NVidia unveils Titanium line of graphics chips, boards

NVidia is upgrading its GeForce3 and GeForce2 graphics processing units by unveiling the Titanium series GPUs for release in mid-October.

The chips are claimed to be NVidia's fastest yet, and use new shadow techniques that the vendor calls its most realistic. The GPUs will find their way into the boards of "all the usual suspects," according to Brian Burke, an NVidia spokesperson.

Current GeForce3 boards and GeForce2 Ultra and Pro boards will be phased out as the Titanium boards become available, according to Brian Burke, an NVidia spokesperson. They're keeping the GeForce2 MX 200 and 400 lines.

The announcement comes just a few days after main rival ATI Technologies Inc. started shipping its new Radeon 7500 graphics boards. Like the new Radeons, Titanium boards will support Windows XP. Users can download the new Detonator XP drivers for all NVidia boards and support for Windows 98, 2000, Me, and XP from NVidia's site.

Triple Titanium

The new Titanium series includes three levels of chips, all sporting the chemical symbol for Titanium in their names. The highest-end GeForce3 Ti 500 boards will feature a 240MHz core clock speed, has 64MB of DDR SDRAM memory, and will be capable of 960 billion operations per second. These boards will target the graphics enthusiast and sell for around US$379 to $399.

The second tier of boards will ship with the GeForce3 Ti 200 chip, which features a 175MHz core, 64MB of DDR SDRAM memory, and 700 billion operations per second capability. A cost-reduced version of the Ti 500, Ti 200 boards should sell for around $329.

Finally, the GeForce2 Ti boards will target the mainstream market with a 250MHz core clock speed, 64MB of 200MHz DDR SDRAM memory, and a more affordable $150 to $179 price tag.

The GeForce3 versions of the Titanium chips are forged with a .15 micron process (the GeForce2 Ti uses the older .18 micron process), packing 57 million transistors onto the Ti 500. The chip also uses shadow buffering technology, designed to deliver more realistic shadowing effects, including soft edges to shadows and self-shadowing. For example, it can enable a character's hand to cast a shadow on the character itself.

"We render the shadow from the point of view of the light and then render the pixel from the point of view of the eye," Burke says.

ASUS, Gainward, and VisionTek are among the manufacturers that plan to ship boards with each of the new chips. Their GeForce2 Ti and GeForce3 Ti 200 will be available by mid-October with the GeForce3 Ti 500 following shortly thereafter.

"We're very excited about the new arrivals from NVidia," says Cathy Yu, a spokesperson for ASUS. "The entrance of the Titanium series will be replacing our current line of 64MB GeForce3 cards."

Pixel Shader Problems

NVidia hopes the new chips will continue to solidify its market share. But it definitely won't be a step toward unification.

The disparity between ATI and NVidia over Pixel Shader--a component of Microsoft Corp.'s DirectX 8.1--still exists. ATI supports Pixel Shader version 1.4 with its new Radeon 7500 and 8500 graphics boards, while NVidia's chips--including Titanium--support only version 1.3. NVidia is also implementing a volumetric texture compression scheme that the company says is an 8-to-1 compression intended to reduce the 3D texture size, and purportedly improving large background 3D graphics effects.

"We think that the way we've done it is the way to go," says Burke. "We've got a pretty good share of the market out there." NVidia's "my way or the ATI way" attitude and similar stubbornness from ATI and a lack of resolve from Microsoft have left software developers with a dilemma.

As Burke puts it: "You either have to code for [Pixel Shader version] 1.3 or 1.4 or both." Developers complain that the standoff takes away from having a standard API (application programming interface) like DirectX in the first place. The game developers, of course, will vote with their code.

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