Mercury Research spends a lot of time chatting to system integrators and OEMs, not to mention the companies involved, to compile definitive figures on the amount of kit companies shift each quarter.
Subscribers to the report have to pay a fair chunk of wonga to Mercury to get the full low-down, which is rather well deserved, we think. The report is a comprehensive and hefty tome and covers far more than we have room to write.
The numbers will show that, for the calendar quarter three this year, Nvidia's market share in the discrete graphics sector as a whole was 37% compared to ATI's market share of 59%. That's a huge swing from the Q2 figures, which showed Nvidia at 50% and ATI at 46%, and represents a significant gain for ATI in the sector. Discrete graphics, for those not up on the lingo, means add-in boards like the GeForceFX 5200 or the X800 XT.
There are a couple of different ways that these numbers can be spun.
The first is that in the highest of the high-end figures - Direct X 9 performance cards - Nvidia took 64% of the market with its GeForce 6800 parts, not an insignificant achievement. At the very low end, ATI took 99% of the market through cards like 9200s. The mid-range, such as Radeon 9700s and GeForce FXs, was pretty evenly split.
The next way the figures can be spun is to realise that the GeForce 6600 and 6200 mostly shipped in October, in time for the Christmas season, and that this isn't reported in Mercury's numbers which end at the end of September. This could put Nvidia at a disadvantage, seeing as its NV4x architecture is considerably stronger than the NV3x that it was relying on last quarter for low-end and mid-range shipments. This is true, but we also rather like the look of the X700 in the mid-range, so the next quarter's mainstream isn't that easy to predict.
We contacted a couple of graphics firms to get their reaction to the early numbers. They were a little taken aback that we were asking for comments today, rather than tomorrow, but we just told them that we at the INQ like to think that we are on the bleeding-edge of tech news.
Derek Perez, Nvidia PR head, told us that Nvidia was happy with its market share over the last quarter, since its strategic objective had been "to take back the high-end" in graphics cards sales. He continued by commenting that Nvidia's "leadership in the high-end is having a positive halo effect in the mid-range and mainstream", an effect which wasn't necessarily seen in this quarter.
He also emphasised that Nvidia owned 100% of Shader Model 3 card shipments. Nvidia pre-announced a better-than-expected financial quarter a couple of days ago, and this, Perez said, was due to the greater margins on high-end parts. We also suggest that it's because Nvidia's financial quarter is different from the Mercury quarter, and will take into account those October mid-range shipments.
Chris Hook, an ATI representative, suggested that the architecture that ATI had put in place with the Radeon 9700 was now really paying off, as "products based on that architecture are moving down into the mainstream with products like the 9550". He added that "the numbers really speak for themselves". We can expect that ATI will be tolling the death bell for Nvidia tomorrow, as they are reportedly over the Full Moon about the numbers, unsurprisingly.
Nvidia's certainly has leadership at the high-end leadership, as the 6800GT card has consistently won awards from all number of magazines for being a great-value high-end card, and was spurred to success by its fit for Doom 3. The worth of the card to Nvidia can be seen by the fact that high-end sales last quarter - when the GeForce FX was taking on the 9800XT - had Nvidia at a measly 24% market share. Whichever way you want to look at it, Nvidia has made a pretty good come back from the FX debacle when it comes to the high-end.
ATI has successfully tackled the mid-range and low-end. It maintains that the X800XT has shipped to OEMs in a decent quantity, but that spotting it in retail has been hard. While the same is true of GeForce 6800Ultras, the fact that the GT caned the Pro in Doom 3 accounted for ATI's lack of performance in the highest of the high-end.
We expect to see Nvidia come back into the mid-range in a stronger position next quarter, although the momentum that ATI has at the moment will be hard to defeat. We still expect ATI to dominate the low-end, partly because it can sell its X300 part so damn cheap that it has won a good few design wins.
We'll be keeping a close eye on what cards turn up over the Christmas season, and much of Nvidia's success this quarter will depend on shipping the 6600 in a decent quantity. For now, though, it looks like it will be party time at ATI-HQ in Toronto tonight. Regardless of individual breakdowns, they have the crown of most popular discrete graphics vendor this quarter, and that's not an insignificant achievement. µ
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