The 150nm Wonder
The battle for the 3D accelerator crown heats up once again with the introduction of the ATI RADEON 9700 Pro just about a month ago. The new graphics core based on ATI's spanking new technology is now more powerful than ever and is up to pick a fight with NVIDIA's GeForce4. Known to most hardcore techies as the R300, the RADEON 9700 Pro is based on the 0.15µm manufacturing technology and it is packed with 110 million transistors (which is twice as many transistors as the Pentium 4 Northwood core). With so many transistors, you can be sure that the core is not easy to manufacture especially when we're talking about a rather large die size due to the amount of space taken up by all the transistors.
Looking at the die alone, one cannot imagine the cost involved in producing this VPU (note that ATI decided to call their new line of RADEONs VPU and not GPU). Measuring about 15mm on both sides, it is considerably large even at 0.15µm technology. If ATI wants to make money out of this, they had better move down to 0.13µm technology soon, otherwise they would be hard pressed to make this affordable. Supplying the chip in quantity does seem to be a huge problem for ATI as it is already more than a month since the launch and yet there doesn't seem to be final products hitting the stores.
The die size is considerably larger than most CPUs.
Moving down to 0.13µm technology might just be easier said than done. Sources close to the Taiwanese semiconductor manufacturers told us that both TSMC and UMC are having problems with the yield and the chip is rather complex to build. Instead of figuring out the problems associated with the chip design/layout and manufacturing process, ATI decided to use the 0.15µm technology just so that they can deliver this in time - otherwise it would have been too late if NVIDIA readies its NV30. Indeed it was a good move on ATI to roll out the R300, make lots of money for this and gain the market share while they continue to develop this into the 0.13µm process. For NVIDIA, they unfortunately decided to build their NV30 based on the 0.13µm technology and that basically explains why there's still no news on the NV30 yet.