Nvidia shows mainstream GeForce FX chips

Nvidia is looking to reclaim its position at the top of the graphics food chain, announcing two new GeForce FX graphics chips geared toward mainstream users.

Nvidia is unveiling the GeForce FX 5600 Ultra and the FX 5200 Ultra at the Game Developer Conference in San Jose, California this week. The announcement comes on the heals of rival ATI's Wednesday launch of its newest Radeon graphics chips. It also follows NVidia's own recent launch of its long-delayed, high-end graphics chip, the GeForce FX 5800 Ultra.

All of Nvidia's latest chips use the CineFX architecture, which supports DirectX 9 and high-level shading languages that the company says provides easier, more realistic lighting and shading effects.

"We're trying to make the PC more like a console, a truly liberating experience for developers to write for," says Bill Rehbock, Nvidia's director of developer relations.

Mainstream Push

Bragging rights are won with the high-end graphics chips, and NVidia took some lumps from reviewers who found the GeForce FX 5800 Ultra's performance lacking. Despite the hype that surrounds the high-end chips, graphics companies make most of their money with mainstream boards, and that's also where many game developers focus their attention.

"It's kind of interesting that from a limelight standpoint, the high-end performance cards get so much attention," Rehbock says. "At the end of the day, what matters most to our partners ends up not the $400 high-end cards, but being able to run their games well on the mainstream and low-cost cards."

The budget GeForce FX 5200 Ultra comes with 128MB of memory and will ship on boards selling for about US$99. The 5200 Ultra still uses the .15-micron process, and replace NVidia's current GeForce 4MX. The mid-range GeForce FX 5600 Ultra will appear on boards selling for around US$199. Based on the new .13-micron process, the 5600 Ultra will be available in both 128MB and 256MB incarnations.

The power of the FX 5200 in particular is stunning compared to that of previous budget chips, Rehbock says.

"Here at GDC, I've never seen game developers so excited," he says. "Imagine being able to run Doom III on a $99 card."

NVidia in Trouble?

ATI beat NVidia to the high-end punch with its Radeon 9700 Pro, and that success has filtered down to its mainstream chips. Couple that with the disappointment surrounding the FX 5800 Ultra, and it might appear NVidia is slipping.

That's far from the case, says Jon Peddie, president of Jon Peddie Research, a graphics and multimedia research firm. Nvidia is still the dominant player in the graphics board market.

"Right now, ATI is going to get more favorable press attention, but Nvidia is a great company and they have great products coming," Peddie says.

The rivalry between the two companies is strong enough to drive them both ahead swiftly. "We'll see some dramatic things out of NVidia," he adds. "Their road map looking ahead is pretty damn powerful. And ATI's is also damn powerful. We'll see a lot of damn powerful stuff coming out," he says.

Fighting for Leftovers

In fact, ATI and NVidia's rivalry may be too strong, Peddie says. "The bad news is that ATI and NVidia are moving so far ahead of the other companies, that we're going to see the rest of them squabbling over the 15 percent of the market that's left," he says.

Those other companies include Creative Labs, Via, and Matrox, and they're left trying to hack out a niche. "They're all looking for space, but ATI and NVidia compete in all the same areas, so they have to contend with the powerhouses," Peddie says.

Looking ahead, a strong number three has to emerge to stabilize the market, he says. "The two companies that are in the best position are Creative Labs with their branding research dollars and then Matrox or Via," Peddie says.

For those that remember their graphics card history, not so long ago that number three used to be ATI--and before that, NVidia.

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