The graph below is one of transistor count, not die size. Inevitably, on the same manufacturing process, a significantly higher transistor count translates into a larger die size. But for the purposes of this article, all I need to show you is a representation of transistor count.

See that big circle on the right? That's Fermi. NVIDIA's next-generation architecture.

NVIDIA astonished us with GT200 tipping the scales at 1.4 billion transistors. Fermi is more than twice that at 3 billion. And literally, that's what Fermi is - more than twice a GT200.

At the high level the specs are simple. Fermi has a 384-bit GDDR5 memory interface and 512 cores. That's more than twice the processing power of GT200 but, just like RV870 (Cypress), it's not twice the memory bandwidth.

The architecture goes much further than that, but NVIDIA believes that AMD has shown its cards (literally) and is very confident that Fermi will be faster. The questions are at what price and when.

The price is a valid concern. Fermi is a 40nm GPU just like RV870 but it has a 40% higher transistor count. Both are built at TSMC, so you can expect that Fermi will cost NVIDIA more to make than ATI's Radeon HD 5870.

Then timing is just as valid, because while Fermi currently exists on paper, it's not a product yet. Fermi is late. Clock speeds, configurations and price points have yet to be finalized. NVIDIA just recently got working chips back and it's going to be at least two months before I see the first samples. Widespread availability won't be until at least Q1 2010.

I asked two people at NVIDIA why Fermi is late; NVIDIA's VP of Product Marketing, Ujesh Desai and NVIDIA's VP of GPU Engineering, Jonah Alben. Ujesh responded: because designing GPUs this big is "fucking hard".

Jonah elaborated, as I will attempt to do here today.

A Different Sort of Launch


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  • samspqr - Thursday, October 1, 2009 - link

    ATI's availability will be sorted out soon, NVIDIA's weird design choices that are targeted at anything but graphics won't

    in fact, I have just realized: NVIDIA IS DOING A MATROX!
    (forget about graphics, concentrate in a proffessional niche, subsequently get run over by competitors in its former main market... eventually dissappear from the graphics market or become irrelevant? with some luck, RayTracing will be here sooner rather than later, ATI will switch to GPUcomputing at the right time -as opposed to very much too soon-, and we will have a 3 players market; until then, ATI domination all over)
  • andrihb - Thursday, October 1, 2009 - link

    What a huge leap of the imagination :P Reply
  • samspqr - Friday, October 2, 2009 - link

    sorry, I was just trying to imagine how many weird things would have to happen so that we don't have a single GPU maker in the market

    in any case, if you want some imaginative thinking, try here:">
    (I'm not sure yet who is the one making stuff up -charlie or nvidia-, but so far my bet would be on nvidia)
  • mindless1 - Saturday, October 3, 2009 - link

    What they may have done is take an existing PCB design for something else, and tacked down the parts and air-wired them. It is a faster way to debug a prototype, as well as just drilling a few holes and putting makeshift screws in to test a cooling design before going to the effort of the rest of the support parts before you know if the cooling subsystem is adequate.

    IF that is the situation, I feel nVidia should have held off until they were further along with the prototypes, but when all is said and done if they can produce performance in line with the expectations, that would prove they had a working card.
  • IGoodwin - Friday, October 2, 2009 - link

    First off, I don't know the truth about a fake or real Tesla being in existence; however, when an article shows a strong emotional bias, I do find it hard to accept the conclusions.

    Here is a link to the current Tesla product for sale online:">

    This clearly shows the existing Tesla card with screws on the end plate. Also, if memory serves, having partial venting on a single slot for the new Tesla card would equal the cooling available on the ATI card. Also, six-pin connector is in roughly the same place.

    As for the PCB, it is hidden on the older Tesla screen shots, so nothing can be derived.

    The card may be fake, or not, but Charlie is not exactly unbiased either.
  • jonGhast - Saturday, October 3, 2009 - link

    "but Charlie is not exactly unbiased either."

    What's the deal with that, I keep trying to read Semi's articles, though his 'tude towards MS and Intel is pretty juvenile, but I've got to ask; did somebody at Nvidia gang rape his mom?
  • mindless1 - Saturday, October 3, 2009 - link

    I simply assume he is either directly or indirectly on ATI's payroll.

    Fudzilla wrote "The real engineering sample card is full of dangling wires." To display such a card to others they could simply epoxy down some connectors and solder the wires to them.
  • monomer - Friday, October 2, 2009 - link

    Here's an article from Fudo saying that the card was a mock-up. Nvidia claimed it was real at the conference, and are now saying its a fake, but that they really, truly, had a real one running the demos. Really! I completely believe them.">
  • Yojimbo - Thursday, October 1, 2009 - link

    What makes you think it isn't the right time? You can only really tell in hindsight, but you give in your post any reason that you think now is not the right time and later, when amd is gonna do it, is the right time. I think the right time is whenever the architecture is available and the interest is there. Nvidia has, over the past 5 years, been steadily building the architecture for it. Whether the tools are all in place yet and whether the interest is really there remains to be seen.
    It has nothing to do with matrox or any shift to a "professional niche." Nvidia believes that it has the ability to evolve and leverage its products from the niche sector of 3d graphics into a broader and more ubiquitous computing engine.
  • wumpus - Thursday, October 1, 2009 - link

    Do you see any sign of commercial software support? Anybody Nvidia can point to and say "they are porting $important_app to openCL"? I haven't heard a mention. That pretty much puts Nvidia's GPU computing schemes solely in the realm of academia (where you can use grad students a cheap highly-skilled labor). If they could sell something like a FEA package for pro-engineer or solidworks, the things would fly off the shelves (at least I know companies who would buy them, but it might be more a location bias). If you have to code it yourself, that leaves either academia (which mostly just needs to look at hardware costs) and existing supercomputer users. The existing commercial users have both hardware and software (otherwise they would be "potential users"), and are unlikely to want to rewrite the software unless it is really, really, cheaper. Try to imagine all the salaries involved in running the big, big, jobs Nvidia is going after and tell me that the hardware is a good place to save money (at the cost of changing *everything*).

    I'd say Nvidia is not only killing the graphics (with all sorts of extra transistors that are in the way and are only for double point), but they aren't giving anyone (outside academia) any reason to use openCL. Maybe they have enough customers who want systems much bigger than $400k, but they will need enough of them to justify designing a >400mm chip (plus the academics, who are buying these because they don't have a lot of money).

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