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Nvidia Rumored To Be Readying X86 Chip Release 307

Posted by timothy
from the probably-not-for-wristwatch-computers dept.
jdb2 writes with the (honestly labeled) rumor from the Inquirer "that Nvidia is preparing to release an x86 microprocessor with its guns targeted directly at its two major rivals — Intel and AMD/ATI," and excerpts from the just-linked Inquirer article: "THE HOT RUMOR going around IDF ... [is] that the company will do an x86 part. The background whispers say that the part will be announced next week at Nvision ... Nvidia's men in white coats certainly have the brainpower to do it, but they also most certainly don't have a license to sell such a part. NV is basically locked out unless Intel and AMD both decide to be magnanimous, and we would not recommend holding your breath waiting for this to happen ... That leaves the lawsuit option open ... Any attempt to enter the market without a license would bring down Intel legal on them like flying monkeys blackening the sky. It would get ugly. Really ugly. Expensive too.""
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Nvidia Rumored To Be Readying X86 Chip Release

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  • by Shakrai (717556) on Wednesday August 20, 2008 @03:38PM (#24679537) Journal

    I was going to tell you to RTFA but TFA is almost as useless as the summary. Apparently Intel and AMD have a "lock" on the technology. What part of the technology they have a "lock" on is left unsaid... the instruction set? The manufacturing processes? TFA doesn't bother to say.

  • Re:Ya sure (Score:3, Informative)

    by treeves (963993) on Wednesday August 20, 2008 @03:39PM (#24679579) Homepage Journal
    Well, if it was wrong last week [slashdot.org], it's probably still wrong.
  • by arkhan_jg (618674) on Wednesday August 20, 2008 @03:44PM (#24679647)

    Socket and interface patents. Intel have patents on various bits of the interface between the CPU and the motherboard, which is one of the reasons why AMD use a different one for their CPUs.

    Assuming nVidia is going to make a pin-compatible processor with one of the motherboard sockets already out there, they'll need a licence from intel or AMD. That's assuming they don't produce a small low power chip wedded to a particular board, like say the intel atom or the via nano, aiming for the new netbook market or the mini pc segment.

    As I understand it, they already had to cough up a SLI licence to intel in order to get a licence from intel to make nehalem compatible motherboard chipsets, which means we'll finally see realistic motherboards with sli and crossfire.

  • Re:Odd (Score:5, Informative)

    by Richard_at_work (517087) <richardprice@@@gmail...com> on Wednesday August 20, 2008 @03:46PM (#24679693)
    Nvidia also denied that rumour vigorously, going so far as to demand a retraction of the story (from the news site, not Slashdot...). As typical, everyone seems to have caught the rumour and completely missed the denial.
  • Re:Odd (Score:5, Informative)

    by Tim C (15259) on Wednesday August 20, 2008 @03:47PM (#24679703)

    Yes you did, and if you'd kept reading you'd have seen that story debunked - it's Via that's getting out of the chipset business, not Nvidia.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 20, 2008 @03:47PM (#24679709)

    AMD won a lawsuit vs Intel granting them license to use x86 technology back in 1992 (see AMD vs Intel on wikipedia). This was a different lawsuit than the one currently underway between those companies. If memory serves, AMD also has license to use many of IBM's processor patents (including SOI technology). I don't believe Intel and IBM ever reached a cross-licensing agreement, meaning AMD likely has more access to processor patents than Intel or IBM.

    I don't believe AMD can sub-license that technology - the lawsuit covers their own products only. Intel would probably have to license nVidia to use x86, unless nVidia has found some creative way around all of this. There are always loopholes.

  • by Rinisari (521266) on Wednesday August 20, 2008 @03:47PM (#24679715) Homepage Journal

    Check out the legal histories of AMD v. Intel and VIA/Cyrix v. Intel. These essentially show that there are agreements and settlements all over the place, but few-to-no actual court decisions.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/VIA_Technologies#Legal_issues [wikipedia.org]

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyrix#Legal_troubles [wikipedia.org]

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AMD#Litigation_with_Intel [wikipedia.org]

    It essentially seems that NVIDIA would need to have a patent on something which Intel has produced in order to induce some kind of Mexican standoff, just like the others have.

