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ATI to board the M bus

The graphics chipmaker plans to create a family of chips that could become the backbone for future notebooks based on Intel's powerful, new Pentium M processor.

ATI Technologies plans to create a family of chips that could become the backbone for future notebooks based on Intel's new Pentium M processor.

The Markham, Ontario, graphics chipmaker on Tuesday announced that it has signed a license with Intel focused on bus technology for the new Pentium M. The bus is the pathway for shuttling data between the processor and the chipset, a group of support chips that handles the movement of data inside a computer.

The license will pave the way for ATI to add to its family of chipsets with built-in graphics. The Radeon IGP family currently includes chipsets for desktops and notebooks using Intel Pentium and Celeron chips, and Advanced Micro Devices' Athlon XP chips.

Though Intel itself sells the majority of the chipsets used to build computers with its processors, the chipset business is an important new frontier for graphics chipmakers like ATI and Nvidia. Meanwhile, notebooks are the hottest items in the PC market as a whole, making it an appealing place for ATI to offer a new chipset.

Nvidia builds the Nforce chipset, which is used widely in computers based on the Athlon XP processor. Nvidia also builds the chipset for Microsoft's Xbox. ATI, on the other hand, has been building chipsets for Intel Pentium 4 systems, including both desktops and notebooks.

Gaining a bus license from Intel is a key first step in building a chipset for Intel processors with the chipmaker's blessing. Others, such as Via Technologies, have been known to build such products without that approval.

Right now, the only Pentium M chipset is Intel's 855. That chipset comes in two basic flavors, one of which includes a built-in graphics processor. Manufacturers choose integrated graphics to cut costs on inexpensive systems or to save space inside thin and lightweight notebooks.

ATI's chipset is likely to come in between the two offers, presenting a second option for notebook manufacturers that are looking to use built-in graphics. Most high-end Pentium M notebooks will likely go with the 855, and include a separate graphics board.

ATI, which launched