Intel Stays Quiet
To date, companies such as Intel have said little about which of their integrated graphics products can support all of Vistas different looks. Intels 945 chip set will support the three-dimensional aspects of the Aero interface, a source familiar with its hardware confirmed.The chip sets successor, Broadwater, will also support do the same when it comes out in the middle of 2006, the source added.An Intel spokesperson said the chip maker has been working closely with Microsoft when it comes to Vistas graphics needs. However, he declined to elaborate on the way each of Intels integrated graphics chip sets, which are used widely by PC makers, would support the forthcoming OS. At the moment, ATI Technologies Radeon Xpress X200 chip set with integrated graphics is also capable of running Aero Glass, today, a company executive confirmed. However, he said that customers will have to determine whether or not it does so with acceptable performance. "There is a big debate about whether you need discrete graphics or whether or not integrated graphics are good enough. If you have discrete graphics, its going to be more likely that you can run Vista [Aero Glass UI] and run it well," said Ben Bar Haim, vice president of software for ATI. "If you move into integrated, there are more question marks. I dont think anybody is going to be able to tell you integrated is not able to do it," he said. But, for example, a "discrete [graphics] card may be able to open 10 [Aero Glass] windows and move them around with no problem," Bar Haim said. But, "With integrated, you may be able to open four, but see a noticeable performance hit with five. It does come down to personal preference." ATI, in what it says is an effort to help educate the market, has sponsored a PC graphics white paper written by International Data Corp. The paper says that the use of high-performance PC graphics will become more widespread over the next three to five years and those companies must plan ahead for Vista. "I think there is a lot of confusion in the market and we tried to go out and clarify it" with the paper, Bar Haim said. Basic graphics have been "good enough" for the vast majority of users, he said. However, Vistas promised increases in productivity and stability cannot be attained with good enough graphics. "That, to us, is a huge inflection point in the industry," he said. Analysts say that forward-looking buyers should, at a minimum, ensure the desktops they are evaluating have a free AGP or a PCI-Express slot, which can accommodate an add-in graphics card. Many consumer and corporate desktops that ship with integrated graphics chip sets offer the extra slot, although some less expensive models do not. Graphics cards for desktops generally retail for between as little as about $50 to about $500. When offered as factory upgrades, they generally add somewhere between about $50 and $300 to the purchase price of new machine. Notebook PCs graphics are trickier as the vast majority of new machines graphics are not upgradeable. Most of the machines use integrated graphics for packaging and battery life considerations and those graphics, as is the case with Intels mobile 945 Express, are typically six months to a year behind their desktop counterparts. Models that are more focused on performance and less on cost and battery life sometimes offer discrete graphics. They are likely to have better graphics performance, making them more likely to be able to run Vista Aero Glass, analysts say. But ATI is also preparing a compromise position, in which it will offer graphics cards no onboard memory in an effort to cut the price to upgrade a desktop to discrete graphics. Although price will vary by manufacturer, Bar Heim indicated forthcoming ATI Hyper Memory cards, which will have no onboard memory, could significantly reduce cost of a low-price graphics card upgrade, yet run Vistas Aero Glass more effectively than integrated graphics. He declined to offer more information about the cards, which will use a PCI-Express connection and PCs main memory for frame buffer. Nvidia is already offering similar cards. Using a feature it calls TurboCache, they employs a small amount of onboard memory and take advantage of a PCs main memory for the rest of their allotment. Hewlett-Packard Co., for one, offers a GeForce 6200SE as a $60 upgrade on some consumer-oriented HP Pavilion desktops sold via its HPShopping site. "If [prospective buyers] care about graphics performance, a graphics upgrade, even an inexpensive one, is going to make a significant difference," McCarron said. Inexpensive graphics card upgrades may not sway all corporate buyers, however. It "will result in some incremental sales [for graphics cards]," McCarron predicted. "But, right now, Im not expecting wholesale changes in the mix of discrete versus integrated graphics." Ultimately, buyers need to determine if upgrading to Windows Vista is a priority. "If the answer is yes, then keep in mind youre going to need some more advanced hardware," he said. Check out eWEEK.coms for Microsoft and Windows news, views and analysis.