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Next Cyrix chip adds 3D graphics

The MXi, due in 1998, will offer 3D processing.

Cyrix today bared plans for a processor that packs 3D graphics into its main 6x86 processor.

The MXi, which will be released in the second half of 1998, will be the first processor based on the company's upcoming "Cayenne" processor technology, which comes out at the same time, said Steve Tobak, vice president of corporate marketing.

The MXi will be targeted at computers at the $1,500 level and less, Tobak said, and will be made on an advanced ".25 micron" production process, the same process Intel uses for its advanced chips. "The MXi represents a leapfrog in 3D performance," he said. "It will be very aggressively priced." Typically, Cyrix processors which go into low-cost PCs are priced below $150.

Cayenne, and hence MXi, will consist of new technologies for speeding up multimedia data processing and borrow the "core" from Cyrix's existing high-end 6x86 chip. It will also come with a large cache memory, for increased performance, and MMX technology from Intel, he said.

The chip will support DVD video playback and the Accelerated Graphics Port (AGP) 3D technology from Intel.

Improving 3D processing on the chip level has become one of the chief concerns for the major processor vendors, and each is racing to the market with their own solutions. Intel plans to enhance 3D performance through MMX 2, which is due in 1999.

The first MMX 2 chip will be called Katmai, said sources. AMD said yesterday that it will incorporate a new host of 3D instructions into the K6 in the first half of next year. The new instructions are expected to accelerate graphics processing and improve video playback on MPEG-2.

Although the market will likely eventually coalesce around an Intel standard, one of the alternative processor vendors could gain market share by being earlier to market, said Michael Slater, publisher of the Microprocessor Report. If AMD's K6 3D comes out on time, he noted, the solution will process games and other graphics-intensive programs faster than Intel's comparable, contemporaneous offering.

To get better 3D performance, vendors are concentrating both on the floating point, which controls number crunching calculations critical to lighting and basic geometry, and the integer core, which controls image pixel fine tuning.

As a jab to AMD, Tobak noted that AMD has not revealed its proposed enhanced instruction set for the upcoming K6 3D. By contrast, Cyrix has already revealed its instruction enhancements in Cayenne. The core contains 15 new floating point instructions. These will improve 3D graphics acceleration, audio, and DVD performance.