  • by Richard_at_work (517087) <richardprice@@@gmail...com> on Wednesday August 20, 2008 @03:48PM (#24679735)
    Intel and AMD share patent licenses between each other - Intel gets certain technologies, including EM64T, and AMD gets other technologies. Unless Nvidia can break into the patent deals in the same way, neither AMD nor Intel are under any obligation to give them time of day.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 20, 2008 @03:50PM (#24679761)
  • by Waffle Iron (339739) on Wednesday August 20, 2008 @03:54PM (#24679829)

    In the olden days, chip consumers insisted on a second source. AMD was annointed as Intel's second source so that Intel could sell to such folks (like the US government of yesteryear).

    That's how AMD got the schematics to the original 8086, but that's no longer very relevant. Much more important today is AMD's patent cross license agreements with Intel. (BTW, the cross licensing also helped save Intel's position in the marketplace because it entitled them to use AMD's X86-64 design verbatim after the Itanium fiasco.)

  • Re:What about VIA? (Score:5, Informative)

    by SlipperHat (1185737) on Wednesday August 20, 2008 @03:55PM (#24679849)
    From Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=VIA_Technologies&oldid=228622133 [wikipedia.org]

    On the basis of the IDT Centaur acquisition,[1] VIA appears to have come into possession of at least three patents, which cover key aspects of processor technology used by Intel. On the basis of the negotiating leverage these patents offered, in 2003 VIA arrived at an agreement with Intel that allowed for a ten year patent cross license, enabling VIA to continue to design and manufacture x86 compatible CPUs. VIA was also granted a three year grace period in which it could continue to use Intel socket infrastructure.

    So the answer to your question is: Yes, but only until 2013.

  • by dreamchaser (49529) on Wednesday August 20, 2008 @03:58PM (#24679929) Homepage Journal

    Um no. More like long ago Intel needed a second source for CPU's and contracted AMD, granting a license in the process. AMD didn't start making any superior advances in CPU design for quite some time after that.

    Now...get off my lawn.

  • Re:What about VIA? (Score:3, Informative)

    by eclectro (227083) on Wednesday August 20, 2008 @04:07PM (#24680067)

    VIA actually bought Centaur [wikipedia.org] that had patents on x86 manufacturing. But intel sued VIA and VIA reciprocated in what amounted to be a long and protracted litigation. Eventually they settled [via.com.tw] after a judge ordered them to do so (as I suspect that it was too much of a technical mess for most judges to wade through).

    I actually wondered what VIA would be able to do without being able to produce a pin compatible x86 processor. But that would be answered with the very unique mini-itx line of boards which is different than what AMD did by using their own socket design.

  • Old news... (Score:5, Informative)

    by ruinevil (852677) on Wednesday August 20, 2008 @04:14PM (#24680193)
    NVidia has an x86 processor. http://www.nvidia.com/page/uli_m6117c.html [nvidia.com]
  • by MoFoQ (584566) on Wednesday August 20, 2008 @04:17PM (#24680259)

    actually, it was IBM who required two sources (per their own company policy)

    later, legal disputes settled the question

  • by Austerity Empowers (669817) on Wednesday August 20, 2008 @04:18PM (#24680285)

    Even if you clean room design the technology, if Intel or AMD have a patent on some necessary, fundamental aspect of the technology and you duplicate it while recreating the technology, you are still required to license it.

    Keep in mind that here, lame patents are legal and enforceable.

  • by TubeSteak (669689) on Wednesday August 20, 2008 @04:22PM (#24680359) Journal

    I was going to tell you to RTFA but TFA is almost as useless as the summary. Apparently Intel and AMD have a "lock" on the technology. What part of the technology they have a "lock" on is left unsaid... the instruction set? The manufacturing processes? TFA doesn't bother to say.

