Steve Jobs’ Macworld Expo keynote address earlier this week confirmed what many in the Mac industry suspected — Apple and graphics chip maker
have been working together to bring the company’s first Mac-compatible graphics chip to the Mac market. Nvidia is using this opportunity to let the Mac community get to know them a bit better, and MacCentral met with a company exec to talk about the company’s new position in the Mac market.
Nvidia executive Vice President of Marketing Dan Vivoli said there’s a great synergy between Apple and his company.
“I think one of the things that gets us excited about this is that the Mac culture is very similar to ours — our visions are aligned,” said Vivoli.
Vivoli spoke enthusiastically about Nvidia employees’ dedication to their company and passion for the technology, showing off the green-and-black Nvidia tattoo he had branded on his leg after the company stock hit 100.
Although Nvidia will leave it to Apple to make announcements about future products that use Nvidia’s graphics technology, Vivoli said the company is committed to Macintosh support.
“Every new chip design from Nvidia can be a Mac-compatible product,” said Vivoli. “Apple fits into our strategy perfectly.”
Those efforts have already borne fruit — the GeForce2 Go chip is Nvidia’s first laptop-compatible graphics chip, and it uses the same core architecture as the GeForce2 MX chips that power most of Apple’s new Power Mac G4s. Apple is sticking with ATI’s Rage 128 Mobility chipset for the new PowerBook G4, but GeForce2 Go could potentially be used in a future PowerBook design, if Apple so willed it.
The card available to new Power Mac G4 buyers is similar to previous OEM cards available from Apple — the GeForce2 MX-based card features a backplane with VGA and ADC connectors, providing compatibility with both third-party monitors and the displays currently sold by Apple.
One thing is clear — Nvidia is the dominant force in PC graphics chip development today. The company surpassed ATI’s overall share in desktop GPU sales for the first time in the third quarter of 2000, with 48 percent of the market share compared with ATI’s 33 percent.
“It’s pretty much a two-horse race right now,” said Vivoli. “We’re aiming for a larger share of the market, too — we’d like to have 60 or 70 percent.”
One recent event that may help to solidify Nvidia’s market dominance is the company’s recent acquisition of assets and technology held by 3dfx Interactive, the graphics card maker responsible for the Mac-compatible Voodoo4 and Voodoo5 cards. Vivoli touched briefly on Nvidia’s impetus for making the decision to acquire 3dfx’s assets.
“3dfx had a lot of talented engineers on staff. Finding ASIC engineers and hardware architects is one of the hardest things for us to do,” said Vivoli.
About 120 former 3dfx Interactive employees accepted job offers with Nvidia — the majority of them were engineering staff. Vivoli indicates that most of those new employees are now coming up to speed with Nvidia technology.
Nvidia still hasn’t announced details of what it plans to do with 3dfx’s well-known Voodoo brand. At the time of the acquisition, however, 3dfx was working on several generations of new technology, including some radically new hardware based on work originally done by Gigapixel Corp. 3dfx executives had touted the Giga3D technology as suitable for both high-performance graphics and low-cost, low-power systems, such as PDAs and cell phones.
It’s still unclear about how 3dfx’s technology will be incorporated into Nvidia’s own roadmap. Based on Nvidia’s production schedule, Vivoli said that the computer world is probably a year or more away from seeing any announcements of Nvidia product that would incorporate technology acquired for 3dfx.
Apple’s incorporation of write combining and 4x AGP helps to bring the performance of its Power Mac G4 into line with high-performance PC-compatible desktop computers. Vivoli is optimistic that these and other changes leave room for future improvements in the Mac’s graphics performance.
“Nvidia and Apple can work together to get the best performance out of the systems. It’s a collaborative effort,” said Vivoli.
Nvidia’s long-term product development plans call for the company to move into markets it hasn’t yet penetrated — embedded systems, PDAs, and other devices that can benefit from Nvidia’s graphics technology.
“Our goal is to light every pixel on the planet,” said Vivoli. “If we do our jobs right, in five years you’ll touch our technology dozens of times a day.”