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SiS, VIA ramp challenge to graphics chip leaders

Posted: 07 Jun 2002 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:VIA Technologies? PC graphic? Silicon Integrated Systems? Nvidia? ATI Technologies?

VIA Technologies Inc. is slipping into the competitive market for discrete desktop PC graphics chips just as crosstown rival Silicon Integrated Systems Corp. is honing its strategy for stealing business from lead suppliers NVIDIA Corp. and ATI Technologies Inc.

SiS launched its Xabre line of graphics ICs earlier this week, offering three flavors that will span the mainstream and low-end segments. Its premier chip, the Xabre 400, uses a 256-bit core and can run up to 128MB of DDR DRAM at 250MHz, supports Microsoft's DirectX8.1 and is among the first crop of graphics chips to support AGP8X. Maximum bandwidth is 8Gbps. The line also includes the Xabre 200 and Xabre 80, which can use SDRAM chips as well.

VIA is swinging in behind with the SavageXP. The chip is a modified version of the company's mobile PC graphics core. It runs on a 128-bit core at 183MHz, and will support a maximum of 64MB of DDR. It also supports DirectX8.1, but not AGP8X. Maximum bandwidth tops out at 5.8Gbps.

The two Taiwanese companies face a bloody battle for every scrap of market they attempt to pry away from established players. "NVIDIA owns the market," said Thomas Tsui, director the SiS Multimedia Product Division. "Your product cannot only be equal, it must be much better."

For the past few years, SiS has been trying to regain some of the success it experienced years ago as a graphics chip maker. Newcomer VIA is hoping to rekindle the better days of S3 Graphics, which it acquired to bolster its integrated graphics for core logic.

Right now, SiS is claiming the Xabre, which will soon move to a 0.135m process, outperforms NVIDIA's GeForce4 MX460 and MX440. Pitted against ATI, it beats the Radeon 7500 series, Tsui said. VIA is looking to start its climb on a lower rung of the market, where it says it can match up against the GeForce2, the low-end GeForce4 and low-end Radeon 7500.

Late start

VIA is getting off to a late start with its chip. The company just started shopping it around last week, leaving card vendors little opportunity to test out evaluation boards. VIA's closest partner, Tyan Computer Corp., is displaying a board at Computex this week and is just starting to get samples to customers. During a press conference Monday (June 3), VIA said it had the support of several other companies, such as Gigabyte Technology Co. Ltd. and Pine Technology. However, some of those companies said they are not committed to the chip. Pine was surprised to hear that VIA listed it as a supporter.

"I'm not sure if there is anyone willing to take the risk to use this chip," said Rockson Chiang, a product manager at Gigabyte Technology, a motherboard and graphics card maker. "If they take the core from the notebook chip and simply embed it into a desktop card then that's not the way to go. The performance demands for the two are just too different."

Unlike SiS, which has devoted at least 250 engineers to the Xabre line, VIA's first SavageXP is considered a resource-light, "nothing to lose" entrant into the desktop PC graphics card market. The company's 64-bit mobile graphics chip was running out of gas and had to be redesigned anyway, so it made sense to spin off the core and test the waters of the add-in card market, a VIA official said. "This gives us experience back in the market and gives the engineering team a little bit of a workout," said James Campbell, a marketing manager at VIA.

The company is promising to do more by the end of the year. By that time it will be putting the finishing touches on its 256-bit, 300MHz Columbia core and its drivers, which are supposed to be designed with the desktop in mind. That will be its hope for sneaking up on SiS and challenging Nvidia and ATI's midrange products.

For SiS, its hope is 15 percent market share this year, up from less than 10 percent last year. "We are setting up reasonable goals. With one generation of products, you cannot win much market share. We understand the reality and that you must go step by step," Tsui said. "There's no free lunch in this market."

? Mike Clendenin

EE Times

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