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ATI revamps Radeon roadmap

Rage 128 Pro not long for this world?

ATI has quietly updated its roadmap charting the evolution of its Radeon - no other 3D chip washes pixels whiter - graphics accelerator part.

The new gameplan appears to pave the way for the current Rage 128 Pro chip to be quickly phased out in favour of cross-the-range desktop Radeons. It also features ATI's long awaited system-on-a-chip product, the core component of the company's apparently ill-fated attempts to create an information appliance market.

The end of the Rage 128 is signalled by the arrival later this month of a cut-price Radeon, the RV100, to be followed by a dual-processor Radeon Maxx card early next month. That, in turn, is set to be joined by the Radeon 2 in December.

Add to that list the existing Radeon, and you've got a comprehensive line-up of accelerator products that can be used to target all the key graphics markets. ATI's financial difficulties are forcing it to rethink its approach, and cutting back on the number of parts on offer is a good start. It makes the company's product line more up to date, simplifies the range ensuring it's easier to sell, cuts production costs - twice as many Radeons will be cheaper than an equivalent number of Radeons and Rage Pros.

The Radeon 2 is said to be twice as fast as its predecessor, and will feature full DirectX 8 support and a "programmable TCL engine". It's set to be announced at Comdex Fall next month for December availability. Some three months further on, ATI will release a Maxx board based on the new chip.

Summer 2001 will see the Radeon Pro, which ATI claims will be four times faster than the current version. The secret of its speed is a 400MHz core fabbed at 0.15 micron and an enhanced rendering architecture.

That's the desktop line - ATI will also extend its Mobility family of notebook-oriented parts with a Radeon Mobility. Details will be announced in the coming months, probably at Comdex. Availability is expected early 2001.

Spring 2001 will see the arrival of ATI's SoC product, aimed at the very low-end desktop and information appliance markets. It's basically a CPU plus integrated graphics, audio and so on. Much of the technology will have come from ATI's acquisition of SoC/media processor developer Chromatic Research back in 1998.

That may also be source of ATI's other low-end chip, a Northbridge chip with integrated Radeon graphics. This part comes in response to Nvidia's move into this area with the chip it's going to offer based on the Northbridge silicon it's developing for Microsoft's X-box.

Assuming ATI can get all these chips out on schedule, the roadmap marks an acceleration in the company's release plan. In the graphics chip business a fast product refresh cycle is essential - as Nvidia has shown and 3dfx made apparent by its failure to keep up with its own roadmap - and ATI has always been a bit of a slowcoach here. ®

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