A Different Sort of Launch

Fermi will support DirectX 11 and NVIDIA believes it'll be faster than the Radeon HD 5870 in 3D games. With 3 billion transistors, it had better be. But that's the extent of what NVIDIA is willing to talk about with regards to Fermi as a gaming GPU. Sorry folks, today's launch is targeted entirely at Tesla.

A GeForce GTX 280 with 4GB of memory is the foundation for the Tesla C1060 cards

Tesla is NVIDIA's High Performance Computing (HPC) business. NVIDIA takes its consumer GPUs, equips them with a ton of memory, and sells them in personal or datacenter supercomputers called Tesla supercomputers or computing clusters. If you have an application that can run well on a GPU, the upside is tremendous.

Four of those C1060 cards in a 1U chassis make the Tesla S1070. PCIe connects the S1070 to the host server.

NVIDIA loves to cite examples of where algorithms ported to GPUs work so much better than CPUs. One such example is a seismic processing application that HESS found ran very well on NVIDIA GPUs. It migrated a cluster of 2000 servers to 32 Tesla S1070s, bringing total costs down from $8M to $400K, and total power from 1200kW down to 45kW.

HESS Seismic Processing Example Tesla CPU
Performance 1 1
# of Machines 32 Tesla S1070s 2000 x86 servers
Total Cost ~$400K ~$8M
Total Power 45kW 1200kW


Obviously this doesn't include the servers needed to drive the Teslas, but presumably that's not a significant cost. Either way the potential is there, it's just a matter of how many similar applications exist in the world.

According to NVIDIA, there are many more cases like this in the market. The table below shows what NVIDIA believes is the total available market in the next 18 months for these various HPC segments:

Processor Seismic Supercomputing Universities Defence Finance
GPU TAM $300M $200M $150M $250M $230M


These figures were calculated by looking at the algorithms used in each segment, the number of Hess-like Tesla installations that can be done, and the current budget for non-GPU based computing in those markets. If NVIDIA met its goals here, the Tesla business could be bigger than the GeForce one. There's just one problem:

As you'll soon see, many of the architectural features of Fermi are targeted specifically for Tesla markets. The same could be said about GT200, albeit to a lesser degree. Yet Tesla accounted for less than 1.3% of NVIDIA's total revenue last quarter.

Given these numbers it looks like NVIDIA is building GPUs for a world that doesn't exist. NVIDIA doesn't agree.

The Evolution of GPU Computing

When matched with the right algorithms and programming efforts, GPU computing can provide some real speedups. Much of Fermi's architecture is designed to improve performance in these HPC and other GPU compute applications.

Ever since G80, NVIDIA has been on this path to bring GPU computing to reality. I rarely get the opportunity to get a non-marketing answer out of NVIDIA, but in talking to Jonah Alben (VP of GPU Engineering) I had an unusually frank discussion.

From the outside, G80 looks to be a GPU architected for compute. Internally, NVIDIA viewed it as an opportunistic way to enable more general purpose computing on its GPUs. The transition to a unified shader architecture gave NVIDIA the chance to, relatively easily, turn G80 into more than just a GPU. NVIDIA viewed GPU computing as a future strength for the company, so G80 led a dual life. Awesome graphics chip by day, the foundation for CUDA by night.

Remember that G80 was hashed out back in 2002 - 2003. NVIDIA had some ideas of where it wanted to take GPU computing, but it wasn't until G80 hit that customers started providing feedback that ultimately shaped the way GT200 and Fermi turned out.

One key example was support for double precision floating point. The feature wasn't added until GT200 and even then, it was only added based on computing customer feedback from G80. Fermi kicks double precision performance up another notch as it now executes FP64 ops at half of its FP32 rate (more on this later).

While G80 and GT200 were still primarily graphics chips, NVIDIA views Fermi as a processor that makes compute just as serious as graphics. NVIDIA believes it's on a different course, at least for the short term, than AMD. And you'll see this in many of the architectural features of Fermi.

Index Architecting Fermi: More Than 2x GT200
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  • rennya - Thursday, October 1, 2009 - link

    I have already countered your suggestion that ATI 5870 is just a paper launch, somewhere in this same discussion.

    Plus, if nVidia really has working silicon as you showed in the fudzilla link, where then I can buy it? Even at the IDF, Intel shows working silicon for Larrabee (although older version), but not even the die-hard Intel fanboys will claim that Larrabee will be available soon.
  • SiliconDoc - Thursday, October 1, 2009 - link

    Gee, we have several phrases. Hard launch, and paper launch. Would you prefer something in between like soft launch ?
    Last time nvidia had a paper launch, that what everyone called it and noone had a problem, even if cards trickled out.
    So now, we need changed definitions and new wordings, for the raging little lying red roosters.
    I won't be agreeing with you, nor have you done anything but lie, and attack, and act like a 3 year old.
    It's paper launch, cards were not in the channels on the day they claimed they were available. 99 out of 100 people were left bone dry, hanging.
    Early today the 5850 was listed, but not avaialable.
    Now, since you people and this very site taught me your standards and the definition and how to use it, we're sticking to it when it's a god for saken red rooster card, wether you like it or not.
  • rennya - Friday, October 2, 2009 - link

    You defined hard launch as having cards on retail shelf.

    That's what happened here in the first couple of days at the place I lived in. So, according to your standard, 5870 is a hard launch, not paper launch or soft launch. I can easily get one if I want to (but my casing is just crappy TECOM mid-tower, the card will not fit).

