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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  • 457R4LDR34DKN07 - Thursday, October 1, 2009 - link

    A few points I have about this chip. First it is massive which leads me to believe it is going to be hot and use a lot of power (depending on frequencies). Second it is a one size fits all processor and not specifically a graphics processor. Third is it is going to be difficult to make with decent yields IE expensive and will be hard to scale performance up. I do believe It will be fast due to cache but redesigning cache will be hard for this monolith.
  • silverblue - Thursday, October 1, 2009 - link

    It should take the performance crown back from ATI but I'm worried that it's going to be difficult to scale it down for lesser cards (which is where nVidia will make more of its money anyway).

    When it's out and we can compare its performance as well as price with the 58x0 series, I'll be happier. Choice is never a bad thing. I also don't want nVidia to be too badly hurt by Larrabee so it's in their best interests to get this thing out soon.
  • AnnonymousCoward - Thursday, October 1, 2009 - link

    The Atom is for mobile applications, and Intel is still designing faster desktop chips. The "Atom" of graphics is called "integrated", and it has been around forever. There's no reason to believe that PC games of 2010 won't require faster graphics.

    The fact that nvidia wants to GROW doesn't mean their bread-and-butter business is going away. Every company wants to grow.

    If Fermi's die size is significantly increased by adding stuff that doesn't benefit 3D games, that's a problem, and they should consider 2 different designs for Tesla and gaming. Intel has Xeon chips separate, don't they?

    If digital displays overcome their 60Hz limitation, there will be more incentive for cards to render more than 60fps.

    Lastly, Anand, you have a reoccurring grammar problem of separating two complete sentences with a comma. This is hard to read and annoying. Please either use a semicolon or start a new sentence. Two examples are, Page 8, sentences that begin with "Display resolutions" and "The architecture". Aside from that, excellent article as usual.
  • Ananke - Thursday, October 1, 2009 - link

    Actually, NVidia is great company, as well as AMD is. However, NVidia cards recently tend to be more expensive compared to their counterparts, so WHY somebody would pay more for the same result?

    If and when they bring that Fermi to the market, and if that thing is $200 per card delivered to me, I may consider buying. Most people here don't care if NVidia is capable of building supercomputers. They care if they can buy descent gaming card for less than $200. Very simple economics.
  • SiliconDoc - Thursday, October 1, 2009 - link

    I'm not sure, other than there's another red raver ready on repeat, but if all that you and your "overwhelming number" of fps freaks care about is fps dollar bang, you still don't have your information correct.
    Does ATI have a gaming presets panel, filled with a hundred popular games all configurable with one click of the mouse to get there?
    Somehow, when Derek quickly put up the very, very disappointing new ati CCC shell, it was immediately complained about from all corners, and the worst part was lesser functionality in the same amount of clicks. A drop down mess, instead of a side spread nice bookmarks panel.
    So really, even if you're only all about fps, at basically perhaps a few frames more at 2560x with 4xaa and 16aa on only a few specific games, less equal or below at lower rez, WHY would you settle for that CCC nightmare, or some other mushed up thing like ramming into atitool and manually clicking and typing in everything to get a gaming profile, or endless jacking with rivatuner ?
    Not only that, but then you've got zero PhysX (certainly part of 3d gaming), no ambient occlusion, less GAME support with TWIMTBP dominating the field, and no UNIFIED 190.26 driver, but a speckling hack of various ati versions in order to get the right one to work with your particular ati card ?
    I mean it's nice to make a big fat dream line that everything is equal, but that really is not the case at all. It's not even close.
    I find ragin red roosters come back with "I don't run CCC !" To which of course one must ask "Why not ? Why can't you run your "equal card" panel, why is it - because it sucks ?
    Well it most definitely DOES compared to the NVidia implementation.
    Something usually costs more because, well, we all know why.
  • Divide Overflow - Thursday, October 1, 2009 - link

    Agreed. I'm a bit worried that this monster will cost an arm and a leg and won't scale well into consumer price points.
  • Kingslayer - Thursday, October 1, 2009 - link

    Silicon duck is the greatest fanboy I've ever seen, maybe less annomynity would quiet his rhetoric.

  • tamalero - Thursday, October 1, 2009 - link

    well that answers everything, when someone has to spam the "catholic", must be a bibblethumper who only spreads a single thing and doesnt believe nor accept any other information, even with confirmed facts.
  • SiliconDoc - Thursday, October 1, 2009 - link

    What makes you think I'm "catholic" ?
    And that's interesting you've thrown out another nutball cleche', anyway.
    How is it that you've determined that a "catholic" doesn't accept "any other 'even confirmed' facts" ? ( I rather doubt you know what Confirmation is, so you don't get a pun point, and that certainly doesn't prove I'm anything but knowledgeable. )
    Or even a "Bible thumper" ?
    Have you ever met a bible thumper?
    Be nice to meet one some day, guess you've been sinnin' yer little lying butt off - you must attract them ! Not sure what proives either, other than it is just as confirmed a fact as you've ever shared.
    I suppose that puts 95% of the world's population in your idiot bucket, since that's low giving 5% to athiests, probably not that many.
    So in your world, you, the athiest, and your less than 5%, are those who know the facts ? LOL
    About what ? LOL
    Now aren't you REALLY talking about, yourself, and all your little lying red ragers here ?
    Let's count the PROOFS you and yours have failed, I'll be generous
    1. Paper launch definition
    2. Not really NVIDIA launch day
    3. 5870 is NOT 10.5" but 11.1" IN FACT, and longer than 285 and 295
    4. GT300 is already cooked and cards are being tested just not by your red rooster master, he's low down on the 2 month plus totem pole
    5. GT300 cores have a good yield
    6. ati cores did/do not have a good yield on 5870
    7. Nvidia is and has been very profitable
    8. ati amd have been losing lots of money, BILLIONS on billions sold BAD BAD losses
    9. ati cores as a general rule and NEARLY ALWAYS have hotter running cores as released, because of their tiny chip that causes greater heat density with the same, and more and even less power useage, this is a physical law of science and cannot be changed by red fan wishes.
    10. NVIDIA has a higher market share 28% than ati who is 3rd and at only 18% or so. Intel actually leads at 50%, but ati is LAST.
    Shall we go on, close minded, ati card thumping red rooster ?
    I mean it's just SPECTACULAR that you can be such a hypocrit.

  • tamalero - Friday, October 2, 2009 - link

    a.-Since when the yields of the 5870 are lower than the GT300?
    they use the same tech and since the 5870 is less complex and smaller core, it will obviusly have HIGHER YIELDS. (also where are your sources, I want facts not your imaginary friend who tells you stuff)
    2.-Nvidia wasnt profiteable last year when they got caught shipping defective chipsets and forced by ATI to lower the prices of the GT200 series.
    3.- only Nvidia said "everyhing is OK" while demostrating no working silicon, thats not the way to show that the yields are "OK".
    4.- only the AMD division is lossing money, ATI is earning and will for sure earn a lot more now that the 58XX series are selling like hot cakes.
    5.- 50% if you count the INTEGRATED market, wich is not the focus of ATI, ATI and NVidia are mostly focused on discrete graphics.
    intel as 0% of the discrete market.
    and actually Nvidia would be the one to dissapear first, as they dont hae exclusivity for their SLIs and Corei7 corei5 chipsets.
    while ATI can with no problem produce stuff for their AMD mobos.

    and dude, I might be from another country, but at least Im not trying to spit insults every second unlike you, specially when proven wrong with facts.
    please, do the world a favor and get your medicine.

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