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Acer Labs to build GeForce 256 killer into North Bridge

Deal with ArtX paves way for significant shift in OEM 3D market

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Acer Labs has brought Nintendo's 3D graphics partner, ArtX, on board to help it integrate a graphics controller into the chipset vendor's core Socket 7 logic. According to a report in EE Times, we're not talking standard end-of-its-life graphics technology here.

One of the key features of ArtX's offering is the kind of transform and lighting engine currently only available through Nvidia's GeForce 256 chip. Integrating that, plus more traditional 3D acceleration components, into a PC's North Bridge chipset will present a threat to other chipset vendors and arguably the whole 3D add-in market. ArtX's chip, called Aladdin 7 (it will be offered as an Acer part), contains a 128-bit graphics engine capable of pumping out 12.5 million triangles per second -- more than twice what a 3dfx Voodo3 2000 is capable of, for example.

The deal with ArtX, which is better known as the developer of the graphics engine for the upcoming PowerPC-based Nintendo Dolphin console, follows a similar deal with Nvidia to create an integrated graphics controller for Socket 1/Socket 370 systems' North Bridge logic. The Nvidia technology is based on its TNT2 chip. ArtX said it is talking to an unnamed chipset vendor to take its high-end (than TNT2, at any rate) technology into the Socket 1/Socket 370 market.

Acer's move follows rival VIA's move to team up with 3D graphics company S3 to form a joint-venture whose goal is a similar high-end graphics / North Bridge combo. However, S3 is supplying its Savage 4 technology, rather than its top-of-the-line Savage 2000. Unlike Nvidia and S3, ArtX has no wider market share to protect here so can easily bring its latest graphics technology to Acer. The upside is that its chipset will compete very effectively with its rivals' products; the downside is that the ArtX name and technology is simply nowhere near as well known as brands like S3, Nvidia, ATI and 3dfx.

That said, it's a canny way for ArtX to achieve those companies' kind of exposure without the need to develop and promote a discreet graphic accelerator part on its own. Both the Acer/ArtX and VIA/S3 deals show the way the 3D graphics OEM market is moving, and implies a real shift away from OEM deals over silicon to arrangements made on the basis of intellectual property. This may prove an issue for the more well-known 3D companies, who make their money selling chips. ®

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