As the inventor of the x86 instruction set – Intel Corp. – remains tight-lipped over Nvidia Corp.’s plans to enter the market of x86 system-on-chip (SoC), Advanced Micro Devices, the world’s second producer of x86 microprocessors, claims that it is virtually impossible to enter the x86 chip market these days.
For a while Nvidia has been claiming that performance and capabilities of central processing units (CPUs) are losing their importance for end-users, whereas the significance of graphics processing units (GPUs) is on the rise. However, Nvidia fully understands that without microprocessors actual devices will not be able to run operating systems and productivity applications and recently the company went on saying that in several years time it may release an SoC featuring x86 processing core.
But there are many obstacles for Nvidia in CPU business: it does not have rights on x86 instruction set and has little, if any, experience in microprocessor design. All in all, AMD, the only third-party x86 microprocessor vendor that survived in competitive fight with Intel, claims that Nvidia does not have many chances in CPU biz.
“I’m a little suspicious of Nvidia’s ability to create an x86 chip from scratch. The intellectual property barriers alone are enormous. It’s not something you switch on like a light switch. And by the way, you have to pay [Intel] for it,” said Dirk Meyer, chief executive officer and president of AMD, in an interview with BusinessWeek web-site.
In order to obtain an x86 license to avoid a legal battle with Intel, the world’s largest chipmaker, Nvidia either have to negotiate with the latter or try to acquire one of the company’s who already have rights to develop and sell x86-compatible chips, face legal action from Intel (since such licenses are not transferable) and then try to persuade the court that it does not infringe Intel’s patents. In addition to x86 license, Nvidia also needs other licenses from both AMD and Intel as well as experience in CPU design, which means that potential CPU development would be a time-consuming and extremely expensive project for Nvidia.
Mr. Meyer claims that Nvidia’s interest in SoCs in general and x86 system-on-chip devices in particular reflects the necessity of putting CPU and GPU cores into the same piece of silicon, a vision that led to the merge between AMD and ATI Technologies back in 2006.
“I’m not surprised by [Nvidia’s interest in x86]. It confirms the idea we had when we bought ATI Technologies a few years ago. I think it's pretty ironic that Jen-Hsun Huang, who's a good friend of mine, was touting the fact that Nvidia was the only independent graphics chip company left as if it were a good thing. In my view it's not a good thing,” said the head of AMD.