updated 05:40 pm EST, Mon January 10, 2011
Intel and NVIDIA settle patent licensing dispute
Intel and NVIDIA today settled their longstanding chipset dispute in a deal that heavily favored NVIDIA. The truce will see Intel pay NVIDIA $1.5 billion to license all of the patents for NVIDIA's graphics cores. NVIDIA will keep use of Intel's patents, outside of proprietary x86 processors and "certain chipsets."
The payments will be spread out over the next five years and start on January 18. An earlier six-year chipset agreement between the two ends on March 31.
While not explicitly naming the chipset support, it's claimed that the deal will likely still exclude NVIDIA from making system chipsets for any Intel chip using an integrated memory controller. The move thus doesn't address the original reasons for the dispute, where NVIDIA accused Intel of deliberately misinterpreting licensing to exclude a superior competitor from its newer processors. Virtually all of Intel's modern processors, including the Atom, Xeon and the Core i3, i5 and i7, have integrated memory controllers.
The approach still leaves computer makers, particularly Apple, with limited choices. Apple, Dell, Toshiba and others designed systems based around the principle of having integrated GeForce graphics in late 2008 that were several times faster than what Intel had at the time. Intel's decision to block use meant that most computers using the graphics had to either switch back to Intel's slower video or else use dedicated graphics that chewed more power.
Companies face a better situation today as Intel's new Sandy Bridge processors have graphics that are as much as 200 percent faster and can even compete with some low-end dedicated hardware. Licensing NVIDIA technology could potentially enable software-based upgrades for current chipsets and hardware upgrades in Ivy Bridge or other future generations.
Apple nonetheless faces the prospect of having to switch to Intel for integrated video regardless of its hopes to support general-purpose computing technology like OpenCL. Newer Core processors don't currently support OpenCL and will mitigate one of the advantages of Mac OS X Snow Leopard. The company is known to be willing to make the tradeoff and should use Intel video on low-end Macs early this year.