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Nvidia’s Sneak Peek

CES 2010, Day 1: AMD CPUs, DX11 Goes Mobile, Fermi Spotted

The last event of the day was Digital Experience, another mass media event that brings dozens technology companies into one large room. Mix in free food, alcohol, and a bunch of journalists, and you have instant exposure.

While I saw some interesting gear and software there, I didn’t come across all that much for tech enthusiasts. Cyberlink’s Tom Vaughn showed off a still-in-development version of PowerDVD, which supports stereoscopic 3D Blu-ray playback on both polarized displays and shutter glasses. Intriguingly, the new version makes use of Microsoft’s DirectCompute API instead of proprietary interfaces from Nvidia or ATI, and hence can even make use of the video engine in Intel’s latest integrated graphics built into the Clarkdale and Arrandale CPUs. Vaughn was able to show that two simultaneous Blu-ray streams ran on Clarkdale while consuming 5-8% of the processor's resources.

He cautioned that this really works well only on the GPU built into the new 32nm line; it won’t work on Intel’s GMA 4500 and earlier graphics parts.

Fermi Graphics: Really? Really!

I was just about to leave the event when Ken Brown, Nvidia PR guy (not to mention former executive editor of Computer Gaming World back in the day), tapped me on the shoulder and asked me if I wanted to see a Fermi-based GPU.

Fermi is Nvidia’s massive re-imagining of its architecture with a strong emphasis on GPU computing capabilities. It’s still very much a graphics design, but the gestation period for the first Fermi chips has been a long and painful one. Nick Stam at Nvidia showed off the new GPU running inside an X58-based Core i7 system.

The card overhung an ATX motherboard slightly, but Stam noted that the cooler wasn’t final hardware, and clocks and other specs weren't ready to be announced yet. The system was running the Uniengine DirectX 11 benchmark, and Nick insisted that the results were already better than AMD’s fastest GPU. Nick was also noncommittal about power consumption, but the card looked to be using both 8-pin and 6-pin PCIe power connectors. Since it wasn’t final hardware, though, it’s uncertain as to what will show up when retail cards emerge.

Nick also insisted that GF100 (that’s the code name, not the product name) would be a "Q1 product." So we’ll just have to wait and see. But after all the delays and silence from Nvidia, Fermi-based graphics is starting to look real.

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