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Graphics chipmaker Nvidia still on top

The company manages to continue gaining market share against rival ATI, despite delays in launching its speedy new processor, a report says.

Graphics chipmaker Nvidia has managed to continue gaining market share against rival ATI, despite delays in launching its speedy new processor, a report says.

A Mercury Research report, released this week, found that in the third quarter of 2002 Nvidia's market share rose to 58 percent, from 56 percent the previous quarter. ATI lost market share, shrinking from 36 percent in the second quarter to 33 percent in the third, despite selling the highest-performing graphics chip. The report looked at worldwide shipments of standalone graphics controllers.

Nvidia is preparing the way for the launch of its NV30 graphics processor later this month with a public event showing off the chip's power and demonstrating its "cinematic" effects. David Kirk, Nvidia's chief scientist, appeared in Seoul, South Korea, on Monday at an event called "Nvidia Mania Day" to promote the chip, which will be publicly launched at the Comdex trade show during the week of Nov. 18 in Las Vegas.

The presentation, which foreshadows Nvidia's marketing campaign for the chip, focused on the processor's increased programmability and on its performance--twice that of the company's GeForce4 chip, according to the presentation.

A Nvidia representative said the presentation is part of the company's effort to whip up consumer enthusiasm ahead of the NV30 launch, and that it did not contain product-specific information. Some of the data from the presentation has been appearing on Nvidia's Web site. "We're very close to launch now, and it's a matter of giving people a taste of what's ahead," the representative said.

The NV30 will be Nvidia's counterattack against ATI, whose Radeon 9700 has held the performance lead since its introduction in July. However, sources say Nvidia's chip will only be available in limited volumes for several months, giving ATI more time to consolidate its position.

Kirk did not reveal any information regarding these issues at the presentation, instead focusing on figures related to the chip's performance. It is "more than two times" the performance of GeForce4, with 51 billion floating point operations per second (51 gigaflops) in the pixel shader alone, the presentation said. This is better performance than a Cray SV-1 supercomputer and 30 times the geometry power of an SGI Infinite Reality engine, according to Kirk's presentation.

The chip has 125 million transistors, which is three times the number on the Pentium 4, according to the presentation. Nvidia, through its manufacturing partner Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSMC), is using a 0.13-micron manufacturing process to reduce the physical size of the chip and achieve better efficiency. By comparison, the top-end Radeon chip has 110 million transistors, and the GeForce4 Ti 4600 has 63 million.

Nvidia defended its move to the 0.13-micron process, saying that while it may have slowed the introduction of the NV30, it will deliver long-term results.

"Making the move now means that next year everything will be much easier. Everyone's got to do the same thing as we have," a representative said.

The representative confirmed that full volumes may not arrive in time for Christmas but said Nvidia will have some of the chips on the market by then.

A large proportion of the presentation was devoted to demonstrations of "cinematic" rendering, the aim of bringing real-time PC rendering closer to cinematic computer animation. Kirk showed examples of brushed metal, melting ice, vegetation, thin film and skin effects, among others.