Nvidia: Graphics Is Dead? Yeah Right

Analyst Opinion - For the last several weeks, Nvidia has been at war with Intel over a statement of one of Intel’s engineers made at IDF suggesting that GPUs could soon be obsolete. There is a fundamental difference in the opinion how visual computing will evolve between graphics companies and Intel: Nvidia’s latest graphics card announcement is a clear statement that the company plans to aggressively raise the performance bar and remain in the lead in this segment come Intel or high water.

As the battleground shapes up right now, the visual computing battle will be fought on three fronts - gaming, productivity, and physics. Nvidia has moved the bar in all three fronts. The areas that are most likely to reveal interesting trends are productivity and physics. So let’s have a look at those two.

Productivity, visual networking and transcoding

I mentioned a few posts ago that one of the big trends I’m watching right now is visual networking . This trend is a result of the massive growth of services like YouTube and practices like video conferencing. Especially video conferencing is being substantially accelerated as companies have started to dramatically increase their use of video conferencing systems to offset rapidly growing travel costs.

But both the creation and sharing of video and its transmission over existing networks require a lot of real-time video compression, which comes down to real-time transcoding of high definition video into more compressed video types. Even if you are running one program at a time Nvidia told me that a video that typically might take 2.5 hours to transcode, may only take a little over 30 minutes with their fastest card. I’m dying to see if that is true, but even a 50% improvement would be worth the trouble in my opinion.

These new cards from Nvidia have been substantially improved to deal with video transcoding in real-time and this should have real productivity benefits that go beyond playing games and watching movies. Strangely enough, one of the large PC OEM advisory councils recently reported a dramatic increase in companies specifying discrete video solutions for just this kind of work, suggesting that these organizations were already seeing a very real benefit.

Physics r’Us

One of the more revealing battles we will see is physics on PCs going forward. AMD/ATI actually went and licensed their physics technology from Havok, which is owned by Intel. In terms of market penetration, Havok is the leading vendor for game physics. However, Havok isn’t the leading vendor - that was a company called Ageia, which made the PhysX engine. The problem with Ageia was that you had to buy a special card and there weren’t enough machines being shipped with that card to establish enough of a market to generate interest from all game developers. Although, because it was so good, a number actually did.

Nvidia has now taken this technology and put it in their graphics cards, which is dramatcially changing the market environment. The potential customer base is moved from 100s of thousands to 10s of millions, making the result vastly more attractive to developers.

The question that we will see answered is whether developers will jump on PhysX first and then create a crippled version of their games to work on Havoc systems. Or will they develop on Havoc first and ultimately deny gamers the enhanced capabilities available in PhysX? I believe that it will come down to just how much better the game experience is when using either result and we should have a better idea about this trend by year end.

AMD/ATI Response

I expect a competitive response from AMD/ATI shortly and we will see how far they come to closing the performance gap with Nvidia. Nvidia clearly got to market first, but we are outside of the big buying cycle, which starts in September. If AMD/ATI can make that cycle, they will be able to compete with this new offering.

Wrapping Up

Until then, Nvidia moves to the top of the pile again with what appears to be a solid line of new products - something to get the juices flowing over the summer vacation and maybe allow you to crank Crysis up to a truly interesting level.

I am looking forward to the improvements in transcoding because I’m constantly putting videos on my Zune for trips and I would love to be able to do that much more quickly given the fact that I typically wait until the last moment to remember to do this. These new offerings hit home more as time savers than they do for gaming, but they represent a strong move into even more realistic gaming and multimedia experiences.

Rob Enderle is one of the last Inquiry Analysts. Inquiry Analysts are paid to stay up to date on current events and identify trends and either explain the trends or make suggestions, tactical and strategic, on how to best take advantage of them. Currently he provides his services to most of the major technology and media companies.

  • LkS
    In terms of market penetration, Havok is the leading vendor for game physics. However, Havok isn’t the leading vendor - that was a company called Ageia , which made the PhysX engine.

  • Gazz
    I think that the issues about Havok and Ageia should be debaited more because the last thing I would like to see happen is the uses haveing to choose between either and this whole thing ending up one big war between the big conglomerents
    The fact that alredy componies are holding back progres by refuseing to go down tecknowlegy paths to spite and manipulate the market i wont mention names because they all do it
    Corect me if I am wrong does the stare wars games use both havok and Ageia
    I do hope that in the future we dont just see two componies bidding head to head e.g. Intel vs Nvidia
  • thatmymp5
    LOL! ????????? LOL! Very Soon, there will be a brutal war between Intel Vs Nvidia! Coming real very soon unless they merge or business venture. If u think of AMD, forget it, they are just simply Intel's chess Pawn!
    Reason : I know it is u all to think about it! Let's see how smart are u all can give me a good reasoning to defeat my intellectual and my Fart arrogance. I welcome challenge cos makes me a better man. haha
  • crash27
    ati 4000 with havok and an add on agiea card. nvidia dead !

    or not....
  • badgtx1969
    My question is, in the future could I use a new ATi card for graphics and also utilize an older G92 card in for PhysX? Supposedly we'll be able to do this w/ newer nVidia cards in the not too distant future.
  • MTLance
    Oh lalala, Intel is going for the throne while Nvidia might sank during half-way.
    Some ppl never believe AMD and Intel want Nvidia outta way. Facts are proven here that AMD went for Havok instead of PhysX. LMAO Nvidia might be a pwoerful troll for now but what if AMD and Intel decide to gang up taking out Nvidia? LOL.
  • apache_lives
    The future shall be interesting, remembering back when 3Dfx first had a dedicated 3D card, support grew for selected apps (games) that could unleash the performance and benefits, the software layers as OpenGL, D3D, Glide etc - now we see a new opportunity - Cuda etc.

    Anyone remember when games supported software rendering as well as hardware rendering? bland colors, hard edges and low performance vs smooth and fast performance with hardware acceleration etc - now the same effects for future applications etc - photoshop, video editing, perhaps in servers, number crunching for raid5 etc, cant wait to get more performance out of my video card that's otherwise unused outside games etc.
  • dvdjg
    "The problem with Ageia was that you had to buy a special card and there weren?t enough machines being shipped with that card to establish enough of a market to generate interest from all game developers."

    I think there's a minnor mistake. This text is not completely true. In fact PhysX CAN run on software-only implementations in the same way Havok does. So it can run in PCs, XBOX360, and other systems with no specialized hardware. PhysX is mainly based on Novodex, and the API is very similar. At the moment the hardware accelerated library is not as feature rich as the software's.

    The use of specific hardware for PhysX is an option, something like a bonus. I think that nVidia has a great advantage in this area. When UE3 and other engines will begin using the hardware acceleration from CUDA devices, AMD (and Intel) will be seriously in troubles.

    In my opinion AMD (and Intel) should or must incentivate the hardware acceleration thru Havok. Sadly Havok has recently cancel their Hardware accelerated branch "Havok FX", witch was Shader Model 3.0 based.
  • goonting
    honestly i love all of them to be having a open standard... we dong want an "All in one Intel" solution don't we?