Pushing the pixels

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COMMENTARY: The second day of Computex for us was heavily focused on the world of graphics. Firstly we stopped by PowerColor to check out its new PCI-Express offerings. PowerColor's initial PCI-Express cards will be based upon the RADEON X600 and X300 chips, and mark the debut of new product packaging and branding for the company.

In a nod to the fact that fancy lighting arrays on video card heatsinks may be on the way out, PowerColor has chosen to fancy up its line by using bits of rubber that jut out of the heatsink, making it look like the bastard offspring of an overweight starfish and a child's drawing of the sun.

To get a lowdown on just what the X300 and X600 are made of, we swung on by to ATI. There we learned that while the X600 is essentially a PCI-Express native 9600XT chip, the low end X300 is the real technical marvel. Just as ATI first used TSMC's 0.13 micron process technology for its mid range products, the X300 is the first production graphics chip to use a .11 micron process. In fact it is basically a shrunken and PCI-Expressed version of the 9600.

ATI has had to up the performance of its low end products because the word on the street here is that Intel has beefed the performance of its Extreme graphics up for the i915G chipset. Which means that the low-end 9200 cards will be squeezed out of the market in the near future.

At the high end ATI has the X800 XT and X800 XT Platinum Edition, both using PCI-Express x16 connectors. These are both 16 pipeline cards, differentiated only by core speeds. We asked about the X800 PRO cards, and were informed that for now ATI will only offer these XT models in PCI-Express (although some PRO cards will probably go to OEMs). These cards should start appearing late July.

We then looked at the progress of ATI's IGP product line, and while there were no announcements yet about PCI-Express support in the chipset line, we did glimpse one interesting slide that pointed towards both Intel and AMD support for desktop and mobile appearing as part of the next generation of ATI chipsets, which will finally bring ATI and NVIDIA into direct competition in the core logic market as well.

Speaking of NVIDIA we then swung up to NVIDIA's demo suite to see what it had to offer. This started with a demo of the now well known GDC Far Cry level which uses Shader Model 3.0 to add displacement mapping to the game, which we have been assured will flow on into a patch once Microsoft releases DirectX 9.0c. It is definitely a cool visual effect, however it still looks funny at a distance when trilinear filtering is used, and we couldn't get a definitive answer on how anisotropic filtering would improve things.

We then looked at BF Vietnam running on a variety of NVIDIA PCI-Express cards, from the FX based GeForce PCX 5900 and 5750 to the PCI-Express enabled version of the GeForce 6800 Ultra, which should appear in couple of months.

We then got a chance to see the new MXM technology for mobile graphics in the flesh. This is a way of delivering modular, upgradeable graphics chips to the notebook world, and is being pushed aggressively into the market at the moment.

Our graphics odyssey finished with the new Quadro 4000, which is based upon the GeForce 6800. NVIDIA demoed this with a program from Mercedes which renders a car in realtime based upon the ultra high polygon CAD drawings, allowing purchasers to customise their new high end Mercedes and send the order through for manufacturing.

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