Back in March 2015, NVIDIA (NASDAQ:NVDA) released a new flagship graphics processor called GM200. It also released a new graphics card based on a fully enabled version of this chip, marketed as the Titan X.
At the time of its launch, the Titan X became the undisputed single-GPU performance champion. The Titan X's reign as the unequivocal single-GPU champion lasted a mere three months before it was effectively matched by NVIDIA's lower-end GTX 980 Ti, based on a cut-down version of the GM200 chip.
In third party reviews, the Titan X was still faster than a run-of-the-mill GTX 980 Ti by a couple of percentage points, though the latter cost just a fraction of what the former did ($650 versus $999). The value proposition of the Titan X was greatly diminished following the launch of the 980 Ti.
What's even worse for the Titan X, though, is that NVIDIA apparently didn't allow third party graphics board vendors to build customized cards around the full GM200 chip. Custom cards from vendors such as ASUSTek, MSI, and Gigabyte tend to feature higher quality PCBs and more robust cooling solutions, which allows the graphics chip to run at higher speeds than factory rating.
The market is now filled with GTX 980 Ti cards that run at such high speeds out of the box that they're actually quite a bit faster -- and cheaper -- than the Titan X!
NVIDIA should have let board partners go wild with the full GM200
I believe that if NVIDIA had allowed its board partners to "go wild" in trying to build compelling custom solutions for the full GM200 chip, we would have seen cards that would still -- even in light of the flood of excellent GTX 980 Ti-based boards on the market -- been compelling to those willing to spend top dollar to buy the absolute best.
This might have helped to boost NVIDIA's average selling prices in its gaming GPU business (albeit probably not by a whole lot given the relatively small volumes that $999 graphics chips will sell at).
That being said, it's worth emphasizing that NVIDIA's gaming graphics chip business has continued to perform spectacularly in terms of both revenue and market segment share, so this is more a minor quibble rather than a significant "issue" with the company's product strategy.
Might we see board partners get their hands on fully enabled GM200 chips later on?
NVIDIA is expected to roll out a new generation of graphics processors, code-named Pascal, beginning at some point in 2016.
It is not clear when next year gamers should expect to see these graphics processors, but if I had to guess, I'd say that Pascal will launch in the second half of 2016.
Since Pascal is likely to be such a huge jump in performance over either the GTX 980 Ti or the Titan X as a result of a migration to a new manufacturing process as well as the use of a new, much higher bandwidth memory known as High Bandwidth Memory 2, or HBM2, my guess is that the board vendors wouldn't bother with custom Titan X designs at this stage of the game.
Maybe next time, though?
I hope that with NVIDIA's Pascal architecture, we will see the full-fat versions of those graphics chips from third party board vendors, even if they come at a significant premium to "cut down" versions. As NVIDIA has witnessed firsthand as its gaming GPU sales have continued to surge, gamers are often willing to pay extra for more performance and features.