"Atari Jaguar an IBM Animal" (Aug.20,1993)

From: Atari SIG (xx004@cleveland.Freenet.Edu)
Date: 02/19/94-08:44:56 PM Z

From: xx004@cleveland.Freenet.Edu (Atari SIG)
Subject: "Atari Jaguar an IBM Animal" (Aug.20,1993)
Date: Sat Feb 19 20:44:56 1994

Date: Fri, 20 Aug 1993 22:23:03 CDT
From: <U50723@uicvm.uic.edu>
>Newsgroups: rec.games.video.misc
Subject: Jaguar stuff from AOL
Lines: 50

The following article was published in the July 5, 1993 issue of
Electronic Engineering Times.  Permission to upload the text of this
article was granted from CMP publications by Ms. Martha Rosaril.

(I thought the Atari community would like to read this
   -- Greg Matthijetz, G.MATTHIJETZ)

                    "Atari Jaguar an IBM animal"

                        by Junko Yoshida
                        Sunnyvale, Calif.

Atari Corp. will score a new level of video-game performance this
fall with the introduction of Jaguar, a 64-bit RISC-based system
offering real-time 3-D shaded surfaces with texture mapping.

The $200 system, able to tap into the growing network of cable and
telephone video services, will take videogames into a graphics realm
once the province of midrange 3-D workstatins. In yet a further
departure, the system will be built by IBM Corp.

Jaguar, billed as an interactive multimedia system, is based on an
Atari-designed proprietary 64-bit RISC processor and its proprietary
digital signal processors. The cartridge-based system features 24-bit
true color graphics, shaded 3-D polygons and real-time texture

Atari claims that Jaguar offers four times the processing power of
the current 16-bit videogames from Sega and Nintendo, and believes it
is even more powerful than the coming 32-bit ARM CPU-based machine
from 3DO Co. "If a spaceship goes around a moon, or a person walking
on a street turns on the next corner, every object, every detail in
such scenes is reproduced in shaded 3-D images with texture. It's
truly amazing stuff," said Atari president Sam Tramiel.

--Dense ASIC's--
The system's graphics performance is compared by the company to that
of the 3-D engines in midrange Unix workstations. And like those
egines, Jaguar is based on advanced, very dense digital ASIC's.

Jaguar's core consists of two chip sets, one holding the 64-bit RISC
processor and the other containing DSP hardware. "But the
partitioning between the two chip sets is ambiguous." said Richard
Miller, vice president of research and development at Atari, as the
two share some functions. The two sets apparently pack a whole range
of components, including controllers, video processors and encoders,
leaving outside the core only "a very small amount of TTLs and
DRAMs," said Miller. They were designed at an Atari facility in
England, said Tramiel.

The 64-bit RISC processor is capable of processing video data at a
high rate, handling various video effects as well as full-motion
video compression on its own, Miller claimed.

--Lots of bandwith--
Atari would not disclose any more about the core ASICs, such as gate
counts or data bandwidth, but Miller pointed out that Atari engineers
had to concentrate most of their design efforts on bus bandwidth.
"Graphics eats a lot of bus bandwidth. What's available today for
other 64-bit processors such as PowerPC is only just enough for what
we want to do," he said. "What we designed is right up on the level
of expensive 64-bit processors."

To meet its cost goals, Atari had to push ASIC technology to the
limit. The chip sets will be manufactured by "one of the top four
silicon vendors in the world" using the "smallest geometry"
available, said Miller. It is believed that with Jaguar Atari has
become one of the early customers for a major Japanese 0.5-micron
ASIC process, bt the company would not confirm this.

Clearly, manufacturing volume is essential to the Jaguar plan. The
company intends to introduce an add-on PC card featuring the
company's proprietary 64-bit RISC processor, said Tramiel. "It could
also help minimize the cost of our chip sets," he said.

Atari is also considering licensing the chip set to other silicon
vendors, but has not determined any details yet, said Tramiel.

The future holds more integration. But before working on the
ultimate, a system on a chip, the next step for Atari's engineering
team is to shrink what is currently a set of rather large custom
chips further, reducing the whole system to "one processor, one DRAM,
one ROM and one custom chip," said Miller. The company is looking at
both synchronous DRAMs and Rambus DRAMs for future use, "but we are
waiting to see some of the standards issues get settled first," he

Miller does have a technological wish list. "First," he said, "we'd
love to have 0.3-micron process technology as soon as possible for
custom IC's. Second, we'd like to see some form of synchronous DRAMs
appear as a standard commodity DRAM, and, naturally, a very high bus
bandwidth to produce higher video persormance. The existing
improvements for faster bus interfaces so far have been very
disappointing for us. Lastly, I'd love to play the Atari Jaguar
system on a 10 X 10-foot display. I'm waiting for a very low cost,
low power, large-screen-size display, using probably not an active
matrix but FED-type technology."

In the long run, Jaguar is designed not just as a cartridge-based game
machine. It will use a 32-bit expansions port to connect to cable and
telephone networks, and a digital signal processing port for modem
usage and connection to digital audio peripherals.

This I/O structure reflects Time Warner's 25 percent stake in Atari.
"In the course of our product development, we've had frequent
discussions with Time Warner. It has set the direction for our
machine to have cable and telephone connections," said Leonard
Tramiel, vice president of operating systems.

The company designed and built a 16-bit prototype home-entertainment
machine two years ago, said Sam Tramiel, but scrapped the plan in
favor of a grand attempt to leapfrog the 16-bit systems that were
then coming onto the market. But then Atari engineers started to look
for enabling technology, "there were no RISC processors and no DSP's
that fulfilled our requirements, especially at our cost," said
Miller. Atari's design team even had to develop its own HDL
simulation tools, he said.

"People tend to forget that, unlike business users, comsumers do have
much higher expectations in video quality, speed and cost," Miller
said. "In order to match that demand, we had to really push the
technological envelope, driving the chip counts down, designing the
system to be highly manufacturable and depending on the smallest
geometry prcess technology."

--IBM the OEM--
Atari will also push the envelope in another way, turning its back on
traditiional East Asian manufacturing sites and calling on IBM to
build Jaguar. IBM, working with a 30-month contract worth $500
million, will be responsible for component sourcing, quality testing,
console assembly, packaging and distribution, and will build the
system at its Charlotte, N.C., facility. The motherboard will come
from an IBM-approved manufacturer, said Herbert Watkins, director of
application solutions manufacturing at IBM Charlotte.

For IBM, producing the Atari Jaguar system makes it for the first
time a major OEM for highly cost-competitive, mass
consumer-electronics products, Watkins noted.

"To manufacture one of the most sophisticated game machines in the
world, we needed someone who understood a high-volume, fast digital
machine," said Miller. "IBM was a natural choice."

According to IBM, the prototypes of the Atari Jaguar system will come
out in July, ramp-up models in August and mass-productions versions
in September. The system will be available first on a limited basis
in the fall in New York and San Francisco areas. A national rollout
is scheduled for next year.

- Additional reporting by Roger Woolnough.

Return to message index