Nvidia unveils NV20 graphics chip

Sixty million transistors and DirectX 8.0 support makes chip a formidable contender

Graphics chipmaker Nvidia today unveiled details of its latest GPU (graphics processing unit), the NV20, promising a substantial performance improvement on previous Nvidia chips.

The chip -- or one similar to it -- will also be used in Microsoft's forthcoming games console Xbox, and it was rumoured late last year that this new chip could be up to seven times faster than its predecessor, the NV15, when used in the Xbox.

It will also find a home in Apple and PC computer systems. Apple chief executive Steve Jobs earlier this month announced that the GeForce 3 card will be available with Power Mac G4 systems from April, which was seen as a coup for the Mac maker.

Unlike any previous graphics chip, the NV20 is optimised for Microsoft's DirectX 8.0. This will allow programmers to develop more realistic games with superior graphics, including flexible 3D rendering and more elaborate artwork. However, it may take six months for games that are optimised for the NV20 to appear for desktop machines.

According to figures released by Nvidia, a graphics board powered by the NV20 would be significantly faster than a GeForce2 Ultra -- currently Nvidia's top video card -- which uses the NV15 chip. An NV20 graphics board could be capable of rendering 1.2 billion pixels per second, and of processing 40 million triangles per second.

In contrast the GeForce2 Ultra can render 1 billion pixels per second and process 31 million triangles per second.

Once software drivers are optimised, experts say that boards based on the NV20 could be 30 to 35 percent faster than the GeForce2 Ultra. The NV20 offers a 9 percent improvement in memory bandwidth, from 7.36GB/sec to 8GB/sec, and a Quake performance improvement of 25 percent.

No pricing is available for graphics cards based on the NV20. However, UK consumers are likely to have to pay at least £350. When the GeForce2 Ultra was launched last year, it cost around $500 (£350).

Last December Nvidia acquired the assets of rival chipmaker 3Dfx, in what analysts claimed was an attempt to conquer the desktop PC market before moving onto new markets, such as consoles.

Documents leaked in November 2000 suggested that, for certain tasks, the NV20 would be seven times faster than the NV15. Microsoft is committed to using two Nvidia chips in the Xbox, which will be largely based on DirectX 8.0.

The Xbox is scheduled to arrive in the UK in early 2002.

For complete gaming news, see GameSpot UK.

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