iXBT Labs - Computer Hardware in Detail






A Journey Across the Ocean: Shaders and R420
(A Photo Report for the Chronicle)

"The land's the same, both here and there,
Despite the ocean that's between us..."

(from a Russian song)


  1. April, 14: ATI forum
  2. April, 15: ATI forum

April, 15: ATI forum

It was our third day in Canada and the second of ATI Technology Days. It was opened by Chris Evenden, the host, and followed by a report on creation of Ruby, the new ATI demo supergirl. Ruby looks very much like her 2000 predecessor but is made using new advanced technologies.

(The photo in 800x600)

(The photo in 800x600)

(The photo in 800x600)

(The photo in 800x600)

Certainly, we were shown a video of demo fragments and the demo itself that really works on R420.

Before the break, we also heard a report about how good it was now to have GDDR3 on superfast cards. Indeed, it is well known that such memory not only has a big potential concerning frequency increase, but also generates less heat. That is why it was even called "an overclocker's dream". In fact, memory frequency on cards with a 16-pipeline CPU will play an important role limitation by the bandwidth is quite possible even with a 256-bit bus.

(The photo in 800x600)

(The photo in 800x600)

After the break, Mattew Witherlier made a brief speech on video capabilities of the new product which closed the official part at the conference hall. Then we were to visit ATI's head office...

At 11:30 we left the hotel building and got on the buses that took the whole group to ATI's head office in northern Toronto. It was funny to pass by offices of some other famous companies, such as Celestica and SONY.

(The photo in 800x600)

(The photo in 800x600)

About an hour later we arrived to the destination point. ATI's head office is situated in two neighbouring buildings. The old one is on the left, it now houses pilot-line production department and some services. The new building is on the right, it accomodates the company's administration and main departments of Toronto representation.

(The photo in 800x600)

(The photo in 800x600)

The inside of the building is cylinder-shaped with a spacious lobby in the middle and service rooms along the perimeter. Here's what the lobby looks like:

(The photo in 800x600)

(The photo in 800x600)
As you can see, its designer was not an ordinary person. It takes a lot of imagination create the idea of a fire burning on the water. Besides, the small fountains below make the illusion of boiling water and the backlight of the water flows looks very effective too. The picture is added by evergreen trees that grow in the lobby.

(The photo in 800x600)

Then we went on excursions around the building, but unfortunately, it was prohibited to take photos. Among other places, we visited the pilot-line production department in the old building.

It contains two conveyers where videocards and mainboards are assembled. The products are then distributed to media representatives as samples and also to game developers. The production is almost ceaseless, as the company constantly receives various orders for piece hardware goods. The department can produce about 200 cards per month.

In ATI's office we came across Gennadiy Riger once again and also met Irina Kramtsova and some other Russian-speaking employees. The photos below show Irina (on the left) and Gennadiy with Irina (on the right).

(The photo in 800x600)

(The photo in 800x600)

Irina has been living in Canada for almost nine years and she has been working at ATI for 3.5 years. Gennadiy's story is practically the same: 9 and 4 years, respectively. We also walked around the office and met some very interesting employees. Presently, we were joined by Roman Kirichinskiy (on the left) and then walked a lot outside of the building (on the right) waiting to interview Rick Bergman and Andy Thompson.

(The photo in 800x600)

(The photo in 800x600)

Interview with Andrew Thompson

Andrew Thompson is Director of Advanced Technology Marketing. He deals with development of technologies and is also chief of all developer relations.

iXBT.com: What is your opinion about the extent of ATI's cooperation with game developers? Are there any reserves?

Andrew Thompson: We support developers in two ways: the first way concerns games that are only being developed, and the other one concerns products that are already on the market. Our employees keep in a close and constant touch with programmers of developer companies, ensuring a quick problem solving. Besides, ATI offers handy tools for creation of effective codes. For example, we have already distributed more than 100,000 copies of our RenderMonkey, the new version of which supports GLSL (OpenGL). Of course, there are a lot of reserves, and our employees are working both to improve negotiating processes with developers and to establish relations with new perspective companies. Being the administration's top priority, this sector of our activity scope is constantly filled with new qualified experts.

iXBT.com: Everybody knows NVIDIA's policy to win over developers. It proves to be quite effective. What are ATI's plans in this respect? Do you think it's alright to offer money to developers thus paying for a more thorough adjustment of games to ATI products?

Andrew Thompson: Our basic advantage is a simple architecture of the latest generations of ATI products. Developers are not supposed to rack their brains over how to use the card's hidden reserves and to increase the speed of a game. Whenever we face problems concerning a game's realisation on our card, it usually proves to be due to bad coordination between game writers and our programmers. Therefore, there are two ways to "influence" developers: to bribe them forcing to optimise their games to our cards, or just to make really good products that would be in great demand. As a result, it would make developers reckon with our products while we, in turn, would cooperate with them providing them with videocards, specs, and other materials and also help them by organising regular seminars, conferences and masterclasses. ATI chooses the latter way.

iXBT.com: Let's speak a bit about software quality. It is becoming a tradition that the older the card is, the more problems it has in games (I can give a lot of examples basing on RADEON 9000/9200, for instance). Why does it happen? Can the situation be improved?

