Few vendors show ATI-based graphics boards

ATI's announcement was timed to coincide with the Computex exhibition, giving a chance for graphics-board makers to test the waters among the thousands of computer components buyers that descend on Taipei each year for Asia's largest computer show. But while a few companies put products based on ATI's Radeon and Radeon VE chips on display at Computex, at least one board manufacturer, AOpen, has decided not to make ATI-based graphics boards under its own brand, fearing retaliation from NVidia.

AOpen decided not to manufacture ATI-based graphics boards for "political reasons," said Joey Chou, a networking and multimedia sales specialist in the company's marketing department. AOpen fears NVidia will cut off its supply of GeForce graphics chips if AOpen decides to ship graphics boards based on ATI's Radeon chips, he said.

While NVidia officials did not directly deny plans to stop selling chips to graphics board vendors that choose to sell boards based on ATI's chips, they did say that NVidia expects to keep working with its existing partners.

"We, as a company, believe that our partners' greatest opportunity is to continue to work closely with us and offer a top-to-bottom solution at all price points based on NVidia products," said NVidia spokesman Derek Perez. "It is the decision of that company (AOpen) on whether or not they choose to do so. We cannot force anyone to sell our products."

NVidia is very careful about which companies they choose to work with in the graphics board market and will continue to choose partners "wisely," Perez said. "We believe that all of our current VGA (video graphics array) vendors will be with us as we continue to grow," he added.

While AOpen may not want to risk NVidia's ire by making ATI-based graphics board under its own brand, customers can still buy them through the company. AOpen has designed graphics boards using ATI's Radeon graphics chips and will help customers arrange for them to be manufactured by Acer Design, Manufacturing and Services (DMS) division, which has licensed the ATI chips, Chou said. AOpen is an Acer subsidiary.

Acer DMS is currently the only graphics-board maker to have licensed ATI's Radeon graphics chips, said John Challinor, a spokesman for ATI, noting the company expects to announce agreements with other vendors over the next 30 days.

Possible candidates include Asustek Computer and Gigabyte Technology, which ATI officials have previously identified as likely licensees of its chips.

While Acer DMS may be the only licensee that ATI has so far announced, at least one other company at Computex claimed to hold a license to use ATI's chips in its graphics boards.

Jetway Information, which also makes graphics boards based on chips from NVidia and Silicon Integrated Systems, has licensed the right to make graphics boards based on the Radeon and Radeon VE chips from ATI, said Rondy Lu, an IT assistant and engineer at the company.

Jetway had two ATI-based graphics boards on display at its Computex booth. One board was based on the Radeon chip with 32MB of DDR (double data rate) memory and one was based on the Radeon VE chip with 32MB of SDRAM (synchronous dynamic random access memory). The Radeon-based board with 32MB of DDR memory is expected to sell for less than $US110, said Lu, adding the Radeon VE-based boards with 32MB of SDRAM will sell for under $US50. Jetway will begin shipping the boards in July, Lu said.

Fear of retaliation from NVidia was evidently not a factor in Jetway's decision to license the ATI chips, as Jetway has so far received no feedback from NVidia regarding its plans to sell ATI-based graphics boards, Lu said.

Having graphics boards based on chips from more than one vendor is an important part of Jetway's strategy, said Lu, adding the company doesn't want to see NVidia, which currently dominates the graphics chip market, become another "monster, like Microsoft"

Other vendors were more cautious about plans to introduce ATI-based graphics boards.

First International Computer (FIC) had two ATI-built graphics boards on display, one based on the Radeon chip with 64MB of DDR memory and another with the Radeon VE chip and 32M bytes of DDR memory.

FIC is currently in talks with ATI regarding a licensing deal, said Ralph Liu, a sales manager in FIC's networking and information group. FIC decided to show the ATI-made boards to potential customers in order to gauge their feedback and interest, Liu said.

So far, FIC has not made a decision on whether to go ahead with making ATI-based boards, Liu said, adding customer response during the show had been "so-so."

Other companies were conspicuously quiet about plans to release ATI-based graphics boards. Asustek, which ATI has named as a possible licensee along with Gigabyte, had a range of NVidia-based boards on display at its booth but did not show any ATI-based boards. Likewise, Gigabyte also did not display any ATI-based boards at its booth.

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