The pipeline issue is continuing to rage between ATI and nVidia and just as we were getting our fingers ready to count the number of them which the GeForce 6800 Ultra (NV40) will sport and used to the idea that the speed Crown will change hands, ATI are confusing the battle again.
The latest twist in the pipeline saga comes from ATI's camp and claims that ATI are about to announce a product carrying a 16x pipeline architecture. It is not clear if this refers to ATI's Radeon X800 (R420) chip or to some revised version. It would however be extremely unlikely that ATI had the time or resources necessary to have reacted to nVidia's 16x announcement so soon.
The first sign that there might be some substance to this report of ATIs increasing pipelines comes from its timing. Just as the first, triumphant, nVidia 3DMark benchmarks started coming in, indicating that boards are now out there, this story surfaces raising doubt over nVidia's expected supremacy. The other is that ATIs early announcement of a 12x pipeline architecture may have been used to get nVidia to confirm the number that the NV40 will carry.
The impact of a 16 pipeline ATI board on the fight for the crown will be considerable. Recently the two new chips were tested against each other and reports claimed that nVidia's baby had come out on top but only just. If the ATI board being tested carried a 12x chip then it is clear that a 16x chip will surpass its rival by a decent margin. Was the ATI chip tested the R420? We will have to wait and see.
Another problem which seems to be currently troubling nVidia is that of availability. Although the company plans to officially announce its new chip very soon, recent reports from partners claim that 3-4 months will be needed to get them ready for the public, giving the GeForce 6800 Ultra a street date of July or August. ATI however are expected to have their new boards out by July, at the latest. If they beat nVidia to retail and come out with a 16x product then they will have made a great big step towards winning this chapter of the graphics war.