After learning that the latest patch for Earth 2160 had some fixes for ATI's upcoming R520 GPU, documenting support for Shader Model 3.0a, we went about finding out what the differences are between Shader Model 3.0 and Shader Model 3.0a.
When we questioned a Microsoft spokesperson, we found that they have no plans to release an updated version of Shader Model 3.0, and the features that were laid out in the DirectX 9.0c specification are not subject to change until the next overhaul of the DirectX API.
When this happens, DirectX is set to get a new name, which is believed to be Windows Graphics Foundation. Version 2.0 of WGF is already in motion and by the time Longhorn is released an updated WGF 2.0 specification will be announced.
Longhorn is different to all previous Microsoft operating systems, as the desktop environment is accelerated by the video card. By the time these specifications are released, we believe that both ATI and NVIDIA will be adopting a unified shader architecture in their next, next generation GPUs.
These somewhat distant GPUs will have a similar design to the GPU that ATI have developed for the upcoming Xbox 360 console, and are still very much on paper. There is still this year's upcoming generation hardware to be released. NVIDIA will release G70 in the very near future, while ATI's R520 seems quite a way off for the moment.
We expect R520 to be announced at least two months after NVIDIA's G70; by that time, G70 should have widespread availability.