Summary: Brandon reports in from Computex 2004 in Taiwan in his one of a series of coverage articles. Today, he will briefly go over the ATI and NVidia cards in this preview for 2004. See what's in store!
Computex has proven to be especially busy this year. With Socket 939, LGA-775, PCI Express (and ATI and NVIDIA graphics cards to go with them) and Intel’s upcoming 915 and 925 chipsets there’s a lot to see on the show floor. In fact, 2004 is shaping up to be one of the busiest years in the PCI industry in the past five years!
In addition to the normal show stuff – back-to-back meetings – we also threw our first annual FiringSquad Computex Industry Invitational. We invited all of the top manufacturers in the industry to our suite in the Taipei World Trade Center Building to duke it out in Battlefield Vietnam. Everyone that attended walked away with a free copy of the game, posters, and FiringSquad T-shirts, while the participants took home plaques commemorating the event (special thanks to AOpen and Electronic Arts for sponsoring the event!). We’ll be providing more coverage on that, and all of the equipment on display in a later article, today we’re here to talk about the graphics cards that were on display at Computex this year.
The buzz around ATI was of course the RADEON X600 and X300 series, as well as the MOBILITY X600, which were launched on the first of this month. Some enthusiasts have already criticized ATI for providing such an incremental technology upgrade over the equivalent mainstream AGP product, RADEON 9600 XT, but speaking with ATI’s board partners, that is, the manufacturers who provide both ATI and NVIDIA graphics lines, they’re quite excited about the X600, claiming it performs better than NVIDIA’s equivalent PCI Express part (GeForce PCX 5750). The PCX 5750 is largely based on NVIDIA’s AGP-based GeForce FX 5700 line, which performed well in comparison to the RADEON 9600 XT, but with the X600’s faster memory clock it should be quite a performer.
In addition, RADEON X600 is cheaper for a board manufacturer to produce than GeForce PCX 5750, as NVIDIA’s bridge chip, HSI, isn’t required on X600. This also frees up space on the board, allowing for more flexible board designs. Once supply catches up to demand, ATI’s PCI Express boards could fall to prices below NVIDIA’s, although indications suggest this will take a few months to occur.
A few other interesting tidbits we picked up this week:
NVIDIA’s PCI Express GeForce 6800 Ultra, tentatively codenamed NV45, made a stealth arrival at Computex. We say “tentatively codenamed” because NVIDIA’s plans for this board are constantly changing. Here are two pictures we snagged:
As of right now, the NV45 boards looks largely identical to today’s reference NV40 design. The biggest difference you’ll note is the new power connector configuration: the two Molex connectors present on NV40 are gone on NV45, replaced instead with a single connector. This should appease enthusiasts who are short on power connections. As we mentioned earlier, board partners will continue to bundle power adapters with their PCI Express boards, so supplying the card with juice shouldn’t be a problem.
The first NV45 boards aren’t currently expected to hit retail until the end of summer, early fall. We were told September would be the most likely ship date, but as always, plans can change. Clock speeds will be similar to the AGP version, so don’t expect any radical performance difference between NV40 and today’s “NV45”. We have a feeling NVIDIA will work hard on improving NV45’s specs though, similar to NV35 and NV38.
NVIDIA’s more immediate PCI Express plans are GeForce PCX 5750 and PCX 5300, which are based on the GeForce FX 5700 and GeForce FX 5200 series respectively. NVIDIA has also announced a PCI Express PCX 5950 part, but we haven’t seen many of these boards on the show floor (the SFF system Biostar submitted for the invitational event was powered by a PCX 5900 though), so we don’t expect them to be as popular at the retail level.
Besides graphics cards, NVIDIA also announced its nStant Media, which is part of its ForceWare driver suite. nStant Media is designed to give users quick access to the multimedia content on their PCs. Say for instance, you’re looking for a picture you took on vacation last week. Rather than booting up your system, loading the OS, and finding the file, with nStant Media you can find the file without powering up your system. This technology is similar to the Jukebox functionality found in many of today’s motherboards, where you can listen to audio CDs without having to boot up the system (nStant Media can perform this function also).
At the press of a button, a graphical user interface loads up giving you access to all your media files, even ones that are on separate partitions. You can also listen to music or watch DVDs from here as well. The GUI currently loads up in about ten seconds, although NVIDIA is working to reduce this even further.
NVIDIA’s nStant Media press release suggests that the technology is meant solely for laptops, although we were assured by NVIDIA’s Andrew Fear that the technology can be adopted for any market, including small form factor PCs, handheld devices, and conventional desktop PCs.
That’s a wrap
Now that you know ATI and NVIDIA’s strategy for this summer, we’ll next go over the plans of ATI and NVIDIA’s board partners. We saw quite a few interesting designs from both ATI and NVIDIA’s camps, so you’ll want to check back for part two to see how the board partners are innovating beyond the standard reference setup. We think you’ll be surprised by some of the developments! Our plane for the states leaves in a few hours though, so we’ve got to get packing!
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