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GeForce 9300 backs multiple video processors

Posted: 20 Oct 2008 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:graphics chip? Blu-ray? I/O controllers?

In the next few years, the market for integrated graphics chipsets will subside and ultimately disappear. But in the short term, Nvidia Corp. sees an opportunity with a chip for Penryn-class Intel processors that it believes has five times the graphics performance of Intel's integrated parts.

This highlights a historic shift to the road map for PC processors. Starting late 2009, both Intel Corp. and archrival Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (AMD) will be releasing CPUs that have embedded graphics cores to reduce space and power while enhancing graphics for some notebook computers.

For the next two years, both companies will be offering chips that will be useful for many desktops and notebooks. Until such processors become widely used, there is a significant but lesser opportunities for graphics cores integrated with I/O controllers to be included in a PC chipset, it is something Nvidia hopes to capitalize on with its GeForce 9300.

The chip packs 16 of the cores used in Nvidia's existing eight-core GeForce 8400 chips. The 9300 is Nvidia's first integrated graphics chip to support all the processes of H.264 video decode, including the company's C-language graphics programming environment for graphics known as compute unified device architecture and its technology for linking multiple graphics processors.

The H.264 support enables the chip host playback of Blu-Ray movies on some third-party media players, currently excluding the Windows Media Player. It can also process 7.1-channel audio over an HDMI interface and supports DisplayPort and DVI interfaces.

Better functionality
The I/O controller on the chip can link to DDR2 and DDR3 DRAMs at up to 1.3GHz. It backs 2.5GHZ and 5GHz PCIe links, along with 12 USB 2.0 ports and six serial ATA interconnects.

The 9300 can provide games at 30fps compared to about 10fps for Intel's integrated graphics chips. It dissipates 32W maximum, runs at core speeds up to 580MHz and can be used for motherboards that cost less than $100.

"This redefines what you can build for a $500 PC in the home theater space," said David Ragones, product line manager, Nvidia.

The chip was launched at a time when AMD and Via Technologies have exited the market for integrated graphics chipsets for Intel CPUs, giving a market opening for Nvidia, although only for temporary.

Nvidia is likely to achieve significant growth in unit sales with the new chips; however, profits for the parts will be under heavy pressure, according to one market watcher.

Dean McCarron, principal of Mercury Research, said AMD and Via shared a market of nine million chipsets a quarter before their exit, down from a peak of as much as 20 million units. He estimated that after their departure, Nvidia's business in the sector jumped 10-fold to as many as three million units a quarter.

"With its new chip Nvidia could double its shipments and still not see the market back to its historic level," he added.

McCarron said competing for chipset sales with Intel is tough because the company aggressively bundles CPU and chipsets in programs that can effectively reduce the price of the chips below $10. He added that Intel is shifting its chipsets into its latest process technology as it prepares to integrate the parts as cores on its next-generation CPUs.

"It's not an impossible market, but you are clearly facing Intel's economies of scale," said McCarron. "Still, there is always demand for multiple price/performance points," he noted.

Intel's dominance
"You can offer twice the performance and half the price, and it will still be hard to penetrate the market because Intel does a good job bundling its chips," said Adam Kozak, chipset product marketing manager, AMD.

McCarron expects a significant market for integrated graphics chipsets until 2010. After that time, broader integration of graphics into CPUs may lead the market uninteresting for Nvidia.

"The designs are changing so the chipset vendors will be left without anyone to dance with," said Kozak. "But I'd expect it to be a slow transition because it takes awhile for the market to adopt new technologies," he added.

The short term opportunity is significant that AMD is expected to release one more version of an integrated graphics chip for its own CPUs before its so-called Fusion processors that include graphics cores become widespread.

"I wouldn't be surprised if you see an 880-class chipset for pre-Fusion products and as a hold over during the transition to Fusion," said Kozak.

"Although integrated graphics chipsets will eventually go away, discrete graphics chips are a safe island," McCarron said. That's because CPUs face power and size limits on how much graphics they can integrate, and those cores likely will not keep pace with increasing user capacity needs.

Generally, McCarron projects discrete graphics will decrease from about 15 percent to high single digits, paralleling growth rates for PCs overall.

"Everybody in the PC industry is seeking ways to expand into new markets," said McCarron. "They are doing many R&D in new markets and most of them are focused on mobile," he added, stressing Intel's Atom and Nvidia's Tegra mobile CPUs.

- Rick Merritt
EE Times

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