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ATI @ ECTS 2002 - part 1
This is the first part in our talk with Andrew Thompson from ATI. ATI recently launched their Mobility Radeon 9000 graphics unit for laptops (article) and in this part we quiz him about this and the situation regarding OEMs.

Could you please introduce yourself to our readers.
I am Andrew Thompson, director of advanced technology marketing at ATI. My job covers most of our desktop product definition meaning that I decide what our engineers put in our latest GPUs. I also deal with our ISV developer efforts.
What does the mobile market mean for ATI?
The mobile market has been huge for a number of years - even more so than desktop in the last couple of years. We've gone through transitions in the desktop market but we've seen steady growth in the mobile market during that time.

It's an interesting market because in addition to what is happening to graphics, people are using laptops more and more as desktop replacement systems. In order for that to happen the graphics has to be a key part of that.

We've had a significant presence there for some time now. Starting with bringing basic 3D and simple power management some 5 years ago. We have been constantly "upgrading" our capabilities in each of those areas to reach what we have today with the Mobility Radeon 9000. Yesterday's high end graphics are in the mobile market now. Power management, DVD acceleration are all there.

It gets harder with every generation because you want to preserve battery life and offer even more power than you had before, so it's not trivial but I think those are the core operatives that we bring to the mobile market.
Do you treat the mobile market with as much respect as the desktop one?
Yes. We have a dedicated business unit that is focussed on the mobile market. There is a completely different set of engineering, development, marketing and sales team from our desktop teams.
Who do you see as your main competitors in this market?
It's changed over time, in recent times there hasn't been much competition. NVIDIA is out with some mobile products and they will make some in roads because they are there but I think we are comfortable. With the integrated mobile market you are going to have Intelís presence and people like that.
What is ATI's vision for the mobile market?
If you look at the trends we are on now, you will see integrated offerings to get extremely low power consumption, high efficiency in small form factors. We'll continue to push features and performance in the high end. It's a similar model to what we have in the high end desktop market where you bring the more expensive, fully featured cards and you try and move them down quickly into the mainstream market.

I think we will continue that trend.
What are the core features of the Mobility Radeon 9000?
From a graphics perspective, bringing DirectX 8.1 support is the big thing with M9. We want to be able to give people an experience which is comparable to their desktop machine.

Last year we had the Radeon 8500 and now we've brought the exact same feature set and essentially the same performance level to the mobile market. From a features point of view which is great because it lets them play all the games out there today.

DVD acceleration is also something that is expected along with extended battery life, so consumers can watch a full movie on the move. Dual displays is also a technology in demand which has been incorporated in the M9. We found that a lot of people use their laptops at their desk connected to their monitor as well as using their laptop screens. Our Hydravision software makes that possible.

In the 2D area our unit does things like font smoothing, cleartype. We try and keep our image quality very high because of the reputation we have gained in that area over the past few years.
Which area of the market are you trying to capture with the M9?
It's mainly intended for the enthusiasts, people who want desktop replacement systems and gamers. With this product we've had a lot of interest from developers. They came to us and said they can use this for our games development and run the code they have just written.

This year the M9 will feature in the high end laptops, however next year it'll become more mainstream and larger numbers of consumers will be targeting the M9 for their laptops.
Do you see there being a large market for applications that use Smoothvision and Smartshader on their laptop?
In gaming there is a large market which is already in existence. There's always the quest of where will you find a market outside of gaming. In future versions of Windows and office applications you will see a bit of that but right now gaming is the driving force. Gaming as a whole raises the bar then everything else plays catch up.
How will technologies like Smartshader help businesses?
There's always scope for 3D file browsing and such things, however for the moment it'll just be a nicer visual experience. There are a number of GUIs {Graphical User Interface} that take advantage of this, even websites have smart GUIs. Initially simple things like skins for Windows will be seen, developing into things that will be almost transparent to the user. People will be using our technologies without even knowing it.
Were you happy how the launch party for the M9 went?
We were extremely happy with it. That was the first big launch party we staged for a mobile product. Traditionally we do big launch events for the high-end desktop products. From our perspective we managed to get the point across easily and we had lots of demonstrations. We will probably do something similar with future mobile products.
Would you consider doing another product launch here in London in the future?
Yes, absolutely.
How important is the support of OEMs in your business?
OEM support is important in all of our businesses but especially in the mobile business. This is because consumers can't walk into a retail shop and buy a graphics chip. Our main method of getting the products we produce out along with the message it to work with OEMs. It's a critical part of the business.
Supplying OEMs have been a strong point in the past with ATI, however how much pressure have you been put under in the past 3 years with the rise of NVIDIA?
In the mobile market NVIDIA is still the newcomer but there's always pressure to be competitive and OEMs want to fit the best product in their systems. In the mobile market there isn't one vendor anymore. You have the low end vendors like Trident and they have equivalent amounts of pressure.

OEMs put pressure on every company so they produce products that perform and at a good price point.
Was Flexifit a technology asked for by OEMs?
Definitely, it came as a request from OEMs.
Will consumers be able to upgrade their ATI GPU in the future?
It's really up to the OEM. There are some OEMs dabbling with having a mini graphics card but even today they don't make those in such a way so that they are upgradeable. The problem for them is that they are trying to get a lot into a very small package so trying to put a full add-in board is a major problem.

There's nothing that is inherently stopping them doing it, however I doubt you will see anything like that anytime soon, because people want smaller and lighter machines which is the complete opposite to having a system that allows you to swap out your graphics card.
In our next installment we will be discussing the forthcoming RV250 and RV300 graphical processing units, Render monkey and talking about money. So watch out for our next installment of ATI 2002.
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