ATI 'M10' Mobile Graphics Preview

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ATI 'M10' Mobile Graphics Preview
Mobile Gaming Diversifies

By, Chris Angelini
March 13th, 2003


The computer industry has been in the doldrums as of late.  And as much as we want to deny it, business isn't picking up as quickly as the analysts forecasted.  It isn't voodoo, though.  There is no witchcraft involved in judging the future of the fair industry in which we work.  Look at the roadmaps - processors continue getting faster, core logic adapts in time, and we are continually treated to more I/O bandwidth.  But that's to be expected.  That is what we call evolution.  What the industry needs is something to reignite the excitement that was felt when GLQuake first hit the scene.  What we need is a revolution. 

NVIDIA and ATI have been working towards a term they've dubbed cinematic rendering - playing a game in real-time, rivaling the graphic detail of an animated movie that is rendered over the course of days.  Now that is a concept that gets the blood pumping.  Have you seen the previews of Doom III yet?  I won't argue that a single game will jump start an entire industry, but I do believe that for the upper echelon of hardware enthusiasts, gaming is about to get much more interesting. DirectX 9.0 is an enabling step in that direction, facilitating programmability throughout the graphics pipeline in the form of the Pixel Shader 2.0 and Vertex Shader 2.0 specifications. 

And now, the graphics hardware vendors are vying for attention using DX9-compatible video cards.  Both ATI and NVIDIA have already exchanged salvos in the desktop space (although NVIDIA's DX9 parts are still fundamentally unavailable).  After following up the popular RADEON 9700 Pro with its evolutionary 9800 family, ATI is taking the battle elsewhere - to the road, to the skies, and anywhere else you could hope to game, away from a desktop PC.  In short, ATI is adding the Mobility RADEON 9600 series to its arsenal of DX9 solutions 

The Future of Notebook Graphics
Desktop Replacement Gaming

ATI is actually unveiling three new products today - the high-end Mobility RADEON 9600 Pro, a mainstream Mobility RADEON 9200 family and new core logic, the IGP 7000M.  First, let's focus on the 9600 series that derives from the desktop part bearing a similar name.  At its core, the Mobility RADEON 9600, codenamed M10, sports four pixel pipelines, each equipped with a single texture unit.  Like its desktop counterpart, the Mobility RADEON 9600 core is comprised of 60 million transistors.  That's right, for the first time we're seeing the same processor make its way into desktop and mobile products at the same time with the same capabilities and very similar performance.  The DirectX 9 specification calls for 16 texture inputs per pass - an ability that all of ATI's DX9 desktop products boast.  Mobility RADEON 9600 can also apply 16 textures per pixel, as well as execute 12 pixel shader operations per clock (three per pixel pipeline). Like the desktop 9600 chips, the Mobility RADEON 9600 features a pair of vertex processing engines.  Another requirement for DX9 is a fully floating-point pixel pipeline, and the Mobility RADEON 9600 offers that as well - the same 128-bit floating point color precision that we were treated to when the RADEON 9700 Pro debuted last year.  Additionally, the 9600 Pro supports the same 6x gamma-corrected anti-aliasing and 16x anisotropic filtering modes that we've grown used to.

ATI claims that the 9600 family will ship to notebook manufacturers in April, emerging in retail products a month later.  When it does become available, there will be two versions of the 9600 to choose from.  The most aggressive version, the 9600 Pro, is expected to feature a 350MHz core made possible by transitioning to a .13-micron manufacturing process. It will be fed by GDDR2-M memory, a new graphics memory technology that has been specially optimized for low-power operation and higher performance.  Most importantly, it incorporates on-die termination, which eliminates the need for termination resistor packs and consequently removes a lot of power circuitry currently found on the desktop boards.  Moving forward, GDDR2-M should be good for speeds up to around 450MHz, but the Mobility RADEON 9600 Pro will likely ship with a 300MHz DDR memory clock.  At that speed, the M10 core will have access to 9.6GB per second of memory bandwidth, as the chip is connected via two 64-bit memory controllers.  It is also interesting to note that the Mobility benefits from higher Z-compression than even the RADEON 9800 Pro (8:1 lossless). The 'Pro' version also comes with an extra goodie, beyond simply sporting higher clock frequencies.  ATI has integrated a sensor into the chip capable of automatically adjusting operating frequencies based on thermal load.  Enabled, this OVERDRIVE technology effectively overclocks the graphics processor beyond the default 350MHz.  Of course, this technology is primarily useful for gaming enthusiasts that will take advantage of the additional performance in the appropriate environment.  Expect to see Mobility RADEON 9600 Pro solutions offered this summer.  The non-Pro 9600 is only slightly different from ATI's flagship mobile graphics chip.  It is expected to sport core speeds closer to 300MHz and similar memory frequencies using standard DDR memory instead of GDDR2-M.

  
Mobility RADEON 9600 add-on           Notebook with modular add-on

When it comes to mobile computing, 3D processing power is only part of a bigger picture.  Batteries are a scarce resource on the road, so a notebook has to be designed with power conservation in mind.  Part of what makes the Mobility RADEON 9600 so significant is the inroads ATI has made in power savings.  The smaller transistors used in the .13-micron manufacturing process mean the chip operates under a lower voltage - 1V compared to 1.5V for the previous generation mobile part.  Power consumption is roughly the same, but that is an accomplishment by itself considering how much faster the chip operates.  The graphics processor can detect whether the system is running from battery power, or if it is plugged in, and adjusts the power scheme accordingly.  Clock speeds and voltages are adjustable to best suit the conditions of use.

Finally, Mobility RADEON 9600 carries over all of the multimedia features first introduced on the desktop part.  MPEG encode and decode are supported, as are wide-aspect LCD displays (which we've already seen in action) and HDTV output through a component-out dongle.  Video-in and TV-out are also available.  The only caveat to all of this is that many of these features depend on the manufacturer to implement.  Thin and light systems will probably not feature wide-aspect displays and we'd only hope to find HD output on a very multimedia-centric portable.  Most others won't expose these features in the interest of cutting costs.


Mobility RADEON 9200 and IGP 7000M


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