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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  • - Friday, October 2, 2009 - link

    You are all talking too much about technologies. Who cares about this? DX11 from ATI is already available in Japan and they are selling like sex dolls. And why didnt NVDIA provided any benchmarks? Perhaps the drivers aren ready or Nvidia doesnt even know at what clockspeed this monster can run without exhausting your pcs power supply. Fermi is not here yet, it is a concept but not a product. ATI will cash in and Nvidia can only look. And when the Fermi-Monster will finally arrive, ATI will enroll with 5890 and X2 in the luxury class and some other products in the 100 Dollar class. Nvidia will always be a few months late and ATI will get the business. It is that easy. Who wants all this Cuda stuff? Some number crunching in the science field, ok. But if it were for physix an add-on board would do. But in reality there was never any run for physix. Why should this boom come now? I think Nvdia bet on the wrong card and they will suffer heavily for this wrong decision. They had better bought VIA or its CPU-division instead of Physix. Physix is no standard architecture and never will. In contrast, ATI is doing just what gamers want and this is were the money is. Were are the Gaming-benchmarks for FERMI? Nvidia is over!
  • - Friday, October 2, 2009 - link

    With all this Cuda and Physix stuff Nvidia will have 20-30% more power consumption at any pricepoint and up to 50% higher production costs because of their much bigger die size. ATI will lower the price whenever necessary in order to beat Nvidia in the market place! And when will Nvida arrive? Yesterday we didnt see even a paperlaunch! It was the announcement of a paperlaunch maybe in late december but the cards wont be available until late q12010 I guess. They are so much out of the business but most people do not realise this.
  • Ahmed0 - Friday, October 2, 2009 - link

    I know for sure SD is from Illinois (his online profiles which are related to his rants [which in turn are related to each other] point to it).

    So, Im going to go out on a limb here and suggest that SiliconDoc was/is this guy:


    A little googling might (or might not) support the fact that he is a loony. Just type "site:forums.sohc4.net silicondoc" and youll find he has quite a reputation there (different site but seems to be the same profile, "handwriting" and same bike)

    And that MIGHT lead us to the fact that he MIGHT actually be (currently) 45 and not a young raging teenage nerd called Brian.

    Of course... this is just some fun guesswork I did (its all just oh so entertaining).
  • Ahmed0 - Friday, October 2, 2009 - link

    Well... either that or all users called SiliconDoc are arsholes.
  • k1ckass - Friday, October 2, 2009 - link

    I guess silicondoc would eat **** if nvidia says that it tastes good, LOL.

    btw, fermi cards shown appears to be fake...

    and btw, I use an nvidia gtx, propable would get an hd5870 next week because of all this crap nvidia throws at its consumers.
  • Pastuch - Friday, October 2, 2009 - link

    Below is an email I got from Anand. Thanks so much for this wonderful site.

    Thank you for your email. SiliconDoc has been banned and we're accelerating the rollout of our new comments rating/reporting system as a result of him and a few other bad apples lately.


  • tamalero - Saturday, October 3, 2009 - link

    about time, was getting boring with the constant "bubba, red roosters, morons..etc.."
  • sigmatau - Friday, October 2, 2009 - link

    SiliconDoc getting banned.... PRICELESS.
  • PorscheRacer - Friday, October 2, 2009 - link

    So it's safe now to post again? Much thanks has to go to Anand to cleaning up the virus that has infected these comments. I mean, it's new tech. Aren't we free to postulate about what we think is going on, discuss our thoughts and feelings without fear of some person trolling us down till we can't breathe? It feels better in here now, so thanks again.
  • Mr Perfect - Saturday, October 3, 2009 - link

    It looks like it safe... After about 37 pages.

    Good job though, it's actually been worse in Anandtech comments then it usually is on Daily Tech! Now that's saying something...

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