Creating a smaller GF100
Even though the focus of this article is GF100 in its monolithic, three billion transistors heavy die; it is quite easy to read in how nVidia will create smaller dies. We would put in an estimate for a mainstream part to consist out of two Geometry engines, i.e. 256 cores. Next up would be low-end silicon with a single GPC engine and 128 cores. For parts such as Tegra and its netbook/notebook/desktop chipset variants, nVidia can create a reduced-size GPC with as low as 32 cores. Unlike GT200 derivations, which were put on the backburner due to resource drain caused by the Fermi architecture - GF100 should arrive in multiple ASICs as the yields on the high-end part stabilize. Then again, competition from AMD is more than strong here and we do expect that by the time nVidia ships its first $100 Fermi-based GPU, AMD will probably have a more than 15-20 million installed user base in the segment. Availability? What availability?
During CES, we learned the manufacturing schedules from partners and it looks like February is the date for mass production of the boards. nVidia partners gave us their schedules and this will be an interesting launch, to say the least. Naturally, all the scheduling depends on how many workable chips will come off each and every wafer, as TSMC not just has yield issue, but also suffers from a capacity issue. The Foundry is starting to feel the heat from GlobalFoundries and yet isn't able to "fire on all cylinders" and push out as much 40nm chips as possible.
nVidia did not say anything about the final products, neither the clocks nor the number of SKUs [Stock Keeping Unit]. Based on information given to us, we expect to see two SKUs at launch and several OEM designs that will follow later. GeForce 360 and 380 sound like the right way to go, even though we heard that nothing is final. The only thing that is certain is that the boards will feature two DVI connectors and that nVidia won't focus a lot with DisplayPort as market acceptance isn't on expected levels. Instead, a combination between one mini-DisplayPort and two DVI is expected, with partners shipping one or two DVI-HDMI adapters.Conclusion
From what we saw on this past Monday the 11th, it is obvious that nVidia is changing its course and not going against the gamers, as was feared by many. We consider those rumors to be nothing but FUD and treated them as such. We do expect to see GF100 GPUs proving as really efficient gaming beasts once that they finally come out. Key word: finally. The architectural approach taken by nVidia was extremely brave but currently, did not pay off in terms of units shipped. Just like AMD and its K8 architecture, nVidia is late to the market. To make the matters worse, it is coming to the party with a complex and hot chip, not even touching to discuss the lower-cost ASICs. Is that a good sign? We don't think so.
Advanced architecture that works is going to capture hearts of a lot of nVidia fans out there, but the focus has to be on the bottom line. While 3D Vision Surround is nothing but a brilliant experience, the price of the setup at hand sounds like a refusal to admit the market realities. By keeping chips like Fermi in the high end spectrum, nVidia can potentially damage itself and push the conventional gamers towards consoles and alternative companies.
In a way, GF100 chip is the same like NV10, NV30 and NV50 [G80] were. New and unproven architecture, large die, finger-pointing at manufacturing process or the company at hand but also - yielding a very high return for the card owner. NV10 i.e. GeForce256 created a GPU as we know it, NV30 went on to evolve into NV4x architecture that shipped in tens of millions of units and NV50 still makes for a vast majority of nVidia's current line-up [GeForce 8, 9, GTS 2x0, GTX260M/280M etc.].
We expect to see the launch of desktop parts on CeBIT 2010 in Hannover, Germany, followed by the launch of the Quadro line-up on NAB 2010 in Las Vegas or Siggraph 2010 later in the summer, depending on the time for ISV/OEM/ODM qualification.
The real question is - can this chip make money? It costs a lot of money to manufacture a single GF100 chip [$151?] and if the A3 revision doesn't bring the yields up, we estimate that in worst case scenario, larger allocation of chips would be to Quadro and Tesla line-ups, while desktop parts will have to wait until the die shrink.
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