Full ATI TimeLine 1984-2006
• ATI was founded in 1984 by K.Y. (Kwok Yuen) Ho, Benny Lau and Lee Lau. All recent immigrants to Canada, KY had been a successful businessman in Hong Kong, most recently managing an electronics manufacturing business. Benny and Lee Lau were graduates of the University of Toronto who already had one successful PC business under their belts, having previously founded Comway. . The company was founded using a combination of their own savings and money from close friends and associates. One of the company’s first products enhanced the PC of the time by adding extra memory, a clock and parallel and serial ports.
• Array Technology Inc. was incorporated as a private company on 20 August 1985. The original name was subsequently changed to Array Technologies Inc. and then to ATI Technologies Inc. The ‘Array’ refers to “gate arrays”, an early way of manufacturing custom integrated circuits. Although ATI has long since replaced gate arrays by the more capable ASICs (discussed below), the name lives on in ATI’s canteen, “Chez Array” located in the
ATI’s financial year still runs from 1 September to 31 August.
• ATI used ASIC technology to develop its first graphic controller and introduced its first graphics board, the Graphics Solution “Small Wonder”. It’s hard to imagine today, but in 1985 a specific board was required to interface with each type of PC monitor. The Graphics Solution was a breakthrough in compatibility and supported all standards and monitors and systems on the market at the time.
ASICs – application-specific integrated circuits – are a more highly customizable and higher performance approach to bespoke integrated circuits and are the approach ATI still takes today. Whereas gate arrays enabled circuits comprising a few thousand gates, ATI’s current high-end ASICs count them in the tens of millions.
• ATI had six staff when it was incorporated. The secretary, receptionist and shipping department were the same person. Today, the company employees 3,700 people worldwide, of which around 2,200 are based in Canada.
• ATI secured its first customer, Commodore Computers, with an order of 7,000 chips a week.
• ATI reported $10 million in revenue in its first full year of operations.
• 1986 saw the first color PCs appear on the market. However, there was no standardization and little agreement on how they should communicate with their monitors. It would seem reasonable to expect an application written for a color system to work fine on a monochrome system, with the colors appearing as shades. However, the lack of standardisation meant that they would not work at all. The reverse was also true – a monochrome application was exactly that – and would not function with a color monitor. This severely dented one of the advantages the PC held over its mainframe rivals – its versatility. ATI spotted the opportunity and released the VIP, a card that worked with every graphics interface, software and monitor on the market. As well as solving the incompatibility problem, it also provided faster graphics than was possible on conventional personal computers. ATI announced VIP (VGA Improved Performance) that combined EGA and VGA display support on the ISA (Industry Standard Architecture) bus.
Anticipating and driving platform trends and standards has been a core strength of ATI and key to the company’s success throughout its history.
• EGA, “enhanced graphics adapter” was the current graphics standard as defined by IBM (this was in the days when all PCs were IBM PCs). EGA was defined as up to 16 colors at a resolution of 640x350. The EGA Wonder™ improved on the IBM standard. ATI engineers were able to find a novel use of interlacing to support resolutions up to 640x350 with four colors on displays that were only designed for 640x200. The EGA Wonder 800 went further, to 800x600. Today, there are cellphones (with ATI graphics) that exceed this. Current PC resolutions top out at around 2048x1600, with over 16 billion colors.
• ATI was elected to the Video Electronics Standards Association and assisted in the establishment of industry-wide interface standards designed for the PC, workstation, and other computing environments
• ATI announced a follow up to the highly successful EGA Wonder, the VGA Wonder (VGA stood for “video graphics array”). The VGA Wonder was a full 16-bit VGA graphics card with a port for a two-button mouse. Mouse connectivity was provided since most serial ports were already in use. ATI provided computer users with exceptional full color performance while
enabling additional mouse features for new software applications and the emerging Microsoft Windows operating system.
• To broaden its product offerings in the growing personal computer market, ATI released the 2400 ETC fax modem. ATI went on to release several generations of modems before focusing on graphics. Ironically, ATI recently re-entered the modem business from a completely different angle – the most advanced digital televisions must communicate with the network,
and ATI is incorporating the relevant technology in its DTV chipsets.
