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Game developers may be already testing ATI Technologies yet-to-be-announced R520 visual processing unit and appropriate graphics cards, as the release notes for the most recent Far Cry game update claim that support for Shader Model 3.0 was optimized for ATI’s “future” hardware.

“Fixed a Shader Model 3.0 issue that caused graphics corruption on new ATI hardware,” the release notes for the Far Cry 1.32 patch that also adds support for AMD64 and Intel EM64T capabilities read.

At this point ATI does not sell Shader Model 3.0-compliant hardware, its latest RADEON X850-series graphics processors only support Shader Model 2.0b. Still, the company’s forthcoming graphics processor code-named R520 is expected to support Shaders 3.0. While it was known that the company has taped out the R520 chip, Crytek’s claim may be the first indication that R520 is being used by game developers already.

It is unclear what was wrong with initial Shader Model 3.0 implementation by Crytek. It is also not known whether any other games, such as Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, may have any problems with Shader Model 3.0-compliant hardware by Markham, Ontario-based ATI.

Days ago a web-site published a story claiming that ATI’s R520 would not be launched in June, 2005, as expected, but will be announced at a later date. While ATI’s officials do not comment on the unannounced products, some sources close to the company indicated that the information has good chances to be accurate and ATI would launch its next-generation VPU when it is feasible from the tactical point of view, as currently the company’s RADEON X850 XT Platinum Edition is the world’s fastest single-chip graphics accelerator. Some other sources said ATI was seriously working on the launch of the company’s multi-GPU consumer technology.

Specifications of ATI’s code-named R520 VPU are unclear at this time. Some sources suggest that the chip may have up to 32 pixel pipelines and up to 350 million transistors, which makes the processor extremely complex. However, given that a new fabrication process is to be used for the manufacturing of R520, it is unlikely that the visual processing unit will be tremendously large in terms of transistor count and complex in terms of the number of pipelines. Fabless semiconductor designers tend to balance complexity of their chips for new fabrication processes. For instance, since 2002, ATI has not launched manufacturing of high-end graphics chips using a new process technology unless the technology was tested on mainstream chips. Still, even on relatively new manufacturing processes, ATI has set pretty high clock-speeds for its VPUs.

Representatives for ATI Technologies did not comment on the news-story.

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