Nvidia Launches Graphic Chips That Improve Power Efficiency

Date : 03/22/2012 @ 9:39AM
Source : Dow Jones News
Stock : Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company Ltd. (TSM)
Quote : 36.22  0.12 (0.33%) @ 4:01PM

Nvidia Launches Graphic Chips That Improve Power Efficiency

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NEW YORK (Dow Jones) -- Nvidia Corp. (NVDA) on Thursday launched the first chips using its next-generation graphics technology, which improves performance and power consumption while also heating up competition with Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (AMD).

The new graphics processors, or GPUs, are the first from Nvidia created on its most advanced circuitry of 28 nanometers, or billionths of a meter. The chips, code named Kepler, consume about half the energy as the previous, 40-nanometer generation while delivering equal or greater performance, which is vital for addressing new computing segments like thin and light notebooks.

"The key word that we use to describe this is efficiency," said Rene Haas, general manager of Nvidia's notebook group. "It's not only running faster, but you can actually get the same level of performance as the prior generation and use a much smaller power supply."

Rising popularity for tablets has been a headwind for PCs and has forced computer makers to develop thinner, faster and lighter products -- devices dubbed "Ultrabooks" by chip bellwether Intel Corp. (INTC). Nvidia's newest GPUs will help the company better address the new category of notebooks where power efficiency is key. Its mid-range GPU, the GT 640M, already has hit the market in the Acer Inc. (ACEIY, 2353.TW) Timeline Ultra M3.

Rival AMD also has touted the power efficiency of its new GPUs, the first to take advantage of 28-nanometer circuitry. The company has noted its new Radeon HD 7970 chip, available in January, draws absolutely no power when a Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) Windows PC puts its monitor into sleep mode.

"We've made tremendous steps forward in terms of making graphics incredibly power efficient, not only when in use but also when idling," AMD spokesman Dave Erskine said in an interview Wednesday. AMD's new GPUs also have features that make it well-suited for more general-purpose computing chores -- an area in which rival Nvidia has been making progress.

Nvidia claims its new GPUs unveiled Thursday -- one for desktops and a family of products for notebooks -- give users better performance than the chips from AMD and integrated graphics from Intel. In addition, all of Nvidia's new GPUs include "Optimus" technology, which allows the computer to seamlessly switch between the standalone graphics chip and the integrated graphics chip depending on the task. That helps improve power consumption.

"Kepler is clearly going to put Nvidia in the performance lead versus AMD," said independent tech research firm Insight 64 analyst Nathan Brookwood. "This looks to be a real winner."

While Nvidia claims to have topped AMD in terms of performance, strong demand for the product could actually prove to be a problem, at least if recent manufacturing problems have continued.

Nvidia Chief Executive Jen-Hsun Huang last month disclosed that Nvidia's manufacturing partner, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSM, 2330.TW), was struggling to improve production yields on the new 28-nanometer GPUs.

Jon Peddie, a graphics chip analyst at Jon Peddie Research, said manufacturing problems could hurt Nvidia's ability to deliver product.

"If Nvidia's [new GPU] lives up to its promise -- and there's no reason to suspect it won't -- it may not be able to satisfy demand because of the supply-chain problem," Peddie said.

However, Nvidia's Haas said Nvidia has been able to meet all customer requirements, and it's "pretty comfortable and confident" in the production. He added that Nvidia has a record number of design wins for the new GPUs, including "dozens" of Ultrabooks.

"We spent a lot of time talking with analysts and press about the category, [with many people worried that] Ultrabooks were the demise of our business," Haas said. "We have the most wins in our history and on every form factor -- gaming, standard, thin, Ultrabooks -- and at all top PC [makers]."

-By Shara Tibken, Dow Jones Newswires; 212-416-2189; shara.tibken@dowjones.com

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