Nvidia readies high-end chip

The graphics chip leader hopes to bolster its reputation with hardcore PC gamers by way of the GeForce FX 5900, which it hopes will wipe out the memory of its ill-starred FX 5800.

Graphics chip leader Nvidia hopes to bolster its reputation with hardcore PC gamers by way of a new high-end chip that it plans to announce Monday.

Graphics boards using the new GeForce FX 5900 will go on sale in June, priced around $399 for the regular version and $499 for the "Ultra" version with more memory, an Nvidia executive said.

The 5900 will essentially replace the ill-starred GeForce FX 5800, which suffered from numerous manufacturing-related delays and lukewarm performance measurements . Rival ATI Technologies has tried to exploit those problems with new generations of processors that dramatically outperformed Nvidia chips, but shifts in market share have been minimal.

The new Nvidia chip also eliminates one of the least-admired aspects of the 5800: the big, noisy cooling fan that the chip required. Steve Sims, senior product manager for Nvidia, said the 5900 uses a cooling system based on Nvidia's workstation products, which improves airflow and reduces fan-related noise significantly.

Graphics industry analyst Jon Peddie of Jon Peddie Research said he's confident Nvidia has learned a number of production and design lessons from the 5800.

"I think just about everybody's given up on the 5800, including Nvidia," Peddie said. "It was a noble experiment--they tried some new things.

"Nvidia's a smart company," Peddie added. "They've executed perfectly for seven years, they hit a bump in the road, and now I think they've fixed those problems."

Besides a faster clock speed and more memory, the 5900 will include improvements intended to help game developers create more sophisticated visual effects, Nvidia's Sims said. Those include UltraShadow, new technology that will ease the task of creating shadow effects by defining areas of an image where shadow can or cannot occur.

Shadows are very important for creating realistic images and are very difficult to calculate, Sims said. "We figured out a way in hardware to basically reject these big chunks of area that couldn't have a shadow. The upshot is developers can do shadow effects much faster."

Peddie said that after several months of being eclipsed by ATI, Nvidia needs to show significant performance improvements in order to maintain its image with influential PC gamers and PC performance buffs.

"This will re-establish them if they get it right," Peddie said, "but it's going to have to kick ATI's Radeon 9800 Pro by a substantial margin."

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