Print 21 comment(s) - last by TheJian.. on Nov 13 at 7:00 AM

NVIDIA unleashes its metaphorical can of "whoop ass"

There was a time -- back in 2010 -- when NVIDIA Corp. (NVDA) looked a bit lost.  A resurgent Radeon brand, now owned by Advanced Micro Devices, Inc. (AMD), was punishing it in the discrete graphics market with the Radeon HD 5000 series devices, and analysts were scratching their heads in puzzlement at NVIDIA's focus on GPU computing.  

And NVIDIA's Tegra system-on-a-chip effort was largely written off, as NVIDIA couldn't seem to figure out what it wanted to do with it -- netbooks? Mobile devices?  No one could quite tell.

I. A Young Power in the Mobile Market

Fast-forward three years and NVIDIA is in a far different -- and far better -- position.  GPU computing is an exploding field and NVIDIA has large purchase orders from the hottest new deployments.  It's back to scoring wins in the gaming graphics market.

And most importantly Tegra has exploded, seizing a commanding stake in the mobile device system-on-a-chip (SoC) market.

In calendar/fiscal Q3 2012, NVIDIA posted large earnings and revenue surprises, delivered thanks to its SoC and GPU market gains.  Revenue fell in at $1.204B USD (GAAP), pleasantly above the consensus of $1.192B USD estimated by 33 analysts surveyed by The Financial Times.

NVIDIA Tegra chip
Tegra 3 drove NVIDIA to a big profit surprise.

But much like system-on-a-chip archrival Qualcomm, Inc. (QCOM), the biggest surprise lay not on the revenue, but on the net income (profit) front.  NVIDIA pocketed a whopping $209M USD, ($0.33 USD/share), above the most optimistic estimate of $203M USD ($0.32 USD/share) from the analyst crowd, and even higher above the average estimate of $187M USD.

NVIDIA's at times colorful and divisive chief executive officer and president, Jen Hsun Huang crowed, "Investments in our new growth strategies paid off this quarter in record revenues and margins.  Kepler GPUs are winning across the special-purpose PC markets we serve, from gaming to design to supercomputing. And Tegra is powering some of the most innovative tablets, phones and cars in the market."

The chipmaker decided to share the wealth with its shareholders, offering up a 7.5 cent dividend.

Capital expenditures for NVIDIA have grown as the company sharpens its focus on bleeding edge system-on-a-chip research.  NVIDIA estimates that it will spend $50M to $60M USD next quarter on R&D and other CAPEX.  

II. Gloom for Q4, But It Could be Worse

Looking ahead, while NVIDIA's Q3 results mirror Qualcomm's, its Q4 estimates are gloomier than its rivals.  NVIDIA estimates that revenue will dip to between $1.025B and $1.175B USD on a slowing global economy, versus the traditional bump in the holiday season.

One possible reason why NVIDIA is more worried than Qualcomm is that much of its earnings are still driven by sales of high-end (Kepler) hardware (GPUs) for traditional consumer and enterprise systems.  When the economy slumps, these sales tend to suffer the most, as users consolidate their buying power towards cheaper mobile devices.  In that regard, a mix mobile/traditional chipmaker like NVIDIA will likely be hurt more by a downturn than a solely mobile-centric chipmaker like Qualcomm.
GTX 580 3/4 view
A slowing economy is expected to dent NVIDIA's Q4 earnings.

However, NVIDIA's better-than-expected earnings do represent good news in a couple of ways.  First, NVIDIA and Qualcomm represent a reasonably good barometer by which to gauge the health of the mobile market.  And by the looks of it, mobile is flourishing at a time when other less fortunate markets find themselves facing tough financial questions.

Second, NVIDIA enjoys a key psychological advantage over Qualcomm in that it's pumping out quad-core units of its latest and greatest Tegra 3 processor, while Qualcomm's current Snapdragon 4 offerings are mostly constrained to dual-core CPUs.  That's a big reason why NVIDIA is thus far outpacing Qualcomm in design wins in the emerging Windows RT ARM-based laptop/hybrid device market.  

Traditional PCs demand more power, and NVIDIA has been the most aggressive about push higher core-counts in its mobile chips.  That decision will likely pay off for the company, and help it ride out the storm ahead in the discrete graphics market.

Sources: NVIDIA, FT [analyst estimates]

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T3 golden days..
By rocketbuddha on 11/9/2012 12:46:02 PM , Rating: 3
Second, NVIDIA enjoys a key psychological advantage over Qualcomm in that it's pumping out quad-core units of its latest and greatest Tegra 3 processor

One of the main reasons NVIDIA had success getting Tegra3 into phones is because of the supply constraints of 28nm Wafers at TSMC which caused Qualcomm to not be able to supply the demand for its Krait based SOCs.

And Samsung only provides its Exynos 4 which is superior to T3 in every way to Samsung Mobile and a few Chinese OEMs, NVIDIA was able to covet everyone who could not get S4 allocation...

Performance wise Dual core S4 Krait SOCs were better than T3 across a multitude of tests.

If only TSMC had the 28nm capacity, then Tegra 3 would have lasted like Tegra2 (as soon as any competition was available T2 disappeared from phones). Now with S4 Quads becoming availble with far better Adreno 320 cores, T3 is no longer premium.

