nVidia appears to be subtly altering its strategy in the battle with rivals 3Dfx and ATi for leadership of the 3D accelerator market.
While a recent patent infringement suit filed against 3Dfx has heated things up a little and nVidia's involvement in Microsoft's Xbox project is a definite coup, it's the firm's decision to go after alternative markets that could well be the decisive blow.
Leading edge, high-cost cards such as the recently announced GeForce2 Ultra are great for nVidia's image with gamers but aren't so good for profit margins, according to Alain Tiquet, nVidia's European marketing director. So while the company will continue to develop this type of product, the focus for the next couple of years is set to be on finding new buyers for existing technology.
The first product in this new strategy was the GeForce2 MX, released a couple of months back, which boasts better performance than a GeForce 256, but at a price that makes it appealing for volume PC vendors -- an area that, right now, rival chipmaker ATi has pretty much to itself. The idea isn't just to go for gamers. By providing fast 2D rendering and features such as dual-display support, the hope is that it'll be seen as a viable option for business desktops too. That's just the first step, though. In time, nVidia hopes to adapt the same technology for use in mobile PCs and also for Apple platforms.
And that's not all. "We want to grow the 3D market," Tiquet stated. "We want 3D to be everywhere." By making the hardware cheap and widely available, nVidia wants to spearhead the adoption of 3D graphics for as many applications as possible. Of course, it wants to dominate these new markets too.
What about future technology, though? Well, lips were tight when it came to revealing details of the next generation of high-end cards. It seems that by reducing the die size for the GeForce2 Ultra, nVidia was able to attain its goal of doubling performance every 16 months with a minimum of effort, and without offering any new features.
But hardware, apparently, is not the issue. "We know that we can get a chip with say 50 million transistors at a certain size, at a certain price, in a year's time," said Tiquet. "What we must do is decide what we want those transistors to do." Beyond that, he refused to be drawn. The ultimate goal, however, remains to offer "Toy Story [-type graphics] on your PC, in real time, within a year." So that means improvements to features like per-pixel shading, beefing up of the Transform & Lighting engine, and even exploration of technologies such as ray tracing in real-time.
For now, however, nVidia's goal is -- only! -- to take the lead in the 3D accelerator market. So watch out...