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Graphics chipmaker grows up

Nvidia unveils details of its next-generation 3D graphics processor, called the Riva TNT.

Graphics chip manufacturer Nvidia is hatching a plan to grow up and branch out.

Today, the company unveiled details of its next-generation 3D graphics processor, called the Riva TNT, which it says will surpass Intel's i740 chip and others in performance.

As a result of the TNT's release, the company's current performance product, the Riva 128 ZX, will become Nvidia's offering for mainstream computers and business systems. While Nvidia has been selling the 128 chip for some time, it has mostly been used in high-end PCs.

Positioning the processor for the competitive realm of mainstream PCs will represent a new direction for the company. "We want to own the enthusiast market with TNT and drill down into the mainstream with the 128 ZX," said Sanford Russell, Nvidia's director of product marketing.

Graphics processors have been beset by intense competition and low prices for over a year. Although all sectors of the graphics business have been difficult, companies like Nvidia and 3Dfx Interactive have been able to rake in growing revenue by selling into the performance PC arena.

Moving into mainstream PCs will subject the company to the most intense segment of the market. Russell said that segment is likely to improve, however, as more business applications that take advantage of 3D start to hit the market later this year. Margins on in this market may not be as good as the performance segment, but there will likely be volume, he added.

The TNT processor will be capable of rendering up to 8 million triangles per second, according to the company, and will be optimized for the PC 98 specifications iterated by Microsoft. The part contains approximately 7 million transistors, about the same number as a Pentium II. It will sell for $45 in volume.

Inside a PC, the chip will perform the rendering functions involved in graphical computing. The main processor, or CPU, will perform the geometric transformation of images as well as lighting.

The CPU and graphics processor will work in tandem to perform DVD video playback, Russell said. The TNT will also be capable of managing the input of television signals.