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Page last updated at 15:42 GMT, Tuesday, 5 August 2008 16:42 UK
3D chip battle in gaming world
By Jim Reed
Newsbeat technology reporter

Screen grab from Race Driver: GRID

Intel is entering the market for dedicated graphic chips designed to make 3D games look more lifelike and run faster.

The world's biggest microchip maker says its Larrabee chips will start to appear in PCs in late 2009 or early 2010.

The move will bring Intel into direct competition with the two biggest names in the computer graphics world, Nvidia and ATI.

So how will the chips compare? And will gamers notice any difference? Here's Newsbeat's guide to the main players.

Intel

The Californian company is a giant in the microchip world, making the processors that run most of the personal computers on the planet.

Many of its central processing chips come with low-end graphics functions built into the silicon.

But this is the first time it has made a high-end, dedicated graphics processor designed to run the latest games.

Screen grab from Race Driver: GRID
Race Driver: GRID was released across Europe in May 2008
Its Larrabee chips will start to appear in PC graphics cards but could also crop up in the next generation of game consoles.

The products will be "multi-core", meaning that a number of individual processing units are packed on to a single chip and run in parallel.

Intel's current top-end computer chips, like the Core 2 Quad, come with four "cores".

But it's thought the first wave of Larrabee chips could come with as many as 48 packed on to one piece of silicon.

The chips will support existing "application programming interfaces" - or APIs - like Microsoft's DirectX or Apple's Open CL.

That means most PC games should run on Larrabee products without a hitch.

Nvidia

Another Californian company, Nvidia, designs graphics processors for desktop PCs, Macs, laptops and consoles.

But the firm is probably best-known to gamers for its line of GeForce PC graphics cards.

Its latest top-end GTX products come with up to 1GB of graphics memory and, it claims, 240 individual processor cores.

The huge 25 cm-long cards are aimed at "extreme gamers" who want to play the latest titles with the detail levels set to maximum.

But you pay for that kind of performance.

Its GTX 280 card went on sale in June at 400 although a recent price cut should see that come down to 270.

Nvidia also designed the graphics chipset inside the original Microsoft XBox and the RSX graphics engine that runs in Sony's Playstation 3.

ATI

The other big player in graphics chips, ATI, is owned by Intel's biggest rival in the mainstream microchip market, AMD.

Like Nvidia, ATI makes the processors that run games on desktop computers, laptops and consoles.

Its latest PC card, the Radeon HD 4800, supports features found on high end graphics workstations just a couple of years ago.

Hardware-enhanced anti-aliasing, for example, smoothes the edges of the polygons that build up a 3D picture, making the game world look more realistic.

Gamers can expect to pay around 125 for the latest Radeon 4850 with 512 MB of graphics memory.

As well as developing its own PC graphics cards, ATI designed the Xenos graphics chip inside the Xbox 360 and the Hollywood chip inside the Nintendo Wii.



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