Consequences for NVIDIA
As we all know, NVIDIA loves to stick by the 6 month product cycle. Typically they release a chip, then 6 months later a faster version of the chip, and another 6 months later a completely new chip. The internal codenames for the chips are predictable like clockwork. NV10, NV15, NV20, NV25, etc. The cards themselves are the GeForce 256, GeForce2/Ultra, or GeForce3/Ti and GeForce4.
In the codename scheme, any of the ones with numbers at the end divisible by 10 imply a completely new chip, or at least a great departure from the original design. They offer new features and dramatically improved performance. The codenames ending in 5 are tweaked versions of the original, with faster memory and a faster core. The chip might have a few changes in silicon to improve clock speed (NV10 -> NV15) but nothing like the introduction of pixel shaders (NV15 -> NV20).
So, what does this have to do with anything?
Let’s think about it for a second. If NV30 (GeForce FX) arrives in numbers at the end of January or beginning of February, NVIDIA has basically missed a whole product cycle. It will have given ATI not just two months, but almost half a year to establish itself – that’s bad enough.
What’s worse is that NV30 will have missed its window of opportunity. Doubtless, the engineers at NVIDIA have been hard at work at NV35 for a long time and it would be ready for production in Q1 03. Unfortunately for NVIDIA, the manufacturing delays at TSMC have put NV30 into the same quarter. When GeForce FX hits stores, it will be comparable to the Radeon 9700 Pro, more or less. NV35 (GeForce FX ‘Ultra’, or ‘Titanium’, or whatever NVIDIA’s marketing decides to dub it) would have been the card with a significant speed advantage.
It’s perfectly possible for NVIDIA to release GeForce FX for merely two or three months and then follow it up with NV35. That will be a financial hit as far as they’re concerned, since they wouldn’t be able to extract maximum value out of the GeForce FX. Indeed, unless it offers a significant performance or feature advantage over the Radeon 9700 Pro, they won’t even be able to price it at a premium since ATI will surely drop the price of their cards. ATI has already been getting its money’s worth from the 9700 cards and by then the probably would have already implemented price cuts to pave the way for R350.