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Nvidia launches new chip sets in broadside at Intel

Nvidia is launching a chip set for low-end computers in a shot at Intel. In a familiar battle, Nvidia argues that low-end computers will function much better if users spend more on graphics and less on Intel processors.

In low-end computers and laptops, there is no stand-alone graphics chip. Rather, graphics is integrated into the chip set, a two-chip solution that is mounted directly on a computer’s main board, or motherboard. To date, the so-called motherboard graphics of Intel’s chip sets have been weak. Jeff Fisher, senior vice president at Nvidia, notes that 14 of the top 30 PC games won’t even run on a machine with Intel’s latest integrated graphics technology.

Santa Clara, Calif.-based Nvidia is launching a GeForce 9 Series motherboard GPU (graphics processing unit) that it says is five times faster than Intel’s fastest G45 integrated graphics chip set. Nvidia says that computers using the new chip set, dubbed the GeForce 9400, can run all of the top 30 PC games at acceptable speeds. These machines can also run with the coolest lighting features, such as the colors that make up a vibrant sunset, fully operational.

The new chip sets will be able to run high-definition video, including Blu-ray discs (as long as the machines also incorporate Blu-ray drives). It can also run certain programs such as Adobe’s high-end Photoshop better because of support for Nvidia’s CUDA programming language, which is built into the chip set. The chip set also supports other technologies previously built only into high-end graphics chips, such as physics support and support for hybrid SLI (using more than one graphics chip in a computer).

The company is starting to make a case that visual computing is becoming so ubiquitous across a range of non-game applications that spending more on a graphics processor than a CPU makes sense. But it remains to be seen if Nvidia can break Intel’s bundles, where it sells chip sets and CPUs together.

As examples, Nvidia showed side-by-side comparisons of systems running on Intel integrated graphics and Nvidia’s new chip set. The Intel machines just didn’t look good — or couldn’t even run — games such as “Spore,” “Portal,” or “The Sims 2.” The argument: parents may buy a computer for work or their kids’ homework, but most people will still want to play the occasional game on a computer.

Among those buying the argument: Apple, which is including Nvidia chip sets in its new line of laptops. But it remains to be seen if Nvidia can pull out of a slump. The company laid off 360 employees recently and Advanced Micro Devices launched a more competitive product than Nvidia did in the latest generation of hardcore graphics products.

Jon Peddie, an analyst at Jon Peddie Research, said that the rumors of Nvidia’s chip set business dying can now be put to rest. Nvidia has steadfastly denied the rumor. It should also help all of the bad news about Nvidia’s flawed chips, since Apple wouldn’t likely use the new ones if there were still flaws.


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