    Intel and AMD have a lock on all the instruction sets that makes modern processors "modern".
    SSE, MMX, 3DNOW!, AMD64, Intel 64, etc are all cross licensed between the two companies.
    If they don't want to share, there isn't much anyone else can do.

  • by morgan_greywolf (835522) * on Wednesday August 20, 2008 @04:30PM (#24680525) Homepage Journal

    I don't see why nVidia would have it any different or wouldn't be able to do the same.

    Because they don't hold cross-licensing agreements with nVidia. Basically IBM wanted a second source for Intel's chips, and Intel annointed AMD. Eventually, AMD started clean-room reverse engineering some more advanced stuff, came up with some of their own designs, and started competing with Intel head-to-head (around the time of the 486). There were big legal battles in the late 80s/early 90s. Another company called Cyrix was also in the mix, but they are no more, having been aquired by IBM for their chip fab some years ago.

    But, to make a long story short, Intel's Itanium failed big time and the cross-licensing deal with AMD allowed them to use AMD's X86-64 architecture for their newer 64-bit CPUs.

    So, Intel and AMD are at a legal truce -- and newcomers may find themselves being sued by both.

  • Cyrix did it. (Score:5, Informative)

    by Inominate (412637) on Wednesday August 20, 2008 @04:46PM (#24680867)

    Cyrix originally didn't license anything. They reverse engineered 386/486 designs. Intel sued them over it and mostly lost. The settlement allowed Cyrix to continue producing the designs, provided they were made in Intel licensed factories. Later, Cyrix nailed Intel infringing on some of their patents, and it was settled by allowing each to use the others patents.

    If Nvidia tries to produce their own CPU, I would guess they'd be sued, but it would probably end in a pro-nvidia settlement. I suspect Nvidia holds some patents they can dangle over Intel's head.

    Anyways, all of the speculation is meaningless, if Nvidia is actually doing this they've got the legal parts taken care of.

  • by vertinox (846076) on Wednesday August 20, 2008 @04:52PM (#24680961)

    How is it that AMD is able to release x86 chips, but nVidia can't without a license from Intel? Why would nVidia need AMD to be gracious?

    According to wikipedia nVidia does have license from its purchase of what was left over of 3dfx. Remember them?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 20, 2008 @05:14PM (#24681415)

    Just checked Transmeta site and found this:

    SANTA CLARA, CA - August 6, 2008 - Transmeta Corporation (NASDAQ: TMTA) today announced that it has entered into an agreement with NVIDIA Corporation granting NVIDIA a non-exclusive license to Transmeta's Long Run and LongRun2 technologies and other intellectual property for use in connection with NVIDIA products.

    The agreement grants to NVIDIA a non-exclusive and fully paid-up license to all of Transmeta's patents and patent applications, and a non-exclusive license and transfer of certain Transmeta advanced power management and other computing technologies.

    Under the agreement, NVIDIA agrees to pay Transmeta a one-time, non-refundable license fee of $25.0 million. The agreement also includes mutual general releases of all claims by both parties.

    Link: http://investor.transmeta.com/releasedetail.cfm?ReleaseID=326749

  • Re:Odd (Score:4, Informative)

    by nurb432 (527695) on Wednesday August 20, 2008 @05:46PM (#24681967) Homepage Journal

    Perhaps its the 3rd party chip-set business they don't want to be in.

  • by bhtooefr (649901) <bhtooefr.bhtooefr@org> on Wednesday August 20, 2008 @06:13PM (#24682329) Homepage Journal

    Via's current chips are descendants of the IDT WinChip. Basically, a design similar to the original Pentium, IIRC.

