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Apple dashes to buy Raycer

High-end 3D specialist to be bought for IP portfolio -- shades here of Intel's Real3D acquisition?

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Apple is to buy graphics chip designer Raycer for as much as $20 million, according to sources cited by US newswires. Given how much money Apple now has on paper thanks to its Akamai stake, it could easily afford to buy Raycer -- and a number of other technology companies besides. If the claims are accurate, it's a curious move. Raycer's business centres on the development of 3D graphics acceleration technologies specifically something it calls the Spatial Data Processor, for high-end applications. Apple's gets technology it can use to enhance its professional Macs' 3D performance, something it's already promoting through the Power Mac G4's vector processing technology, AltiVec, part of the machine's PowerPC 7400 (aka G4) CPU. Then again, Apple has a close relationship with 3D graphics company ATI, which currently supplies all of the Mac maker's graphics acceleration chips. Apple is also nurturing 3dfx's new-found support for the Mac, which is now providing reference drivers to allow Mac owners to install and use Voodoo-based boards in their machines. So why risk annoying these 3D big guns by buying a company ostensibly to replace their products with Raycer-derived chips of its own? The close relationship with ATI is largely what's kept the likes of Nvidia and S3 from supporting the Mac. 3dfx's support is probably more down to its rivals' lack of it than any specific Mac-friendliness on its part. However, the deal may well centre not on Raycer's products per se but on its portfolio of patents and the expertise of its designers. Apple buys in that expertise then leverages it through licensing deals with, say, ATI to ensure it gets access to the best graphics technology but still maintains a relationship with a third-party supplier. The acquisition of intellectual property appears to be a prime motivation in the 3D business these days. That's certainly why Intel snapped up Real3D's remains, even as ATI was re-employing many of the failed graphics company's former staff. Intel clearly has a vested interest in bringing workstation-class graphics technologies to the PC, as has Apple. The move could always be tactical. On Intel's Web site, Jay Duluk, Raycer's CTO and co-founder, says: "Intel-based professional graphics platform will be the first choice for the most demanding artist, designer and developer." (An identical quote is attributed on the site to Dave Epstein, Raycer's CEO and other co-founder.) Maybe Apple is out to ensure that it controls the companies that might make that happen... ®

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