ATI Technologies has raised the bar for PC graphics once again, with the launch of its Radeon X800 visual processing unit (VPU), boasting twice the power of the existing market leader.
The launch comes weeks after nVidia unveiled its GeForce FX 6800 VPU series, which is already popular with mainstream PC vendors and system builders.
The Radeon X800 is being positioned as the technology that will allow end-users to enjoy the PC equivalent of high-definition TV broadcasts.
The VPU uses 16 parallel pixel pipes and six vertex pipes to process more than eight billion pixels and almost 800 million vertices per second.
According to ATI, the 0.13 micron-manufactured X800 is twice as fast as today's performance leader, the Radeon 9800 XT. The chip is expected to help cement ATI's leadership in the performance segment of the graphics card market.
"Currently nearly 80 per cent of high-performance DirectX 9 graphics cards shipping are powered by ATI's visual processors," said Dean McCarron, analyst at Mercury Research.
"The new Radeon X800 series of visual processors demonstrate ATI's continued focus on the high-end segment of the PC graphics market."
One of the key new features in the X800 is the 3Dc compression technology, which allows games developers to create better-looking games by using high-resolution normal maps to create high levels of detail.
3Dc has been designed to do this without the performance reduction associated with high-polygon models.
Doug Service, director of technology development at Ritual Entertainment, said: "Ritual Entertainment will use ATI's new 3Dc normal map compression technology to double the detail in our next generation game environments.
We can now create normal maps with twice the detail using the same memory as our original uncompressed normal maps. This will lead to an increase in visual fidelity for the characters and the entire scene."
Rick Bergman, senior vice-president of marketing at ATI, said: "Not only has the design team developed the highest-performing and most efficient graphics architecture in the world, it has done so while maintaining high levels of stability, reliability and manufacturability."
Shipping immediately through retail, system builder and OEM partners, the X800 will come in two flavours: the X800 XT Platinum Edition and the X800 Pro.
The XT Platinum Edition will be powered by a 16-pipe pixel processing engine clocked at 520MHz, and use high-speed 1.12GHz graphics double data rate 3 (GDDR3) memory and a 256bit memory interface. It will cost $499.
The $399 X800 Pro will use a 12-pipe pixel processing engine clocked at 475MHz, with a 256bit memory interface and GDDR3 memory with a 900MHz data rate.
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