ATI and Nvidia face off--obliquely

Nvidia and Advanced Micro Devices' ATI division are taking different approaches to graphics processing in the next generations of their products. Both strategies have strengths and weaknesses, and I think it's too soon to pick the eventual winner in this long-running fight.

Before I get into my analysis, I should say that Nvidia paid me to write a white paper on the implications of its new GPU architecture (code-named Fermi) for high-performance computing applications. The white paper was released as part of the Fermi launch event at Nvidia's GPU Technology Conference last week.

Nvidia also paid for white papers from two other well-known microprocessor analysts, Nathan Brookwood of Insight64 and my friend and former colleague Tom Halfhill of Microprocessor Report. UC Berkeley professor David Patterson wrote a fourth white paper, and Nvidia wrote one of its own. All of these works take a different approach to the subject; all are worth reading if you need to understand what Fermi is all about.

In short, I think the Fermi architecture has been more thoroughly white-papered than any graphics chip design in history. All five of these documents are available on the Fermi home page on Nvidia's Web site, and just in case that page is moved or changed, you're welcome to take advantage of my own mirror of my white paper.

I've spent much of the last several days reading these documents plus David Kanter's excellent article on Fermi over on his Real World Technologies site. David managed to get some details on Fermi that Nvidia didn't give to the rest of us.

I've also had time to go through the coverage of ATI's recent launch of the RV870, which is what Nvidia's Fermi-based chips will be competing against. The first of Nvidia's chips bears the internal code name of GF100, and it's huge. Here's a life-size photo:… Read more