NVIDIA (s nvda), makers of graphics chips for Apple’s (s aapl) range of iMacs and MacBooks, has announced that it is putting its Nforce chipset development on hold until the conclusion of a legal dispute with Intel (s intc), expected to be reached in 2010.
At the core of the matter is the claim by Intel that its four-year deal with NVIDIA does not include the Core and Nehalem series of microprocessors.
Nvidia’s PR Manager, Ken Brown, told Engadget:
…the NVIDIA GeForce 9400M/ION brands have enjoyed significant sales, as well as critical success. Customers including Apple… and others are continuing to incorporate GeForce 9400M and ION products in their current designs. There are many customers that have plans to use ION or GeForce 9400M chipsets for upcoming designs, as well.
This makes sense, given that these chipsets have been in production for a while and customers (such as Apple) have long-term supply contracts NVIDIA is obliged to honor. Indeed, Apple’s upcoming rumored iMac refresh may well see no change in the use of GeForce 9400M chips in its low-end 20 and 24 inch iMacs. Brown continues:
We firmly believe that this market has a long healthy life ahead. But because of Intel’s improper claims to customers and the market that we aren’t licensed to the new DMI bus and its unfair business tactics, it is effectively impossible for us to market chipsets for future CPUs. So, until we resolve this matter in court next year, we’ll postpone further chipset investments for Intel DMI CPUs.
Despite Intel’s actions, we have innovative products that we are excited to introduce to the market in the months ahead. We know these products will bring with them some amazing breakthroughs that will surprise the industry, just as GeForce 9400M and ION have shaken up the industry this year.
In the world of corporate communications, this is about as bitchy as executives can get.
AppleInsider reported on its website yesterday that, “…earlier this year, Intel sued Nvidia in an attempt to stop the company from developing compatible chipsets for future generation Intel processors. Many of NVIDIA’s gains — including the partnership with Apple — have amounted to Intel’s loss.” So perhaps all this legal maneuvering is indicative of Intel’s desire to wrest-back control of that sector of the market (and the associated profits) with its own chipset offerings. Perhaps.
Undoubtedly, there has been trouble for NVIDIA in the last year, though reading between the lines of countless reported rumors proves a bit of a challenge. It was only a year ago that Apple switched to the GeForce 9400M G integrated controller in their MacBooks. Shortly after, iMacs and Mac Minis got the same chip-love with the NVIDIA MCP79. But by mid 2009, rumors circulated that relations between Apple and NVIDIA were deteriorating due to reports of manufacturing defects that affected a number of MacBook Pros.
More recently, there have been rumors thatNVIDIA’sCEO and President Jen-Hsun Huang directly asked partners if there was any reason NVIDIA should stay in the chipset business. As the story goes, no one could offer a reason, and the division is closed. NVIDIA denied it. It’s hard to know what’s really going on, but it’s not hard to see that trouble is brewin’.
Where does this leave Apple once its existing orders of NVIDIA chips are satisfied? A mix of Intel and ATI solutions aren’t beyond imagining. ATI cards are already offered in the high-end iMac and Mac Pro configurations available on the Apple Store. So perhaps Intel chipsets can replace NVIDIA’s on the low end of the scale — I just wonder whether Intel’s chips (and experience in mobile technology) can offer appropriate gains in performance, reliability and power efficiency.