    As far as I am concerned, 5870 has a successful hard launch. You tried to tell people otherwise, that's why I called you a liar.

    Where to know where I live? Open up the Lynnfield review at http://www.anandtech.com/cpuchipsets/showdoc.aspx?...">http://www.anandtech.com/cpuchipsets/showdoc.aspx?... then look at the first picture in the first page. It shows you the country where I am posting this post from. The same info can also be seen in AMD Athlon X4 620 review at http://www.anandtech.com/cpuchipsets/showdoc.aspx?...">http://www.anandtech.com/cpuchipsets/showdoc.aspx?... . The markup from MRSP can be ridiculous sometimes, but availability is not a problem.
  • Zingam - Thursday, October 1, 2009 - link

    This CPU is for what? Oh, Tesla - the things that cost 2000 :) And the consumers won't really get anything more by what ATI offers currently!

    Seems like it is time for ATI to do a paper launch.
    Just to inform the fanboys: ATI has already finalized the specs for generation 900 and 1000. The current is just 800.

    So on paper, dudes, ATI has even more than what they are displaying now!

    BTW who said: DX11 won't matter?? :)
  • cactusdog - Thursday, October 1, 2009 - link

    Its unbelievable that Nvidia wont have a DX11 chip in 2009. Massive fail.
  • strikeback03 - Thursday, October 1, 2009 - link

    Not if there are no worthwhile DX11 games in 2009.
  • yacoub - Wednesday, September 30, 2009 - link

    "Perhaps Fermi will be different and it'll scale down to $199 and $299 price points with little effort? It seems doubtful, but we'll find out next year."

    Yeah okay, side with their marketing folks. God forbid they actually release reasonably-priced versions of Fermi that people will actually care to buy.
  • SiliconDoc - Thursday, October 1, 2009 - link

    Derek did an article not long ago on the costs of a modern videocard, and broke it down part and piece by cost, each.
    Was well done and appeared accurate, and the "margin" for the big two was quite small. Tiny really.
    So people have to realize fancy new tech costs money, and they aren't getting raked over the coals. its just plain expensive to have a shot to the moon, or to have the latest greatest gpu's.
    Back in '96 when I sold a brand new computer I doubled my investment, and those days are long gone, unles you sell to schools or the government, then the upside can be even higher.
  • yacoub - Thursday, October 1, 2009 - link

    And yet all of that is irrelevant if the product cannot be delivered at a price point where most of the potential customers will buy it. You're forgetting that R&D costs are not just "whatever they will be" but are based off what the market will support via purchasing the end result. It all starts withe the consumer. You can argue all you want that Joe Gamer should buy a $400 GPU but he's only capable of buying a $300 GPU and only willing to buy a $250 GPU, then you're not going to get a sale until you cross the $300 threshold with amazing marketing and performance or the $250 threshold with solid marketing and performance. Companies go bust because they overspend on R&D and never recoup the cost because they can't price the product properly for it to sell the quantities needed to pay back the initial investment, let alone turn a significant profit.
    Arguing that gamers should just magically spend more is silly and shows a lack of understanding of economics.
  • SiliconDoc - Thursday, October 1, 2009 - link

    Well I didn't argue that gamers should magically spend more.
    Deerek's article, if you had checked, outlined a card barely over $100.00
    But, you instead of thinking, or even comprehending, made a giant leap of false assuming. So let me comment on your statements, and we'll see where we agree.
    1. Ok, the irreverance(yes that word) here is that TESLA commands a high price, and certainly has been stated to be the profit margin center (GT200) for NVIDIA- so...whatever...
    - Your basic points are purely obvious common sense, one doesn't even need state them - BUT - since Nvidia has a profit driver where ATI does not, if you're a joe rouge, admitting that shouldn't be the crushing blow it apparently is.
    2. Since Nvidia has been making the MONEY, the PROFIT, and reinvesting, I think they have a handle on what to spend, not you, and their sales are much higher up to recoup costs, not sales, to you, your type.
    Stating the very simpleton points of even having a lemonade stand work out doesn't impress me, nor should you have wasted your time doing it.
    Now, let's recap my point: " So people have to realize fancy new tech costs money, and they aren't getting raked over the coals."
    That's a direct quote.

    I also will reobject your own stupidty : " You're forgetting that R&D costs are not just "whatever they will be" but are based off what the market will support via purchasing the end result."

    Another jerkoff that is SOOOOOOOO stupid, finds it possible that someone would even argue that gamers should just spend more money on a card, and - after pointing out that's ridiculous, feels he has made a good point, and claims, an understanding of economics.
    If you don't see the hilarity in that, I'm not sure you're alive.
    Where do we get these brilliant analysts who state the obvious a high schooler has had under their belt for quite some time ?
    I will say this much - YOU specifically (it seems), have encountered in the help forums, the arrogant know it all blowhards, who upon say, encountering a person with a P4 HT at 3.0GHZ, and a pci-e 1.0 x16 slot, scream in horror as the fella asks about placing a 4890 in it. The first thing out of their pieholes is UPGRADE THE CPU, the board, the ram, then get a card....
    If that is the kind of thing you really meant to discuss, I'd have to say I'm likely much further down that bash road than you.
    You might be the schmuck that shrieks "cpu limitation!, and recommends the full monty reaplcements"
    Let's hope you're not after that simpleton quack you had at me.

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