Not a Chronology
ATI is twice as old as NVIDIA, and many of the early 2D-only products are flat out boring. So, rather than go through a chronological history of ATI, we're taking a new three threaded approach.
We begin with the tale of ATI's formation and then continue with a history of ATI's multimedia acceleration and then finish with ATI's work in 3D graphics.
ATI's story begins with the personal tale of Kwok Yuen Ho, ATI's founder and CEO. Born in 1950 to a once-wealthy family dispossessed by the Communists on mainland China, K.Y. Ho lived a childhood of poverty.
As the youngest in his family, he spent his youth peddling vegetables from the family garden. Ho's father, once a teacher, was forced to leave the family behind and become a laborer in Hong Kong's factories, sending whatever money back to his family whenever he could. In 1962, his family was reunited in Hong Kong where life meant a crammed one-room flat.
Ho's big break would come after earning a spot at a top Taiwanese college, National Cheng Kung University. He found his calling and graduated in 1974 with a bachelor's in Electrical Engineering. Ho worked at Control Data Systems, Philips Electronics, and National Semiconductor before finally taking his position of General Manager at Wong's Electronics Co. Ltd., a turnkey PC manufacturing and assembly house.
Ho immigrated to Canada in 1984. Unfortunately, despite a decade of work experience and an EE degree, he found it difficult to find a position comparable to ones he had in Hong Kong.
The Birth of ATI
K.Y. Ho was not alone in his frustration with the job market. In 1985, Ho with two other Hong Kong emigrants, Benny Lau (VP of product development, retired) and Lee Lau (VP of Strategic Planning), started their own company: Array Technology Industry.
The decision to make ATI a graphics company was very simple. The entire life savings for all three men totaled $300,000. According to Ho, starting a computer company required big capital - they could only afford to be a graphics company.
ATI started with an initial staff of six, with the secretary, receptionist and shipping department being the same person. As a small, unproven Canadian company, computer manufacturers were reluctant to deal with ATI and in four months, their $300,000 had run out. The Overseas Union Bank of Singapore rescued ATI with a $300,000 business loan that was later increased to $1.5 million.
Despite ATI's initial troubles, the high-volume nature of graphics chip sales meant that ATI only needed one design win to save the company. The first sale would come in the second half of the year when Commodore signed on, ordering 7,000 chips a week. By the end of the first year, ATI had $10 million in revenue.