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3DLabs claims ‘breakthrough’ graphics chip

Sorry, Visual Processor Unit

3DLabs is to launch a new graphics accelerator chip, code-named the P10, and board-level products should be shipping in Q3.

The target markets are the workstations and games markets - and pre-production units, and beta DirectX 9 and OpenGL 2.0 drivers already seeded with apps developers. Digital photographers and video editors are another target sector.

Taking a leaf from Nvidia's book, California-based 3DLabs is giving its chip a fancy category name - a Visual Processor Unit (VPU) - to make it sound like a CPU. And the press release has the requisite quote from Jon Peddie (no graphics chip press release would be complete with a comment from this analyst).

And about the chip - it's a stunna! A major advance in interactive visual realism, no less. Deploying "Breakthrough Visual Processing Architecture" which has been in development for two years and which has "significant patents pending", the P10 VPU "combines the architectural strengths and programmability of general-purpose CPUs with extreme levels of hardware parallelism".

Here's some info about the P10 VPU's architecture: it incorporates more than 200 programmable SIMD (single instruction, multiple data) processor arrays "throughout its geometry, texture and pixel processing pipeline stages to deliver over 170Gflops and one TeraOp of programmable graphics performance together with a full 256-bit DDR memory interface for up to 20GBytes/sec of memory bandwidth".

There's more, but you'll have to read the press release.

3DLabs is a tiddler compared with Nvidia and ATI, and the effort to design this P10 chip, was a contributory factor in bringing the company to its knees. And of course for every dollar spent on R&Ding the P10, another eight or nine is required for manufacture, marketing and distribution.

Also, the company is launching its breakthrough chip at more or less the same time as the next-gen ATI and Nvidia products. So it needs to shout loud to defend existing market share, let alone carve out a consumer niche again.

3Dlabs is currently being bought by Creative Labs - the deal should close in May. Creative of course has massive distribution reach, and does not like being dependent on the likes of Nvidia for graphics chips. But it will be interesting to see how much the Singapore firm will commit to establish 3DLabs as a major graphics chip player. ®