ASUS Radeon 9800 XT: Turning-point
In every business there inevitably come
turning points - when
the effect of the environment and changed
business conditions reach
a ten-fold value. Top managers of leading
companies notice them the last.
Sometimes it is too late...
|ASUS RADEON 9800 XT
||DDR 256 Mb; 2.5 ns
||412/750 (DDR) MHz
A little of history
As far back as ten years ago, the market of graphic cards of consumer-class was as simple as a penny - S3 and Trident were producing their mainstream chips and distributed them among all who wanted. ATI and Matrox were positioning as more serious companies and didn't give out their developments on the side. But in those times the only factor of video tests that had any measurable sense was the "speed of enveloping the graphic interface", and of course the "crystal clarity of the image" measured to the eye, what Matrox was notable for.
The emergence of 3dfx on the graphics market provoked four events at a time, which had a key impact on the whole computer industry:
First - the emergence of first video card running in both the 2D and 3D modes. To be more precise, "something conventional" installed on the then regular PCI slot was responsible for the 2D, whereas close to it there was a specialized video card for gamers which radically changed the look and feel of mean-looking games of those times into something impressive, that had no analogs.
Consequence: explosive growth of interest to technologies from the mass market.
Second - the Glide of 3dfx as a first serious graphic API aimed at exclusively games.
Consequence N1: Hundreds of 3D games were then re-created for Glide as a release of patches for already produced games. Those who remember our news of those years can confirm that every day several patches a day were published and that lasted for a year.
Consequence N2: DirectX, a standard for multimedia applications developed on the Windows platform was first announced in 1995, but did not gain support from developers. The embedded into DirectX standard for interaction with 3D accelerators (Direct3D) appeared only in the third version and was no more than a hasty response to the Glide standard from 3dfx. That is, for its further victorious progress it fully owes to the Glide.
Third - all the traditional players, S3, ATI, Matrox, Trident did not realize how serious the "key moment" was and kept modernizing their chip architectures without haste, whereas they had to be radically changed.
Consequence: the emergence of nVidia on the market who staked just on the competition with 3dfx in the 3D sphere. Their original task was integration between 2D and 3D all in one, for which 3dfx had not had the determination a long time. And complete ignorance of the Glide from the side of nVidia - the stake was put on DirectX, for which nVidia got necessary support from MS.
Fourth - the battle of graphic accelerators between 3dfx and nVidia pegged the news headlines in computer editions for many years ahead and became a "number one" topic .
Consequence: Such a course of events finally made some clumsy and sluggish draw attention to things which are evident to the consumer. For most old ones, the miss of the "key moments" was the last, and finally became aware of what was going on, but ATI decided to join the fight to the full.
Well, all that is the matter of ancient history and happened in the last century. Having run through numerous acquisitions and bankruptcies, the video industry entered the new century fully renewed. At the end of year 2000, nVidia acquired the ruins of 3dfx; S3 purchased Diamond Multimedia which had previously been bought at miserable $50 mln by VIA, and Micron Technology laid hands on Rendition etc...
Today: ATI or nVidia?
Today we have two real leaders - ATI and nVidia, and it's not easy to answer who if the "first". What is the "leadership"?
- A victory at performance in the most demanding and cool video cards offered by the companies? Let it be so, but the sales of hi-end solutions are so small that they don't have the leading role in the incomes. The purpose of their release is to demonstrate the technological advancements.
- A share on the market of sold chips? Well, but the number of chips and lines is so great - the entry-level 5200,9200, the mainstream 5600 and 9600, Hi-end of all suits, integrated chipsets, plus solutions for notebooks, game-sets, mobile phones and all the embedded stuff for airports, banks and shops. Nobody is able to count their shares.
- A package of developments for future and the technology margin? Sure..
- The net income after the activities for a year and prospects for the future? Yes! Because, it's just this that makes some sense of the previous activity...
So, we have arrived at the understanding of such an evident fact that only a thorough consideration of the whole union of these factors will allow to pronounce a verdict regarding their leadership on the market.
All in all, we are not investors and don't buy multi-billion companies with all the interiors, but their produce for a particular point in history. We can safely bring in some theses regarding their condition without fear of ostracism from PR-departments of these companies, since these theses are in fact quite well-known.
Facts for the end of year 2003:
- At the performance of high-end solutions in modern graphic applications, both the leaders are approximately on par.
- The "graphic technology of the future" - pixel shaders - that allows handling the object on the pixel level (smoke, fire, grass, clouds, hair) is better implemented in ATI solutions, and that is a generally known fact that has been proved a hundred times. The leadership started with the release of RADEON 9700 Pro last year - that was the first video card with support for DX9.
- The "process technology" is not that straightforward. NVidia started the migration to the 0.13 mk process with the release of NV30, i.e. a chip that by plan was to oppose 9700Pro. But that expensive migration process raised the chip cost incommensurably, which made the competition impossible. ATI started its move towards the 0.13 mk later and with a simpler to manufacture chipset - Radeon9600 thus making the transition less painful. There is a definite blunder made by nVidia, the consequences of which are still there.
- "Success in emerging onto new markets?" - also right and important.. both the companies have achieved great success in that. But the success for nVidia is in the past (the nForce2 chipset for the closed Athlon project and lost tender for XBox2 - supplies of chips for the first XBox gave nVidia 25% of the whole total income), whereas ATI faces success in future (the RADEON 9100 IGP for P4 and won a tender for XBox2).
- "The average cost of produce" video chips from ATI are traditionally cheaper than similar produce from nVidia. That applies to video cards either.
- "The share of the total market of sold chips" - definitely the most important factor. At that, the share of nVidia in the total volumes of sold video cars is incommensurably higher than ATI's. Except for the mobile solutions.
- "Cost of shares"? - it's interesting to keep track of their progress, but their cost does not characterize the real state of affairs. This is a game for other players...
Asus as a catalyst of the turning point
So, why despite that ATI cards are the cheaper and more powerful, the user still prefers nVidia's produce? The consumer's inertia is a dreadful thing, and you can't overcome it in one day. Several successful cycles of changes in product lines are necessary before we get used to a new leader who used to be was taken disdainfully a few years ago. The second factor is the banal shortage of chips. Placing orders with factories having sufficient equipment is a bothersome thing and is planned years in advance. As ATI admits, the company was unable to forecast the success of RADEON9700/RADEON9800 and thus order enough chips in quantities sufficient for the market. The third factor is partners. Traditionally, nVidia had an absolute majority of all the more or less prominent companies as partners who had been bound with contracts for purchasing chips and manufacturing cards for many years ahead (such things are also planned years in advance).
Today, we can assert these days are counted. Asus as one of the oldest and most reliable partners of NVidia is now producing ATI video cards and preserves the nVidia line, thus having overcome the many year tradition of "single-supplier" partnership. GIGABYTE a bit earlier also announced the manufacture of cards from both leading manufacturers of graphic chips. But in fact Asus has already produced its first video card on the ATI chip, Asus RADEON 9800 XT, which is lying on our test bed today.
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