Well, with 2002 over and done with, we’ve got quite a few things to look back on, don’t we? This has been a year with a few major surprises, and many expected events.
Did anyone see this coming? For the first time recent memory, ATI delivered a killer product without a peep of marketing hype preceding it. One day we had the superb GeForce 4 standing on a completely different level from everything else in the market, and then it was crushed by ATI’s Radeon 9700 line. At the time, with GeForce “5” only a few months away, this was shocking enough. 9700 was on the market several months early and we thought it was a coup for ATI just because it gave them some time to build up momentum before the launch of the next NVIDIA part. The situation was very analogous to the launch of the Athlon by AMD, which caught Intel with its pants down as the Athlon leaped past the beleaguered Pentium III, and the P4 wouldn’t be ready nearly in time.
What seemed a finesse move by ATI in getting to market early, has become a crushing blow to NVIDIA by their failure to produce a contender at all. Let’s get into a few background details first. ATI designed the 9700/9500 chips to be built with the .15 micron (150nm) design process – a tried and tested method. NVIDIA, doubtless reassured by TSMC that it would be ready, banked on the .13 micron process being available in 2H 02. The GeForce FX chip was ready a long time ago and would have been on the market sometime in the third quarter, if not for manufacturing delays.
So while technically the fault doesn’t like directly with NVIDIA for the delay, in reality there is some blame to disperse there. We wouldn’t be having this argument if ATI had made the same mistake and trusted TSMC’s claims about .13 micron being ready. Since both ATI and NVIDIA rely on outside manufacturing (namely: TSMC) to produce their chips, either the ATI engineers convinced everyone their chip could run on .15 micron, or ATI found some reason to doubt Taiwan Semiconductor’s claim. In short, that means someone at NVIDIA failed to do the same for their company.