Earlier this year, graphics specialist NVIDIA (NASDAQ:NVDA) unveiled its latest graphics processor architecture known as Volta. The company didn't just unveil the basic architecture, which will be used across a wide range of products, but it even began shipping a highly complex data center processor based on the Volta architecture, known as the Tesla V100.
"We shipped a lot of Voltas, and Volta is fully ramped," NVIDIA CEO Jensen Huang said on the conference call accompanying the company's second fiscal quarter results.
Although NVIDIA is currently shipping Volta-based products to its data center customers, its current gaming graphics processor lineup -- from its low-end GeForce GTX 1050 all the way up to its powerful GeForce GTX 1080 Ti -- is powered by its Pascal architecture.
The Pascal architecture first hit the gaming market in May of 2016 with the launch of the GeForce GTX 1080 and 1070. Since then, NVIDIA has launched both higher-end parts (GeForce GTX 1080 Ti, Titan X, Titan Xp) based on the architecture, as well as lower end ones (GeForce GTX 1050, GeForce GTX 1060), covering the entire range of price points and performance levels.
There were rumors circulating a while back that NVIDIA planned to transition its gaming graphics lineup to the Volta architecture later this year.
Volta, according to the company, represents a substantial architectural improvement over its Pascal architecture, which ultimately means better performance and power efficiency.
That said, based on on Huang's commentary on the most recent earnings call, it's not looking likely that Volta will grace the company's gaming processor lineup this year.
Probably next year
As far as the Volta architecture for gaming applications goes, Huang said that the company hasn't made any announcements.
"And all I can say is that our pipeline is filled with some exciting new toys for the gamers, and we have some really exciting new technology to offer them in the pipeline," Huang explained.
In his next sentence, though, Huang seemed to dash hopes for Volta-based gaming products this year.
"For the holiday season, for the foreseeable future, I think Pascal is unbeatable," Huang said. "It's just the best thing out there."
When to expect Volta-based gaming products
Given that NVIDIA is already shipping the Volta architecture in the form of the highly complex Tesla V100, and given that the gaming-oriented parts should be significantly less complex, I don't think we're too far off from seeing the Volta architecture hit the gaming market.
NVIDIA's current Pascal gaming parts use either GDDR5 or GDDR5X graphics memory (the lower-end parts use the former and the higher-end parts use the latter). I suspect that NVIDIA aims to equip its Volta-based gaming processors with GDDR6 memory, which is expected to be available in early 2018.
Therefore, I think that it's reasonable to expect NVIDIA to begin rolling out its Volta-architecture gaming parts in early 2018, with products across pricing and performance tiers rolling out over the course of the year.
What does this mean for NVIDIA's business?
To be perfectly blunt, NVIDIA's Pascal architecture is still driving substantial revenue growth for the company in gaming. In the company's most recent quarter, its gaming business surged 52% year over year . Not all of this is due to Pascal-based gaming graphics cards (NVIDIA's Switch console chip sales fall under its "gaming" line item), but a substantial amount of it is.
Indeed, NVIDIA says that its entire Tegra processor business generated $333 million in revenue this quarter, up from $166 million in the prior year.
To estimate how much growth Switch console chip sales contributed to growth, I subtract NVIDIA's automotive revenue (which should be comprised substantially of Tegra processor sales) from its overall Tegra processor business.
That number comes out to around $191 million (this probably overstates Switch chip revenue, but it's a reasonable upper bound). Subtracting $191 million from NVIDIA's gaming revenue and looking at the year-over-year growth in gaming excluding that number, I still get 27.4% year-over-year growth.
The Pascal product cycle in gaming still seems to have legs, so NVIDIA can wait a little longer to release its Volta-based gaming products.