Apple to Acquire 3-D Chip Maker?

Apple watchers got a possible hint of the company's future product-development plans when the Wall Street Journal reported in November 1999 that Apple had agreed to purchase Raycer Graphics, a little-known developer of 3-D-graphics-acceleration chips, for roughly $15 million. Although Apple had no comment on the deal, it appears to be a sign that the company wants to bring 3-D-graphics-acceleration technology–an increasingly important component in today's PC system designs–in-house.

Apple currently gets its 3-D-graphics chips from ATI Technologies; ATI's Rage 128 powers the Power Mac G4 and new iMacs, while the Rage Mobility drives the video display in PowerBooks and iBooks. Although the Rage 128 offers excellent 2-D and 3-D acceleration for Mac users, the Mac has had a tough time keeping up with the latest 3-D technologies used in Windows PCs. For example, while the Rage 128 holds its own against 3Dfx's popular Voodoo 2 chip, Macworld Lab tests show that the next-generation Voodoo 3 offers faster 3-D performance.

Tough Road

This hasn't been an easy time for developers of Mac-based 3-D-graphics cards. The latest victim is Mactell, a vendor of Mac video and CPU accelerators that shut its doors in October 1999. Mactell had planned to offer a Mac-based Voodoo 3 card this fall, but that became a shaky business proposition when 3Dfx decided to post Mac drivers on its Web site. From a hardware standpoint, Voodoo cards for the Mac and PC are identical; only the software drivers are different. Because the PC market is so much larger than the Mac market, vendors of PC Voodoo cards can charge much less than their Mac counterparts for the same hardware. As a result, Mac users can buy one of the less expensive PC versions and download the needed Mac drivers from the 3Dfx Web site.

Micro Conversions, which offered game-accelerator cards based on the Voodoo and Voodoo 2 chips, cited the inexpensive Voodoo cards as the major culprit when it closed its doors in June 1999. Other 3Dfx licensees include IXMicro, which uses the Voo-doo 2 chip in its Game Rocket board, and VillageTronic, which uses Voodoo chips in its MacPicasso video cards.

Raycer, founded in 1997, develops 3-D-acceleration chips for Intel-based hardware but does not yet have an actual product to sell. The company's technology supports OpenGL, the 3-D-graphics system software that Apple has incorporated into the Mac OS.

February 2000 page: 25

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