ATI offers peek at Apple's Expo wares

The chip maker said a new iMac and two Power Mac G4 systems will ship with its latest graphics accelerators on board.

NEW YORK -- Apple Computer Inc. is keeping its product announcements at this week's Macworld Expo here under tight wraps, but a news release from chip maker ATI Technologies Inc. offered an early peek at some of the hardware the Cupertino, Calif., Mac maker plans to unveil.

At Expo, ATI (atytf) will officially unveil Mac support for its new Radeon processor and said it "plans a surprise announcement" on Wednesday, the date of Apple CEO Steve Jobs' Expo keynote speech.

ATI, based in Thornhill, Ontario, said that on Wednesday Apple (aapl) will introduce three new systems with ATI graphics hardware on board. According to ATI, one system will be an iMac with ATI's RAGE 4XL chip installed. The remaining two, ATI said, are Power Mac systems that will ship with RAGE 128 Pro and Radeon processors.

Unveiled to the public earlier this year, ATI's Radeon is set to become the first graphics chip to provide the Mac with hardware-based transform and lighting capabilities.

Hardware transform and lighting support is poised to be a cornerstone in the next generation of three-dimensional graphics applications and games -- it enables graphics-acceleration hardware to perform the processor-intensive calculations needed to create realistic-looking 3-D images much faster than can be done with current Mac video hardware. It's part of a suite of technology in the Radeon called Charisma Engine, which also provides developers with the tools to adopt new and better shadowing, lighting and texture-mapping effects.

Other features offered in the Radeon include support for DVI, or Digital Visual Interface, the connection needed for many flat-panel displays; HDTV support; and support for Double Data Rate (DDR) memory. RAGE 128 Pro is currently offered on Apple's line of Power Mac G4 systems, and ATI says it will continue to ship standard with some Power Mac systems.

Although the cards have been standard issue on Power Mac G4 systems for months, the RAGE 128 Pro has fallen behind 3dfx's Voodoo5 products and Nvidia's new GeForce 2 hardware in various tests performed by PC gaming and performance sources.

Current iMac models feature the ATI RAGE 128 VR chip, but ATI says Apple's new iMac will sport the company's RAGE 4XL chip instead. ATI bills the RAGE 4XL as suitable for "best-of-class entry-level PCs with on-chip DVD decoding and optional flat-panel support." The chip set provides 3-D acceleration with support for trilinear filtering, video texturing, Gourard and specular shading, and other 3-D special effects.

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