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On a more technical level, the Afterburner is a card with a Field Programmable Gate Array (FGPA), or a programmable Application-Specific Integrated Circuit (ASIC). This effectively means it is a card that has chips created for a specific task, rather than a general-usage chip.
An FPGA is exactly the opposite of chips created for a specific task. It is a chip that can be configured to do a specific task. The "Programmable Application-Specific" is an oxymoron. The way FPGAs work, an image is loaded onto them which reconigures the gates on the chip in order to do something specific. The image can be updated or changed completely by the vendor (Apple) after the card has shipped and is sitting on the customer's computer. They would do this to add new codecs, fix bugs, improve performance, etc.
It makes sense for Apple to use an FPGA for this and not an ASIC, which would be cost-prohibitive at the volumes this is likely to sell at.