As you know we have been covering the issue between MSI, Lucid and nVidia over the Big Bang Fuzion motherboard with the Hydra 200 chip. The potentially great product was set for release in late October but for reasons [that until very recently] unknown to most of the world the Big Bang Fusion was pulled and in its place an nVidia NF200 based version called the Big Bang Trinergy was released in its place.
But that is not all, it seems someone [perhaps in an attempt to begin pointing fingers] began to spread the malicious information that nVidia had a hand in the delay. We received whispers that nVidia had contacted MSI and put "pressure" on them to delay the release of the Hydra Based Fuzion product. At the same time we received word that nVidia had said that they would block the "mix and match" function of the Hydra at the driver level. This one part seemed credible as nVidia had recently blocked the use of PhysX in mixed GPU systems in Windows 7 [which we will talk about more later]. When we received this information we attempted to contact both MSI and Lucidlogix. We did not receive a reply from either until later date.
The plot thickens at this point as MSI released a statement saying there were issues with the Lucid driver that were causing the delay and not pressure from nVidia. This still did not seem to fit the facts of the case especially when LucidLogix had previously stated that there were no issues with their drivers. Then only a few days after the announcement of the delay and the articles started to flow. Lucid pulled a rather obvious PR stunt. They invited three sites [all who had followed Lucid and Hydra rather closely] to an event where they were able to "play with" a Lucid prepared demo system to prove that Hydra was ready to go. Unfortunately this was spread around as three different systems [and not a single prepped demo unit] by more than a few news aggregation sites. We looked at it and brought to light the inconsistencies of the event which included the limited number of press [Lucid actually invited a couple additional sites only to uninvite them at the last minute], the fact that the system was a Lucid prepared demo [not a retail or press sample] and that the timing on the heels of MSI?s proclamation made it seem more of a counter than any real show ofperformance.
It seems that our article, coupled with others had an impact. The evening after our article was published we were contacted by Lucid?s PR firm Stowe Consulting and nVidia. Both wanted to talk to us about the issue and what was really going on. Today we have statements from everyone [including MSI through nVidia] and we can let you know their sides and our final analysis of the situation. The parties in this article were Kim Stowe of Stoweconsulting representing LucidLogix, Tom Petersen, Director of Technical Marketing at nVidia and Jason Lee, Director of Component Marketing, MSI Computer.
nVidia speaks out
As nVidia was named as the allegedly guilty party, we weren’t surprised when nVidia contacted us first. Last night, we had a phone conversation with Ken Brown and Tom Petersen, from nVidia Corporation. Ken is one of the PR managers for the Chipset division and Tom is Director of Technical Marketing for chipsets and SLI.
During our conversation we were surprised at how straight forward both Ken and Tom were. Going in, we expected them to be defensive and to attack our stance. Instead they actually seemed to understand that they have begun to get a bad name over the last few years for things that they [nVidia] had actually done and things they been accused of doing.
Both Tom and Ken stated that nVidia had "absolutely no hand in the delay of the MSI Big Bang Fuzion board." They further went on to state that nVidia had "nothing to do with MSI?s decision to release the NF200 based Trinergy instead of the Fuzion." They also stated that they have no plans to block Hydra at the driver level.
With this information on the table we wanted to ask them what they felt about Hydra in general. Their answer surprised me; I had expected to hear some resistance to Hydra and its impact on SLI licensing. As we all know, nVidia earns $5 per SLI-certified motherboard and this might be seen as an intrusion in that revenue stream. However, the opposite seemed to be the case. In fact Tom went on the record and insisted that we put the following quote: "If it is good for gamers – that is great for us?. Both Ken and Tom seemed genuine about their [and nVidia?s] commitment to gamers and improving their gaming experience, saying that if Hydra can help their GPUs scale better, it is still good for both nVidia and consumers. They even covered the competition angle and said that a successful LucidLogix Hydra technology would only push them to make a better product. Tom went on to say "If Hydra performs well and scales better than our own SLI technology, that means we will have to go back to our engineers and push to do a better job and produce equal or better results."
Now hearing this I had to ask the obvious question. If nVidia is all about a better gaming experience then why did they block PhysX at a driver level when paired with an AMD GPU under Windows 7? The answer is one that makes sense on a company level but often never filters down to the consumer. The issue from nVidia?s side is one of QA [Quality Assurance]. They do not feel that nVidia should be responsible for all of the testing that would need to be done to make sure every configuration works properly. nVidia estimates that there would be over 26,000 additional configurations to test if they left PhysX enabled with an AMD card as the GPU responsible for rendering. The number given is a combination of chipset, processor and GPU configurations.
Now like I said this makes sense on a company level as it is an additional expense and in the end benefits a competitor. For the consumer, we can truly debate that it as an attempt to block the competition. But after thinking about it I think I can see the logic and how this move really does benefit the consumer as well.
