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AMD is Approaching Platform Number One


We’ve been waiting ages for this moment and now – finally – ATI has released its new graphics solution. I’m not talking about the ATI Radeon X2900/R600, which will be ATI’s DirectX 10 counter to the GeForce 8800 when it finally launches in April or May. Instead I’m on about the AMD 690 chipset, which has a Radeon X1250 graphics core in the 690G version or a Radeon X1200 core in the 690V.

I’m going to have to jump back and forth between the AMD and ATI names as AMD has decided to use the AMD brand on processors and chipsets, while it badges the graphics side of things as ATI . Unfortunately, this system gets a bit muddled when you talk about a chipset with integrated graphics as the full monicker is ‘AMD 690G with ATI Radeon X1250’.

You wouldn’t have heard of either the X1200 or X1250 before the launch of the 690 unless you’d been keeping a very close eye on Intel roadmaps as this was intended to be an ATI chipset to support the Core 2 Duo with enough graphics power to run Windows Vista Premium. The AMD buyout of ATI scuppered that plan as Intel cut all development ties with ATI and instead relied on its own GMA3000 and GMA X3000 to power the Q965 and G965 chipset respectively. G965 is a major step forward for Intel as it is a competent integrated graphics core that can just about run Vista Premium. While that might not sound like much of a recommendation it’s a major improvement on previous Intel GMA cores and, critically, it means that Intel can continue to supply hardware with all of those naughty Microsoft logos that keep the likes of Dell, Fujitsu Siemens and Packard Bell happy.

No doubt Intel would have dearly loved to have got its hand on Radeon X1250 even though it’s not an impressive chip to the likes of you and me. The underlying technology behind X1250 is roughly on a par with Radeon X300 and uses a 400MHz core that supports Shader Model 2.0b with four pixel shaders. That doesn’t sound too hot but X1200 has the Avivo video engine while X1250 also supports digital output, and not just DVI but HDMI with HDCP. That’s two integrated display controllers with a number of possible permutations of display. At the AMD 690 launch there were Asus and Foxconn motherboards with DVI and VGA outputs and an MSI with VGA and HDMI. Doubtless we’ll also see motherboards with TV-Out and Component connections.

Avivo takes a load off the CPU so you can use the 690 chipset to watch H.264 movies with nothing more than a Sempron under the bonnet and it manages this trick while the chipset is drawing less than 10 watts of power.

I’ve spent the past day running the Asus M2A-VM and it’s perfectly happy running dual displays from the integrated graphics and the visual quality is very good, although the frame rates do somewhat limp along. At the 690 launch AMD compared the new chipset with Intel’s G965 and went out of its way to show that you can play Half Life 2 Lost Coast on the AMD chipset, while it’s a hopeless proposition on the G965. This is perfectly true as the G965 utterly fails to display the necessary textures for the water in the harbour and the High Dynamic Range lighting is non-existent.

However, this wilfully misses the point. Intel has never claimed that its integrated graphics are any good for gaming; what it needed was certification for Windows Vista - and it got it. If Intel had managed to stay friends with ATI it would have doubtless touted the X1250 as the chipset of choice for Viiv and Media Center PCs with G965 in the mid-range and Q965 as an entry-level chipset.

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