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Graphics chips to support AGP

ATI Technologies, Nvidia, 3Dlabs, and others all announce support of the Accelerated Graphics Port capability in Intel's news chipset.

Graphics chips companies are quickly jumping on the bandwagon in support of a new Intel (INTC) technology that should make 3D graphics a more affordable option for computers.

ATI Technologies, Nvidia, 3Dlabs (TDDDF), and Number Nine Visual Technology (NINE) all announced today that their graphics accelerator chips support the Accelerated Graphics Port (AGP) capability in Intel's newest chipset.

Graphics chips basically control the images that users see on their computer screens. AGP enables computers to offer high-end 3D graphics at a relatively low cost by storing information in a system's less-expensive main memory instead of higher-cost video memory.

Having worked closely with Intel, ATI Technologies is taking the lead in the AGP 3D graphics chip market with its Rage Pro accelerator. Graphics circuit boards which will use the new version of the 3D Rage Pro include ATI's Xpert@Work and Xpert@Home. New systems from Hewlett-Packard will incorporate ATI's chip, as will systems from Acer, IBM, Dell, and Compaq.

Nvidia says its Riva 128 graphics accelerator will ship in systems from Dell, Gateway 2000, and Micron Electronics and graphics accelerator card manufacturers such as Diamond Multimedia Systems.

3D Labs says the graphics chips that it has been shipping already include AGP support. The company says it is now shipping special software developed by Intel to allow AGP to run on Windows 95 computers. ATI Technologies and other graphics chip vendors are following suit, in as much as all AGP-ready systems currently must use this software to use AGP. The technology will not be directly supported in the Windows operating system until the release of Windows 98.

According to Number Nine, the AGP-ready version of the Revolution 3D and the 9FX Reality 334 will be used on selected configurations in the NEC Computer Direction line of PCs.

ATI may be hoping its support of AGP will help it take market share away from other graphics chip vendors, such as S3 and Cirrus Logic. ATI already appears to be succeeding, say industry observers.

"ATI's 3D Rage Pro appears to be gaining significant market share at S3's [expense]. Nvidia's Riva 128 is also picking up significant design wins and potentially market share against both ATI and S3," says Jon Latta, president of 4th Wave, a research firm covering multimedia and graphics market developments.

Interestingly, all of the graphics chips companies embracing Intel's technologies today are looking over their shoulder at the processor giant as it becomes more involved in graphics chip development. (Intel is an investor in CNET:The Computer Network.) Intel has, so far, been a small player in this segment, but its recent purchase of Chips & Technologies could help it to win market share. Chips & Technologies is currently known best for graphics chips that are used in portable computers, and Intel is expected to come out with AGP graphics chips for both notebook and desktop computers.

"Intel looms on the horizon as a very significant competitor in the 3D graphics market. This will only begin when its 740 chip [being developed with Real3D] ships late in the fourth quarter," says Latta. "Many in the industry feel that it will take [Intel's] next version of a 2D/3D accelerator to cause significant displacements in the market," he observes, noting that late 1998 may mark the beginning of serious competition from Intel.

S3 has to date been one of the largest supplier of graphics chips for use on Intel motherboards. S3 has announced support for AGP, but is waiting until the release of Windows 98 before making a big push into AGP-compliant chips.