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Editor's Note: An executive summary version of this interview can be found in this article here. Reader's beware, key details in this article are not found in the summary.

As it turns out, ATI's Mac graphics division was never really that far from Architosh's publication studio. In hindsight it was somewhat shameful that we didn't discover this before. It was at SIGGRAPH 2006 Boston that Chris Bentley and I got to talking about a visit, and it was at that show that I was first introduced to the latest ATi Radeon X1900 series cards -- showing off Luxology's modo 202.

A quick 40 minute drive from Providence, Rhode Island, put me in the heart of Boston-Metro West, one of the country's highest developed high-tech beltways. Near AMD's building is a sprawling Hewlett-Packard (HP) campus. AMD'S building is not nearly so big, but in the reception area was a proudly displayed Microsoft XBox 360 machine, powered by, of all things, three custom IBM processors remarkably similar to G5 chips inside Power Macs. ATi's experience with the PowerPC architecture may have had something to do with them winning out Nvidia for the GPU job in the XBox 360, but this is just speculation.

Today of course Chris Bentley and I were meeting to discuss AMD's business of creating bleeding edge graphics chips for Apple. And after a quick bagel on the house and a tour of the large ATi/AMD facility, we sat down to discuss what turns out to be just about everything one could possibly learn about ATi/AMD and Apple in respect to graphics.


The History

AFR: How long has ATI (now AMD) been involved in producing technology for Apple?

Chris Bentley (CB): We've been writing Mac drivers since at least 1995. The first 3D based ASIC, shipping in an Apple system, was the Rage II that was shipped in the Power Mac 6500 Performa series in 1997.

AFR: How long have you been at ATI involved in this group?

CB: I've been head of the Mac 3D driver group since 96'.

AFR: How many people are here in Massachusetts in this group and

CB: We have a group of six engineers, three test engineers and myself. In Toronto we have a group of 30 people and they do things like ROMs, 2D and Video accelerators, Kernel modules and of course management.

AFR: And some PC graphics and the XBOX graphics team are here as well?

CB: Yes. Parts of the PC software DX and OpenGL driver teams are here as well.

AFR: Let's get to the big question many people are thinking about. You are no longer ATI, you are AMD -- even the sign outside says AMD. Is anything different? Are there any changes or will there be any changes with your commitment to Apple now that you guys are AMD?

CB: There is absolutely no change in our relationship with Apple. We
offer the same level of support, from the same people, with the same engagement with Apple and the Mac software companies. In fact, we may be able to offer more solutions to Mac users because we have more resources now.

AFR: Maybe able to offer more....?

CB: Obviously AMD hopes to sell Apple more AMD products.

AFR: Like main processors -- chips?

CB: [....smiles] We can't comment on that.

AFR: Is there not an issue there...that now that you are AMD and make processors and Apple is now cozy with your rival Intel, how does that work?

CB: We are very close to Apple. We have early access to hardware...

AFR: Mac hardware...

CB: Yes. Arrangements have been made with Intel to allow the Mac 3D driver group to work on pre-release Apple hardware.

AFR: I see. So only the Mac 3D GPU group sees this early hardware?

CB: Yes. There are lots of firewalls here.

AFR: How closely do you work with Apple?

CB: It's not an arm's length relationship. We are close. We don't just
throw Apple a little package of binaries at the end of each day. Rather, we see 50% of their source code and they see 80% of ours. We sync up with each other's source depot every day or two. Sometimes it gets to several times a day. There are probably about 50 conversations a week with Apple engineers. Working with Apple is different than working with any other computer manufacturer. Basically we function as an extended part of their team. The only way to write drivers for the Mac is to work this way with Apple.

AFR: A very engaged relationship?


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