Three-way chess, anyone?
While SLI may play a small part in the notebook space, the ripple effects are somewhat profound ... and this is only the beginning

“Keep your friends close and your enemies closer” - Sun Tzu

For years the competitive landscape between the major PC semiconductor companies was quite predictable. NVIDIA was in a somewhat of a horse race with ATI -- a horse race where the winner was the one who didn’t break a leg. The way I saw it, NVIDIA was always responsible for either winning or losing the race. In other words, ATI kept “plugging away,” and whenever NVIDIA “broke a leg” ATI would catch up -- and at least once they passed NVIDIA for a brief period.

Not taking away anything from ATI, but the bottom line is if it weren’t for NVIDIA, gaming would have been boring – NVIDIA pushed the industry to dream bigger.

If I remember correctly there were two major screw-ups in NVIDIA's history.  I’m sure there were more here and there, but the significant ones affected the enthusiast space, but that’s pretty phenomenal, and it proves that NVIDIA is very much in control of their destiny. NVIDIA's software drivers were always better than ATI, and their overall execution was usually really good. NVIDIA worked their way into the mainstream by almost always consistently winning on the high end.

ATI, on the other hand, understood power management better, and its notebook platforms were typically more efficient than Nvidia’s. ATI was a much larger company at one point, and their mainstream business was absolutely huge. ATI’s Vista drivers are the best, no question about it, and now that they’re a part of AMD maybe they can start to focus on total platform solutions. AMD has some challenges swallowing the big red pill, but I think the pill is almost swallowed. A few rough patches ahead perhaps, but eventually they will get their legs and come back.

Both NVIDIA and AMD have strengths, but there’s no question that NVIDIA is good at almost everything it touches. Pre-acquisition both ATI and NVIDIA held at least one thing in common – more notably how they leveraged their relationships with AMD and Intel in order to build their businesses. In other words, partnering was fundamentally important for both ATI and NVIDIA in order to be successful.

ATI was/is a pleasure to work with, they understand partnering – and the company understands when to sit back and “listen” to its partners. NVIDIA sometimes takes a more aggressive/strategic approach to partnering, which can be really good ... and sometimes not so good.

Well, the industry has shaken to the core, and the competitive landscape is completely different this year thanks to some very strategic chess playing. Instead of four players in a “doubles tennis match,” it’s now a 3 way chess match. Yes, it’s somewhat odd. It’s hard for me to put to words what’s actually happening to be honest because there are way too many dynamics.

As many of you know, NVIDIA recently decided that they will no longer provide SLI support on Intel chipsets – I wrote a brief article on it over here. This move has profound effects on our space, especially in notebooks. Since NVIDIA flipped Intel the bird, things have been getting somewhat interesting, but somewhat confusing at the same time. AMD, like Intel, has the ability to design total platforms in house. AMD’s strength over Intel is graphics – although I wouldn’t count Intel out of the graphics race.

In the meantime, NVIDIA wants to continue to do graphics but it looks like it has Intel’s Centrino in the crosshairs. It looks to me like NVIDIA wants to beat Intel at its game and become a platform solutions provider rather than just a graphics vendor. This move causes a fundamental shift in the industry, and positions NVIDIA as the official third major island in the highly competitive “platform” space.

The obvious response to this is SLI represents a tiny portion of the market, especially in notebooks – so how is this “profound”? I am quite certain this is only a start, and there will be more changes as the year progresses. NVIDIA management knows they have something special, and they also realize in order to grow their business they need to increase their scope.

Whether or not NVIDIA wants to beat Intel at the Centrino game, they certainly want to keep AMD in check. Not only do all three companies compete against one another, but they partner with each other as well.

On a similar note, I think it is risky going head to head against a giant like Intel, and it could prove extremely rewarding or somewhat disastrous for NVIDIA.

Sun Tzu also said, “The skillful employer of men will employ the wise man, the brave man, the covetous man, and the stupid man.” I hear Intel is hiring in the graphics department – which man are you?

Rahul Sood

"I want people to see my movies in the best formats possible. For [Paramount] to deny people who have Blu-ray sucks!" -- Movie Director Michael Bay
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