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Nvidia to debut workstation chip

The chipmaker plans to announce Tuesday the new high-end Quadro FX line for graphic artists, mechanical designers and other professionals.

Graphics chip leader Nvidia plans to announce Tuesday a new line of high-end chips for graphic artists, mechanical designers and other professionals.

The new Quadro FX chips are the next step in Nvidia's Quadro line of graphics chips for workstations, which are high-performance PCs used for computer-assisted drafting, 3D animation and other demanding tasks. Workstations are a relatively small but profitable segment of the PC business, with annual sales of around 1 million units.

News of the chips follows the announcement in November of the GeForce FX chip, designed for consumer and business PCs. The GeForce FX, expected to become available to consumers in March, has been the subject of repeated delays, mostly linked to Nvidia's shift to a more efficient 0.13-micron chipmaking process.

The Quadro FX initially will come in two versions, the FX 2000 and the FX 1000, according to Jerry Chen, a product manager for Nvidia.

Recent innovations that have made their way into the Quadro FX cards include DDR-II memory, which is a new form of DDR (double-data rate) memory chips expected to significantly ease one of the biggest bottlenecks in current graphics cards. The cards also allow much more precise pixel-by-pixel control of images and enhanced support for processor-intensive effects such as anti-aliasing, which selectively redraws parts of an image at higher resolutions.

"There's a lot of people who could be turning on anti-aliasing without experiencing any degradation in performance," Chen said.

The new chips also allow for much more detailed programming of graphics operations, including programming functions supported by Cg, Nvidia's new set of tools for graphics programming. Chen noted that some of the most widely used 3D graphics applications, including tools from Maya and Discreet, already support Cg.

"What's really important on the workstation side are what applications are supporting these functions," he said. "The software vendors have really bought into this in an enthusiastic way."

Graphics cards based on the Quadro FX should be available in the first week of February, priced at around $2,000 for the FX 2000 and $1,300 for the FX 1000, Chen said. Nvidia will produce additional versions of the Quadro FX over the course of the year, he said.

"We try to trickle down all the features into more aggressive price points over time," Chen said.