The release of the Quadro4 family of chips follows by two weeks Nvidia's of the GeForce4 family of chips for desktop and laptop PCs.
Peter Glaskowsky, analyst for Microdesign Resources, said the new Quadro chips are built on the same foundation as the GeForce4, with extra circuitry for rendering images at higher levels of precision.
"It's either exactly the same chip as in the high-end GeForce4 or very similar," he said. "The difference between the chips would be minimal. But the 5 or 10 percent extra logic you'd need for a professional graphics processor makes a big difference when you're dealing with sophisticated CAD (computer-aided design) operations."
While Nvidia has established a firm lead in PC graphics chips, the much smaller market for workstation products is more mixed, with specialists such as 3Dlabs accounting for much of the higher end of the market.
Glaskowsky said Nvidia's decision to produce a wider range of Quadro4 products, including sophisticated dual-processor configurations and special designs for two-dimensional imaging, could shake things up.
"They're stretching much further up the market than they've ever done before," he said. "That's going to cut very substantially into the business of some companies."
PC manufacturers announcing plans to support the new Nvidia chip included Compaq Computer, which said it will offer versions of Quadro4 throughout its line of Evo workstations, and IBM, which will use the chip in its IntelliStation M Pro workstations.