There is a funky dance going on right now between chip giants Intel and nVIDIA and I just want to cut through the crap and tell you that no matter what the companies are saying it is likely to end with nVIDIA being purchased by Intel. Both parties know it and the only thing that hasn’t been determined yet is the price, which is what all this posturing is about.
Intel this week cancelled Larrabee, its proposed graphics processing unit (GPU) that was intended to compete with both nVIDIA and ATi (now a part of AMD). The moment AMD bought ATi Intel had to decide whether to build or buy its own GPU to stay in contention. They decided to build, or at least said they had. It’s hard to say how viable Larrabee ever was but at some point it turned from a weapon against nVIDIA to a barrier to Intel buying nVIDIA. So Larrabee had to go, because without that chip Intel presents a much less imposing target for the Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission which might oppose a merger on anti-trust grounds.
With Larrabee, Intel could be seen as crushing a major rival. Without Larrabee, Intel is just trying to enter a new market.
Intel wants nVIDIA not just for its GPU’s but also for its mobile chips. Mobile is a big part of the future of computing yet Intel in 2006 cancelled its business aimed at handset makers, writing-off $5 billion in the process. Remember that? Despite attempting to back-in to the market again with its upcoming Moorestown post-Atom low-power processors, what Intel would really like are nVidia’s superior Tegra AXP chips aimed at mobile phones and media players. Ironically nVIDIA didn’t even design the Tegra processors, which it bought a couple years ago with Portal Player.
Intel had to do something the minute AMD bought ATi. Now with Larrabee gone Intel has no real choice but to buy another company to remain in contention. The only such company available is nVIDIA.
Notice how Intel has been making a serious effort lately to settle the anti-trust cases pending against it, especially with AMD, to which Intel is paying $1.25 billion. Yet against nVIDIA, the legal action actually appears to be heating-up. Why would Intel hold an olive branch for all the others yet still oppose nVIDIA? Again it is to drive down the price of an eventual acquisition and Intel has nothing to fear from an nVIDIA legal case if its actual intention is to buy the company, retiring the lawsuit.
But the action is not all coming from Intel. Last month nVIDIA announced they were suspending development of chipsets for new Intel processors. Later we read that nVIDIA was going to release a chipset for Intel’s Lynnfield processors only to have Intel question the validity of nVIDIA’s license to the Intel’s Direct Media Iinterconnect (MDI) technology, which connects Lynnfield processors to the chipset. Both companies are talking tough and so far nVIDIA has not released a product that supports Intel’s Core i7 or Core i5 processors, yet without Larrabee Intel really needs that support no matter how much they fume.
Meanwhile nVIDIA has its own Ion low-power System-on-Chip for portable Internet devices and, inspired by AMD/ATi’s Fusion forthcoming CPU/GPU hybrid, nVIDIA has been working on a similar chip of its own. Intel reportedly was, too, with Larrabee, but now that’s over.
Intel could effectively block the nVIDIA hybrid processor through the MDI licensing ploy, above, and doing just that would have worked to the advantage of both Intel and AMD while Larrabee was still viable. I suspect this may have been a big part of Intel’s reason for settling the AMD anti-trust suit. It may have been part of their argument to AMD, too, about why the smaller company ought to settle at this time, because doing so would remove an nVIDIA threat. The big question is whether Intel knew at the time that Larrabee was doomed? If they did, then the real plan was for Intel to absorb the nVIDIA hybrid processor and make it its own, which they can effectively do now that AMD has promised not to testify against Intel under any circumstances as part of their legal settlement.
That would be Intel turning the tables on AMD, which may have been suckered.
If this reads like a huge conspiracy theory that’s because it is.
But sometimes conspiracy theories are true.