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Graphics War – Good or Bad?

Posted: May 11, 2000
Written By: Keith "Farrel" McClellan

Good or Bad?

Currently, there are five different graphics chips that will be vying for your cash over the next six months or so – 3dfx with its Voodoo4/5, Nvidia with the Geforce 2 GTS, ATI with its Rage 6 “Radeon 256” chip, S3/VIA with the ‘Savage’ line of chips, and Matrox with its G450. This is definitely going to be an interesting time for the graphics card industry. As chip and board companies merge (of the above five ‘big players’ (arguable, yes) in the graphics industry, Nvidia is the only one that is still only selling the chips to board makers), the debate over which company is ‘best’ is going to rage on. And as this rages on, expect to see at least two of the above companies to either merge with another company, or simply drop out of the high-end consumer 3D graphics market.

Right now, Nvidia and 3dfx are fighting for the top spot on the 3D accelerator pedestal, and for the time being, at least in the realm of features, Nvidia (even still, although it remains to be seen) appears to be king. But with one product cycle, that crown could be as quickly removed from Nvidia as it was for 3dfx. And who knows where it would land then. This is why we see such heated competition between the different companies, and it also explains why 3D accelerator speeds are breaking Moore’s law. Remember, Moore’s law states that computer technology (he was specifically talking about microchips) would double every 12 to 18 months for the foreseeable future. But 3D accelerators are doubling in speed every 6 months. And unlike the natural speed increases that occur in the processor industry (well, until the whole PIII/Athlon thing came into being – their speeds are now going up faster too – but more on that later), this isn’t necessarily good for the consumer.

“Isn’t good for the consumer?!?” Yes – think about it. Sure, the added speed is nice and all, but there are several things that need to be considered. First, because of the relatively short product cycles, people either must buy a new card every time the latest and greatest comes out or be hindered by the performance of their 3D card. Also, because there is such a broad range of accelerators on the market right now, and they vary in speed so greatly, it is impossible for game developers to develop games to the ‘upper standard’ without making them unplayable on ‘old’ systems (in this case, old can be as new as 12 months) so we end up playing games that we could be running on our almost three year old PII 233s. And on top of all this, check out the prices for the next generation of 3D accelerators! I can get a decently fast processor for my computer right now for $90 (500 MHz Celerons are very cool – or you could go for an older and cheaper model and overclock – my 433 hits 570 with standard air cooling) but if I want a decent 3D accelerator I’m spending at least $200. And with some of the next generation products, the prices will be between $300 and $500. For $500 I can get a top of the line Athlon processor – what the heck? Even though I have the need for speed just as much as anyone else, I’d like things to slow down a bit – it would be easier on my wallet.

Note - this is an editorial. Its points and opinions reflect those of the author!

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