Nvidia will license its GPU technology to compete with ARM and Imagination

by: Bogdan PetrovanJune 19, 2013

Nvidia logo CES [aa] (2)

Nvidia is in a delicate position right now. Its bread and butter, making GPUs for the PC industry, is increasingly skimpy, as customers move en masse to mobile computing and PCs are left to gather dust on store shelves.

Between a rock and a hard place

The Santa Clara company embarked into a transition to the mobile business, yet, so far, its Tegra line of mobile systems-on-a-chip hasn’t made any headway against the giant of the industry, Qualcomm. The new Tegra 4 chip has only made it to one product so far, Nvidia’s own Shield console, while the LTE-integrated Tegra 4i is only expected in 2014.

Meanwhile, Qualcomm scores design win after design win, and with the new and powerful Snapdragon 800 SoC about to hit the market, it doesn’t look to be slowing down anytime soon.

Everything’s for sale

What can Nvidia do, faced with seemingly insurmountable odds? Play its strongest card – its graphics expertise. In a blog post, Nvidia announced that, starting with the Kepler architecture, it would license “GPU cores and visual computing patent portfolio to device manufacturers to serve the needs of a large piece of the market”.

This means that mobile SoC makers, such as Samsung, Qualcomm, or even Apple, will be able to use Nvidia GPUs in their designs, in exchange of a licensing fee.

This new business model will put Nvidia on a collision course with ARM and Imagination Technology. At the moment, most SoCs in the market feature Mali GPUs from ARM or PowerVR GPUs from Imagination. Nvidia uses its own GeForce GPUs for the Tegra SoCs, but moving forward, it’s willing to let other companies use GeForce GPUs in their designs. This means that Samsung, for instance, could pair a quad-core CPU from ARM with a GPU from Nvidia.

Nvidia says that it will start by licensing its latest generation architecture, Kepler, a low-power design suitable for a wide range of applications, from supercomputers to smartphones. According to AnandTech, the IP licensing will extend to future architectures as well. Moreover, Nvidia is also interested in licensing its LTE technology, which is based on the acquisition of the modem maker Icera. In other words, everything is for sale.

Why now?

So, why has Nvidia decided now to go down the path of licensing? One reason would be the difficulties it faces with Tegra. The Santa Clara company faces the prospect of not being able to get the Tegra line off the ground. Selling its intellectual property would bring a solid business model and a lot of potential revenue.

[quote qtext=”But more importantly, more devices will have the potential to take advantage of our investments. That means more of the planet’s users will be able to enjoy our advanced graphics technologies. ” qperson=”Nvidia blog” qsource=”” qposition=”left”]

But there’s more – by turning into an ARM or Imagination competitor, Nvidia can bring its technology to more devices, of all types. PCs may be dying, but the mobile industry is still booming, while wearable and other low-powered devices shape up as the next big thing. In a few years, we could see a Samsung flagship or even an iPhone containing a GPU designed by Nvidia, which is not something Nvidia can hope for right now with its Tegra SoCs. As for future classes of devices, the sky is the limit.

At the end of the day, the move to license its technology should give Nvidia a solid and flexible business model, that would allow it to continue working on the Tegra line without worrying about achieving immediate success.

  • milksop held

    Personally I think the best Soc would be a Qualcomm CPU and Powervr GPU

    • Clarence Alvarado

      Great combination, but still, Adreno is not that too inferior compared to those three.

  • K.

    With this Nvidia loses the only “advantage” they have against other Arm Socs which have the same cpu. Nvidia should probably have creating several different socs for entry, mid and high-end. This is what other manufacturers do and what Intel has done with desktops, laptops and even servers.

    • Agreed, but they are not in the position to hold that advantage.

      • K.

        Sadly, you are right. I was hoping for competition in the Arm market. It seems more and more that there is only Qualcomm out there. Even Samsung is struggling to supply their own phones. Maybe the real competition will come from Intel. An Intel Soc with a Nvidia GPU?

        • I believe Intel already licenses Nvidia technology for its PC processors, so that’s a possibility.

  • Rayan

    One more thing added to my list of the “DREAM PHONE”

  • enste

    I’m pretty sure the first one that license tegra GPU will be chinese-based company, like huawei, or mediatek.

  • Adam Eldin

    This is honestly a very smart card for them to have played