• ATI introduced the first 8514/A compatible 2D graphics accelerator – the Mach 8 graphics accelerator (8514/A was another IBM graphics standard). It was designed to accelerate Microsoft Windows and provide smoother and faster word-processing and graphics performance. The ATI Mach 8 won industry awards for innovation and design signifying the arrival of the graphics card business as a bona fide industry. The card included innovative features such as scalable grey scale fonts which smoothed out the rough edges of early digital typefaces.
The adoption of 2D cards in the early nineties is likely to be echoed in the adoption of 3D cards today, as the industry undergoes a similar transition. Just as the adoption of Windows increased the need for 2D acceleration over and above that built into the standard PC, the introduction of Windows Vista (codename Longhorn) in 2006 will generate a need for 3D accelerators. Gamers have always required the latest graphics hardware, but the transitions from (text-based) DOS to Windows and now from Windows to Windows Vista make hardware accelerators necessary for regular PC users.
• ATI continued to diversify its product strategy with the introduction of the VGA Stereo F/X add-in sound and graphics card. The product combined a CD-ROM drive interface and ATI graphics accelerator card to enable true 4 computer multimedia capabilities without using extra valuable slots. CDROM drives are standard today (in fact, they are gradually being phased
out in favour of DVD and dual-layer DVD drives). However, being able to add what was considered high-end multimedia functionality in just one precious expansion slot was a significant innovation. ATI has continued to push the functionality of its add-in boards, as currently exemplified by the award winning All-In-Wonder series of TV/graphics cards.
• ATI released mach 32™, an SVGA (“Super VGA”) graphics controller and 32-bit “true color” graphics accelerator. The components were integrated into one chip to reduce manufacturing costs and price to the consumer.
• ATI released the first VLB (VESA Local Bus) products and, after that, PCI (peripheral component interconnect) bus products. A “bus” is a standard way for components inside a PC – including add-in cards - to communicate with each other and the PC proper. Many PC buses existed at the time including 8- and 16-bit ISA, IBM Microchannel, EISA, and VLB to name a
few. ATI enabled high quality video in a low cost marketplace by providing chips that supported all these standards internally. ATI even produced boards with multiple bus connections to reduce the number of products..
• ATI established ATI GmbH in Munich, Germany as the company began to
extend its footprint overseas.
• ATI and Intel unveiled the shared frame buffer interconnect (SFBI) specification that defined a method for combining full-motion video, graphics and other multimedia functionality into a single, integrated multimedia subsystem. This development was essential to the eventual
introduction of future products like the All-In-Wonder.
• ATI introduced the ATI-68890, the first PC TV video decoder chip. It included an SFBI interface. This was the first step in a march that led directly to today’s Theater 550. Twelve years on, PC/TV convergence is a familiar phrase, but not so in 1993. The ATI-68890 marked the beginning of ATI’s leadership in TV on the PC.
• ATI introduced the first graphics card to feature Multimedia Video Acceleration (MVA) – the Graphics Ultra Pro VLB high-performance VESA local bus card. This new solution accelerated video image scaling for better video playback in Windows. This was the first successful consumer card that accelerated video playback by adding hardware inside the main graphics chip.
• ATI made its initial public offering, and raised C$100 million on the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSE now TSX), trading symbol: ATY. ATI later also listed on NASDAQ (1996).
• ATI announced the first product to combine full-motion video and highperformance graphics on a single card -- VIDEO WONDER
• ATI shipped the industry’s first video graphics card for the PCI bus interface. The PCI bus provided local connection for other buses, such as ISA, EISA, or VMEbus; I/O expansion; and eliminated the need for motherboard redesign with each processor revision. Eventually, graphics technology overtook the capabilities of the PCI bus (although it remained useful for other components), and it was replaced by AGP (Advanced Graphics Port). AGP expanded through three new flavours (2x, 4x, 8x) before finally (in 2004) being deprecated in favour of the now current PCI Express standard, which is sufficiently versatile to encompass the needs of
graphics cards and less demanding peripherals such as sound or networking cards.
