Note: An executive summary
this interview can be found in this article here. Reader's
beware, key details in this article are not found in
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
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
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.
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.
How long has ATI (now AMD) been involved in producing
technology for Apple?
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
6500 Performa series in 1997.
How long have you been at ATI involved in this group?
I've been head of the Mac 3D driver group since 96'.
How many people are here in Massachusetts in this group
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.
And some PC graphics and the XBOX graphics team are here as
Yes. Parts of the PC software DX and OpenGL driver teams are
here as well.
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?
There is absolutely no change in our relationship with
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.
Maybe able to offer more....?
Obviously AMD hopes to sell Apple more AMD products.
Like main processors -- chips?
[....smiles] We can't comment on that.
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?
We are very close to Apple. We have early access to hardware...
Yes. Arrangements have been made with Intel to allow the Mac
3D driver group to work on pre-release Apple hardware.
I see. So only the Mac 3D GPU group sees this early hardware?
Yes. There are lots of firewalls here.
How closely do you work with Apple?
It's not an arm's length relationship. We are close. We don't
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
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
A very engaged relationship?
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