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Intel runs graphics faster for cheaper

Intel officially unveiled a new 3D acceleration technology today that really shows up what users have now.

SAN JOSE, California--Intel revealed its 3D graphics initiative here at the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) and, in showing how it should be done, confirmed what a lot of PC users knew by experience: that a lot of today's PCs are inadequate for multimedia.

Intel's new Accelerated Graphics Port (AGP) technology for 3D acceleration, officially introduced today, is designed to bring workstation-class 3D graphics to PCs at a fraction of the price. AGP is an extension of Intel's PCI bus architecture used in just about all desktop PCs on the market today.

The technology will be available to systems manufacturers in the second quarter and should start showing up in Intel chipsets and retail offerings some time next year, Intel officials said. The company is already partnering with Microsoft and major 3D graphics chips vendors, including S3, ATI Technologies, and Cirrus Logic, to make AGP an industry standard.

While most industry heavyweights applauded Intel's venture into 3D graphics--one of the last chip markets that it doesn't already dominate--some observers said AGP is a tacit admission that the PCI technology that Intel has been pushing for at least two years doesn't really run multimedia all that well.

"This is really a realization by Intel that the original PCI architecture was not suitable for multimedia," said Will Strauss, president of Forward Concepts, a Tempe, Arizona-based market research company.

As part of the AGP introduction, Intel made an appeal to systems vendors to follow its vision of a "balanced PC" for 1996 and 1997 capable of delivering the best performance at the lowest prices. This balanced design is intended to counter the number of multimedia Pentium PCs running at 100 MHz and higher whose poor designs result in mediocre performance, said Mike Aymar, vice president and general manager of Intel's desktop product group.

"Picking the right components is incredibly important," Aymar said.

That's because picking the wrong ones can result in a machine that costs as much as any other but delivers only half the performance in video playback and audio. For systems in the $1,800 neighborhood, consumers should look for one with 8MB of Extended Data Out (EDO) RAM, 256K of pipelined burst static RAM (as the level 2 cache), and a bus-mastering IDE bus, Aymar said.

To help spread its message of maximizing performance with the "right" component choices, Intel will also kick off an AGP developer's conference in May.

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