Tech Industry

Intel enters 3D market tomorrow

Intel's introduction of the i740, its first 3D graphics chip offering, could alter the market for good.

Intel's (INTC) first high-end 3D graphics chip, the Intel740, will be announced tomorrow, and by most accounts, the introduction could alter the market for good.

The Intel740 is expected to perform in the same league as high-performance graphics chips from Nvidia and ATI, two of the leading 3D PC graphics chips manufacturers.

The chip will first appear on separate add-on, or "daughter cards," from manufacturers such as Diamond Multimedia. It will cost $34.50 to start in quantities, but likely sell for less, numerous sources said.

After the main microprocessor, graphics chips are the most critical piece of silicon in personal computers today. These chips handle the manipulation of images users see on their computer screens and are increasingly important as computer interfaces and 3D games become more sophisticated and demanding.

The Intel740 comes to market backed by the massive manufacturing and financial infrastructure of Intel.

Even if the Intel740 never becomes the leading performance chip for PC games in the market, observers say it will be a strong chip that can be pumped out in volume relatively cheaply, much to the detriment of other graphics chip vendors. It will also be the first in a slew of graphics products coming from the chip giant that will span from workstations to portables.

Intel is an investor in CNET: The Computer Network.

"Very few of the manufacturers have the access to the [manufacturing plants] that Intel does," said Peter Glaskowsky, senior analyst at MicroDesign Resources.

"S3 could be the big loser here--it doesn't sell to the performance market. Intel has the resources to beat S3 on those terms and they have the performance," he added.

Performancewise, the main Intel740 competitor is Nvidia's Riva 128 and other high-end 3D chips, according to Dean McCarron, principal at Mercury Research. Nvidia's chip sits toward the top on the 3D solutions at the moment and also has been picked up by manufacturers such as Compaq for use in workstations. The chip was designed in conjunction with Real 3D, which is part-owned by Intel and Lockheed Martin.

"Intel is at the top end of the performance band [with the Intel740], but it is not without competition," Glaskowsky summarized.

Michael Hara, director of strategic marketing at Nvidia, acknowledged that Intel has a leg up in manufacturing but said that the Riva will continue to enjoy performance advantages, especially as it has already been tested in the market. Intel is "a much bigger presence in the manufacturing world. It has that advantage," he said.

Nonetheless, "we are going to ultimately be competitive," Hara added.