• ATI introduced video capture boards, the VIDEO BASIC and VIDEO-IT!, that simplified the capture of high-quality, full-motion video for Windows applications.
• ATI introduced the first graphics boards, based on the Mach64 chip, to accelerate full-motion video with hardware bitmap zoom and YUV to RGB color-conversion.
• ATI announced the first ever PCI-based graphics card to be supplied to Apple Computer Inc. as an OEM product – the XCLAIM GA graphics accelerator for Apple's PowerPC platform. ATI also became the first graphics company to ship Mac-compatible graphics boards. Today, ATI has around 80% market share at Apple, and ATI products ship in everything from the Mac mini to the PowerMac G5 on the desktop, from the iBook to the PowerBook notebooks, and even in Xserve server products.
• ATI announced an agreement with United Microelectronics Corporation (UMC) and other joint ventures to build a semiconductor manufacturing facility in Taiwan. This investment allowed ATI to secure its share of worldwide foundry capacity for the future benefit of its customers. Although ATI has since focussed on its core competencies, subcontracting semiconductor manufacturing to others, UMC remains an essential part of ATI’s semiconductor development today.
• ATI became the first in the graphics market to support synchronous memory with the ATI-264CT, an advanced, full-featured 64-bit multimedia accelerator. This product paved the
way for watching high resolution video on the PC.
• ATI became the first to provide an MPEG video card. MPEG THEATRE was a low-cost, plug and play MPEG-1 video playback ISA board. It could be used to upgrade any 386, 486 or Pentium PC.
• ATI released the world’s first consumer 3D chip – 3D Rage. This chip combined 3D features with all the capabilities of ATI's mach 64 2D accelerators in addition to full-screen, full-motion MPEG video playback.
Sales that year exceeded one million chips. Starting a pattern that continues today, ATI quickly followed it with a version optimized for notebook computers.
• ATI collaborated with Intel on the Accelerated Graphics Port architecture that was designed for low-cost, more effective implementation 3D graphics performance in PCs.
• ATI announced the first gaming and multimedia tuner for Macs -- XCLAIM VR.
• As an industry first, ATI announced the first product that let home computers be connected with conventional large-screen TV, ImpacTV.
• ATI introduced the first graphics accelerator board to deliver both powerful 3D acceleration and a TV-out capability, the 3D XPRESSION + PC2TV.
• ATI improved DVD playback performance on PCs at higher resolutions with the 3D RAGE™ II+ DVD chip, the first graphics accelerator with motion compensation DVD software.
• ATI became the first graphics company to release products (3D Rage Pro) with full support for the Accelerated Graphics Port (AGP 2X)
• ATI acquired Tseng Lab’s graphics assets, including 40 engineers. This acquisition enabled ATI to increase its output of new graphics chips. Concurrent team development allowed the company to deliver more solutions in a shorter period of time.
• ATI became the first graphics company to ship a combination graphics and TV tuner card, enabling users to receive and capture analog TV signals – All-In-Wonder. This family has won dozens of awards, and is still in production today, making it one of the PC industry’s longest running and most successful products.
• ATI was the first company to introduce a complete set-top box referencedesign -- Set-top-Wonder CE. The Windows CE-powered set-top box featured ATI's latest 2D, 3D and video acceleration and PC to TV convergence technology by combining key high performance entertainment functions at a low cost.
• ATI announced the Rage Theater, the industry’s first video in/video out chip. It greatly reduced the board area and cost of multimedia products, by including an SPDIF output for high quality audio output from PC DVD playback. The chip was designed to deliver high-quality, cost-effective video decoding and encoding capabilities for set-tops and multimedia PCs.
• ATI surpassed $1 billion in revenue.
• ATI shipped its 10 millionth AGP chip
• ATI acquired Chromatic Research Inc. to develop system-on-a-chip (SOC) products for numerous multimedia applications including set-top boxes as well as other consumer electronic devices. This acquisition paved the way for the development of ATI’s Xilleon chip, an SOC device for digital TVs.
