As most of you should know, nVidia doesn’t just manufacture video cards. It also has a motherboard chipset division, and produces mobile chipsets like Tegra, which is found in the Zune HD. While ATI has been taking all the headlines with RV870 and DirectX11, and most of the nVidia partners are set to discontinue their GT200 cards (or already have), what will nVidia have to show to keep its brand in the mind of consumers?
Its ION chipset is definitely one of them. ION is by far the best Atom chipset: with an onboard 9400, it can handle HD video and accelerate any program that supports CUDA. At the typical resolution paired with netbooks, the 9400 can even provide for low-detail gaming. At first, Intel tried to resist attempts by nVidia to get its ION chipset into the mainstream, preferring rather to bundle Intel’s old and power-hungry 945GSE Express chipset, but as of now, the HP Mini 311, Lenovo IdeaPad S12, Samsung N510, Acer AspireRevo, and Asus eeeBox EB1012 all make use of the ION chipset.
Tegra is a little marvel; it consumes less then 100mw at idle, and includes an integrated audio processor, a graphics processor and two ARM cores. Tegra’s application processor features an ARM11 processor core with a GeForce GPU, and dedicated image and HD video processing engines. The integrated GeForce GPU features programmable pixel shaders and support for OpenGL ES 2.0 and D3D Mobile.
If one looks towards Tesla, however, things get a bit shaky. NVidia is putting a lot of effort into something that only made them $10M last quarter. However, the fields that nVidia will target, which include seismic processing, supercomputing, universities, defence and financial research, could end up bringing in almost $1B of business for the company. The seismic processing industry, for example, could use 32 Tesla S1070s to replace 2000 x86 servers, which could generate a saving of over $7M and 1100kW. As I touched on in my last article, Fermi is meant to be a GPGPU powerhouse. The additional support for ECC, enabled C++, much improved double-precision performance and easier Visual Studio integration, should help nVidia market Tesla to a new audience, and the fact that Fermi is capable of addressing up to 1TB of graphics memory should be another boon for memory hungry applications.
As for their chipset business, it’s not as easy to quantify. Intel isn’t allowing nVidia to produce DMI chipsets, which puts the company at a huge disadvantage in that segment, and producing hardware for virtually every Apple Mac released today is an advantage for Intel. NVidia’s AMD-based motherboards generally have more features at a cheaper price, but more and more companies are choosing to go with ATI chipsets for their AMD-based machines. NVidia is slowly being squeezed out of the desktop market, it seems. Even ION isn’t safe: Intel’s next generation of Atom CPUs will have integrated graphics, which could see nVidia pushed out of there as well.