Nvidia gains on rivals, prepares for NV30 launch

The dominant graphics chip maker has managed to solidify its lead over competitors such as ATI, despite being outgunned in performance, as it whips up consumer enthusiasm over the imminent NV30 debut

New figures show that despite its product delays, Nvidia is continuing to gain market share in the graphics processor market against rival ATI. Nvidia is gearing up to introduce its new NV30 processor at Comdex later this month.

A new report from Mercury Research found that in the third quarter of 2002 Nvidia's market share rose to 58 percent, from 56 percent the previous quarter. ATI lost market share, shrinking from 36 percent of the market in the second quarter to 33 percent in the third quarter despite selling the highest-performing GPU. The report looked at worldwide shipments of stand-alone graphics controllers.

Nvidia is preparing the way for the launch of its NV30 graphics processor later this month with a public event showing off the chip's power and demonstrating its "cinematic" effects. Nvidia chief scientist David Kirk appeared in Seoul, South Korea on Monday at an event called "Nvidia Mania's Day" (sic) to promote the chip, which will be publicly launched at the Comdex trade show during the week of 18 November in Las Vegas.

The presentation, which foreshadows Nvidia's marketing campaign for the GPU, focused on the chip's performance -- which will be twice that of GeForce4, according to the presentation -- and increased programmability. It was covered by Korean tech portal Technoa.

An Nvidia spokesman said the presentation is part of the company's efforts to whip up consumer enthusiasm ahead of the NV30 launch, and that it did not contain product-specific information. Some of the data from the presentation has been appearing on Nvidia's Web site. "We're very close to launch now, and it's a matter of giving people a taste of what's ahead," the spokesman said.

The NV30 will be Nvidia's counter-attack against ATI, whose Radeon 9700 has held the performance lead since its introduction in July. However, sources say that Nvidia's chip will only be available in limited volumes for several months, giving ATI more time to consolidate its position.

Kirk did not reveal any information regarding these issues at the presentation, instead focusing on figures related to the chip's performance. It is "more than two times" the performance of GeForce4, with 51 billion floating point operations per second (51 gigaflops) in the pixel shader alone, the presentation said. This is better performance than a Cray SV-1 supercomputer and 30 times the geometry power of an SGI Infinite Reality engine, according to Kirk's presentation.

The chip has 125 million transistors, which is three times the number on the Pentium 4, according to the presentation. Nvidia, through its manufacturing partner Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSMC), is using a 0.13-micron manufacturing process to reduce the physical size of the chip and achieve better efficiency. By comparison, the top-end Radeon chip has 110 million transistors, and the GeForce4 Ti 4600 has 63 million.

Nvidia defended its move to 0.13 micron, saying that while it may have slowed the NV30 rollout, it will deliver long-term results. "We are prepared for a very efficient ramp-up of all our roadmap into next year," a spokesman said. "Making the move now means that next year everything will be much easier. Everyone's got to do the same thing as we have."

He confirmed that full volumes may not arrive in time for Christmas, but said Nvidia will have "product on the market by Christmas."

A large proportion of the presentation was devoted to demonstrations of "cinematic" rendering, the aim of bringing real-time PC rendering closer in line with cinematic computer animation. Kirk showed examples of "brushed metal", "melting ice", "vegetation", "thin film" and "skin" effects, among others.

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