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amd-3Advanced Micro Devices has the world’s most powerful graphics chip. There haven’t been that many product launches in the past where the company could say that. Today, the company is announcing that its ATI Radeon HD 5800 series of graphics chips will be the fastest ever created. And they’re available to buy now in new PCs you can order today.

amd-4Nvidia could challenge that statement, which comes from AMD’s graphics chief Rick Bergman. But it looks like AMD’s rival hasn’t shown up to the party with a graphics chip of its own for the fall season. AMD, on the other hand, announced its chip last week and unveiled even more details about it today. The picture above shows how realistically these cards (pictured right) can render animated humans.

The high-end member of the family, the ATI Radeon HD 5870, can do 2.72 trillion calculations per second. The low-end family member is the ATI Radeon HD 5850, which does 2.09 trillion calculations per second. A year ago, the fastest ATI chips could do 1 trillion calculations per second. A computer with the 5870 would have qualified as one of the top 10 supercomputers just six years ago.

ati-6-google-earth1For those who aren’t impressed with numbers, this means that these graphics cards can power six high-definition monitors at the same time (right) , making it possible to turn your living room into the bridge of the Starship Enterprise, chock full of displays that can all show pieces of the same animations. AMD calls its multi-screen capability, enabled by DisplayPort, the AMD Eyefinity technology. (A separate card, the ATI Radeon HD 5870 Eyefinity6 card, can handle the six displays; the other cards can handle three). This means that when you’re flying a fighter jet in a game, you’ll be able to look sideways and see the enemy before they see you. And it means that the graphics will be silky smooth, even on fast-action games that used to stutter as they brought older graphics cards to their knees.


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The chips have full support for Microsoft’s DirectX 11, the new game and graphics computing standard that is shipping soon with the Windows 7 operating system. The new cards will deliver twice the performance for the same amount of money as the previous generation of cards, said Nigel Dessau, chief marketing officer at Sunnyvale, Calif.-based AMD.

Asked if AMD has enough quantities to supply computer makers during the holiday season, Dessau said, “It will be massively available.”

The new chips are made with a 40-nanometer process technology, a manufacturing advance that allows AMD to get more performance for the same amount of circuitry and the same power consumption. This is going to generate a lot of heat for AMD rival Nvidia. The extent of AMD’s market share gains will depend on how soon Nvidia arrives with its own chips. In the first quarter, AMD took the lead market share away from Nvidia and it widened the lead in the second quarter, according to market researcher Jon Peddie Research.

Forthcoming games that will exploit DirectX 11 graphics include DiRT 2 from Codemasters, Aliens vs. Predator from Rebellion, new versions of The Lord of the Rings Online and Dungeons & Dragons Online Eberron Unlimited from Turbine. Another 20 DirectX 11 games are in development.

A dozen add-in board companies — including ASUS, Club 3D, Diamond Multimedia, Force3D, GIGABYTE, HIS (Hightech Information Systems), MSI, Multimedia, PowerColor, SAPPHIRE Technology, VisionTek and XFX — are launching graphics cards with the new AMD chips. Computer makers such as Dell’s Alienware game computer division are using the new 5870 in a new desktop gaming system being unveiled today.

There used to be 70 graphics chip companies in the 1990s, Peddie said. Now we can see why AMD is one of the survivors.

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