• K.Y. Ho, ATI President & CEO, was selected as Canada's Entrepreneur of the Year by Canadian Business magazine
• ATI began trading on NASDAQ and affirmed the status of the company among major high-technology firms. ATI would later join the elite group that make the NASDAQ -100 in 2003. ATI is one of only two Canadian firms in the NASDAQ-100; the other is RIM.
• K.Y. Ho, ATI President & CEO, was selected as one of the top 25 business leaders in the world by Business Week Magazine
• By 1999 ATI had shipped over 2 million boards with TV tuners, including the Video It, Video Basic, ATI-TV, and the All-In-Wonder, making it a leader in the PC TV segment..
• ATI completed its acquisition of ArtX, Inc. of Palo Alto, California, a leading developer of high-performance graphics for both PCs and consumer appliances (ArtX was already developing the “Flipper” chip for the Nintendo Gamecube). The acquisition moved ATI into the consumer electronics market, adding key technologies for consumer devices. ATI’s current CEO, Dave Orton, was ArtX’s President at the time, and joined ATI as President and COO.
• ATI launched RADEON as the world’s powerful and feature-packed graphics processor. This new chip marked ATI's entry and market leadership in the high-end gaming and 3D workstation segments.
• ATI acquired workstation graphics processor pioneer FireGL Graphics, formalizing its entry into the high-performance workstation graphics segment of the PC graphics industry
• In 2001, ATI changed its desktop business model, shifting its emphasis from selling boards to selling the chips to board manufacturers. This increased margins and reduced exposure to risks such as memory inventory – each board required a significant amount of memory, and DRAM prices are famously unpredictable.
• ATI acquired Hydravision desktop management software application from Appian Graphics. The Hydravision application provides users with an interface for simplified management of multiple displays. It is now possible to drive up to five displays from one PC equipped with an ATI motherboard and two ATI 3D cards. Users who want multimonitor more than they want 3D gaming can now use Hydravision with ATI’s FireMV products (see 2004).
• ATI unveiled Nintendo Gamecube technology at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) and officially entered the game console graphics market.
• ATI introduced Xilleon 220 as the world's most highly integrated system-onchip for set-top-box, digital TV and consumer products manufacturers for a variety of uses around the world. It would become a cornerstone product of ATI’s Digital Television business unit.
• ATI Technologies Inc. was elevated to permanent membership in OpenGL standards board, reaffirming ATI’s status in the computer graphics industry.
• ATI entered the handset market with the Imageon 100 -- an advanced display co-processor for PDAs and Smart Phones. This product led to design wins with major handset manufacturers. It illustrates one of ATI’s core skills – anticipating and acting on industry trends. Cameras on
cellphones (a typical Imageon application) were almost non-existent at the time but ATI chose to invest in the technology anyway, perceiving a growing market. Today, ATI sells around ten million Imageon chips a quarter.
• ATI acquired NxtWave Communications, giving ATI the digital reception television technology to provide complete solutions for PC and TV customers. ATI is now the world’s largest provider of silicon for integrated digital televisions.
• ATI introduced the Radeon 9700, the world’s first DirectX 9 graphics chip. DirectX 9, a standard introduced by Microsoft, was the most radical advance in graphics in over ten years, and required full floating-point support. ATI actually had the Radeon 9700 in stores three months before Microsoft was ready with DirectX 9. The 9700 and its derivatives led to massive market share gains for ATI.
• ATI announced the world's first mobile graphics solution with programmable pixel shaders – Mobility Radeon 9000. This mobile part would lead to many design wins with leading notebook manufacturers.
• ATI announced agreements with both Microsoft and Nintendo to develop graphics solutions for future game consoles. The announcements were worded cryptically to satisfy the need for secrecy in this fiercely competitive market. However, it was later possible for ATI to reveal that they were for as the graphics chips for the Microsoft Xbox 360 and Nintendo Revolution game consoles.
• ATI acquired its APAC distributor to give it greater customer reach into the Asian markets.
