Posted by: theovalich | February 26, 2009

Legal and PR trouble looming for mobile GTX260/280?

After going through dozen or so phone calls and IM conversations with several worried investors, analysts and attorneys, I felt inclined to write this story. One has to wonder what branding wizards at Nvidia thought when they decided to brand three year old architecture under the same name as current desktop parts. In case you didn’t know, Nvidia is going to use the same 55nm G92b chip on GeForce GTS240/250 boards for desktop and GTX260M and GTX280M for notebooks. This is nothing else but a disastrous call.

G92 chip now spans across four product generations – GeForce 8800GT/GTS512/GSO, 9800GT/GTX/GTX+, GTS240/250 and GTX260M/280M. The decision Nvidia obviously made can constitute as “deliberate misleading naming for confusing of consumers” and is making this company potential for not just consumer (private class-action/consumer watchdog) action, but also legal wrath from consumer protection agencies in the US, and several countries in EMEA region – Germany, Sweden and UK being prime examples.

If Nvidia labeled their mobile parts as GTS240/250, nobody would notice – because it would be a case of rebranding (in all honesty, ATI isn’t a saint there either, branding some Mobility Radeon 2000 parts as 3000 series and then rebranding some 3000 chips into 4000). But in this case, the company is deliberately naming GTS240/260 as already shipping desktop parts – GTX260 and 280, both based on GT200 chip.

Will the real GeForce GTX 280 please stand up?

Will the real GeForce GTX 280 please stand up?

The list of differences doesn’t stop there – we have a GTX280 consisting out of 128 shader processors (GTX280M), or 240 (the original GTX280), different memory controllers (256-bit vs. 512-bit) and the list goes on.

The potential legal part lies in the fact that if consumer types something like¬† “GeForce GTX 280 notebook” in “accepted way of finding information relevant to consumer” such as search engines – consumer will find information and glowing reviews about desktop parts and potentially form a wrong opinion/expectation about the product itself.¬† This is a slippery slope that none of IT companies slipped on, but as computers became a commodity, you can expect more and more watchdogs looking into the land of (rebranded) silicon.

Just like all birds in trees know, GT200 chip is in whole another league compared to G92 architecture, and this is nothing else but deliberate misleading of consumers. In case G92b is really named GTX260M/280M, expect a PR disaster and potential legal issues.

Sorry Nvidia, but according to conversations I had in the past 48 hours, it looks like Intel chipset license war won’t be the only court meeting. This branding exercise can lead to a class action lawsuit on behalf of consumers and worse of all, an official inquiry is possible in four states (that I know so far). Biggest damage would of course, be a stock downgrade from worried investors.

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Responses

  1. It is not clear from your copy if you think that nVidia appears to have commited an act of gross stupidity or plain fraud – could you clarify please ?

    i.e. Do you genuinely think its aim is to mislead the public, or do you think that the naming was a by-product of simply wanting the same number of everything being sold?

  2. Honestly, i think that they are purposely misleading the public because they are aware that the GTX 200 series has a very good name for itself when it comes to single GPU performance. And when you take a name for a product that already exists and is double the performance and then rename the mobile part for that weaker chip to the faster one you’re literally making someone think they are paying for something that is twice as fast. Its wrong on many levels.

  3. The thing is that this is nothing new ATI and NVIDIA have been using different chips for mobile and desktop chips. I don’t know why you would have a court case now and not then. Care to explain the difference? (no offence, just trying to understand)

  4. I can explain why ‘court cases’ in general.
    The US culture is very fond of suing people – and class action suits are popular.
    Lawyers are constantly being approached for some of that ‘No win no fee – you keep 100% of the settlement’ loving.
    Smart lawyers will look for issues where the ‘cost to defend a case’ is likely to be over (say) $500,000.
    They then sign up as many people as they can find with that specific complaint and head for a class action.
    The company being sued will issue a standard statement saying “Nothing has happened, we have done nothing wrong and we will defend ourselves and our reputation vigorously”.
    In the background, they make the same calculation.
    If the lawyer has guessed correctly and the amount being asked for is as much as (or more than) the amoung being requested – then they will pull out NDAs and settle.
    In more than half of these situations, the claim is ‘bollocks’ – but it is a kind of gambling skill to know when to fight, when to run and when to settle.

  5. The information for this article came about after I had a conversation with one of lawyers from the DA in Los Angeles, CA. I was contacted to deny/confirm the rumors about GTX280 is a brand for two completely different products.

    Bear in mind that Heinz Ketchup lost the court case when the company reduced the content of ketchup bottle by a tea spoon. Even though that was laughable at first, this was a million dollar saving in their yearly operation, profit achieved by deprieving and decieving customers.

    http://articles.latimes.com/2000/nov/30/business/fi-59336

    Same thing with this naming. Nvidia has one cost of making G92b GPUs, another (substantially higher) for making GT200 abd GT200b chips. If Nvidia is profiting by misleading the consumer, you already have a legal presedan, thus there is a field for a court battle.

  6. […] and power. Rebranding a GTS card as a GTX card seems more misleading that anything. Tech reporter, Theovalich, called the move, “disastrous.” One has to wonder what branding wizards at Nvidia […]

  7. […] and power. Rebranding a GTS card as a GTX card seems more misleading that anything. Tech reporter, Theovalich, called the move, “disastrous.” One has to wonder what branding wizards at Nvidia […]

  8. Theo, I understand that. But the thing is that I don’t understand how this is different than for example Geforce 9600 desktop and the Geforce 9600 Mobile (wich is a 9500 desktop). Nvidia and Ati have always done that, a card with the same name are different in desktop and mobile and no one has ever taken them to court.

  9. The sources for this story were multiple, coming from both legal and investor base.

    It is all a matter of just how big or small you can be before your anti-consumer behavior gets detected.

    This is a clear cut case – G92b is being used as GTX200, thus taking a previous generation part and advertising it as current.

    9600 and 9500 belong to the same generation of products. If the branding was GTS, there would not be a base for a case, simple renaming and that’s it.

    Because 9600 and 9500 and 9800 will become GT and GTS 200 series…

    But, 9800 won’t become GTX280M on desktop.

  10. […] currently one of world’s most powerful graphics cards?GeForce GTX280M [this really isn’t a GTX280, but rather a blatant lie called "renaming GeForce 9800GTX" – no, we won’t let nVidia off the hook this time. This is a mislabeled product and we will not […]


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