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3D board makers join Intel bandwagon

Makers of 3D graphics circuit boards for PCs wasted no time in pledging support for the new Intel740 graphics chip.

Makers of 3D graphics circuit boards for PCs wasted no time in pledging support for the Intel740, the company's performance graphics chip that was released today.

Major board vendors Diamond Multimedia and STB Systems, among Terror in the graphics world others, announced products centered on the new Intel740 graphics processor. More announcements are expected from numerous other companies which manufacture these boards.

Vendors like Diamond and STB take a graphics chip and attach it to a circuit board, replete with all the additional circuitry to make the chip run. This board, or "card" as it is often called, can then be plugged into the "slots" inside a PC, or shipped with new PCs. Diamond and STB differ from vendors such as ATI Technologies, NeoMagic, and Intel, which are focused on making the graphics chips, not the circuit boards.

The boards from Diamond and STB, which will start rolling out this quarter and early in the next, will be sold directly to consumers as well as to computer vendors, who are expected to incorporate the cards into high-end consumer PCs.

The boards will likely sell for $180 to $230 depending on the amount of "frame buffer" memory and other features included on the card, said various sources. Frame buffer memory speeds the movement of data to and from the graphics processor.

The STB board will appear in a variety of channels. STB will sell its Lightspeed 740 to computer vendors and resellers so that they can incorporate the cards into complete systems, said Brian Burke, a company spokesman. So far, no deals have been struck with major computer vendors. However, STB has committed to shipping the card to major distributors, including Ingram Micro, so that the card can be inserted into "build-to-order" computers being assembled by the distributors.

Real 3D and others will pursue a more mixed strategy and sell the card through retail outlets as well.

Industry support for Intel's new graphics chip was all but inevitable. While Intel's entry into the graphics chip market presents a direct challenge to other chipmakers, it should be a boon for board makers because they essentially provide the vehicle these chips ride on. Intel executives have also said that the chip will start to come directly attached to motherboards--the PC's main circuit board--from Intel and independent suppliers as well, opening up further opportunities. (Intel is an investor in CNET: The Computer Network).

The chip giant's commitment to the market, some have theorized, is expected to fuel the development of more applications that can take advantage of 3D, which, in turn, should boost demand for 3D components.

Volume on the chip is expected to ramp up quickly. Between 5 to 10 million of the graphics processors will ship this year, according to MicroDesign Resources.

By 1999, Intel is expected to account for 20 to 30 percent of the graphics processors in the performance desktop market, which itself will account for close to $1 billion in revenue, according to Jon Peddie, president of Jon Peddie Associates, a Tiburon, Calif.-based analysis firm.  end of story

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