Andrew Thompson: The thing is, we can't yet deal with all cards and all games at a time, and that is why we have to focus only on those problems that evoke the most response. We have structures that deal with feedback issues and we see that the lion's share of responses concern our latest products (RADEON 9600 and newer ones). But you're right, our efforts in this sphere are not yet very effective. However, we're now working to modify software testing methods and we hope things will change for the better in the nearest future.

iXBT.com: Speaking about rendering pipelines, some of them can be disabled softwarily in RADEON 9500 and 9800SE. It leads to the creation of patches for drivers that can reenable the pipelines. And of course, only some of the cards can then work normally and without artefacts, others have rendering faults. Will future solutions with a smaller number of pipelines be made the same way (through drivers), or will you introduce other approaches, such as hardwarily disabled pipelines or new dies supporting less of them?

Andrew Thompson: I don't think I have the right to speak about our future projects now, but I can assure you that reenabling pipelines will no longer be possible because we'll use hardware methods for this.

iXBT.com: What can you say about the role of shaders 3.0? When do you think this technology will be in really great demand?

Andrew Thompson: Our researches and opinion polls show that developers are mostly interested in working with shaders 2.0, because a lot of games that will appear soon are made for them. I don't think it's wise to give up developements in software and hardware for shaders 2.0 (2.0+) and to waste time on a technology that has no future. Especially when a brand new DirectX version and a new Microsoft OS codenamed LongHorn are about to appear. Certainly, if 3.0 appeals to developers and they want to use it, we'll support the technology in our products. But we are rather sceptic about the demand for 3.0 within the next year.

iXBT.com: Thank you very much.

Interview with Rick Bergman

Rick Bergman is ATI's senior vice-president on marketing. He runs all issues that concern positioning and promotion of the company's products.

iXBT.com: How would you estimate the Russian market of videocards in general and in terms of its prospects?

Rick Bergman: Your market has great prospects, and I'm planning to visit Moscow as head of our delegation in the nearest future (somewhen early in May). After that I'll be able to estimate myself what you're asking about, and I wouldn't want to answer now. Let us wait a couple of weeks (laughs).

iXBT.com: Is it enough, in your opinion, to have such a modest office in Moscow in order to make the Russian market more favourable for ATI?

Rick Bergman: Again, you're looking too far ahead (laughs). I'll visit Moscow, estimate the situation, speak to trade companies' officials, customers, the media, and then I'll be able to make a decision. Any variant is possible and right at the moment, I can't say anything definite, such as, "No, that office is more than enough" or, "We'll take a whole platoon of our employees there". Much will depend on how active our partners will be in Russia and how closely they will cooperate with our representation there.

iXBT.com: NVIDIA is planning to open a big representation in Moscow that would support game developers, and they even equip it with a huge test lab. Is ATI planning to do anything similar in Moscow?

Rick Bergman: We already have a number of such labs. It all depends on how much such office will cost. It is all very expensive in the USA, and especially in California, that is why NVIDIA decided to make it cheaper by establishing such office in Moscow. But we don't need to do it, we're quite happy with the labs we have. And if we create a similar office in Moscow the cost will be too high.

iXBT.com: I would like to ask you a question about RADEON 9800SE. You probably know that there are about five variants of this card that have the same name but a great difference in price and performance. Is it a blow for ATI's reputation? What do you intend to do in this respect? Can it repeat in the future?

Rick Bergman: Yes, we know about this problem, and believe me, it's no less painful for us than it is for you. We try to control and regulate its production by our partners. We hope they'll have a better understanding of this problem, and we hope they'll understand the stiff measures we're going to take to prevent such situations in the future.

iXBT.com: A question about your future line. Without going to details, will this line fully substitute the actual RADEON 9800-9800XT or will it just oust them down thus taking a higher position?

Rick Bergman: Right now we're planning to leave RADEON 9800 PRO as it is, and it will certainly be below the new line. And we'll shift down RADEON 9600XT, RADEON 9600, and RADEON 9600SE, taking the latter to the low-end sector.

iXBT.com: Thank you very much.

More meetings

Well, the official part is over. After the interviews the forum is considered closed and a free-will excursion program starts.

We stood talking in the lobby when a man went out of the elevator, passed us by, then stopped listening to us, looked closely at me, and asked in plain Russian: "Are you Vorobiev?"

I was stunned. But when he introduced himself, I remembered our correspondence on forums and via e-mail. It was Vladimir Inozemtsev, another ATI's Russian-speaking employee.

Well then, it's time to pack up things. To conclude, here is a photo of ATI's cornerstone:

(The photo in 800x600)

[ Previous part (April, 14) ]


Those interested in my personal impressions of the journey and its entertainment aspect can click here.

Andrey Vorobiev (anvakams@ixbt.com)


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