Sapphire has been ATi's number one partner since the day it was founded. Matt Grainger talks to the firm's Northern Europe sales manager Neil Spicer and ATi's worldwide vice president of sales at AMD?s GPU division John Byrne?

Crystal Clear

Sapphire is a graphics vendor that designs, manufactures and distributes an extensive range of ATi-based video cards and motherboards, from affordable graphics platform solutions to cutting edge gaming experiences. Over time, the firm has become ATi’s largest and best performing global partner.

From its foundation, Sapphire had a global, ATifocused outlook with a worldwide team that to this day incorporates a high proportion of former ATi employees, ensuring that Sapphire has retained a good knowledge of their products, customers and market.

In 2001, ATi abandoned its exclusive manufacturing model and decided to take the route of having board partners. As soon as this new route to the market was announced, Sapphire CEO and founder K D Au seized the opportunity to create a new brand of graphics cards, working in partnership with a fabrication company called PC Partners, and rapidly focused on bringing products to market.

"We set up sales channels, logistical hubs and support centres all around the world. This meant that Sapphire was first to market with the ‘new ATi era’," comments Sapphire’s sales manager for Northern Europe, Neil Spicer.

"Since then we have solely focused our attention on ATi GPU products. Sapphire became the largest of the ATi partners very quickly and has remained number one ever since by a considerable margin. This means that ATi looks to Sapphire to drive new products into the market. For example, right now we are having phenomenal success with the new 4000 series of products from ATi. These products have eaten heavily into the Nvidia market share and Sapphire is at the forefront of bringing these products to the market."

"Sapphire is globally a long-term strategic partner for AMD. It carries huge demand from end users, etailers, distributors, resellers and system builders so we often work with it on bringing products to market," says ATi’s worldwide vice president of sales for AMD’s GPU division, John Byrne.

"For instance, Sapphire will be first to market the new 4850 X2 at the start of November. This means we focus and work hand in hand with partners like Sapphire to sell and market our range of technology. From an Add-In-Board (AIB) partner environment we believe less is more. Our partners realise this, with all of them bringing something unique to the market." "Our business is orientated around ATi technology.

So if the guys over at ATi do not produce competitive products then we are limited to the success available to us," continues Spicer. "We are one of the very few sole source AIB’s, which mean we only sell ATi-based products. This gives us a clear direction and cooperation with ATi, as the company knows we want to win as much as it does. ATi has had a tough few years, however right now it is really becoming strong again. There have been many polls that have asked end users what VGA solution they would buy now, with the majority asking for ATi. It is then our job to continue making sure those people are buying Sapphire."

With ATi’s latest series of graphic cards performing very well on the market, Sapphire has a clear goal of maintaining its position as the biggest and the best of ATi’s partners. "We have a huge chunk of market still available to us which we are now clearly focused on winning. ATi has now brought to us new and exciting products that have heavily influenced the market trend and here at Sapphire we are focused on working with ATi to develop this market share even further," says Spicer.

"However, we cannot lose sight of the other ATi partners, whose aim it is to dislodge Sapphire from the top spot; this is why we always try and stay ahead of the game. Right now we are working on new cooling solutions. We have brought some really interesting products to the market over the past few years, including a vapor chamber solution, a range of insanely over-clocked products, and much more. We will continue to focus on driving new products into the range, while not forgetting the need to keep producing competitive affordable low end and mainstream solutions."

"Here at ATi, our mindset is changing from being a follower to a leader," says Byrne. "The great news is we have now have price/performance leadership in all segments of the GFX market, which was highlighted in the recently published Q3 results from Jon Peddie Research. This has shown an almost 23 per cent growth-year on-year for AMD in the GPU space. "We are delighted to report significant share gains at OEMs in both desktop and mobile which ultimately has an effect on what the local channel buys. Our channel market share has also seen a massive improvement recently and we hope that this continues."

<b>So what does the future hold?</b>
"We have just completed a successful launch of a top to bottom series of products with the 4000 series. The recently launched 4870 X2 is wildly recognized as being the fastest GPU product in the market," says Byrne.

"All of our new products are loaded with technology such as DirectX, despite loud claims from our competitor that there was no advantage to such a technology. Well, the reality is now upon us. With the release of the Stalker Clear Sky DirectX 10.1 patch, AMD has further demonstrated its leadership in GPU technology. This patch makes our DirectX 10.1 products look better and run faster compared to the DirectX 10 version of the game.

"It has been an exciting 18 months for ATi. As to what is next, we would ask you to enjoy the award winning HD4000 series first. Our commitment is to continue working with Sapphire and our other partners to drive the ATi market share even higher."

Spicer says: "We do have an eye on AMD’s Fusion, because that will impact how solutions are sold in the future. Right now however we are having great success throughout the ATi range. "One success is DirectX 10.1 which is now becoming a demanded technology. The latest games all support DirectX for more realistic game play and it has been rumored in the on-line press that Microsoft’s new version of Windows operating system will also take advantage of this technology giving users with DirectX compliant hardware (all Sapphire HD4000 series boards) a faster, more compelling user experience."

"We are going to continue to drive exciting solutions into our range and have partnered with some of the leading cooling design companies in the world to enhance this. Our focus and commitment to taking the Sapphire brand to gamers can be seen at any LAN events, online review sites, paper press and trade publications. If you are buying ATi, you are buying Sapphire."

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