When the term "discrete graphics" comes to mind, many immediately think of Nvidia and ATI. The two rivals represent the lions share in the discrete graphics market. However, the pond may need to make room for another big fish.
Intel, a company known more for its CPU's and motherboards, is now making a push into the discrete graphics market. According to The Inquirer, Sony has commissioned the California-based chip maker to build the graphics muscle in its next gaming console. While the PlayStation 4 may be several years off, and is (probably) powered by a Cell processor refresh, Sony is certainly shaking things up.
Anyone who follows hardware already knows the bitter rivalry that exists between Intel and Nvidia. The former believes that a harmony of CPU and GPU, with an emphasis on the CPU, is appropriate for personal computers. Nvidia, whose bread and butter is computer graphics, is pushing a "GPGPU" philosophy. This General Purpose Graphics Processing Unit, in the simplest terms, would be something like current video cards, but used for all computing functions inside of ones PC.
Nvidia has now been blacklisted in the console realm. It broke into the market when Microsoft commissioned them for the original Xbox GPU, and is the company behind the graphics power in the PlayStation 3. With the Xbox 360 and Nintendo Wii powered by ATI, and both Microsoft and Nintendo's next offering rumored to be ATI-powered as well, this newest development with Intel leads one to believe that Nvidia is no longer welcome by the three console makers.
Intel also offers stability by means of its very deep coffers, something Nvidia does not. "The nice Sony engineering lady at CES told us that Intel essentially bought the win," says Charlie Demerjiana of the Inquirer. "...theoretically good architecture, no imminent threats of going bust, and not being hated by Sony all contributed too. With a couple of [variables] satisfied, the PS4 GPU belongs to Intel. No word if this is going to be the entire architecture, CPU as well, or not. That, from what we are told, is not final yet. Perhaps the most important aspect of this deal is Intel showing its GPU know-how. With Larrabee in the back of many enthusiasts minds, a PS4 with Intel graphics that isn't a technological flop can open a window in the PC discrete graphics market for Intel.
Demerjiana also said to expect the Wii2 and Xbox3 (or whatever they end up being named), in or around 2012. If that's true, expect the PS4 at the same time. It may not be that coveted ten year life cycle Sony is shooting for, but in the interest of sales and competition, shaving a few years off wouldn't hurt.
Has Nvidia been given the boot out of the console market? Sure looks like it. However, where one opportunity closes, another begins. If the Microsoft phone rumors are true, Nvidia's Tegra platform may have some serious muscle behind it.