on their base are presently positioned as top offerings from ATI Technologies and its add-in-card partners. The RADEON X850 XT Platinum Edition (PE) visual processing unit has 16 pixel pipelines and 6 vertex pipelines and is clocked at 540MHz, typically graphics cards are equipped with 256MB of GDDR3 memory with 256-bit interface and 1180MHz clock-speed. MSRP for the RADEON X850 XT PE is $549. ATI also offers more affordable - $499 – RADEON X850 XT product that features slightly lower clock-speeds: 520MHz/1080MHz for core/memory, that is supposed to be sold for $499. ATI’s previous top-end RADEON X800 XT PE product also offered at $499 was clocked at 520MHz/1120MHz for VPU/memory.

ATI RADEON X800 XL graphics cards should feature 400MHz visual processing unit with 16 pixel and 6 vertex pipes. Graphics cards with RADEON X800 XL VPU should feature 128MB or 256MB GDDR3 memory with 980MHz clock-speed. The MSRP of the part is $299 for PCI Express x16 version.

Eventually ATI may also offer its RADEON X800 product for AGP 8x market eventually, providing new technologies and high-end performance for sub-$200 market.

All RADEON X8-series visual processing units have similar capabilities.

ATI RADEON X800 XL and RADEON X850 AGP products from ATI and ATI add-in-board are expected to be available through a variety of retail and e-tail outlets as well as through OEMs and system builders. Pricing and availability dates are unknown, but at least one graphics cards vendor has been offering AGP 8x RADEON X800 and X850 PRO products for a while now.

Pressure for the GeForce 6

While large PC makers and OEMs are gradually transitioning their product ranges to PCI Express bus, there are a lot of end-users who would like to upgrade their graphics cards on AGP platforms. Given that there are a lot of high-end PCs with powerful processors and a lot of memory with AGP bus and it hardly makes sense for owners of such computers to migrate to PCI Express-supporting machines now, hence, graphics chips designers should have products to offer them.

ATI Technologies’ archrival NVIDIA Corp. recently said its AGP 8x products, including those that use NVIDIA’s special bridge that converts PCI Express signals into AGP signals and otherwise, had been gaining wide market acceptance.

Because of ATI’s concentration on the PCI Express segment, NVIDIA has been gaining its presence in the retail market and at hands of enthusiasts who decided to upgrade their graphics cards. According to Mercury Research, in the most recent quarter NVIDIA commanded 67% of the Microsoft DirectX 9.0 performance GPU market share and 53% of the overall DirectX 9.0 GPU market share. A quarter earlier – in Q3 2004 – NVIDIA commanded 64% and 51% of the high-end and mainstream DirectX 9.0 markets respectively.

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. Still, NVIDIA-based products are already available on the market, whereas ATI’s partners need to ramp up the production.

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