Nvidia DirectX 9 market lead chipped away by ATI

State of play

Nvidia commands a 64 per cent share of the desktop graphics chip market, but only 60 per cent of the DirectX 9-compatible chip business.

So says Xbit Labs, citing Mercury Research figures for Q1 and Q2 of this year.

Nvidia's leadership in the desktop space is now well established, but it's interesting that the company's share of the high-end of the market isn't as high. The implication is clear: its arch-rival, ATI, has begun to chip away at its lead, thanks to products like the Radeon 9800, 9700 and 9600.

And Nvidia's self-confessed cock-up over the GeForce FX 5800 won't have helped the company any.

With the 5800's successor, the 5900, now shipping and backed by the GeForce FX 5200 and 5600, it has a fine range of products covering the DirectX 9 market.

Which, let's not forget, isn't entirely a high-end business. Indeed, at the lower end of that segment, Nvidia has a 70 per cent share. That, plus the arrival of the 5900, will, we reckon, improve the company's DirectX 9 market share during the second half of the year, and possibly its overall share too. Probably by only a few percentage points, but a gain nonetheless.

ATI isn't going to concede any share easily. It is said to have two new chips on the way in the near future, the RV350 and R360, to be followed by RV360, and, toward the end of the year, the R420. The latter is its next-generation processor, which will support DirectX 9.1 through version 3 pixel and vertex shaders, and probably use the PCI Express interface too. Around the same time, the RV380 will allow RV350-class products to support PCI Express too.

Nvidia's first PCI Express chip is expected to be the 150 million-transistor (according to some reports) NV40, the successor to the GeForce FX 5900 (aka NV35), also due out late 2003. Q1 2004 is expected to see the arrival of NV41 and NV43, the equivalents of the GeForce FX 5200 and 5600, respectively.

Meanwhile, Nvidia will extend the 5x00 family with the NV36 chip, possibly to be dubbed the 5700 Ultra. Preliminary specs. include a 82 million transistor core clocked to 500MHz and fabbed at 130nm. It connects to the 400MHz video memory across a 256-bit bus. If it does indeed sit between the 5600 and the 5900, it's a fair bet that it's a 5900 with fewer shader pipelines than the NV35. The vanilla 5700 is expected to be clocked at 400MHz (core) and 325MHz (memory).

Nvidia is also said to be preparing the NV38 and the NV36X, though few details are known. Possibly they are PCI Express-enabled versions of the NV35 and NV36, respectively.

ATI rules the notebook graphics market, with a market share of around 59 per cent, up from 51 per cent last year. Nvidia share is growing year on year too, with both companies taking market share from lesser players like VIA/S3 and SiS/Xabre, which now owns Trident, once one of the giants of the mobile graphics business.

Finally, Nvidia's share of the integrated chipset business fell to three per cent last quarter from seven per cent in Q1, though Mercury apparently changed the way it counts them between quarters, so the fall may not be as much as it sounds. It shipped 1.6 million nForces in Q1 (the seven per cent), and 1.7 million in Q2, of which 600,000 featured integrated graphics (the three per cent). Even if Nvidia's market share isn't growing, its sales are.

We don't have equivalent figures for ATI, alas. ®

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