    From memory, and I may be missing some, here's all of the unlicensed x86 compatibles and their descendants:

    NEC V20/V30 (these may be licensed, I forget whether NEC was a second source for Intel, as well)
    Cyrix 486DLC/486SLC/486/5x86/MediaGX (now sold as the AMD Geode GX1)/6x86/M2 - this line was going to evolve into the VIA Cyrix III, but the 3rd-generation Centaur design, which was supposed to be the low power/budget chip, was also much faster
    IDT WinChip/WinChip 2/VIA C3/VIA C7 - there's a modern descendant to this line that I forgot the name of, but can FINALLY do out of order execution
    NexGen Nx586 - the successor to this was almost the Nx686, but AMD bought NexGen, repackaged it, and called it the K6
    IBM Blue Lightning 486 - yes, IBM did their own 486 design, while also manufacturing Cyrix 486s
    Rise mP6/SiS550

    The VIA chips are proof that licensing isn't necessary - they support 3DNow, MMX, and various forms of SSE...

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 20, 2008 @06:34PM (#24682565)

    Both Intel and AMD offer integrated graphics now. I would assume they may license NVIDIA patents as well. I'm sure something could be used as leverage from NVIDIA. I doubt they would embark on something as expensive as manufacturing a new processor without asking their lawyers about possible legal ramifications.

    It might actually be good. NVIDIA has more experience at programming multiple cores. I'm going to go start brushing up on my GPGPU assembly now...

  • by rtechie (244489) * on Wednesday August 20, 2008 @06:55PM (#24682823)

    Stexar was working on an ultra-low-power embedded x86 microprocessor that would replace stuff like MIPS in storage servers, set-top appliances, etc. Basically the cheapest thing possible that can still run a Linux kernel. This was a bad idea, as all the other CPU vendors are working hard on the same thing.

  • by mikael (484) on Wednesday August 20, 2008 @07:03PM (#24682913)

    Nvidia and ATI already make stream processors - these are RISC type chips with read/write instructions, conditional branching along with floating point calculations. Even Intel chips have built in compilers which convert old 8086 instructions into the internal instruction set used by their superscalar processors. It looks like all the companies are evolving to multi-thread/multi-core general purpose processors with cores chained together to form vector processors. Neither Nvidia or ATI can really ignore Intel's Larrabee - in the end we will probably end up with PC's with both Larrabee processors and 3D graphics cards.

    Each company might be able to copyright their instruction sets, patent a particular optimisation technique, and require NDA's to be signed for their development kit, but the only way forward will be cross-licensing. A good example is the history of 3Dfx vs Nvidia lawsuit - the litigation basically bankrupted 3Dfx.

  • by Michael Hunt (585391) on Wednesday August 20, 2008 @07:28PM (#24683161) Homepage

    You can't patent an instruction set, because an instruction set is an interface, not an implementation. You certainly can't copyright one for largely the same reason. There've been court rulings on this but i'm too lazy to look it up.

    Of course, that's not saying that the 2 or 3 most efficient ways of implementing SSE3 etc aren't patented to the hilt, that might be the case. But the situation is nowhere near as dire as people are making out.

  • by TubeSteak (669689) on Wednesday August 20, 2008 @08:56PM (#24683963) Journal

    AFAIK, the VIA Nano supports all of those four instruction sets (Intel 64 and AMD64 are basically the same ISA). None of them are specific to Intel or AMD anymore.

    They aren't specific to AMD or Intel anymore because both of those companies have licensed them out.

    In 2003, VIA got a hold of some patents and forced Intel into a 10 year cross-licensing agreement. As a side issue, VIA got a 3 year extension to their use of Intel's socket 370. It expired in 2006 and you may recall that VIA had to stop shipping C3 systems.

    We'll see what happens to VIA in 2013 when their existing cross-licensing agreement expires.

  • by Daengbo (523424) <daengbo@nospaM.gmail.com> on Wednesday August 20, 2008 @09:46PM (#24684349) Homepage Journal
    Cyrix [wikipedia.org] was acquired by National Semiconductor and later was sold off to Via to become their C3 line.
  • by ishobo (160209) on Thursday August 21, 2008 @12:54AM (#24685641)

    here's all of the unlicensed x86 compatibles and their descendants

    All your examples were licensed.

