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Nvidia relies on Geforce business to keep Tesla prices down

Gamers are subsidising researchers
Thu Jan 31 2013, 11:54
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BOLOGNA: CHIP DESIGNER Nvidia has revealed that its graphics card business geared towards computer gaming is subsidising its high performance computing (HPC) Tesla cards.

Nvidia has been pushing its GPGPU accelerator boards for the past five years and has enjoyed considerable success, with a number of HPC clusters using Tesla GPGPUs vying for top spots in the prestigious Top 500 list. However the firm said that its traditional GPU business that is largely aimed at computer gamers is subsidising its HPC business, allowing it to offer Tesla boards at lower prices than would otherwise be possible.

Nvidia's Tesla GPGPU computing boards use GPU chips that have the same architecture as consumer branded Geforce graphics cards, though the firm generally releases new architectures with the Geforce brand months ahead. According to Geoff Ballew, senior manager of Nvidia's Tesla Compute business unit, the firm's gaming business allows it to spread the large investment required to develop the architecture.

Ballew said, "Nvidia is well known for gaming and that's important for a couple of reasons. Games require a lot of math and we've been able to harness those for energy efficient computing. There's an economic aspect as well, these architectures cost billions of dollars to develop and they need to be taped out into chips, they are very expensive to develop and bring to market.

"In the past, some special accelerators have been good technical solutions but they have been too expensive for broad scale deployment, but [with] Nvidia's business model we leverage one architecture, we design the architecture to have two modes, two personalities. It has a gaming personality and a compute personality, but they leverage the same fundamental math.

"Because of this we have a broader market, a much larger market to amortise that billions of dollar [of] investment across, it enables us to sell Tesla GPUs at a much more competitive price than we would if we had to recover all of that R&D just from the compute sales.

"It is fundamental to Nvidia's business model that we talk about performance per dollar in addition to performance per watt."

Nvidia's position in the HPC world as a component vendor has matured impressively, given the firm's relatively new technology and rivals that include companies such as IBM. However given that the firm has said that it relies on its gaming business to keep prices competitive, it is worrying that traditional PC gaming is seemingly on the wane with the popularity of smartphone and tablet gaming growing.

Nvidia will point to its Tegra 4 chip as its strategy to survive any significant drop off in PC gaming, but winning smartphone and tablet business will be significantly harder when it has to fight Qualcomm, Samsung and Texas Instruments instead of beating just AMD. µ

 

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