Nvidia’s “Core” Business

on June 19, 2013

Nvidia introduces a new business unit targeted at the other billion opportunities

Nvidia has been involved with embedded, semi-custom and IP sales for special customers like Sony, Microsoft, Intel and Audi for several years, so they are no stranger to the idea, or the issues in supporting such customers.

In the last, five or so years we have seen the demand for visualization and embedded compute sky rocket. As one Nvidia exec said to me, “You can’t swing a dead cat and not hit a viz app or need”. And he’s right. That’s the good news.

The bad news, if it could be called that, is no company, not Nvidia, Intel, Qualcomm, no company could satisfy all the opportunities in a timely way. You could call it an embarrassment of riches of opportunities.

In the past couple of years Nvidia invested over a billion dollars in R&D on what could become the first of the ultimate cores—Kepler. Kepler is the first architecture ever designed to scale all the way from mobile to its highest end Tesla processors. It’s unique in that at its most atomic level (192 processors) it is a half-watt device. That is “the core”. That basic Kepler core can be (is) used in all the processors in Nvidia’s entire product line from Tegra to Titan. How’s that for common IP and scalability? And there’s no tricky political side-mouth talking here—it is that core, no special sauce wrapper, or depopulation fusing, or emulations, just one operational core.


The ultimate in scalability, Nvidia’s Kepler core

Again the good-bad news. The core could be used in anything from AR glasses to game consoles, to medical equipment, avionics, to CAVEs and super computers. But Nvidia couldn’t ever even find all the applications and potential customers for its core so it’s going to share the processor.

Nvidia has set up a business unit run by the formable Bob Feldstein, who knows a bit or two about the embedded and core licensing business, to run Nvidia’s core business. Feldstein will offer a RTL Kepler design to new customers. Bob isn’t a one-man band and has an equally formidable team of engineers and AEs to work with and support customers. So Bob and team are hanging out their sign—Open For Business.

This is major undertaking for Nvidia, and something that has taken many months to work out; and they’re not finished yet. The company probably won’t see any significant revenue for two maybe three years. It will take that long for the new (non-traditional) customers to spec, design, and manufacture their parts and/or systems. Having said that, don’t expect to hear a bunch from Nvidia about this operation. Obviously they won’t be able to talk about new products their new customers might be designing.
What do we think?

If you’ve ever played a AAA FPS game on a PC you’ve probably seen the “The way it was meant to be played” Nvidia tag. I guess we can now expect to see a “The way it was meant to be seen” boot-up tag on our TVs, car dash ports, handheld medical devices, CNC machines, and store signs.

Nvidia is right about the abundance of opportunities. Most, if not all of them are being satisfied today with tiny dedicated and un-programmable graphics controllers. But in the world of the internet of things where every machine can talk to every other machine, an un-programmable device is no longer acceptable. The Nvidia Core can be a basic high-performance parallel processor, and/or a great programmable display processor. The opportunity is there, the processor is here, now all Nvidia has to do is let the 8 billion inhabitants of this world know about it.