Will Apple dump ATI for NVIDIA?

AMD yesterday announced that they plan to acquire Canadian video chip maker ATI for US$5.4 billion. The deal needs to be approved by stockholders and regulatory agencies. Arch-rival Intel announced that they won"t be renewing ATI"s chipset bus license as a result of the deal.

The move leaves Apple in a bit of a quandary because ATI video subsystems currently power two of Apple"s Intel-based Macs: the MacBook Pro and the iMac both ship with ATI Mobility Radeon X1600 GPUs. The Mac mini and MacBook use Intel GMA950 graphics.

ATI chips shipped in most Macs prior to the PowerMac G4 announced in 2001. Apple"s move to chips from Santa Clara-based NVIDIA was believed by some to be punishment for an ATI leak in July 2000 that pre-announced new iMacs and Power Macs.

Apple"s aging PowerMac G4 ships with NVIDIA graphics (GeForce 6600, 7800 GT or Quadro FX 4500) but the graphics chip supplier for the new "Mac Pro" desktop is rumored to switch to back ATI. The Mac Pro, which could be announced as soon as 07 August at WWDC, is rumored to ship with ATI Radeon X1600 Pro and X1800 Pro graphics.

Will Intel allow Apple to continue to working with ATI on graphics after the company becomes wholly owned by rival AMD? I think that we"ll probably see Intel gently "suggest" that Apple switch to another vendor for graphics technology in 2007. Once the dust settles I bet that all Macs from here on out will ship with graphics from either Intel or NVIDIA.

If Apple goes with NVIDIA, hopefully Intel and Apple will support their SLI (Scalable Link Interface) technology and add the SLI connector to the motherboard. SLI takes advantage of the increased bandwidth of the PCI Express bus and allows you to scale graphics performance by combining multiple NVIDIA graphics cards in a single system.

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