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MS throws its weight behind 3D card

Microsoft is so intent on pushing forward its new Direct3D technology that the company is developing a graphics chip itself.

Microsoft is so intent on pushing forward its new Direct3D technology that the company is working toward developing a graphics chip itself.

Microsoft will also unveil in the second half of this year "optimized" Direct3D technology to take advantage of Intel's MMX multimedia processors.

Direct3D is a Microsoft application programming interface that will enable accelerated, enhanced 3D in games, as well as scientific and engineering applications. Microsoft wants Direct3D to become the standard for all major graphics card and PC vendors.

Several sources, including a major graphics controller vendor, told CNET that Microsoft is working to either develop its own 3D graphics chip or work with a third party to make one.

Microsoft would not confirm this and denied that it would consider developing a chip for "commercial" purposes any time in the foreseeable future.

But the company did say that it is aggressively researching computer graphics technology.

"We are doing research on various aspects of computer graphics," said Brent Ethington, product manager of 3D technology at Microsoft. "We want to continue to move the [3D] platform forward. We want to push the state of the art. Anything we do would absolutely use Direct3D services as a base," Ethington said.

A source familiar with Microsoft's 3D strategy said the company's intent is to push the envelope and advance the market for boards that support its Direct3D standard. "They are prepared to threaten with a stick if necessary," the source said, alluding to previous Microsoft efforts to promote a particular hardware technology by manufacturing a hardware product, such as the Microsoft Sound System.

For now, the Direct3D board market does not need advancing or jump-starting, said Ethington, since a number of board vendors are moving quickly to support Microsoft's Direct3D standard.

Graphics boards and games supporting Direct3D are expected to hit the game market in force during the 1996 Christmas season.

Microsoft also indicated this week that it will come out with an "optimized" Direct3D for for MMX. This will allow PC vendors to deliver systems--equipped with future MMX Pentium or MMX P6 processors--which can do 3D graphics in games without expensive 3D add-in cards. MMX-enabled Intel chips could deliver twice the performance of traditional Pentium chips in 3D applications, said Richard Doherty, an analyst with The Envisioneering Group of Seaford, New York.

Moreover, in systems with elaborate graphics subsystems, MMX will increase performance even more by offloading some functions onto the Pentium or P6 processors, according to Intel. MMX will first appear in Intel processors in the fourth quarter.

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