IBM is getting into the 3D graphics business with a chip that it says
allows PC makers to build
$3,000 computers with technology found last year in $6,000 systems, a
product push that further underscores an emerging strategy to become a
dominant power in the components.
IBM has begun selling a high-end 3D graphics chip to outside customers, touting that it enables
$3,000 PCs and workstations to use graphics once found in much pricier systems.
"This is a brand new chip. We intend to be a leader," said Satish Gupta,
general manager of IBM's workstation business.
IBM is reinvigorating its drive companywide to sell electronic components as
supplier to third parties. This strategy was brought into
graphic relief this
month in a $16
with Dell and a $3
billion alliance with EMC. Dell
is slated to buy storage devices, networking components, displays, and chips
from IBM, while EMC will source storage
IBM has also cut a raft of smaller deals with companies such as Hughes, DSP
Networks, and Nexabit Networks.
Now, IBM will add graphics chips to its bulging portfolio. It already sells
PowerPC processors, specialized ASIC chips,
system-on-a-chip technologies, and memory to outside customers.
IBM is now supplying graphics circuit board giant Diamond Multimedia with the new
FireGL 1 3D and 2D graphics chip. In the past, Diamond has supplied boards to PC makers such as Compaq and Dell Computer.
IBM is both designing and
manufacturing its FireGL 1 graphics chips, which could make it a formidable
competitor. Most graphics chips companies do not have access to their own
manufacturing facilities and must take the typically more expensive route
of hiring another party to do it for them.
Earlier this month, IBM announced a $3,000 Pentium III workstation with the
FireGL 1 for about $3,000. This also includes 128MB of memory and 13.5GB hard
drive. Gupta claims this technology from IBM was available in systems ranging
from $6,000 to $8,000 only last year.
"This [circuit] board is available to distributors through Diamond,"
said Gupta. Diamond takes an IBM chip and affixes it to a circuit board that
PC and workstation makers can buy and plug into a system. Diamond is also
helping IBM with software technology such as drivers.
But IBM will have to elbow into a crowded market. Gupta said his competitors
are Evans and Sutherland (E&S) and 3Dlabs, two high-end graphics chip makers
which target the rarified high-end workstation market.
But IBM is also likely to find itself competing with more mainstream chipmakers such as ATI Technologies, Nvidia, and Matrox as they bring out more
"IBM has a decent reputation as a workstation vendor and a good--and
improving--reputation as a chipmaker. The IBM name will help Diamond market
the FireGL 1 to its customers, but the product will still have to compete on
its merits against a wide variety of alternatives," said Peter Glaskowsky, an
analyst at the Microprocessor Report.
Besides performance, IBM will also face bruising competition on price.
"Though the FireGL 1 is very affordable compared to the $1,000-$3,000
alternatives--and faster than some--other vendors will also be competing on
price. Evans & Sutherland's Lightning 1200 is somewhat less expensive at
new Oxygen VX1 is just $299," said Glaskowsky.
Gupta claims the IBM chip is a first in this segment. "This is leading edge 2D
and 3D performance and is the first-ever, fully-integrated, 256-bit OpenGL
AGP solution," Gupta said. Both OpenGL
and AGP are high-performance graphics standards.
IBM claims the IntelliStation M Pro with FireGL1 graphics outperformed 3D
technology from Compaq, Hewlett Packard, and Dell.
Glaskowsky has some dire predictions for competition though: "The professional graphics market really isn't big enough for all of these companies. Some of the biggest workstation vendors have their own graphics products. IBM, E&S, 3Dlabs, and a few others are competing for what's left of the workstation business. It'll be very difficult for any of them to prosper under these circumstances."