Intel's "three way punch" into graphics begins with MMX

With the introduction in January of the Intel Pentium processor with MMX technology, the landscape of PC graphics will change. Many of the multimedia functions that had been performed by graphics chips will move to the CPU, but the highest-performance systems will still require graphics coprocessors.

With the introduction in January of the Intel Pentium processor with MMX technology, the landscape of PC graphics will change.

Many of the multimedia functions that had been performed by graphics chips will move to the CPU, but the highest-performance systems will still require graphics coprocessors.

MMX will bring higher-quality graphics to less-expensive systems, but high-quality 3-D representations, for example, are still going to require hardware support, predicts Patrick Lucci, vice president of marketing at Hercules Computer Technology Inc. in Fremont, Calif.

"All MMX does is raise the bar," Lucci says.

Intel and a handful of other vendors will still need to supply graphics chips, Lucci says, because it is unlikely a microprocessor will be able to handle the demands of 3-D graphics.

"Pentium processors, to date, simply are not good enough to take on 3-D and multimedia tasks alone," agrees Jon Peddie, president of Jon Peddie Associates in Tiburon, Calif. "That has created a frenzied market for coprocessor wannabes. We have identified 35 companies that have, or say they will have, a 3-D controller, and know of 10 other companies looking at the market."

Peddie says Intel is planning a "three-way punch" to address the multimedia market. First is MMX, followed later in 1997 by the Accelerated Graphics Port (AGP), which gives a graphics controller fast access to main memory. Finally, a 3-D controller code-named Auburn and licensed from Lockheed Martin's Real 3D Co., is due from Intel in the second half of the year.

MMX and follow-on technologies such as AGP do not answer all user needs, agrees Jon Khazam, marketing director for graphics programs at Intel. MMX is sufficient for a large number of applications, he said, but others will require AGP or 3-D graphics chips such as the forthcoming Auburn.

"All these technologies and products help make certain classes of applications run faster and better," Khazam says.

Graphic design, for example, requires MMX and 3-D graphics for high-quality imaging and printing, Khazam said. Insurance companies can use MMX for imaging applications such as processing claims photographs, he noted. Run-of-the-mill word processing applications, however, require neither MMX nor 3-D technology.

"The most important thing is to understand how the machine is going to be used," Khazam says, noting that MMX is geared toward applications such as video, audio, and 2-D graphics.

Art Swift, vice president of product marketing at Cirrus Logic in Calif.ornia, agrees.

"[MMX aims to meet a] closed-ended performance need," says Swift, noting that 3-D graphics demands are still changing. Even today, the performance requirements of 3-D graphics are far beyond MMX, says Swift, so "MMX really has no impact in the near term on graphics accelerators."

Swift sees a large installed base of 3-D enabled PCs in place during 1997 and, combined with Direct3D APIs from Microsoft, this will lead to the 30,000 members of the software development community jumping on the 3-D bandwagon.

"3-D applications will become ubiquitous over the next two years," Swift said.

Corporate applications for 3-D graphics include videoconferencing, training, and e-mail, along with 3-D Internet browsers, saysSwift. "A lot of compelling 3-D is coming out in VRML."

The imminent MMX technology will be sufficient for some applications - mostly lower-bandwidth, repetitive operations such as compression and decompression, says Scott Tandy, senior manager for new market development at S3 Inc., in Santa Clara, Calif. Tandy agreed, though, that high-performance applications such as scaling video images will continue to require graphics coprocessors.

MMX is primarily a consumer-oriented technology, says Rick Silverman, vice president of graphics marketing at Trident Microsystems Inc. in Mountain View, Calif. "There's a lag in meaningful applications in the commercial segment."

The performance enabled by AGP will permit the implementation late in 1997 of Microsoft's Talisman media extensions, Silverman says. Talisman is a significant technology for commercial graphics applications, he says. "It's with Talisman that you begin to see some interesting things in the commercial space."

Intel Corp. in Santa Clara, Calif. is at http://www.intel.com/.

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