What is ESA?

In its simplest terms, ESA is a new industry standard developed for real-time monitoring and control of PC power supplies, chassis, and cooling systems. The goal, of course, is to enable manufacturers and enthusiasts to build higher performance PCs than has been possible before. However, ESA is not just about the highest benchmark score. This new component control will enable companies and/or users to build the quietest PC possible, or to set up ever more complicated control paradigms that allow the computer to function at its best regardless of the operating environment.

Of course, NVIDIA is not completely altruistic and they obviously want to sell more chipsets, video cards, and future components because of ESA. However, NVIDIA was very wise to make ESA an open standard. This means it is free to use for anyone who wants to implement the standard. This does not mean that AMD or Intel will jump on the ESA bandwagon tomorrow, but it does mean that any manufacturer who wishes can implement ESA. If ESA is a huge success, we could eventually see even competitors to NVIDIA support it.

That still doesn't explain exactly what ESA is or how it works, so let's delve a little deeper and look at where we are today and what ESA brings to the table.

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Today components communicate with the motherboard and software via standards like SMBus, EPP, PCIe, Serial ATA, and HyperTransport. The communication, however, normally has little to do with system monitoring and variable control. ESA is a separate communication standard that will work in conjunction with these protocols to provide the monitoring and control information to other components and/or software.

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This can include information for a power supply like voltage monitoring and control, temperature control, and current monitoring. A chassis could report and control temperatures in the case and manage interior lights. Coolers could monitor temperatures - including water temperature and water levels for liquid cooling - fan RPMs, and airflow. This is just the tip of the iceberg since ESA can manage and control anything the manufacturer chooses to implement.

Control is not limited to just these components. ESA is starting here but if it can go anywhere enthusiasts and component manufacturers want it to go. With an open standard, there could be many custom modules in Linux, for example, written by computer enthusiasts to provide a wide range of adjustments for ESA components. Yes, ESA is initially a Windows application - provided by NVIDIA - but as you will see on the next page, the actual protocol is OS independent. This is very important for the future of ESA, as it will eventually allow ESA to operate with any platform.
Index How ESA Works
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  • Spuke - Monday, November 05, 2007 - link

    I'm not getting this until I see some friggin benchmarks. And, to the person that stole my UT3 username, may you rot in hell. Reply
  • johnsonx - Monday, November 05, 2007 - link

    I don't know why, but as I read all this the first thing that popped into my head is that a virus could interface to the ESA controls and shut down your fans, fiddle with the voltages, reset all the warning thresholds, and generally screw up your system at a hardware level. This is something that has generally been impossible thus far (despite the various hoaxes about some virus that will destroy your monitor, fry your mainboard, and kill your cat). Hopefully nVidia and friends are considering this possibility as they go forward with this excellent concept.
    Reply
  • Shortass - Monday, November 05, 2007 - link

    Agreed, that would be utterly terrifying if a new Trojan came out that not only screwed up your files and locked you out of your system, but also overvolted all of your components and turned your fans down to 0%. Eeeek. Reply
  • Plasmoid - Monday, November 05, 2007 - link

    Sounds nice.

    Sounds a lot like what Abit have been doing with uGuru for the past 5 years.

    Give me the ability to control my fan speed and clock speed by profiles, and change them with a hotkey, and im sold. The rest of the stuff sounds pretty handy too.
    Reply
  • xsilver - Tuesday, November 06, 2007 - link

    Yes I think abit is the master of this kind of stuff.
    uguru is the only thing I miss on my old system.

    Even new asus boards dont support for advanced monitoring/tweaking abilities.

    My main miss is the ability to overclock/underclock on the fly in windows. Ati tool already has a profile scheme where if it detects if a game is being launched it will switch to 3d profile; why does this not exist for CPU's and other components?
    Reply
  • yacoub - Monday, November 05, 2007 - link

    There are two things that matter a lot when it comes to system monitoring/controlling software:

    Bloat - How much does it impact system response/performance? How much system resources are taken up running the software?

    Interface - Is it small and configurable, or ugly and large like most of this crap when it comes from the OEM instead of a 3rd party user? One thing you'll notice with tools like ATiTool and SpeedFan is that they are designed to be unobtrusive, configurable, and light (from a resources perspective).

    Most OEM tools are giant GUIs with a few buttons surrounded by tons of whitespace or ugly, space-wasting colored graphics and pointless clutter that would appeal more to an eight-year-old than an adult. They also tend to be bloated, taking a long time to load and using a lot of system resources just to monitor the system, which is counterproductive.

    So until we see how this system rates in those two areas, we don't really have the info we need to make a judgment call as to whether this move by NVidia is progress or regression.
    Reply
  • Ryanman - Thursday, November 08, 2007 - link

    Given, Im no programmer, but couldn't the "bloat" issue be fixed with a couple different modes or something?

    You have the full on mode that can render the 3d temperature, monitor all systems, etc. etc. And then when you get in game (surely you could configure the program to automatically notice once your system is being monopolized by an application that needs it and "tone down" to where it's only monitoring CPU/RAM use and a couple temperatures (CPU, GPU, HDD) like Logitech's G15 Programs. Hopefully you won't be overclocking or optimizing while playing crisis.

    And a sleek UI isn't that hard to make. Get a graphic designer and a couple UI experts to do it, can't be too expensive. Make the buttons big and some color options and I'll have it running all the time.

    I'm personally VERY excited about this. I'm an ATI fanboy but ideas like ESA, trying to unify PC enthusiast use (like, say game consoles) is always a good thing. And people may not care about high-end systems and say this is useless, but one of the fun things about this platform is squeezing as much as possible out of it. Let the games begin.
    Reply
  • pugster - Monday, November 05, 2007 - link

    I think it would be the first good move by the manufacturers. We can probably get rid of the excessive software bloat by the hardware manufacturers including software included by sound cards, video cards, and motherboards. I don't know about the hardware manufacturers giving up control of their hardware to software tweaks. Reply
  • goinginstyle - Monday, November 05, 2007 - link

    I am sorry but this article read like the press release from nvidia this morning. If ESA is all that then why not show us the hardware and software working together today? It just appears to be one more way for nvidia to try to control the desktop. Before you start yelling about open platforms, no company goes through this trouble without expecting something in return. That is why it would be interesting to see how well it works on a nvidia designed board compared to one from asus or msi. If something looks like a fish, smells like a fish, then it usually is a fish and this one might also be full of mercury. We go from the great 8800GT release to this in one week. :( Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Monday, November 05, 2007 - link

    As I said in the review Final Words:

    "One of the frustrations of technology launches, as opposed to actual hardware and software launches, is that no matter what you write it ends up sounding something like a commercial for the product. That is why all the writers at AnandTech much prefer the hard reality of testing a product at launch, where we can make comparisons."

    However, ESA is a proposed new standard for communication and control more than a real product. We plann to evaluate an ESA enabled system with as many ESA components as possible as soon it is available. At this point the new ESA chipset itself is not even launched.
    Reply

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