ATI and Macs used to go together like a couple of high school sweethearts. But after Macworld Expo in New York last July, when ATI made a few premature product announcements and stole some of the thunder from Steve Jobs’ keynote, the relationship soured a bit.
You’ll still find ATI cards preinstalled on several Macs in Apple’s product line, but the relationship is no longer exclusive. Witness Apple’s newfound coziness with Nvidia — the 533MHz and 733MHz configurations of the Power Mac G4 list the Nvidia GeForce2 as the standard graphics card (although you can specifically order a G4 with an ATI Radeon chip). Nvidia even shared stage time with Jobs during his keynote at February’s Tokyo Expo. The graphics chip, which began shipping for the Mac last week, has generated tremendous anticipation among Mac gamers.
So the pressure’s on ATI to rekindle the flame, both with Apple and with Mac users. The company hopes that a new technology called Truform might be just the trick.
Unveiled by ATI Tuesday, Truform is a new rendering technology, supported in OpenGL, for future generations of graphics processors. It adds detail to 3D objects, thus making them more natural looking by giving them smoother surfaces.
3D images in games and computer graphics are composed of triangles. The more triangles there are, the higher the level of detail and realism. However, adding triangles takes time and effort, memory, and bus bandwidth.
ATI believes that by employing a new type of higher-order surface composed of curved triangles — PN-Triangles or N-Patches — Truform permits surfaces to be generated entirely within the graphics processor. And it’s able to do that without taking up more bandwidth or requiring more memory. What’s more, the technology does not require significant changes to existing 3D artwork composed of flat triangles, but rather enhances those models by adding triangles within the existing form. Thus Truform avoids breaking compatibility with older graphics processors, making it easier for software developers to implement in their games.
“N-Patches also allows for a higher level of scalability, meaning the number of triangles or polygons in a 3D image can be varied according to the capabilities of the installed graphics hardware,” ATI senior product manager of desktop marketing Toshi Okumura said in a prepared statement. “Software developers usually create low triangle count models so that their games can run well on low-end PCs, which make up the vast majority of products used today by consumers.
“N-Patches can take these 3D models with low polygon counts and generate smooth, highly detailed images, affording most users a greatly enhanced visual experience with no compromise in performance or compatibility,” he added.
ATI expects to ship Truform-enabled chips for both PCs and Macs sometime in 2001. The company also notes that it has been working with game developers on Truform since last November. It expects several games to ship that utilize the new technology around the same time a Truform-enabled chip comes out. Whether or not this means ATI chips will regain their status as the standard graphic processor in high-end G4 towers remains to be seen. But churning out advanced chip technologies will definitely do more good than sending love letters and flowers to Steve Jobs.