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IBM, others to promote 3D graphics

IBM, Rendition, and Fujitsu will promote a new chip architecture for increasing 3D graphics performance.

IBM, Rendition, and Fujitsu today announced an alliance promoting a new chip architecture for increasing 3D graphics performance.

Based on Rendition's V2200 graphics chip and Fujitsu's FGX-1 technology, the new technology will increase the efficiency of the main processor, the companies say.

As PC vendors and chip manufacturers look for ways to boost 3D processing, some companies are experimenting with separating graphics functions from the processor, where the data-heavy instructions frequently cause slowdowns. Dedicated 3D graphics hardware can take care of time-consuming calculations that usually tie up a processor, according to the trio.

"This technology constitutes the first mainstream 2D/3D graphics solution to accelerate the complete graphics pipeline in hardware, including geometry and lighting. The end result is a graphics subsystem in which 3D graphics performance is not strictly dependent on the CPU," the companies said in a prepared statement.

"One of the key bottlenecks in 3D accelerators is that the [main processor] has to perform the lighting and geometry calculations," confirmed Peter Glaskowsky, a processor analyst at MicroDesign Resources. "If you add extra hardware, you get better overall performance, and this one is a way of offloading the same calculations in dedicated hardware."

The technology will support APIs (application programming interfaces) such as OpenGL but it is unclear whether Microsoft's DirectX gaming applications will support this type of separate hardware.

"Quake 2 and other games based on that same code would benefit from this technology," Glaskowsky noted. "But APIs from Microsoft...[probably] wouldn't be able to take advantage of this without significant reprogramming."

Hercules Technology is the first company to sign on to ship an add-in card supporting the new technology. Due to ship next month, the card will have an estimated retail price of $149.

"Conventionally, the 3D graphics pipeline consists of 4 fundamental steps: geometry; lighting; triangle set-up (break down of triangles into pixels); and rasterization (effects such as filtering, fog, transparency, specular highlights and perspective correction)," the companies said.

"First generation 3D accelerators implemented the rasterization directly in hardware. Second generation 3D technology added triangle set-up, still leaving the geometry and lighting to be executed by the computer's main processor. Moving these functions to a specialized graphics engine will result in significant performance improvements without requiring faster and faster main system processors."