NVIDIA Clarifies Chipset Positioning; Product Focus

There's been a rumor buzzing around, in the wake of NVIDIA's GPU Technical Conference last week, that the company intends to shut down its chipset division. After a bit of sleuthing, Hot Hardware has confirmed that this is not the case. NVIDIA fully intends to continue designing its own core logic, but the scope and purpose of its chipsets will be different going forward than in years past.

NVIDIA does not intend to continue developing chipsets for current or future processors based on Nehalem, despite earlier assurances that the company would do so. Company CEO Jen-Hsun Huang was ready to box Intel on the topic as recently as last February, but OEM interest in NVIDIA-built solutions is rumored to have waned sharply once the twin spectres of litigation and compatibility raised their ugly heads. Intel's dominance of the chipset market inevitably means that OEMs who want to stay in the company's good graces pay close attention to whatever tune Santa Clara might be humming.

NVIDIA will continue to build budget AMD chipsets. According to NVIDIA PR manager Ken Brown, "The truth is, our chipset business for AMD has very high volumes overall.  MCP 61-based platforms continue to be extremely well positioned in the entry-level segments where AMD CPUs are most competitive vs. Intel," Brown said. "We will continue to sell MPC 61-based platforms as long as there is a market for them."

The company's plans could leave enthusiasts who prefer NVIDIA/AMD combinations out in the cold, at least in the long term. The motherboard developer has no plans for any future enthusiast-oriented AMD chipsets, noting that AMD's current position vis-à-vis Intel made such boards a poor investment.

That leaves NVIDIA's nForce 700 and NF900 (rebadged 700). The two chipsets are as feature-rich as anything else on the market; MSI even builds one board in each series that supports DDR3 at up to 1600MHz. Unless NVIDIA issues at least one additional refresh, however, features like USB 3.0 and SATA 6G will be available only via add-on card. Then again, considering how long it's going to be until either feature offers a general practical benefit, this may not be an issue.

ION-Driven Design -

NVIDIA's chipset R&D is now neither driven by Intel nor AMD. With both first-generation ION products and Tegra shipping, Team nForce has more than enough to keep its hands full when it comes to building the next generation of products. Features like GPU-accelerated Flash, jointly announced by NVIDIA and Adobe today, should offer real benefits to anyone considering an NVIDIA-based solution.

NVIDIA's willingness to shift its focus in response to changing market conditions has historically been one of the company's strengths. NVIDIA's original nForce chipset was initially seen as the answer to the prayers of would-be Athlon users who found themselves stuck on VIA chipsets. The nForce architecture didn't really catch on until the nForce 2 launched roughly a year later, but various iterations of the NF product line were the backbone of AMD launches for several years running.

Now that the company's desktop and mobile chipset options are more limited by threats of litigation on one side and AMD's own chipset division on the other, NVIDIA has engineered its own competitive platform for Intel's darling of the moment, and is in the midst of designing a second iteration of that platform that will also support VIA processors. Tegra, meanwhile, gives NV a platform and processor whose design it controls from start to finish; a luxury that's probably a nice change of pace for a company that has never found itself beholden to the roadmaps of others.

It seems rather premature to carve Requiescat in pace above the lintel of the NVIDIA chipset division.