The Triangle: Imagination, STMicroelectronics, and Hercules/Guillemot
The relationship between the companies involved in bringing the Kyro II to market is quite complex. It is important to understand what role each company plays in the manufacturing triangle.
At the base of the triangle is Imagination Technologies. A British company, It is Imagination that actually created the technology behind the PowerVR chips. Pioneering the tile based rendering scheme, they have continued to work towards perfecting this type of technology. Although they hold the rights to the PowerVR technology, they physically make no chips or boards.
This is where STMicroelectronics comes in. STMicroelectronics actually licenses the PowerVR technology from Imagination and owns the rights to produce PowerVR chips. This partnership started with the PowerVR Series 2, where STMicroelectronics produced these chips for use not only in the desktop market but also in the Sega Dreamcast console.
It was STMicroelectronics that produced the chips used in original Kyro boards. The problem was that, although STMicroelectronics is a manufacturing powerhouse, they do not have the resources to develop and market boards. As a result of this, STMicroelectronics has turned to 3rd party manufacturers to build board level products that use the Kyro series of chips. The problem that they encountered with the original Kyro processor was that no major card maker agreed to produce and sell Kyro based boards. This made it extremely difficult to find Kyro cards, let alone one from a major board manufacturer. Without retail or OEM presence, PowerVR technology was destined to fail, no matter how good it was.
Finally Hercules/Guillemot comes into the picture. In a partnership announced last Friday, Hercules/Guillemot agreed to produce Kyro based products for the retail market. Selling along side their popular 3D Prophet series cards, STMicroelectronics' partnership with Hercules/Guillemot promises that the Kyro II will be sold side by side NVIDIA based cards. In addition to the 3D Prophet 4500, Hercules/Guillemot's Kyro II based card, the company will also produce and sell a board with the original Kyro, the 3D Prophet 4000, outfitted with 32MB of memory.
This partnership is very important for STMicroelectronics because, although the Kyro graphics processor performed extremely well for its price, poor retail availability, product delays, and buggy drivers prevented it from being a force in the video card market. By signing an agreement with Hercules/Guillemot, the 2nd largest retailer of NVIDIA based products, STMicroelectronics gains the experience and market presence that can only be provided by a major card manufacturer. In addition, STMicroelectronics worked hand in hand with Hercules/Guillemot's driver team and was able to build a new driver base with out any problems. Finally, the agreement means that products will actually come on time: the 3D Prophet 4500 is slated for an end of March or beginning of April ship date.
Keep in mind that STMicroelectronics does not have an exclusive agreement with Hercules/Guillemot, so it is probably just a matter of time before we see other Kyro II based boards on the market. STMicroelectronics would not name any other names at this time, but it is safe to assume that manufacturers that had a product using the original Kyro will follow with a Kyro II card in the near future. However, for now, it is Hercules/Guillemot or bust.