Nvidia Corp. unveiled a new computer graphics processor on Wednesday with more than double the power of its predecessor to improve video games and help the company’s push into heavy-duty computing.
The new microchip, called the GeForce 8800, has a retail price tag of $599 for the high-end version, and Nvidia said it expects to sell tens of thousands of them in November alone.
Higher end computers used for video often have separate graphics chips that take the main load of visual effects calculations from the central processor.
Nvidia also said that for the first time it is releasing a set of software tools that will let programmers tap the chip to handle non-graphics related tasks such as crunching data about weather patterns or geological formations.
The chip boasts more than 600 million transistors, double the amount of Nvidia’s previous high-end chip, and more than twice that of the top-of-the-line computer processor from Intel Corp.
“We expect tons of sales for the 8800 for the holiday season,” said Ujesh Desai, general manager of Nvidia’s GeForce desktop business.
Apart from the number of transistors, the chip also benefits from a new “unified” design. Previous chips have used a “linear” design in which parts of the chip are devoted to specific tasks. If one kind of task is not required, that part of the chip lies idle.
The new design lets any part of the chip handle any task, improving performance.
“The quality of images and speed delivered is going to be astounding. This is most notable in computer games. You aren’t going to go to the movies, you are going to be in the movies,” said Jon Peddie, head of marketing and consulting company Jon Peddie Research.
Among the improvements the chip delivers to gamers are more realistic movement, such as falling water or billowing smoke, smoother lines with fewer jagged edges, and the ability to keep a game running well even when the action gets intense.
Nvidia also hopes to boost the appeal of its chips for non-gaming uses, particularly in scientific and engineering circles that need to crunch huge amounts of data.
The new programming tools will let those users tap Nvidia’s chip as a second, highly specialized processor.
“When I think about extending the capabilities (of graphics processors), this product will be the most profound we’ve ever introduced,” said Michael Hara, Nvidia’s vice president of investor relations.
Nvidia, which saw its second-quarter sales rise 20 percent from a year earlier to $688 million, has been trying to develop new markets among mobile and commercial customers. It competes chiefly with Advanced Micro Devices Inc., which bought Canadian graphics chip maker ATI Technologies for $5.4 billion in a deal that closed last month.
“It will definitely open up new businesses to Nvidia because they will sell their chips now to some different manufacturers, so they’ll find that they’ll have a new class of customers who will be using this,” Peddie said.
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