To quote from the company itself, 'Diamond Multimedia designs, markets and supports high-performance PC and Macintosh multimedia solutions for the home, business and professional markets.' ARN's Paul Zucker spoke to Diamond's MD Bryan Pini about what this really means in today's highly competitive market, both end-user and OEMARN: What level of the market, low-, mid- or high-end, does Diamond deal in, and what is your main target . . . after sales, add-on cards, OEM assembly, or upgrade at time of purchase of a PC?
Bryan Pini: Diamond has a complete range of graphic products from the very low end for certain markets, (eg China, India) with the Speedstar and entry Stealth brands, to several platforms in the mid-range under various other Stealth brands. The mid-range tends to be a combination of optimised product in the areas of 2D/3D performance, quality software bundles (games, productivity tools, etc), TV in and out functions . . . The mid-range is the ideal solution for both the consumer or corporate markets under Windows 95 and Windows NT 4.0 platforms.
The high-end products are the Fire lines that cater to Windows NT, Open GL and SoftImage type platforms for utilisation with CAD/CAM and rendering applications, web site creation, VRML, etc.
These products have huge amounts of memory, say up to 48Mb of often exotic memory types (CDRAM, 3DRAM, SGRAM,).
The main markets for Diamond are through distribution (30 per cent of revenue), retail (20 per cent) and OEM (50 per cent).
ARN: What are the main players in the graphics card market here in Australia, and how does Diamond fit in?
BP: Besides Diamond, the main players in the Australian marketplace are reference design boards (meaning no optimisation of enhancements) from Taiwan, to Ati chipsets, down on the motherboards to add-in manufacturer Matrox.
ARN: What are your plans in the Australian market?
BP: We are already and have been for several years the market leader in Australia, although Matrox has been giving us a good run lately. Considering you have to support features like PCI and AGP buses, TV in/out, PC 97 compliance, MPEG II support etc . . . this requires a lot of engineering resources, quality infrastructure, silicon agility, global channels and a lot of cash. Only a handful of companies can offer this complete package, and in the graphics arena that would be Diamond, Ati and Matrox. Even then Ati and Matrox are not silicon agile/independent as they design and use their own graphics controllers. When they design a good chip they do well, when they don't they have tough times. Diamond prefers to work very closely with the top 8Ð10 chip vendors to continually seek out the best performing silicon, optimise the hardware and software then bring those products to market.
ARN: What trends are we seeing in the use of higher-level graphics cards versus on-board graphics?
BP: MMX technology by nature means more add-in graphics for higher performance. Combine this with the AGP bus coming out in Q3, this is a real opportunity for quality graphics card manufacturers. The Asia-Pacific motherboard manufacturers, however, have for the most part put the chips down on the motherboard and that will continue to some extent, but you will see a higher percentage of add-in cards going into boxes in this region as well.
ARN: What does the MMX class of chip offer?
BP: MMX and Pentium II platforms can offer, by some estimates, up to four times the speed as before. This requires quality graphics with good software to reap the benefits.
ARN: Will we ever see a day when add-on graphics cards simply aren't required?
BP: I have been in the graphics business since 1985 and the doom and gloom of the add-in graphics board has been predicted since the late '80s. I would say 'not yet' to this demise as the graphics hardware is so volatile with superior features making product lifecycles so short, the OEM must change to have competitive solutions. In theory it could become a software game someday.
ARN: We've seen some negative comments about Diamond support and (lack) of drivers. What is this about, is it relevant and what are you doing about it?
BP: Any negative comments regarding items that we consider our intellectual property is of course a concern for us. I would respond by saying that:a) With such a large installed base of cards and changes in operating systems over the years, sure, there will always be driver issues to some extent.b) Our shipments are, however, more than double what they were just one year ago yet we are getting the same amount of calls as we used to. In addition, our tech support queue has gone from 18 minutes to 3 minutes.
ARN: What's happening in Australia with regard to the local Diamond office, distributors and so on?
BP: With regard to the local office, I pushed the opening out to Q3/Q4 as the individual we had selected we put on another key assignment in Europe. We are still looking for the proper location as well. Diamond is represented by Chips and Bits and Tech Pacific and we are quite happy with both partners.
Fosh is handling most of our Macintosh modem business in Australia. The next project we are working on quite anxiously is the retail price.
ARN: What advice do you have for PC assemblers and OEMers with regard to using Diamond products?
BP: For one, Diamond has a complete line of Internet multimedia products, all accelerated. With local offices in the region (Singapore headquarters) that can offer quick response time and quality tech support as well as on the ground field applications engineers, we offer a compelling solution. With our advertising budget, channel programs, market share and soon the Australian office, I believe we give the resellers a quality package. As for the PC assemblers and OEMs, it is vital that they see not only our roadmaps into the future but they have someone locally explaining the PC architectural changes that lie ahead and how this will affect what they will be building. This will enable them to achieve market/editorial wins through superb performance and innovation.
ARN: How do you see the PC market moving over the next couple of years?
BP: As it pertains to Diamond Multimedia we see several things. We will continue to drive Internet multimedia. The peripheral market will see the entry and evolution of the DVD drive and media. You will see things like PCI Ultra2 SCSI that will allow the connection of even more peripherals and at faster speeds. Firewire applications will enter and, above all for us, 3D will be for the corporate and business user as much as it will be for the hard core gamer.
ARN: What sort of demand do you see for 3D cards?
BP: Christmas of this year, will be the first really big quarter for 3D cards. Now that there are measurable benchmarks for 3D for the first time, the distributor, reseller, retailer and end user can now measure performance and make decisions without as much FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) as before.
ARN: I believe you have some ground-breaking new audio products. What are they?
BP: Yes, indeed. There really haven't been any breakthroughs in audio technology for five to six years. With Microsoft releasing the DirectSound standard for PC computing, Windows 95 and beyond allows for the simulation of 3D audio effects. Diamond's Monster Sound isn't like surround sound or other "so-called 3D sound products". Using a proprietary Diamond ASIC and A3D Interactive audio technology from Aureal that was initially developed for NASA's Virtual Reality Simulators, the 3D experience is awesome. You can hear opponents creep up behind you and helicopters flying overhead before either is visible on the screen. You hear sounds above you, below you, approaching from every angle. Once again we are accelerating the multimedia experience while supporting Microsoft's DirectSound and DirectSound 3D APIs. The best thing is that it is affordable too!
ARN: What multimedia products does Diamond have for the Internet, and how do they compare to other products on the market?
BP: The Internet multimedia market provides interactivity and connectivity solutions for home, business and professional desktop users. Diamond produces products enabling the users to create, access and experience compelling new content from their desktops and through the Internet.
We think we do this better than our competitors due to the fact that we have a broad and complete set of products dedicated to this market. We accelerate multimedia from the Internet to the hard drive with world class 2D/3D accelerators with the Stealth line, 3D entertainment and sound accelerators with the Monster line Web/VRML creation and CAD/CAM with the Fire GL line, ultra-wide SCSI accelerators that speed the process through with the Fireport line and of course high-speed modems with the Supra brand.
Chips & Bits
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