This Monday, Intel filed papers claiming that Nvidia’s four-year chipset license does not apply to Nehalem architecture (Core i3, i5, i7, new Xeons) e.g. that Nvidia has no right in manufacturing chipsets for Intel processors that use integrated memory controller. These news come just after Nvidia enabled SLI on Intel’s X58 chipse6t, including Intel’s own DX58SO motherboard. Given the current state of affairs between the two companies, I was not surprised that Intel is going to oust Nvidia from the chipset market.
How Nvidia came into the Intel chipset market is another story – at the time, Intel was seriously hurting with its Prescott marchitecture and didn’t had anything to show in gaming and enthusiast segment. The company was playing around Nvidia and in the end – Nvidia launched “nForce 4 SLI for Intel” chipset (famous for the fact that it didn’t work with low-end Pentium D 820 processor) and started to pave way for the creation of “Axis of Evil” (comment by former ATI PR manager): Intel Core 2 CPU + GeForce 8800GTX + nForce 680i.
Also, this wasn’t the first time Chipzilla asked for help. When the company got struck with Rambus RDRAM gremlins in infamous Caminogate, Taiwanese VIA Computer skyrocketed to a shocking 60% worldwide chipset market share (for two quarters). Lack of confidence in Intel’s chipsets was proven with the launch of Intel-based workstations from Silicon Graphics. Imagine my surprise when I opened up my flashy Visual Workstation 550 (an $8,000 machine) featuring 2GB of PC-133 memory, Intel Pentium III 1.0 GHz processor, first Quadro card and VIA’s Apollo Pro 133A chipset. You will probably agree it was a very weird experience. Intel pushed VIA from the market with lawsuit regarding Pentium 4 license. By the time trials came to an end, VIA was less than also-ran in the Intel-chipset arena.
Coming back to Core 2 architecture, Nvidia enjoyed its success with 650i/680i and didn’t invest in the platform (780i was nothing else but 680i with PCIe Gen2 chip). At the same time, Intel grew stronger, releasing P35/X38/X48/P45 series of chipsets and Nvidia was no longer needed. Thus, it is logical that the company wants to squeeze out pesky Santa Clara neighbor for its Core i5 and i7 series.
Ultimatively, this is a battle that customers will lose. Regardless of what court decides, incertanties are costing both companies money. Truth to be told, we saw interesting papers about the actual financial situation in Intel, and it is no wonder that the company is now attacking everybody. But to play around with chipset licenses and patents – ultimately, this is a losing game. Once that you hit the “lawsuit-trigger”, path of innovation takes the backseat and development begins to be closely monitored by legal departments.
All I can conclude here is that Nvidia has patents that could block a lot of Intel’s products. AMD could stop Intel’s CPU production, so could Intel stop AMD. And then there is a case of 3rd party companies that nobody takes seriously, yet they can change the landscape of IT industry for good. When I spoke with couple of engineers from IBM, I was told that Big Blue could block Intel, AMD, Freescale, Motorola, even Texas Instruments – “in a jiffie”.