In the world of graphics cards, there is always something quiet brewing underneath the surface. Over the past few months we've been clued into a program that Nvidia has been running since the Fermi days. This program is called Green Light and as you can imagine, it has to do with Nvidia giving a 'green light' to add-in-board partners.
Today, we got confirmation
that this program is still active in the form of the unfortunate announcement that EVGA would no longer be attaching their EVBot voltage tool to their GTX 680 Classified cards
. These cards, for those unfamiliar with EVGA's products, are designed to be the best overclocking graphics cards on Earth with custom cooling and voltage regulation in addition to having additional power and manual voltage control.
The details of the program have mostly to do with the fact that Nvidia requires their board partners to validate their designs with Nvidia before making the final product. The claim is that this process is designed to make the launch process of a new GPU smoother and to reduce RMAs. With the success of their Kepler architecture, some of the details about the program have begun to leak as more and more AIBs have become frustrated with Nvidia. Nvidia is giving them a very capable GPU and then limiting what they can do with it.
Some parameters of the Green Light program are that vendors have to send in their board designs for approval from Nvidia to meet Nvidia's noise, power, voltage and heat figures. If those figures are not met, Nvidia does not approve the card. If a company does not follow the Green Light program, they risk losing their GPU warranty and BIOS support. More importantly, they could possibly risk their allocation according to some AIBs.
In addition to the design of the card itself and the aforementioned parameters, Nvidia also restricts certain software from being bundled with the cards by the vendors. One example was when MSI released the unlocked BIOS
with high voltage in their Afterburner overclocking utility. Needless to say, Nvidia was not happy and forced MSI to immediately remove the feature
Now, one of the interesting questions that we're wondering is why would Nvidia approve something like the GTX 680 Classified from EVGA if they know that it enables manual voltage control? We believe that Nvidia wanted to have a card that was capable of setting world records that they could tout as the fastest card in the world for overclockers. While we don't really know the details of why Nvidia approved this card and then forced EVGA to remove that feature, it seems logical that Nvidia purely wanted to approve this card as a marketing tool and would eventually force EVGA to cripple it.
We contacted Nvidia for comment and received a response from their Senior PR Manager, Bryan Del Rizzo with the following,"Green Light was created to help ensure that all of the GTX boards in the market all have great acoustics, temperatures, and mechanicals. This helps to ensure our GTX customers get the highest quality product that runs quiet, cool, and fits in their PC. GTX is a measureable brand, and Green Light is a promise to ensure that the brand remains as strong as possible by making sure the products brought to market meet our highest quality requirements.Reducing RMAs has never been a focus of Green Light. We support overvoltaging up to a limit on our products, but have a maximum reliability spec that is intended to protect the life of the product. We don’t want to see customers disappointed when their card dies in a year or two because the voltage was raised too high.Regarding overvoltaging above our max spec, we offer AICs two choices: · Ensure the GPU stays within our operating specs and have a full warranty from NVIDIA. · Allow the GPU to be manually operated outside specs in which case NVIDIA provides no warranty. We prefer AICs ensure the GPU stays within spec and encourage this through warranty support, but it’s ultimately up to the AIC what they want to do. Their choice does not affect allocation. And this has no bearing on the end user warranty provided by the AIC. It is simply a warranty between NVIDIA and the AIC.With Green Light, we don’t really go out of the way to look for ways that AICs enable manual OV. As I stated, this isn’t the core purpose of the program. Yes, you’ve seen some cases of boards getting out into the market with OV features only to have them disabled later. This is due to the fact that AICs decided later that they would prefer to have a warranty. This is simply a choice the AICs each need to make for themselves. How, or when they make this decision, is entirely up to them.With regards to your MSI comment below, we gave MSI the same choice I referenced above -- change their SW to disable OV above our reliability limit or not obtain a warranty. They simply chose to change their software in lieu of the warranty. Their choice. It is not ours to make, and we don’t influence them one way or the other. In short, Green Light is an especially important program for a major, new product introduction like Kepler, where our AICs don’t have a lot of experience building and working with our new technologies, but also extends the flexibility to AICs who provide a design that can operate outside of the reliability limits of the board. And, if you look at the products in the market today, there is obviously evidence of differentiation. You only need to look at the large assortment of high quality Kepler boards available today, including standard and overclocked editions."What does this mean for consumers?
This essentially breaks down to giving consumers fewer options between their cards and limits the innovation that AIBs are capable of implementing in their products. If Nvidia is limiting the AIBs within a set of parameters on their non-reference cards, then they are hurting those board vendors' most profitable products. This gives consumers less choice, while enabling Nvidia to theoretically have lower RMAs. Such a program does, however, make sense if you think about the perception of Nvidia if all of their board partners are running amok. They obviously have to have a certain level of control over what their AIBs do with their GPUs if they are going to warranty them. But, we believe that Nvidia has gone too far in their restrictions on board partners and amount of control they exercise in the process.
So, the Green Light program is a program that we believe hurts AIBs and consumers while enabling Nvidia to reduce their RMA rate and improve their margins. If you are an Nvidia investor, this is great news, but if you are a consumer, this is clearly bad news. Nvidia claims that this has to do with the quality of the product and smoothness of launches, however, we believe that in the end it's all about money.
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