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The Week in Chips: Kepler, Trinity, and Ivy Bridge
Talk about a busy week on the chip beat! Nvidia, AMD, and Intel all had products and announcements to sharehere’s a breakdown in case you missed it.
Talk about a busy week on the chip beat. All three of the big PC processor companies had exciting news to shareAdvanced Micro Devices unveiled its new Trinity APUs, Intel introduced Ivy Bridge to its vPro platform for business PCs, and Nvidia announced that it’s bringing GPU computing to the cloud.
We spoke with several top analysts who monitor the semiconductor industry to get a feel for what all of these product introductions and announcements mean going forward. Here’s a roundup of what we learned.
Nvidia’s Kepler Architecture
Nvidia chief executive Jen-Hsun Huang set pulses racing when he told the crowd at this week’s GPU Technology Conference (GTC) that the graphic chip maker has baked new virtualization capabilities into its next-generation Kepler GPUs that will finally make it possible to deliver robust graphics processing through the cloud.
“This is one of the biggest launches that Nvidia’s ever done. It helps create new markets that don’t exist today and gets them into current markets that they’re not in,” said Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst for Moor Insights & Strategy.
The market Nvidia aims to create is a cloud gaming ecosystem that delivers a playing experience that’s comparable to what gamers can only get on their own hardware-heavy client systems today, Moorhead said. Cloud gaming already exists, of course, but graphically, it’s no match for console and PC gaming because software simulation of GPU horsepower simply can’t match the capabilities of local graphics hardware.
“With cloud gaming today, convenience typically trumps quality for the masses. TV companies, cable companies, they’ll all be able to get a piece of the gaming action [with Nvidia’s cloud computing initiative]. Cloud gaming companies could not only make money but also deliver a good experience,” Moorhead said.
Kepler also offers Nvidia entry into the corporate virtual desktop market, where the company is now working with partners like Citrix to deliver a much better thin-client PC experience for business users, Moorhead said.
Enderle Group founder Rob Enderle felt Kepler may represent the final piece in the cloud computing puzzle for those virtual desktop offerings, as well as opening up a number of possibilities for mobile device computing. “The cloud is an end-to-end strategy,” he said. “It’s not just about the cloud, what makes this work is invigorating non-PC clients.
“One of the big problems with the Citrix stuff is that it’s software-centric,” Enderle continued. “Part of the problem with desktop hosting is that the servers aren’t in line with the I/O. It’s almost like you need a mainframe.
“So what was required was that someone had to rethink the processor for highly virtualized loads, and this is what Kepler is,” Enderle added. “Let’s come back and design the hardware to work with the software. It’s showing more maturity in what’s being attempted here.”
Both Enderle and Moorhead noted that Kepler could be what Google’s disappointing Chromebook initiative needed when it was introduced in 2011. The Chromebook, a barebones laptop design that leans heavily on the cloud for storage and processing power, is an intriguing concept but one that few consumers have chosen to adopt so far.
“Based on the current state of cheap, consistent, high-speed bandwidth, there’s a space for a Chromebook” now that powerful graphics processing can be delivered through the cloud, Moorhead said.
Enderle praised Google for its anticipation of a market for a cloud-based consumer laptop, but joked that the first attempt “got it a**-backwards.” Nvidia, he said, is approaching the problem in a more balanced fashion by building out cloud and system hardware to support the software rather than trying to force cloud computing out via client and back-end systems not ready to handle it.
Jon Peddie of Jon Peddie Research was impressed with Nvidia’s plans for Kepler in the Quadro line of products that will be geared for the company’s various cloud initiatives. But the chip analyst said the bigger news may be what the Nvidia has lined up for its most powerful GPU products, the Tesla line of graphics cards for supercomputers and high-performance computing arrays.
“The big news from GTC was the big chip Nvidia introduced for its Tesla product line. We’re talking 7.1 billion transistors,” Peddie said.
NEXT: A closer look at AMD’s Trinity APUs and Intel’s new vPro lineup with Ivy Bridge.
AMD Unleashes Trinity
AMD’s second generation of accelerated processing units (APUs) for mainstream and ultrathin laptops, mainstream desktops, all-in-one PCs, home theater systems, and embedded designs gets the chip maker right back into the sweet spot of the PC market in terms of price and offers compelling competition for Intel’s branded Ultrabooks, all three analysts agreed.
“This is a lot of bang for not too much dollars or watts. Trinity will find sockets in tablets and thinbooks,” Peddie said. With a new CPU core and improved graphics, Trinity’s performance is measurably better than the preceding Llano generation of APUs, the analyst added.
Moorhead noted that AMD still cannot match the high-end products sold by its bigger rival, Intel. But he said Trinity addresses battery life and other issues that have plagued AMD even its value and mid-range line of hardware solutions.
“AMD has registered decent battery life for games and video playback for some time now. The big change [with Trinity] is that its idle power draw is seriously lower than anything AMD had done before. That had hindered AMD in the market for a long time,” he said.
With its new lineup of APU, AMD “can redefine the price point of ultrathin at $599. Battery life is as good and in some cases better than the Intel solutions,” Moorhead added.
AMD could have the value price band of the thin-and-light laptop market to itself for quite some time, Enderle said.
“Trinity is a way to bring Ultrabooks to the masses. The problem with Ultrabooks is that they’re priced over the sweet spot of $500 to $600. Inteland Apple, of coursehave done a great job in establishing that thinner is better but they’ve had trouble on price,” he said.
“This is AMD pulling out their price card and realizing they don’t have to protect margins [the way Intel does] because they’re always the second supplier. Even when Intel does get to those lower price points, AMD can still stay underneath it if they’ve got momentum from some solid design wins.”
Ivy Bridge for the Enterprise
Intel’s news this week was probably the least exciting, because the chip giant had already launched its first 22-nanometer, third-generation Core processors earlier in the month. Ivy Bridge, the successor to last year’s 32nm Sandy Bridge platform, will continue to be rolled out across Intel’s product lines throughout the year.
“It’s a powerful processor, but this really isn’t a big surprise,” Peddie said.
Still, what Intel did in introducing Ivy Bridge for its vPro enterprise platform this soon after launching its latest, greatest chips is to signal that the company is eager to supply its commercial channel partners with cutting edge technology instead of making them wait on the sidelines, Enderle pointed out.
“Ivy Bridge helps keep the commercial products competitive with the consumer PCs. By bringing Ivy Bridge into vPro, IT shops now have better way to do this,” he said.
“You have to consider that the commercial channel likes to maintain the life of its products a lot longer than the consumer market, for four or five years,” he added. “[The channel] can usually wait until the technology matures a bit longer, but this gets them going at an early stage which means they can extract sales out of Ivy Bridge for a longer period overall.”
The security and remote management features baked into vPro continue to make it very compelling for enterprise customers and improvements to the Ivy Bridge generation of vPro products even moreso, Moorhead noted.
“With embedded security and remote management an enterprise can literally save hundreds of dollars per computer per year,” he said. “Truck rolls and desk visits cost money. And the total cost of IT ownership in the enterprise, very little of it is hardware, primarily it’s software, service and support.”
By Damon Poeter, PCMag