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Nvidia to license Kepler GPU technology for smartphones and tablets

Mobile push results in Geforce GTX 760 Ti being put back a week
Wed Jun 19 2013, 12:13
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CHIP DESIGNER Nvidia will license its GPU technology to compete with Qualcomm and Samsung in the smartphone and tablet markets.

Nvidia has been promoting its own ARM based Tegra system on chip (SoC) for a number of years with relatively muted success. However the firm announced that it will look to license its GPU technology, including its Kepler architecture, to other chip designers.

While Nvidia's biggest Tegra production win came with the Google Nexus 7 tablet, the firm's silicon has largely been overtaken by Qualcomm and especially Samsung, which has been able to shorten its product cycles and ramp up CPU and GPU performance quickly. And it seems that Nvidia has had enough of the PC market, with Nvidia EVP, general counsel and secretary David Shannon starting his announcement by saying, "PC sales are declining with the rise of smartphones and tablets."

Shannon tried to play down the fact that Nvidia isn't in Microsoft's Xbox One, Sony's PS4 or Nintendo's Wii U, which means that game developers will optimise for AMD's graphics architecture, by saying that the firm previously licensed GPU technology to Sony for use in its PS3 console. He also referred to the fact that Nvidia has a cross licensing deal with Intel worth about $1.5bn over six years.

Instead Shannon hinted that Nvidia might get out of designing complete chips altogether by saying, "It's not practical to build silicon or systems to address every part of the expanding market. Adopting a new business approach will allow us to address the universe of devices."

Shannon said that the firm will offer licensing rights to other parts of its graphics patent library, though he didn't say anything about the software defined radio technology that Nvidia bought from British firm Icera.

Nvidia's decision to license GPU technology is a major shift for a firm that has tried to market its technology by designing its own chips for desktops, laptops, smartphones, tablets and high performance computing.

Such is the importance of this announcement that The INQUIRER has been told by a number of sources that originally 18 June was when the firm was planning to announce its Geforce GTX 760 Ti graphics card, a launch that has now been put back by a week, presumably due to this announcement.

Nvidia's graphics library has its merits, but the biggest problem is that it hasn't been proven in smartphones and tablets against the competition. The firm's Tegra 3 SoC is far too old to compete and the Kepler architecture, while working well on desktop and laptop GPUs, is completely unproven on chips intended for smartphones and tablets.

Nvidia will also face a challenge in trying to keep software vendors interested, in particular game developers, as this message seems to signal a significant shift away from the PC desktop, which might help AMD clean up. µ


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