    Cyrix got around the license by having its chips manufactured by companies that held cross licensing agreements. Intel and Cyrix were in a patent dispute for years. It ended with a settlement; Intel agreed Cyrix had a right to sell x86 compatible CPUs. Cyrix then sued Intel for patent infringement and the case was settled with a cross license agreement.

    Centaur (WinChip) was a fabless subsidiary of IDT (which has a cross license agreement with Intel) and the chips were manufactured by IDT.

    NEC has a cross license agreement with Intel.

    IBM has a cross license agreement with Intel.

    NexGen was fabless, having its chips produced by IBM. Like Cyrix, they depended on the licensed manufacturer.

  • by LostMyBeaver (1226054) on Thursday August 21, 2008 @03:29AM (#24686499)
    I'm not entirely sure if I remember the details correctly, but I'll try to go on memory since researching it should be left to someone else.

    Intel licensed the 8086 processor (and 80286 if I recall correctly) to AMD per demand of IBM. Speculatively, I believe that Intel has always considered having a second x86 CPU source as a good thing. It keeps the monopoly monkeys off their backs.

    When 386 came around, AMD stayed pretty quiet. But, as you would see from NEC who produced x86 processors with 286 functions (like pusha and popa) Intel started closing up their market. x86 already had established such a strong foothold that Intel became territorial and actually did attempt to monopolize the market by not granting 80386 licenses to anyone else.

    AMD responded with the 386dx-40, which for the most part was the start of the megahertz war. Cyrix (spelling), Evergreen and a few others quickly jumped on board and all started releasing 386 clones at an incredible rate.

    So far as I know, at this point, NECs response was the v40 which sold primarily in the embedded and Japanese markets.

    The 486 generation was a terrible era for system builders. The 486 was still using a very simplistic front side bus and didn't make use of clock multipliers. Motherboards were stills shipping with socketed crystals so that you would modify the system speed by putting in a different crystal. Since there were now so many chipsets to choose from (there must have been 15 or more brands competing) and the chipset manufacturers weren't producing stable reference implementations, motherboards came in only two quality grades... bad and worse.

    Now came the absolute worst part. VESA local bus. VESA local bus was pretty much the same thing as ISA in that it connected a periperal board directly to the processor's I/O and memory busses without any logic inbetween. This was a response to the extremely overpriced and overcomplicated EISA bus and the fact that ISA was only 16Mhz x 16-bits. Since the "standard" only allowed for 33Mhz busses, most board manufacters made boards that ran at 33Mhz... maybe 33.1 but certainly not 40 or 50Mhz. So since nearly all chips coming from places other than Intel used the faster bus rates, system stability was getting to be worse than shit.

    This era nearly destroyed the x86 world since the concept of name brand motherboards and video cards was only for rich people. Micronics and DFI (the only players at the time) charged $350 for their motherboards while everyone else was asking about $100-$120. I can assure you, having worked in a computer store at the time, the quality difference was worth every penny. But back then, $200 was considered a lot of money for a hobbiest to lay out. The price difference for reliable name brand memory (only Kingston existed back then) was more than double that.

    Intel began sueing everyone over the x86 license. In fact, I even liked the idea since nearly half the machines I was shipping out with 40Mhz busses were coming back over and over again with serious failures. The store I worked for tried a niche market which was "reliable clones" where we tried real hard to only use parts that were quality. After losing our asses over it since noone wanted to pay $2000 for a machine when the other stores only charged $900, we dumped that business... and it didn't matter, the 40Mhz FSB motherboard were still coming back broken all the time.

    Intels choice to button up the market was ideal since in a way it was non only protecting its own assets and IP, but also trying to take the crappy clone chip makers off the market. And most of them did fall off the market. Many consolidated, many disolved. But in the end it left us with Cyrix and AMD. I think I remember Cyrix being purchased by VIA or someone else.

    What's important about this consolidation is that even though Intel squashed a ton of companies, the companies that remained were the companies who had managed to gain a good enough reputation duing the x86 war to make enough money to not only su

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