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Graphics chip designer ATI Technologies is showcasing its next-generation RADEON graphics card code-named R520 at the E3 show in the U.S. these days. While the company has not publicly disclosed plans to unveil or showcase its forthcoming graphics product at the Electronic Entertainment Expo, at least one graphics card is being demonstrated on the floors, according to reports from various media and eyewitnesses.

ATI R520 graphics card is not as compact as the company’s RADEON X800-series products, but is relatively long, about the same size or longer compared to NVIDIA GeForce 6800 Ultra products. The less compact design is believed to be created in order to have some additional flexibility in terms of board capabilities, e.g., ATI’s add-in card partners may be able to create ALL-IN-WONDER products featuring R520 quickly after the product is launched commercially. Currently ATI’s R520 uses RADEON X850-like, but not exactly the same, dual-slot cooling system that exhausts hot air outside computer case.

ATI R520 demonstration includes a game called Alan Wake from Remedy, the developers who created May Payne series of titles. The game demo uses Shader Model 3.0 in order to speed-up processing of shaders; while Alan Wake can run at the Shader Model 2.0 hardware, the more advanced shader model allows the graphics hardware to make less rendering passes, thus, providing higher performance.

Markham, Ontario-based ATI Technologies has a kind of tradition to demonstrate next-generation visual processing units at the E3 show, but not launch them commercially for some time afterwards. Three years ago the company demonstrated its RADEON 9700 PRO graphics card at E3. The product was actually launched on the 18th of July, 2002.

Late last year analyst firm Credit Suisse First Boston said ATI’s R520 chip had been taped out and ATI had completed wafer test on 90nm nodes from TSMC. The CSFB believed ATI would be on-track to introduce the visual processing unit (VPU) in Spring, 2005.

ATI representatives did not comment on the news-story.

A web-site recently 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.

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