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Commentary: Thomas Pabst

Ready For The Winter Games: ATI Radeon 9800 XT
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Asus Bold Move For Freedom

Finally one graphics card vendor was gutsy enough to go up against NVIDIA's or ATi's "one graphics chip supplier only" policy. From now on, Asus will not only supply graphics cards with NVIDIA chips, but also cards powered by ATi's 3D-solutions. It's the first time since the demise of Diamond, STB or (the 'original') Hercules, in case anyone still remembers those long gone graphics card makers.

Asus deserves a big 'Kudos' , as its move to supplying the best of both worlds will definitely benefit the consumer. It won't take long and other vendors will follow suit. This will increase the competition between NVIDIA and ATi and in turn it will bring graphics card prices to a more reasonable level.

Why did it take so long until a 3D card vendor made this commendable move?

After the suicide of 3dfx, the decay of Matrox and the originally rather hapless attempts of ATi to catch up with 3D technology, NVIDIA ruled over its customers with a rather iron fist. Similar to Intel's business model based on trusted ancient despotism, NVIDIA had a very firm grip on those graphics card makers that were interested in making money. NVIDIA made the rules and the GRX-card vendors better followed it. Getting on the bad side of the successful "GPU-Inventor" was not advisable. Guillemot, today better known as "Hercules", had no choice. Once it had started to flirt with ATi, the days of partnership with NVIDIA were over. NVIDIA would not allow any adultery in the lines of its customers.

Today, things are somewhat more relaxed. ATi chips have become a very respectable alternative to NVIDIA's offerings. NVIDIA's former rule of the iron fist doesn't quite work out anymore. NVIDIA is doing it's best to face one PR disaster after another, of course with the strong support of ATi's marketing department, which is doing its best to show that such archaic things as scruples or morals are only for the timid and old-fashioned ones in the business. Then there's us despicable press guys of course, who love to sell dirty stories as our own findings and then get really jiggy with it. I also almost forgot the world's No. 1 philanthropist Gabe Newell, who came down from Olymp to enlighten us with the real deal about NVIDIA chips. Ah, well, thanks for so much clarity, honesty and benevolence! God bless steamy Gabe and innocent ATi, who finally taught us that NVIDIA is actually sponsoring Al Quaida. We were hardly surprised when we heard that NVIDIA's CEO Jen-Hsun Huang has been seen hiding Saddam in his back yard.

I asked Jonney Shih, Asus' CEO, at a recent lunch, if the decision to include ATi chips in the Asus 3D-card portfolio has something to do with NVIDIA's current problems. Jonney, who is famous for his modesty as well as extreme sincerity, told me that Asus would never do such a thing to its valued business partners. In fact, Asus did not start to offer ATi-solutions when NVIDIA was at its worst after the somewhat unsuccessful NV30 launch. However, now that NVIDIA has come back, he and his GRX VP H.C. Hung decided that the time is right.

Does ATi now have reasons to rejoice, anticipating Asus departure from supplying NVIDIA cards? No, Sir! Asus wants to open up and offer the customers both solutions. This is not a transition from ATi to NVIDIA. Asus doesn't want to get out of one restrictive relationship just to jump into another unpleasant situation. The idea is to have both chip makers compete on a level playing field. The new situation should make NVIDIA concentrate on doing what it used to be best at - developing excellent and honest 3D-hardware. ATi might get forced to reduce its staff of marketing people who are fishing for dirty laundry and focus back on R&D engineers instead. In the end, the customer will benefit. Wouldn't that be a nice idea for a change?

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