• ATI demonstrated the world’s first graphics processor to incorporate a PCI Express (PCIe) interface, the current PC interconnect standard, at the Intel Developers Forum (IDF) in San Jose. Once again, ATI anticipated correctly the needs of its customers as they approached the transition to PCIe (from PCI/AGP), this time with the result that the company won virtually all the PC desktop and notebook business from OEMs in this product cycle.
• ATI was added to the NASDAQ-100 Index. ATI stock was also included in the NASDAQ-100 Index Tracking Stock (Amex: QQQ).
• ATI became the first company in any industry to launch high-volume products using the 0.13um low-k semiconductor production process. On this occasion, anticipating a technology shift allowed ATI to improve performance by 15% without increasing power consumption, a development that proved particularly attractive to notebook manufacturers. At its peak, ATI was consuming the vast majority of the industry’s capacity for manufacturing 0.13um low-k devices.
• ATI announced the first 3D gaming chips for cell phones -- Imageon 2300 that enabled game developers to create visually rich 3D gaming experiences. The first product using this device was launched by LG in early 2005.
• ATI leveraged its low-k expertise to introduce a high-performance graphics solution for notebook PCs – the Mobility Radeon 9700. This was the first notebook chip that gave desktop-like performance to users on the go.
• Dave Orton became ATI’s new CEO.
• ATI announced the the industry's first mobile PCI Express graphics processor -- Mobility Radeon X600. ATI's mobile PCI Express solutions are employed by more than 16 of the industry's leading OEM and ODM designers including, Acer, Arima, ASUS, Clevo, ECS, eMachines, FIC, Gateway, HP, Inventec, LG, Mitac, Samsung, Quanta, Uniwill and Wistron.
• ATI announced the world's first PCI Express multimedia video card -- All-In- Wonder X600 Pro. Powered by the Radeon X600 graphics chip, the video card was designed for home theater, video editing and gaming enthusiasts.
• ATI shipped more than 5 million chips for HDTVs and set-top boxes. As of the most recent statistics, ATI estimates that it has 85 percent market share for Theater and NXT demodulators and a 40 percent market share for Xilleon MPEG decoders and display processors. Together, the front and back ends represent almost all the intelligent (non-commoditized) silicon in an HDTV.
• ATI introduced its FireMV range of products, cards designed not for 3D gaming but 2D performance with multimonitor setups, such as those required by traders. Configurations up to four quad FireMV cards have been tested (so driving 16 monitors simultaneously) but more are
theoretically possible. This represents a major new market opportunity for ATI, and leverages investment made in other parts of the business.
• Mercury Research declared ATI to be the world's largest discrete graphics supplier in 2004.
• ATI acquired cable modem silicon intellectual property and staff from Terayon Communication Systems, Inc. This acquisition allowed ATI to develop more competitive feature-rich solutions for the DTV marketplace.
• ATI announced 1 million Radeon XPRESS chipsets shipped to desktop PC, notebook and motherboard manufacturers around the world. ATI’s chipset business continues to grow extremely rapidly and is an area of great promise for the company.
ATI started twenty years ago as a graphics company and, twenty years later remains committed to that goal – to give users the best possible visual experience. The number of platforms has increased in the intervening two decades. And ATI has taken its core graphics competency and leveraged its experience to move into the markets that those new platforms represent:
ATI developed skills and technologies to reduce power consumption for notebook graphics. These have proved invaluable as ATI aggressively entered the cellphone market. The current state of the art cellphone graphics chip (ATI’s Imageon 2300) consumes about 75mW, peak. In
contrast, state of the art desktop parts consume roughly one thousand times as much power.
ATI built its TV experience and knowledge base through TV-on-the-PC products. It has used them to become the largest supplier of HDTV silicon technologies. This is a market that is set to grow explosively over the next couple of years. About $5m was spent on digital TVs in 2004, out of a market of around $30m. But the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has mandated that all TVs sold in the US by the end of 2007 must be digital ready, requiring the market, by law, to grow at least six fold.
• Game console ATI has long been a performance leader in PC graphics and this has attracted the attention of the console vendors. No details of Nintendo’s next generation console are yet available, but it’s clear from the technology ATI has developed for the Xbox 360 that it expects to be a leader for some time to come.