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David Kirk Interview

Posted: November 23, 1998
Written by: Dan "Tweak Monkey" Kennedy

Who is David Kirk? Soon, most of you will know for sure. As NVidia's Riva TNT chipset and their other products continue to grow, his name will appear more and more...

So, here it is:

An exclusive interview with Chief Scientist David Kirk at NVidia Corporation.

Tweak3D: Although we know who you are, some people might not. What is your official job title at NVidia, and what exactly do you do?

David: My official job title is "Chief Scientist" and in that capacity, I work with the rest of the engineers to figure out what new features we should support and how fast we should go. It's a great job - I get to work with the best team in the business! My unofficial job title is "Minister of Armaments", which means that I am responsible for making sure that we kick the s**t out of the competition, too.

Tweak3D: When the Riva TNT hit the market, it appeared as almost an instant success. Judging from your expert opinion, what makes the TNT the best card for the target audience?

David: I think that RIVA TNT is a very solid, high quality, high performance product. We get very high benchmark and application scores, and implement more Direct3D features than any other product that I'm aware of. The rendering quality in unequaled by any of the competitive offerings. People like that.

Tweak3D: Every day I receive a lot of of e-mail asking when a .25 micron TNT will be available. Can you give any hint as to when these beasts will arrive? And what kind of performance increase are we talking here?

David: I can't comment on speculations about unannounced products. Sorry!

Tweak3D: Judging from your job title, it sounds like you're a busy guy. When you have free time which games do you play, if any?

David: I get to try out all sorts of games, just as part of making sure that they run well on our products. I'm still a big fan of Quake 2, even though there are newer things out there. Shogo also looks stunning. I'm also really looking forward to the newer generation of games that were actually designed with the TNT in mind.

Tweak3D: The Riva 128 had a few problems, but for its time it was a great chipset. Further development into the chipset introduced the Riva 128ZX, which offered new features and more memory. Will there be a Riva TNT ZX? If so, what features will be changed? (e.g. type/size of memory, texture vertex caches, target clockspeed of core/memory, DVD, better RAMDAC, improved 32 bit color, etc)

David: Again, I'm sorry, but I can't comment on the specifics of unannounced products.

Tweak3D: Many articles are stating that 32 bit color offers little improvement in overall image quality at a high cost of performance. Do you think 32 bit color will have a huge impact on image quality in the future, or if it already has, what games show it?

David: 32 bit color is most valuable if games are authored with full color in mind. If the game uses single texture, 16 bit textures, it really doesn't make very much difference. However, if the game is designed with high quality, 32 bit color textures, and does multi-texture or multi-pass, then the problems with 16 bit rendering become very apparent. If your frame buffer is 16 bit only, and you render multiple passes (more than 2), you begin to see very serious banding or amplification of the dither pattern. You'll see a lot more difference in the newer games that are authored on the TNT, to take advantage of the TNT's high color capabilities.

Tweak3D: Quite a few people complain that the TNT is having problems with certain motherboards. Do you plan to have all these bugs worked out in the next couple months?

David: TNT runs fine with all motherboards that conform to the AGP specification. There are several motherboard chipsets that do not correctly support the signaling protocols, and TNT doesn't work reliably on those platforms. There are no bugs for us to fix, although it it possible that we could work around the bugs in those other chipsets.

Tweak3D: "Voodoo2 vs. TNT" articles have been appearing all over the net. Most people are concluding that the TNT is a better choice for several reasons. How does this make you feel?

David: Voodoo2 was a great product last year, but it's getting a little old. TNT's rendering quality is far superior, and in most games, TNT runs faster. Also, TNT integrates 2D and 3D, so you save slots. I'm very happy that people like our product - we worked very hard to make it!

Tweak3D: In a recent interview, we asked Brian "GrandMaster B." Hook of IdSoftware how big he sees the issue of image quality becoming in the future. He replied, "HUGE issue. MASSIVE issue. The only reason that it isn't a bigger issue is that it can't measured and benchmarked." - Will NVidia LEAD the hardware/graphics world into this new territory with the TNT and beyond?

David: I certainly hope so. I'm very happy that the effort that we put into image quality on the TNT is appreciated by developers. I'm looking forward to more content that is authored to take advantage of the quality features of the TNT. We'll continue to push the industry to keep improving image quality - 16 bit rendering deserves to be dead!

Tweak3D: Unofficial reports stated that 3Dfx's next chipset, codenamed "Avenger", will offer a "500 Mtexel/s fill rate, have a .25 micron, and run at 125 MHz." Also, the card will incorporate an improved Banshee 2D core. First, what do you think of these specs? And second, do you think that the "3D-add-on card" in general is officially dead?

David: I don't know what this means: "MTexel/s fill rate". Fill rates are pixels/s, and if this means multiple textures or multiple texels bilinearly filtered together, then that's not a very exciting number. 500 Mpixels/s sounds pretty good, though. That's a big number. Is it 32 bit? If you're pushing that many pixels, especially multi-texture, better make them good ones!

I think that the 3D add-on card market died when TNT arrived. If you can get drastically better performance with a 3D add-on card, then maybe it makes sense. With TNT, it's no longer true that you need a 3D only card to get awesome performance.

Tweak3D: Although it is not recommended, several TNT owners -- especially Tweak3D readers -- are overclocking their card. Are there any long-term negative outcomes on the board itself, or should it be okay as long as it is cooled?

David: We don't recommend overclocking. We specify the clock rate that we believe will provide a reliable high quality user experience. Overclocking may permanently damage any chip, especially if it gets too hot.

Tweak3D: Last question, what sites or people have really helped support NVidia and helped them through any tough times in the past? (you know... like.. Riva Tweak Guides =)

David: You guys are the best! Actually, we appreciate all of our supporters. They help us to keep in touch with our customers and keep better products coming.

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