Nvidia, Intel Reach SLI Pact, but Still Clash Over Nehalem

Nvidia on Monday licensed an important technology for its graphics cards to work with Intel's latest Nehalem processors, but friction between the vendors over the processor microarchitecture will continue to linger, an analyst said.

Nvidia said it had licensed its SLI technology to Intel, which could allow its graphics cards to work with platforms based on Intel's latest Nehalem-based chips. Intel-based platforms using the Core i7 and Core i5 processors will now support SLI technology, which allows multiple graphics cards to work simultaneously to scale video and gaming performance.

The technology is a step forward for Nvidia and Intel as they combine technologies to further "the PC as the definitive platform for gaming," Nvidia and Intel said in a joint release.

It was in the best interest of both companies to get the technologies to work together on SLI, said Dean McCarron, principal analyst at Mercury Research. Intel-based systems will get richer graphics, and Nvidia will sell more graphics cards.

The agreement does not impact other areas of engagement between Nvidia and Intel, spokesmen from Intel and Nvidia said in separate statements. The companies are engaged in a cross-licensing dispute about Nvidia's right to make chipsets that are compatible with Intel processors that have integrated memory controllers, like the Nehalem-based Core i7.

McCarron said Intel and Nvidia may have reached peace on SLI, but the friction between the companies will remain as Intel tries to gain control of its future chip technology. Intel has already moved the memory controller inside the processor, and later this year plans to integrate graphics in a two-chip package it plans to start shipping later this year.

"With the transition to the Nehalem ... processors, you are repartitioning systems," McCarron said. A lot of the graphics processing will move inside the CPU, which could affect Nvidia's graphics and chipset business.

Intel in February went to court to resolve a licensing dispute with Nvidia over the latter's plan to build chipsets compatible with Nehalem. Nvidia currently makes chipsets -- a set of integrated circuits -- for Intel and Advanced Micro Devices CPUs, to help processors communicate with components like network and storage controllers.

The spat relates to usage of a front-side bus, or point-to-point interconnect, that helps the CPU communicate with PC components. Intel asked the judge to rule that Nvidia is not licensed to produce chipsets that are compatible with Intel processors with integrated memory-controller functionality.

However, Nvidia said the bus license allowed it to build chipsets based on Intel CPUs with integrated memory controllers. At the time, Nvidia CEO Jen-Hsun Huang said that Intel was trying to save its CPU business as the bulk of computer processing moves to graphics processing units. Nvidia said it would continue developing new products for Intel's current interconnect and Intel's future DMI (direct media interface) bus.

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