ATI basically announced the bulk of the RADEON follow-up chip's features today, packaging 'em all up neatly into a bundle they've labeled SMARTSHADER. The SMARTSHADER is ATI's version of DirectX 8 pixel and vertex shaders. (For more on those technologies, see my GeForce3 review.) Not content to just copy NVIDIA, ATI has added new functionality to its shader implementations. Among the highlights: more source textures, longer shader programs, more constant registers, and more texture addressing modes. It's all very esoteric, but the end result should be a chip capable of generating more and better real-time effects.
The biggest insight the announcement offers into the next ATI chip's performance is the revelation that the pixel shader can lay down six textures per rendering pass. I suspect the chip's pipelines will lay down three textures per cycle, then use a "loopback" technique to lay down three more. The arrangement would be similar to the GeForce3's quad texturing abilities.
You can read the press release and ATI's white paper on SMARTSHADER. We would have prepped a little technology preview for you guys, like we did for the Matrox G550, but ATI hasn't answered my e-mails. They seem to prefer getting less press, and hey, we're happy to oblige.