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Interview With ATi VP of Software, Ben BarHaim
Date: Jan 21, 2003
Author: HH Editor
Interview With ATi VP of Software, Ben BarHaim - Page 1

An Interview With ATi's VP Of Software, Ben Bar-Haim
Executive Management at ATi shares their vision

By -Dave Altavilla
January 21, 2003



Hello Ben Bar-Haim, and thanks for letting us steal a few moments of your time here.  With the 3D Graphics market poised for yet another flurry of new hardware technology and competitive positioning, we thought it made sense to catch up with ATi and learn a little bit more about the Software side of your game plan.

  • Before we dig in, could you please give us a little background on yourself?  What is your position within ATI and your specific responsibilities?

[Ben] I?d like to start by thanking you for this great opportunity. I am the Vice President of Software at ATI Technologies and I am responsible for all the software ATI produces for desktop PCs, notebooks and multimedia products. This basically means that CATALYSTTM, ATI's software suite, which is made up of our display driver, our HydravisionTM (multi-monitor software), Multimedia CenterTM (our multimedia application) and Remote Wonder SoftwareTM, Linux and Mac operating systems, all fall under my jurisdiction.

  • How much more "headroom" do you think there is left in the RADEON 9XXX drivers?   Do you think there is much more performance to be gained in future releases.

[Ben] Good question. We are always looking for new ways to improve the performance, stability and features of our drivers. In fact, we have a very talented team engaged in making our performance better, and we definitely plan to demonstrate better performance with each new release of CATALYST. Believe me when I say this ? if there is room for improvement, we will find it. We never hold back.

  • The quality of ATI's drivers has steadily improved over the past year, and you've been releasing drivers more frequently.  What tools or techniques were used to make these strides, and is there still room for improvement?  Or was it sheer engineering effort and resources that helped bear these fruits?

[Ben] Our entire approach to software development has changed for the better over the last 18 months. First, we have a process to control, plan, prioritize and implement new features (software modifications). We also now have a Unified Development Process that permits us to seamlessly integrate software work done in various places in the world, into one complete and fully-tested release. Finally, we have invested heavily in setting up and staffing an efficient, independent and competent Software Quality Assurance organization. This has already reduced the level of "escapes" (i.e., bugs detected in the field) by about 50%. These new processes permit our engineers to spend more time creating and carefully testing new features and less time fixing "escapes".

Is there still room for improvement? Absolutely. We have only begun. While we know that we already offer the most stable 3D-enabled driver in the industry, we are committed to leading the way and continuously improving stability, performance and features.

  • Although many of the issues are already resolved, can you give us your thoughts on some of the instability issues seen with initial AGP8X implementations on various motherboards, and your RADEON 9700/9500 product?

[Ben] The initial boards released had been fully qualified and tuned against Intel AGP 8X reference motherboards. Later, when other chipset vendors and motherboard manufacturers released their AGP 8X motherboards, there were some hardware and software incompatibility problems that affected a small number of the initial boards that were sold. We subsequently worked with the chipset and motherboard vendors and implemented changes on both sides to address these issues. We continue to work with these companies on co-validating new products as they become available in order to prevent any future compatibility issues customers might encounter.

  • What are your thoughts on nV Cg versus HLSL support in your product?  What tools does ATI have to make the developer's life easier and empowered.

[Ben] ATI is committed to supporting the two industry standard APIs: DirectX and OpenGL.  ATI offers developers a complete software developer kit (SDK) and a number of revolutionary developer tools, including RenderMonkey, an extensible shader development tool that allows programmers and artists to collaborate on creating real-time shader effects.  ATI also hosts a number of educational developer events and presents at industry conferences such as GDC and Siggraph.  All of ATI's developer presentations, white papers, tools and samples can be found at http://www.ati.com/developer/

  • Do you envision or are there plans for new DX9 feature settings, in your RADEON 9XXX driver suite?

[Ben] We were very proud to be the first to market with a fully compliant and certified DirectX9 driver for our entire RADEON family. We still haven?t seen such a driver from any of our competitors ? which of course, is a point of pride for us. Since we have been working on it for well over a year we think our current driver is complete with regards to DirectX9 features. The only planned new DX9 feature for the 9700 is line AA.   We don't have this feature tied to a specific release yet, but it will be in as soon as we have the resource available to implement it.

At the same time, we continue to work with customers and the public at large via our CATALYST CREW program to find ways to improve the software, including better exposure of features and controls via our Control Panel. If any of your readers would like to offer us some feed back, please go to our Website http://apps.ati.com/driverfeedback/.

  • Can you comment on the new types of settings we will see in future driver releases?

[Ben] Without surprises, what fun would there be in this world? I can?t provide any details lest I be tarred and feathered, but I can tell you this: more features is definitely a high priority area for us. The user experience is shaped, to a large extent, by how the driver is controlled through our Control Panel. Since we hope to achieve an excellent user experience, we must pay close attention to the Control Panel. We have recently noticed that some of the design principles in our control panels are being adopted by competitors, which is very flattering. We will continue to push the limits in this area.

  • NVIDIA has always given the end user the ability to overclock their cards, via registry setting tweaks, which enable clock adjustments in the driver control panels.  Various end users have released hacks and tweak programs that allow this for ATI cards as well.  Will we ever see this type of functionality with ATI released drivers?

[Ben] ATI does extensive testing to determine the appropriate clock levels for our products, and the result is both stable and supportable. Of course, once the product is sold, it belongs to the user who may choose to experiment with higher clock settings. While we caution against any experimentation that could reduce a board?s stability, many boards built by ATI partners include overclocking utilities. It is up to our individual partners to decide if they are interested in providing overclocking utilities or not. 

  • Can you comment on future support of OSes beyond the Windows platform?  NVIDIA has recently stepped up their support of Linux.  Is there Linux support in the works?

ATI has already developed a closed source Linux driver for the FIRE GLTM line. This driver is a derivative of the Windows Fire GL Workstation driver and is fully performance optimized for all OpenGL applications. Though the driver is actually targeted to all Linux based FIRE GL workstation customers, it is a unified driver, which means it supports a broad range of ATI desktop products. This driver is available at www.ati.com

  • With respect to the Professional CAD market, what sort of optimizations is ATI bringing forth, in terms of driver and software support, for the FIRE GL product line?

Drivers for the ATI FIRE GL Workstation product line are extensively tested under all major CAD ISV applications. The drivers are certified for all the Tier 1 ISVs.  

The FIRE GL drivers are specifically optimized for performance and stability with respect to:

1)    Major synthetic OpenGL benchmarks for graphic system performance evaluation like i.e. SPECviewperf 7.0 (see http://www.specbench.org/gpc/ );

2)    Major application level OpenGL performance evaluation benchmarks like SPECapc (see http://www.specbench.org/gpc/ ); and

3)    ISV specific certification test suites.

The special CAD-related optimizations are all done with respect to optimized performance while working with the real world applications, not just for synthetic benchmark cases. With respect to CAD, this is for example targeted to optimized display list memory management as well as display list playback performance, which is very important to some CAD application packages like Unigraphics. There are also many tweaks for optimized immediate mode vertex throughput as well as vertex array processing. CAD applications like ProE take great advantage of the immediate mode optimizations. In Summary, most of the CAD-related optimizations are targeted to high polygon count scenes, where the bottleneck is more the geometry processing part of the graphics pipeline (vrs the bottleneck in games, which is more pixel fill rate related).

Thanks for your time Ben!  Best of luck to you in 2003!

Thanks Dave and keep the feedback coming? open discussion about ideas and issues make us better.



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