All good things come to those who wait. For graphics powerhouse NVIDIA (Nasdaq: NVDA ) , that good thing is the launch of its latest graphics processing units, based on its new Kepler architecture. The release has been awaited for five long years.
The company just announced the launch, adding that it's spent roughly 1.8 million man-hours over the past five years, and the newest chips promise big gains in performance and power efficiency. Kepler chips are based on 28-nanometer process technology, following up the 40-nanometer Fermi architecture before it.
With these new GPU chips, NVIDIA is retaking its lead in graphics performance from rival Advanced Micro Devices (NYSE: AMD ) . That's not the only thing it's reclaiming, either. The company is rumored to be winning back its seat at Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL ) roundtable after AMD ousted it in Macs years ago.
However, NVIDIA has been having some 28-nanometer yield issues with its manufacturing partner Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing (NYSE: TSM ) , which might hold back NVIDIA's opportunities with Apple.
Thanks to the jump in efficiency and performance, CEO Jen-Hsun Huang even detailed his ambitions in an email to employees to put the technology in data centers, Ultrabooks, and smartphones. While NVIDIA is hoping to hook up its GPUs with Apple's Macs in the traditional PC market, it directly competes with Cupertino in the smartphone market. Apple even claims that its new A5X chip outperforms NVIDIA's Tegra 3 in graphics performance fourfold, although some of that is fluffy marketing.
This is a big accomplishment for NVIDIA, but its full magnitude is likely lost on the majority of users. It's a big win for hardcore gamers and graphics professionals, but the average consumer who does little beyond casual browsing and emailing won't directly benefit much from Kepler.
Intel (Nasdaq: INTC ) keeps improving performance of its integrated graphics, and I still think that it will eventually pose a credible threat to NVIDIA's bread and butter, though the threat has yet to materialize. GPUs were 64% of sales last year, although that proportion is trending lower, down from 71% the prior year, as its consumer products segment (which includes mobile chips like Tegra) has been growing.
Until then, NVIDIA will enjoy its time in the sun.
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