That's a big reason why NVIDIA is thus far outpacing Qualcomm in design wins in the emerging Windows RT ARM-based laptop/hybrid device market.

Qualcomm's killer strength is actually its radio baseband technology which is not a priority in the tablet market.
Infact QComm has never been successful in the Tablet market (except for a failed HTC Flyer which tablet was using a QComm SOC??).
But the new S4 Quads (LG Optimus G, Nexus4) are only APQ aka SOCs with no baseband. And this can enter into Tablet market if priced right.
Add to it we have the Cortex-A15 based Exynos 5 and if Samsung is able to sell it to their competitors would put severe dent in T3 tablet expansion till they come up with the (A15 based??) T4

It does temporarily have success in the tablet market, as being the SOC in Nexus7 and Surface RT which are guaranteed to sell pretty well among non-"i" tablets.

I more believe that the Q4 forecast is related to the reality that competition has better products in the market and NVIDIA has already milked the 40nm T3 for all its worth..

RE: T3 golden days..
By killerroach on 11/9/2012 3:51:11 PM , Rating: 2
You figured out what Nvidia's advantage is, although you've danced around it... they have an incredible first-mover advantage in the market. Sure, their SoCs get crushed by their generational equivalents from Qualcomm and Samsung, but they're out first, which allows them to get a lot of design wins and into the hands of a lot of consumers before everyone else. They're almost like the cinematic trailer for each new generation of mobile SoCs - sure, the feature is almost certainly better, but you get to see the trailer in theaters a few months prior.

RE: T3 golden days..
By TheJian on 11/13/2012 7:00:16 AM , Rating: 2
Which is why they're gearing up 20nm at samsung, sampled Denver clear back in May on 20nm. It takes around 9 months from sample to chip I think, so ~Feb/March products. Just in time for the next rev of everything. Again early to the party to get into tons of designs for xmas etc. I don't think anyone else will have anything below 28nm before 2014 (GF/TSMC are 2014 for 14nm and not early 2014, that will be INTEL, not these guys). So NV alone with Samsung on 20nm unless

Worse, QCOM will be fighting someone who can BRIBE TSMC to make more chips for them than Nvidia ever could. APPLE. They already tried a Billion dollar bribe for 100% exclusivity to try to secure chips for them and their next launch.

So apple now causes problems for all the other players while leaving Samsung having lots of wafers not being used by apple. How do you fill that void with something you can COUNT on needing wafers? The #1 producing GPU maker of HUGEMONGOUS chips. Kepler is 3x the size of a soc. Kepler owns 65% of the gpu card market. Nobody in sight to knock them off but AMD who is bleeding to death and a small share compared to NV. You can count on NV needing 65% of the market again next year, etc. IF you went with some soc maker like marvel, Qcom etc, you can't count on them getting into a phone like iphone and being the next hit. Too many others to knock them off. So why not go with someone who is LOSING competition and has arguably cornered their market? Samsung wisely chose NV, who has a decent volume of tegra need and a fully steady and reliable need of big gpu's with no end in sight.

Everyone else gets hurt by the move. AMD still depends on crappy tsmc for gpus. Nvidia just got a leg up with samsung at 20nm and gets stuff out ON TIME and more importantly GOOD YIELDS doing it! Apple couldn't launch huge product volumes with TSMC who fails at every turn. Kepler is just now getting top to bottom because VOLUME/YIELDS at TSMC on 28nm has sucked for ages. Same at 40nm, etc...They mess everything they do up for 6 months or more. Which screws everyone's launches. The OP was correct, you're stating why NV has an advantage, and it looks like it just got better. First to next movie, and on a better process by all counts.

You're comparing a 40nm old Tegra3 to the latest and greatest at 28nm. You act like NV has no answer. Jen was quoted in a conference call saying they dev'd Tegra 3/4/5/6 all at the SAME TIME! Denver popped out samples in May in Austin at 20nm. Are you doing the math yet?

You're building the case for why NV will continue to succeed. Even QCOM said what you just said. NV only got designs because they released first...Well DUH. If nothing else is available and Quad sounds better than dual then quad wins. :) The move to do a big little design so to speak at 40nm won designs and is still doing it. You can just now start to buy a quad snapdragon/samsung.

Depends on the test on who wins what. CPU's Tegra still does OK. Graphics they've been surpassed but I don't think that will be the case when we benchmark GAMES instead of the OFFSCREEN crap they do at anandtech etc. Why benchmark what you don't see...LOL. Games are coming based on unreal3 and I suspect at least ONE will want to be the gaming benchmark everyone uses and have a timedemo or something built in for a benchmark. This will separate the producers of a chip, from the producers who ALSO work with the software dev that makes games that run on said chip. NV is king here. Witness them winning 13/16 games vs. amd in the laptop grudge match at anandtech. They stomped AMD and it can't be all because of hardware. NV beating AMD by 116% in Diablo 3 has a lot to do with optimizations and working with the devs.

Until games come (real ones, not Angry birds 10...LOL) nobody knows anything but battery life while browsing/watching movies really.

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