Take following scenario into consideration: If you buy an AMD Radeon HD 5870 and then pick up an nVidia GPU for use as a PPU, then get home and things do not work; who are you going to lay the blame on? Who is responsible for fixing any issues that you are having? Do you contact the game developer? Do you contact AMD? Or nVidia? But let?s go a little further; let?s say all is well and one day you update the driver for your 5870 board and suddenly PhysX stops or worse everything you do with those two, such as launch a game result in a "wonderful" BSOD [Blue Screen of Death]. Again, who takes care of that? Should AMD be responsible for fixing their driver as it was what caused the issue right? The problem is one of compatibility and preventing issues before they start. This is actually a concern of nVidia?s with LucidLogix’s Hydra technology.
Who will do all the compatibility testing? Who will make sure the products passes QA? Who will be responsible if there are problems with mix and matched GPUs or if a driver [regardless of being from AMD or nVidia] suddenly breaks the way Hydra works? It raises real concerns for this product and is something that Lucid needs to be aware of and take the proper steps to prevent.
So it seems that nVidia does not view Hydra as a threat so much as a potential problem. They seem to feel that Hydra could be good for gamers and even bring more value to their own products as Hydra will also force nVidia to work harder to produce better products and achieve higher levels of scaling. As such they are not going to stop it but then again – they are not going to do anything to help them along either. In the end, nVidia places the ball firmly in Lucid?s court and say it is up to them to do the work to ensure their products work. Given the cost of QA, the big question is can Lucid do all the debugging for AMD-AMD, nVidia-nVidia, AMD-nVidia and in a few quarters add two combinations to the mix – AMD-Intel, nVidia-Intel and Intel-Intel. If the technology goes on to support for graphics cards, you have to multiply all of that as well, and even have a potential combination of AMD-Intel-nVidia-nVidia and so on.
MSI speaks out
During our conversation with nVidia we were told that MSI had released a statement that would be forwarded to us. We decided to reprint their entire statement from the first e-mail as well as some information that followed in the following e-mail exchange between BSN* and MSI. MSI’s representative in this matter was Mr. Jason Lee, Director of Component Marketing at MSI.
"We have seen a lot of speculation about our upcoming Big Bang motherboards, andwe wanted to take this opportunity to clear up some misconceptions.
First, the MSI Big Bang is a line of products targeted at enthusiast gamers. Big Bang is not a single motherboard or a product, but rather a series of products. The first motherboard in our Big Bang line is the MSI P55 Big Bang Trinergy which uses nVidia’s nForce 200 SLI chip to deliver 3-Way SLI on P55 [platform]. With Trinergy, gamers can combine the latest Intel Core i5/i7-800 CPUs with the power of 3-Way SLI. The product, which was originally debuted at CeBIT 2009, is on track for a release in 4Q 2009, as planned.
The second product in our Big Bang line will be the MSI Fuzion motherboard featuring LucidLogix Hydra technology. Although we had planned to release this product by now, we decided to postpone it until early next year to make sure it delivers the best possible experience for our customers. We are continuing to work closely with Lucid to bring this exciting product to market.
We want to be clear that the reason for the delay has to do with software, and not external pressure from others. NVIDIA did not delay or impede the production of Fuzion in any way.
We’re very excited to bring these products tomarket, and will share further details for the Big Bang line in the weeks tocome. Stay tuned!"
The real reason for delay: Microsoft Windows 7
MSI has made it clear that the cause of this unfortunate delay is software related. This statement actually ties in with some additional information we have picked up in conversations with MSI and LucidLogix. The issue is not the current state of drivers but more a lack of an important feature that Lucid did not even seem to know was important. Brace for impact, folks. MSI knows that their targeted audience for this product are people who are converting to Windows 7, especially in light of the DirectX 11 API and much better performance and scaling. However, it seems that Lucid missed this memo and their drivers, while working in XP and Vista, are not fully compliant with demands set forth by Windows 7 operating system. When you add to that no "Mix and Match" support is coming until first quarter of next year, we see a pattern begin to emerge.
We did find out some information that is good news for gamers though. Big Bang Fuzion P55 motherboard is not the only Lucid-based motherboard MSI is planning on. In the not too distant future you may be able to get the Big Bang Hydra 200-based board with the X58 chipset, which should tie nicely with the release of Core i9 processors in second quarter of 2010. This will certainly change the playing field for multi-GPU gaming if the issues with Windows 7 support and Mix and Match are ironed out.
As you can read above, MSI is telling us and you, respectable readers – that in no way was nVidia involved and that the true cause for this delay was the release of Microsoft Windows 7 operating system on October 23, 2009 – six days prior to scheduled release of Big Bang Fuzion motherboard. Unfortunately, this issue was a show stopper.
