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Next Gen 3D Is On! 3Dlabs' P10 VPU

P10 - Looking Forward To Longhorn

First of all, the P10 has broken ground on the term "Visual Processing Architecture." That's a first right there. 3Dlabs claims the architecture has been in development for the past two years, has some pending patents, and will be shipping in products coming out in the third quarter of this year. THG was briefed by 3Dlabs, but again, it's been a very rushed launch, forced by the upcoming acquisition by Creative. That's a shame because it really has been a long time coming. This is a major new architecture for 3Dlabs.

It is the concepts and ideas that surround the P10 that hold the most interest, not to mention the fact that this architecture is supposed to be at the heart of Creative's graphics push this Christmas.

I don't think this argument will last long, but the P10 directly targets competing GPUs by emphasizing that it is a ground-up, fully programmable architecture. This is a dig at the GeForce4 and Radeon 8500 that still have elements of past T&L engines incorporated into their designs. But, they also had to support those good ol' DX7 games, too. 3Dlabs hasn't really been troubled by DirectX support in recent memory, very much focusing on the high-end OpenGL (OGL) market.

So, it is not surprising that the first products that will use this architecture will be the workstation targeted Oxygen boards from 3Dlabs.

It won't be until Creative Labs has fully acquired 3Dlabs, and is ready to announce its P10 boards for Christmas 2002 that we will know how the P10 is going to impact the mainstream desktop and the gamer, although 3Dlabs is convinced that the Creative P10 boards will be competitive with Nvidia and ATi products on the market at that time. Knowing Creative's sales muscle and reach, a Creative graphics board needs only to be competitive, and not necessarily better, in order to be a viable alternative to the two horse race we have right now.

However, there are some concerns. Creative has tried repeatedly to establish a strong foothold in the graphics business and has been pulled in and out of the market, particularly in North America. 3Dlabs has been aiming to find a way into the mainstream with its technology for a number of years and has repeatedly fallen short of delivering a competitive product. Can this marriage work?

So, while P10 is a very interesting, and most likely effective, architecture for 3Dlabs' workstation customers, that doesn't gurantee it automatic entry into the consumer marketplace, even with Creative.

On the other hand, 3Dlabs has an enormous amount of 3D expertise. It was the first 3D graphics chip company in the PC market to make some real money for a while there. The company also has an extensive portfolio of 3D IP (intellectual property) rights. Nvidia got some by virtue of acquisitions from 3dfx and SGI. Via has a bucket load from S3. Intel has its set from both SGI and Real3D. So, 3Dlabs has the potential to play with the big boys, and with Creative's backing, it also has the resources. Or, we could say that Creative finally has the technology it craved to compete with its own proprietary 3D graphics products.