ATI Reenters Chipset Market In Force

ATI Reenters Chipset Market In Force

Mark Hachman

ATI Technologies has reentered the chipset market, with a comprehensive suite of products for both the desktop and mobile versions of the Athlon and Pentium 4.

All told, ATI released seven products Wednesday morning: five north bridges and a pair of south bridge chips. Although ATI enters the market nearly a year after rival Nvidia, the graphics maker has addressed several markets Nvidia Corp. has been unable or legally forbidden to enter, namely the mobile integrated graphics space as well as the entire Pentium 4 market.

“We feel we have strong graphics technology we really haven’t addressed to this point,” said Niles Burbank. “A lot of customers want graphics delivered to them in terms of an IGP or integrated graphics processor. That’s where the growth in the market is coming from, the lowest cost point.”

ATI had previously played in the graphics space through the acquisition of ArtX Inc., the supplier of graphics technology inside the Nintendo GameCube graphics console. Although ArtX’s S1370TL chipset was later marketed to customers after the acquisition, Burbank said that it required a different driver set and so was not especially attractive to customers. The ArtX design team remained intact, however, and helped design the new products.

For the Pentium 4 desktop market, ATI released the IGP 330 and 340, which contain the Radeon core graphics technology. While both north bridges support the Pentium 4, only the IGP 340 supports Intel’s forthcoming 533-MHz front-side bus; in addition, the 64-bit memory interface is clocked at 183-MHz or 2.1 Gbytes/s of total bandwidth, versus 160-MHz for the IGP 330. All of AMD’s chipsets can allocate from between 8 to 128 Mbytes of main memory for use as a graphics frame buffer, but can address up to only 1 Gbyte of memory of total memory.

The ATI IGP 320 is virtually identical to the IGP 340, except that it supports both the 200-MHz and 266-MHz front-side bus of the Athlon.

Although the Thornhill, Ontario-based graphics firm has addressed both the AMD and Intel processor family, executives said they will emphasize the new Pentium 4 chipsets and the mobile Athlon market, instead of the desktop Athlon processor, because of the relative lack of competition.

“What I would say is that we have relatively modest expectations in terms of the unit numbers we’re going to sell there in promoting that space,” Burbank said of the company’s sales expectations to Athlon customers.

The graphics core of all of ATI’s new IGP products support the Pixel Tapestry and HyperZ memory technologies, with 3 texturing units. ATI’s Video Immersion technology is included within the video pipeline, as is the HydraVision dual-display capability. The chipset supports resolutiosn up to QXGA, or 2048×1536 pixels. ATI’s chipsets includes a discrete AGP 4X interface, allowing a user to upgrade the graphics with a separate card.

ATI also abandoned the PCI bus as a means of transferring information between the north and south bridges, choosing instead to develop “A-Link”, a proprietary 266-Mbyte/s connection. OEMs can also use third-party south bridges, but must link them using PCI.

In the mobile space, ATI has made a concerted effort to reduce power consumption. As Intel has done with its latest mobile chipset products, ATI has introduced power management into its chipset, allowing them to shut off the graphics core when not in use. Still, Burbank estimated the total power savings to be under 30 minutes of battery life: “Even when the graphics is not in use, the rest of the system might be,” he noted.

In the mobile Athlon space, the Via KN133 is receiving the bulk of the design wins, for now. “We think we outperform them by at least 5 times [on 3D WinBench 2000],” Burbank said of the mobile version of the IGP320, the IGP320M. ATI has designed two chipsets for the mobile Pentium 4 market, the ATI IGP 330M and 340M.

The two south bridges, the IXP 200 and 250, both share common features including six USB ports, each of which can function either as a USB 1.1 or USB 2.0 port; an AC-Link interface; and an integrated 3Com 10/100-Mbit Ethernet controller. The IXP 250 alone supports several advanced features, including on Wake-On-LAN, remote desktop management, ASF support, and a managed boot agent.

ATI’s marketing pitch to OEMs will emphasize what the company calls FlexFit, or the ability to mix and match ATI’s chipsets, together with third-party south bridges. “All of the OEMs have laid off engineering staff at some time or another,” Burbank noted. “We want to make it easy for them to do.”

ATI’s Athlon products—the IGP 320 and 320M–will enter volume production in May, with all of the remaining north and south bridges entering production during the summer; it remains to be seen whether motherboard makers will wait for ATI’s south bridges, or link the IGP 320 to a third-party south bridge by way of the PCI bus. Motherboard makers will include Gigabyte, FIC, Wistron, Lite-On and Sapphire; notebook partners include Arima, Compal, and Quanta, which build notebook PCs on contract for American OEMs.

Note: For more information be sure to read our IMHO as well, Chipset Wars Heat Up.

Correction: An earlier version of this story characterized ATI’s performance under the “WinBench 2000” benchmark. The correct name of the benchmark is “3D WinBench 2000”.

Copyright © 2004 Ziff Davis Media Inc. All Rights Reserved. Originally appearing in ExtremeTech.