As we mentioned above we had the chance to talk to just about everyone involved [with the exception of an actual employee of Lucidlogix]. When it comes to the center player of this deal, our contact was with Kimberly Stowe of Stowe Consulting. We know Kim for years now, as she worked with nVidia in the past and is generally a person that is well suited for stormy waters of PC component business. From them we learned that the PR event was setup at the last minute, and that the reason behind the limited number of press representatives was due to Lucid not wanting to step on MSI?s toes. We were told that Stowe was given a list of people [by LucidLogix] that they could not contact about this, they were all people that were on a on the list to receive a sample of Big Bang Fuzion directly from MSI. Now, we found this interesting as with the coverage MSI has gotten from the three event attendees – we were be pretty sure that at least one of them will be getting a sample from MSI. In fact, in an e-mail directed to BSN*s Editor-in-Chief, it was stated the following: "We did this at the last minute and since you are in Europe, it didn’t seem very feasible to fly you out."
BSN*s own Theo gave us the following statement: "In the past, the shortest inter-continental call up was five hours between the call and my departure for the airport. I have received a call at 2AM CET with the note "can you fly to Seattle". Within five hours, I was at the airport embarking on a 16 hour journey, no questions asked. Secondly, BSN* is a global office and we do have staff within 90min of flight from LucidLogix’s office in Santa Clara."
As it turns out, in the United States of America, BSN* has staff in New York, Massachusetts, Florida and California [in Sacramento and San Diego], it would have been pretty easy to call or e-mail and see if we would be able to attend but that is getting off of the subject.
Next is the demo system itself; this was a Lucid prepared system that was intended to show the first real performance numbers from the system. Stowe told us that Lucid did this because they had never released any before and it did not look like MSI would be doing so anytime soon. Yet the rub is that this is on a reference board that would never be available to a consumer. The board is external and relies on a PCIe x16 extension card in the host system to transfer data back and forth. This is similar to the ELSA products we have seen advertised. When I asked why a retail version of the product was not used I was told that the only retail products out are based on Hydra 100 and this was a Hydra 200 demo. Thus, a prototype of Adventure 2000 board was used.
Now remember the purpose of this demo is to show that Hydra is working, there are no issues with the drivers and to of course show off how well the system scales. You would think that they might have used a better system to show this ,but again we hear from Lucid that they did not want to step on MSI?s toes so they would not use a Big Bang Fuzion board to show off the numbers. Then [as you can read in the three previews] there is no "mix and match" support [Lucid says it is planned for Q1 2010], Windows 7 support was a shock to Lucid and there are still more than a few bugs with textures in the current drivers. Bear in mind that at all times, Lucid’s homepage was showing [and still is] that Hydra 200 is ready, as you can see on the picture.
So with all of that in mind here is Lucid?s statement as givento us by Stowe Consulting:
"Lucid provided a few members of the press with a ‘hands on preview’ of a Lucid development board connected to a PC motherboard based on the Gigabyte X58 platform. All reviewers had access to the exact same system for testing. The preview was not meant to be perceived as a review or full blown consumer product evaluation. Merely, it was an opportunity for the first time for a peak at the progress that Lucid has made with its product. We have been requested by many people since last IDF to see actual performance numbers, so we simply wanted to demonstrate what the HYDRA 200 is capable of today and show that we are taking the right technological steps towards bringing aconsumer product to market.
There has been quite a bit of confusion surrounding our relationship with partner MSI and why the product has been delayed until Q1. So, let?s clear that up. At IDF Fall 2009 Lucid announced, together with MSI, availability of the HYDRA 200 in Big Bang Motherboards on October 29. Up until that date, Lucid had met all requested MSI hardware and software requirements.
Since then, MSI has revised their launch contents and plan, and Lucid is happily supporting them. At this time, we are responding to our customer?s request and are working at full speed with them to deliver a feature-rich product that they will deem consumer-ready. We are confident that we will be able to meet MSI?s requirements in a timely manner. Beyond that, the Big Bang Fuzion product availability and specifications should be directly addressed to our partner, MSI."
Now if all of this sounds fishy then you are like us and think that this was indeed meant as a PR stunt to pull some of the blame away from LucidLogix. Simply put, the drivers are not ready for the real world. Yes, they do work and you can run multiple GPUs and get some very good scaling. But there are issues. The fact that we have not been shown if this new chip can work outside of an external solution says a lot as well.
As Lucid told us that MSI was not going to be an exclusive provider of their Hydra product they could have [and probably should have] setup a closed demo of Hydra implemented on a motherboard. We know some of the other partners that are developing their own solutions and the proper way to do a demonstration was the same as AMD used to demonstrate, when the company could not show a working prototype of a notebook from a yet undisclosed vendor.
In the end we are only left with a reference "lab demo box" that will probably never see the light of day. We still do not know how or indeed if Hydra will work with different GPU types in Mix and Match mode. The only thing we can say with confidence right now is that it does not appear that nVidia is involved in anyway with the problems surrounding the MSI Big Bang Fuzion. It really does seem to revolve around LucidLogix and their software, while the publications that implied that nVidia was involved were perhaps operating with a vested interest.
Perhaps Lucid should change its stance on working with game developers and maybe even try to open up communications with nVidia and AMD. If they do not this could be a product plagued with constant issues as both GPU makers continue to update their drivers and products.