It is probably fair to say that computer technology is the fastest evolving market in the world today. Inside of that graphics cards are arguably the pace setters. Every six to eight months a new generation appears shattering previous performance barriers and destroying the values of older stock. Even we IT hacks find it quite bewildering at times so it was great timing when ATI approached us last week to speak with two of its biggest fish.
Dropping in for a flying visit to the UK were Rick Bergman, ATI’s Senior VP & General Manager for the PC Business Unit (below) and Dirk Behrens, EMEA Director of Marketing, accompanied by their ever watchful and virtually omnipresent UK PR man Andrzej Bania.
Tea, biccies and informalities over, I quizzed Bergman on what it is like trying to stay not only afloat but on top of the unrelenting graphics card market.
RB: The big emphasis always has to be on heavy development, he said. “Right now we are the performance leaders in the market, I don’t think many would dispute that, but we always need to be looking ahead one, two or more generations.
TR: That is point of debate right there though isn’t it? nVidia would argue it was the performance leader with its 7800 GTX and you took so much longer to come to market with your comparative product that everyone expected it to be faster.
Bergman asked me how I defined ‘much longer’ to which I said two or three months which made him smile.
RB: Is that a long time?
I argued that in the graphics card market it was and we agreed to differ. What cannot be disputed, however, was Bergman’s next point that ATI’s X1000 series does have superior features to the current nVidia line. Most notably – and to the great frustration of our reviews team – nVidia cards can’t handle full screen anti-aliasing and HDR at the same time in 3DMark 06, meaning it becomes very difficult to use this benchmark to compare the companies’ flagship products. Still, it wasn’t always that way. nVidia was equipping its cards with Shader Model 3.0 support a long time before ATI.
RB: That is a very good point but we always argued that you need 90nm technology for proper implementation of Shader Model 3.0 and I think we have been proved right. Now we just wish more games would support it! Being fair to both companies it is hard to know what the next big focus will be. Previously anti-aliasing was big then HDR was the big thing which is what Shader Model 3.0 brought us.
TR: It is interesting what you say about trying to second guess the next great standard in image quality because if we were having this debate a few years ago it would have been all about the frame rates. Do you think consumers have moved away from simply buying the card which could run Doom 3 at 90fps ahead of one that can run it at 80fps but which may have better image quality features?
RB: You would like to think so but to be honest frames per second is still in demand over image quality. I think trying to emphasise image quality and video features will be our big challenge over the new few years because we are at a stage where the hardware is stripping ahead of the technology. AMD and Intel currently have a similar battle trying to convince people not to look only at processor clock rates which is also difficult because so much marketing in both our industries has been built around statistics like these. Once a game is running smoothly over 35-40fps we hope we can get people to look towards other aspects.