It was a year of tumult for Macintosh graphics cards, as ATI introduced a new chipset, 3dfx Interactive rose and fell as a Mac vendor and Nvidia made its first overtures to the Mac.
Early this year, long-time Apple development partner ATI announced a new graphics chipset called the Radeon. The Radeon’s architecture differed dramatically from previous ATI Mac offerings by supporting hardware-based transform and lighting effects — something that ATI’s PC rival Nvidia had pioneered with its own graphics technology.
ATI debuted the Radeon Mac Edition graphics card at Macworld Expo in July, and released the retail version in the fall. The card is an OEM option on Power Mac G4 Cube models purchased through the Apple Store, as well. A PCI version should be hitting store shelves any day now.
While it’s still too early to say what impact Radeon will have, it’s the only Mac graphics chip in mass production that sports the hardware technology that many 3D application developers and game makers are insisting on to see maximum performance.
For a company that’s yet to offer a shipping Mac product, Nvidia garnered a huge amount of mindshare among Mac users. In 2000, Nvidia introduced its first series of Macintosh-compatible graphics chips — the GeForce2 MX and the GeForce2 Go. Nvidia has made no secret of its interest in the Mac market, but the company seems content to let Apple set its own pace about if and when any Nvidia-related product announcements will be revealed.
Nvidia doesn’t make its own cards — it licenses board designs and drivers out to third party companies, who then use its chips in their cards. None of these companies have stepped forth with a Mac-compatible card yet, which leaves many Mac users scratching their heads about Nvidia’s long-term plans for the Mac market.
While 2000 is likely to be remembered as the year that Nvidia first cast its gaze on the Mac market, it’s more likely that 2001 will be the year that Nvidia-designed products finally make it our way.
3dfx Interactive — the company that arguably made the best effort to court Macintosh users this year didn’t survive its own financial difficulties. 3dfx went to great lengths to win the hearts and minds of Macintosh users by establishing a strong presence at trade shows and grabbing headlines.
3dfx punctuated this summer’s Macworld Expo in New York with the release of the VSA-100 based Voodoo5 5500, and used the fall Seybold Seminars show to introduce its less-expensive (if slower) Voodoo4 4500 card. 3dfx Interactive hoped to garner a build-to-order option at the Apple Store, and suggested it would even offer an AGP-flavored variant of its 5500 card for such purposes, but that never came to pass.
Compounding losses in 3dfx’s mainstream PC card manufacturing business ultimately ended the company. By year’s end, 3dfx announced plans to dissolve following the sale of its assets and technology to rival Nvidia.
ProMax Systems debuted the P2H-AGP, a “dualhead” video card based on the Matrox G400 chipset. With two separate VGA connections, you can drive two separate monitors off a single card.
Matrox also introduced RTMac, a $999 PCI card designed for real-time editing of digital-video content. The board, developed by Matrox and Apple engineers, supports a second computer display and permits capture and export of composite and S-Video.
German peripheral maker Formac kept pace this year with its ProFormance 3 graphics card, which is based on 3dlabs’ Permedia 3 chipset, and later the ProFormance 4, based on the Glint controller that 3Dlabs targets at 3D pros.
Formac carved an interesting niche for ProFormance 3 thanks to some creative marketing. The card’s high refresh rate makes it possible to support 3D goggles that work by alternating LCD shutters at high rates of speed, creating a stereoscopic image. The 3D effect is quite startling, especially for CAD designers and architects and 3D gamers.
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