ATI aims to extend lead over Nvidia

A revision of the industry-leading Radeon 9700 graphics processor may help ATI continue its performance advantage over Nvidia, while a second chip will help ATI in the low-cost market

ATI is gearing up to begin production of a new generation of graphics processors in the next two weeks, using the services of Taiwanese manufacturers Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSMC) and UMC.

The company is partly responding to the imminent appearance of Nvidia's latest chip, the GeForce FX, which was announced last month but will not hit the market for several more weeks, according to the company. ATI's Radeon 9700 is currently the most powerful graphics chip available, and analysts have said ATI is eager to exploit its advantage while it lasts.

An update of the Radeon 9700, code-named RV350, is expected to begin production by the end of this month, shifting to a more advanced manufacturing process that is intended to deliver higher clock speed and greater efficiency. The chip is currently manufactured by TSMC to 0.15-micron geometry, but the new version will shrink this to 0.13 microns, currently used by chipmakers AMD and Intel as well as the GeForce FX.

The GeForce FX also uses TSMC's 0.13-micron process.

Also heading for the assembly lines this month is a new mass-market chip code-named RV280, which will be manufactured by UMC using a 0.15-micron process, according to a report in the Taiwanese industry journal DigiTimes. According to industry sources, the chip is essentially the same as the earlier RV250, but adds support for AGP 8X, a standard for fast data transfer between a graphics card and the rest of a PC. The RV250 is marketed as the Radeon 9000.

The RV280 is expected to be aimed at the low- to mid-range of the market, according to DigiTimes. UMC currently produces other ATI entry-level products, such as the Radeon 7000.

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