Chris Edwards: February 2009 Archives

A dispute between Intel and nVidia that has been rumbling on for about a year has now come to a head with the chip giant going to Delaware's Chancery Court to get a contract between the two clarified in its favour.

At the centre of the dispute is Intel's Nehalem processor, which has its own memory controller instead of relying on one provided by a separate Northbridge controller. Graphics chipset maker nVidia has claimed that it should have access to the bus protocol that Nehalem and its relatives use to talk to the rest of the system through a deal signed with Intel in November 2004.

In current processors, all memory accesses go through the front-side bus, passing through the Northbridge. From Nehalem onwards, the memory can sit off to one side, with the front-side bus used purely to communicate with peripherals and accelerators, such as graphics processors (GPUs). Nehalem will use a new protocol – QuickPath – employing a scheme not dissimilar from that use by AMD with its HyperTransport bus, to let the processor talk to the GPU and other peripherals. From Intel's standpoint, it seems this sufficiently changes the definition of front-side bus as to demand a separate contract.

"The suit seeks to have the court declare that nVidia is not licensed to produced chipsets that are compatible with any Intel processor that has integrated memory controller functionality, such as Intel’s Nehalem microprocessors and that nVidia has breached the agreement by falsely claiming that it is licensed," claimed Intel spokesman Chuck Mulloy.

Drew Henry, general manager of nVidia's chipset business, disagrees: "The court filing is Intel attempting to redefine a contract that we signed with them four years ago. It is coming up now because we have had such great success, perhaps more success than Intel ever envisioned."

Henry claimed that Intel’s court filing came as a surprise, filed during the President’s Day holiday in the US. “They informed us very late at night about it,” said Henry.

However, Mulloy said discussions over access to the bus interface to be used by Nehalem-generation processors had already taken place. “Intel has been in discussion with nVidia for more than a year attempting to resolve the matter but unfortunately we were unsuccessful. As a result, Intel is asking the court to resolve this dispute.”