Intel 2700G: A threat to Nvidia and ATI?

Chicago (IL) - Intel is challenging Nvidia and ATI with its new multimedia accelerator chip. Unlike past battles for the best-performing graphics chip, the next graphic chip war might be fought in a new arena : In the palm of your hand.

Intel is not shy of positioning its new 2700G multimedia chip in the premier league of graphics accelerators. "It delivers game console performance," says Kyle Fox, product marketing manager at Intel. "The 2700G competes with Nvidia and ATI."

The 2700G is not your typical graphics accelerator for your desktop PC. It is Intel’s first try to set its stake in handheld graphics - an area which is considered to be still rather untouched and full of potential. AT and Nvidia just recently upped the pace with new product announcements which should bring higher perdorming 2D and 3D graphics to handheld devices within the next 12 months.

Intel’s move surprises and surely will have a substantial impact on the development of graphics chips in the handheld arena.

A first live demonstration of the chip at Tom’s Hardware Guide labs in Munich supports Intel’s bold performance statement. "The graphics performance of the reference platform appears to be on the same level as those of chips currently used in game consoles," said Harald Thon, managing editor. So far it is just an subjective impression, but Thon said he was surprised by lighting and shader effects, display of detail and the frame rate of the FPS demo which ran in VGA resolution.

2700G : Based on Dreamcast technology

While we were impressed with the chip’s performance, analysts remain cautious. Jon Peddie, President of Jon Peddie Research believes that Intel might be creating much more hype around the 2700G than its technology deserves.

According to Peddie, the chip is "based on the licensing of intellectual property (IP) of Imagination Technologies’ PowerVR MBX processor." The PowerVR architecture of the UK-based firm originally was used in Sega’s Dreamcast console and was also licensed by Texas Instruments in April 2003 for use of next generation OMAP processors.

Peddie questions the 2700G’s limits : "The marketing geniuses at Intel say, that it has console capabilities. The Dreamcast chip is without doubt a great processor. But licensing IP also means that Intel always will get yersterday’s technology." According to the analyst, ATI’s Imageon chips and Nvidia’s GoForce processors are at least as powerful as Intel’s new 2700G.

Although ATI and Nvidia might have the better technology, Peddie believes the companies are concerned about Intel’s market entry : "I would be worried. Intel has a hell of a marketing machine," he said. "You don’t always have to have the greatest product, if you have the marketing power available."

ATI’s and Nvidia’s greatest advantage in a potential battle with Intel is time. Both companies already have established their contacts in the industry - ATI through direct partnerships and Nvidia through the acquisition of MediaQ, a leading graphics chip supplier in the handheld industry. While both companies might have their products in place as early as end of 2004, Intel still needs to get its 2700G chip qualified with system builders - a process which can take up to two years.

No matter, if Intel can trump its lack of technology with marketing or if ATI and Nvidia will be able use their current market position to come out on top, the mobile graphics space will be interesting to watch in the months to come.

There is no doubt that Intel’s market entry will accelerate the development of graphics chips for handheld devices. You don’t have to be a visionary to forecast that PDAs and cell phones will evolve to gaming platforms which will rival the performance of your Playstation in the not too distant future.

Despite the doubt of analysts, Intel is first to publicly demonstrate game demos and videos in VGA resolution approaching 30 frames per second on a handheld device - at least to our knowledge. As comparison, typical PocketPCs currently reach maximum frame rates of about 20 fps with software acceleration such as Fathammer’s X-Forge. For now, we have to believe Intel and will have to wait until we can get our hands on a review unit to see what the 2700G is capable of.

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