updated 11:40 am EST, Wed February 18, 2009
NVIDIA Intel License Fight
NVIDIA today revealed that it's involved in a dispute with Intel over a license to make mainboard chipsets for current and upcoming processors. Filed on Monday in a Delaware court, an Intel claim seeks to prevent NVIDIA from making mainboard chipsets for any of Intel's newer processors that use an integrated memory controller; the change in design means the old license doesn't apply, Intel believes. The move would effectively stop NVIDIA from producing any reference designs that support Nehalem-architecture chips, particularly Core i7 processors.
NVIDIA maintains that its license for chipsets, which was signed nearly five years ago, is still valid. The company has also publicly responded to Intel and accuses the chip maker of trying to pull licensing as a way of dominating the computer market. By effectively revoking NVIDIA's rights, Intel forces most manufacturers to use its own chipsets even if the NVIDIA option is potentially faster or more efficient.
"At the heart of this issue is that the CPU has run its course and the soul of the PC is shifting quickly to the GPU," chief executive Jen-Sun Huang argues. "This is clearly an attempt to stifle innovation to protect a decaying CPU business."
The Santa Clara-based firm says the GeForce 9400M and its related chipsets are the likely cause of Intel's reaction. Apple and other companies have steadly opted for the new hardware, which takes up less space on the mainboard and is often multiple times faster in graphics benchmarks than Intel's GMA series. The NVIDIA Ion platform for Atom-based netbooks and nettops is estimated to be about 10 times faster than Intel's GMA 945 and is still faster than the GMA X4000 in the new GN40 platform.
Rumors have surfaced that Intel has already been trying to block the use of Ion by requiring that PC builders buy Intel mainboard at the same time as Atom processors, a claim which has since been denied.
Most details for the case aren't yet available, though NVIDIA says it has been trying to resolve the problem with Intel in a "fair and reasonable manner" for more than a year.
Without a license, the situation would create a problem for Apple in particular. The company now depends on an NVIDIA platform for MacBooks and would need to switch back to Intel should it no longer have a legal alternative. Apple executives have also said that further involvement is likely; the company's software team has also revealed hardware listings for NVIDIA-based iMacs and Mac minis.
Intel hasn't commented on NVIDIA's response.