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Nvidia shoots for film with new chip

The graphics chip leader is unveiling what will be the fastest graphics processor on the market, with visual capabilities the company hopes will one day rival the big screen.

Graphics chip leader Nvidia is unveiling what will be the fastest graphics processor on the market, with visual capabilities the company hopes will one day rival the big screen.

As expected, Nvidia will take the wraps off its new GeForce FX chip, once code-named NV30, at a news conference in Las Vegas, just before the Comdex Fall 2002 trade show on Monday.

The new chip, to be shipped in January, will deliver a significant increase in performance thanks to a higher clock speed and greater programmability, company representatives said.

The GeForce FX will also improve PCs' capabilities to create realistic graphics more quickly, said Dan Vivola, vice president of marketing at Nvidia. The chip can render graphics as much as four times faster than Nvidia's current GeForce4 Ti 4600 processor.

"We're trying to come up with a graphics processor that can create in real time (on a computer)...what happens on the cinema screen," he said. The new GeForce FX is "a step closer to that goal. We're on a collision course toward film such that what you see on a computer and what you see in a film will look the same."

The new GeForce FX will run at 500MHz, faster than the 325MHz Ti 4600 chip. A new feature lets developers program their own shaders, which are what give graphics their unique look. That means game developers can make graphics more realistic. Using Nvidia's CG language, for example, developers can make things such as skin look more like something you could touch, Vivola said.

The first two versions of the new chip, the GeForce FX 5800 and 5800 Ultra are in production. They will be available in January and will be priced between $399 and $499 at retail.

Timing is everything
The GeForce FX will outclip rival ATI Technologies' Radeon 9700--the fastest graphics chip available now--by 25 percent to 50 percent in speed. But the Radeon chip, unveiled last July, won the favor of many PC makers and gamers, while the GeForce FX, which had been expected as soon as August was held back. Some analysts have said it will be hard for Nvidia to take back that business.

Nvidia designed the chip using a newer, 130-nanometer manufacturing process. This "put the schedule behind what some people might have expected," Vivola said. But "there wasn't any reason to do it sooner. A (150 nanometer) version wouldn't have been a good enough improvement over the (GeForce4 Ti) 4600."

Nvidia "would have loved to have had it sooner. But we haven't lost a single point in desktop market share in the last three quarters," he added. Nvidia's market share increased to 58 percent during the third quarter, according to a recent report by Mercury Research.