Graphics Card Gets A Boost

The way engineers at ATI Technologies (905/882-2600, www.atitech.com ) see it, people want more from their desktops when it comes to graphics. Computer games make more extensive use of 3-D images. Monitors have gotten larger, making low-resolution images less appealing. That's fueling demand for high-resolution graphics and the chips that can produce them.

ATI, which supplies the graphics chips for all shipping Macs, hopes to fill that demand with its latest graphics processor, Radeon 256. Targeting high-end gamers and 3-D graphics professionals, the chip features 128MB of double-date rate memory at 200MHz, a 1.5 gigatexel per second rendering engine, and support for graphics APIs including OpenGL.

In addition, ATI heralds a couple of key technologies in Radeon. ATI claims the chip's 30-million-triangle-per-second geometry engine, Charisma, offers a tenfold improvement in 3-D modeling detail over current processors. Radeon's rendering engine, Pixel Tapestry, can process up to three textures at the same time -- a key feature as more games take advantage of multi-textured content. That rendering capability also allows full-performance in 32-bit color. In essence, ATI claims, Radeon makes 16-bit color obsolete.

ATI hopes to begin shipping Radeon this summer. No price has been set, but an ATI spokesman said the chip will cost $100 to $300.

ATI's new chip comes at the same time that rival 3dfx Interactive (888/367-3339, www.3dfx.com ) is releasing its first Mac products. 3dfx plans a summer launch for two PCI boards -- the Voodoo4 4500 for graphics and publishing users and the Voodoo5 5500 for 3-D graphics users and gamers.

3dfx cards have been available for the Mac in the past, but never directly from the company; third-party vendors licensed the Voodoo technology and built Mac drivers for the cards. But those products cost substantially more than their PC counterparts.

The Voodoo4 4500 features 32MB of graphics memory and support for monitor resolutions up to 2,048-by-1,536 pixels. The card, expected to sell for less than $200, will also support 3dfx's FXTI technology, which can cut the amount of memory needed to display large textures in 3-D applications. The $330 Voodoo5 5500 has dual VSA-100 processing units and 64MB of graphics memory. It supports full-screen anti-aliasing, which produces smoother, less jagged images.

3dfx doesn't plan to offer cards that work with the Power Mac G4's Accelerated Graphics Port. G4s ship with an ATI video card already installed in the AGP slot.

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