“The 250 W ID”: Making A Graphics Card Sexy
When you sit down and talk to two people responsible for so much of what a product like GeForce GTX 680, and then all of the other 600- and 700-series boards look like, you can’t help but develop a deep sense of appreciation for what is involved in creating that graphics card. No doubt, the same interplay happens at AMD. But in the case of GeForce GTX 680, Jonah’s team modeled GK104 prior to taping out the photomask for manufacturing, creating an approximate power target. Andrew’s group used that number, added some margin in case the model was off, and built a card capable of accommodating the new GPU.
In fact, the board guys went a step further. Back in the Fermi days, they built one card and made it work at multiple power points. Because add-in board partners take the GPUs and drop them onto their own implementations, that approach was fine. However, this time Nvidia designed three—250, 225, and 200 W—and picked the most complementary to launch GeForce GTX 680 with, which was the middle board. We now associate the 250 W design with GeForce GTX Titan, 780, and 770.
GeForce GTX 690 had different requirements as a result of its two GPUs, though. The centrifugal fan mounted to the back wouldn’t be ideal, for example. So the team created a card and cooling solution for two GK104s.
Originally, GeForce GTX 690 was going to sport the “black coffin” design—Jen-Hsun’s playful nickname for the plastic shroud around GTX 680. But about three months before GTX 690 was to go public, after the engineering had mostly been done and just before production, Jen-Hsun started asking the team if they really wanted to ship the card in a form I have to imagine looked a little like GeForce GTX 590. And that started the team down this thought path of showing off technology, rather than covering it up.
Jonah’s group spends a billion dollars building a GPU, after all. Andrew has a cadre of engineers working on the boards to house those processors. Then they cover them up with plastic. In the past that seemed perfectly natural. But how cool is it to look in the back of a 458 Italia and see that 4.5 L V8 snarling at you through the engine hatch? Wouldn’t you want to peer into your graphics card’s innards the same way? I mean, most boards give you the impression that a company did just enough to keep its technology running within certain design parameters. But GeForce GTX 690 was the first card that made me wonder out loud, “Wow, I wonder how much Nvidia spent dressing this thing up?” As far as the reworked industrial design goes, Andrew’s team came up with something that does do justice to the hardware it hosts.
Andrew calls the idea behind his team’s design the absence of design. Avoid the shaped plastic, avoid stickers, and avoid silkscreen, but expose as much as possible underneath. It’s a design language that the company calls direct and honest, as every detail needed purpose, with no waste on extraneous or trendy characteristics.