It’s been a busy week, as we have news on several fronts in the industry. There’s news of Steam's hardware survey, the discovery of several GeForce RTX 3090 models making use of a blower-style cooler disappearing from market, and Nintendo Switch 2 rumors.
We also have some news on Intel being handed a massive $2.18 billion bill for patent infringement, TSMC’s 3nm still on track for risk production this year, and reports of Texas semiconductor fabs still idling.
A new JPR report detailing GPU sales growth and install base growth was posted this week, detailing stats from 4Q20 sales. Jon Peddie Research is one of the few analyst firms that puts together market share and sales metrics for the industry. In its GPU reports, it often includes Intel for IGPs and AMD APUs, so these look at metrics outside of just discrete GPUs. The benefit of this is that, in this particular market, we can use Intel’s sales growth to better understand how many people are buying systems with integrated graphics only.
JPR highlighted that AMD’s shipments increased by 6.4% quarter-over-quarter, and again, that includes APU shipments in the metric and isn’t just for dGPUs. NVIDIA saw a quarterly reduction of 7%. Intel, meanwhile, blew it out of the water and had a 33% increase in GPU shipments on the back of its IGPs. This does not eliminate the fact that a dGPU might be coupled with these, though.
JPR saw the GPU attach rate -- so the number of dGPUs sold installed in a system -- was down 9.2% from the previous quarter. One thing, though: This metric might not see mining card sales, and it also can be over 100%. For this quarter, it was 113%. That happens when a system includes two cards, which is becoming less prevalent. There could be more GPU sales overall, but fewer GPUs per system. With the relative death of multi-GPU, that makes sense. This is not a metric that tells us how many GPUs were sold and is often misrepresented, it’s just how many were attached per computer. As for discrete GPUs, JPR reported a quarterly reduction of 3.9%.
JPR reported a 30.25% quarterly increase in PC market sales total, or nearly 36% year-over-year.
JPR’s report said: “notebook shipments exceeded 230 million units for the first time. In addition, the year-to-year growth was 49%, the greatest one-year growth on record. And that was accomplished with disruptions in the supply chain due to trade wars, pandemic shutdowns, and material shortage. The forecast for 2021 will be more modest, ~ 6%, but still higher than average. Chromebooks made a substantial contribution to growth in 2020, and we expect to see that taper off in 2021 due to school budget limitations unless the [pandemic] relief package in the US comes through and adds new funds.”
A new Steam Hardware Survey has confirmed what a few board partners have told us over the last few months: The GTX 1650 is among the most popular cards right now and maintains extremely high volume. Steam’s Hardware Survey showed an increase in GTX 1650 saturation of 0.24 points, going from 4.95% to 5.19%. The RTX 2060 saw the next most growth, at 0.21 points, roughly matching the 0.23 point reduction in GTX 1060 popularity.
New cards are the most interesting to observe:
The RTX 3080 appears at number 31, the top-ranked RTX card, at 0.77% share and a 0.11-point increase from January to February. The RTX 3060 Ti appears at number 54, taking 0.34% of the share and showing a 0.07 point uplift. At number 66, the RTX 3090 pops-up at 0.3% share, up 0.07 points monthly. The RTX 3070 and 3060 non-Ti do not appear on these charts, and the AMD RX 6800, 6800 XT, and 6900 XT do not appear in the listings either.
For CPU listings, there’s been a 0.52 point increase in share for AMD, up to 28.51% from 27.99%, with Intel dropping inversely. The highest growth has been in slower CPUs that are consistent with laptop sales, and for core count, the most growth has been in 8- and 6-core CPUs. 4-core CPUs declined marginally.
07:21 | GeForce RTX 3090 Cards With Blower Coolers Are Mysteriously Gone
PCWorld and Videocardz posted reports this week showing multiple GeForce RTX 3090 blower-style SKUs getting delisted from their respective vendor website. The FE card has been unavailable via NVIDIA for some time now, and although somewhat anecdotal, we haven’t caught a restock at its primary retail partner (Best Buy) yet either. For the blower style disappearance, some of the vendors include MSI, Asus, Gigabyte, and Galax. There’s a couple of theories at play here as to why this is happening.
First, there’s suspicion that many graphics card vendors are shifting inventory of blower coolers for the upcoming Nvidia CMP HX mining GPUs. Most mainstream and gaming cards use axial style fan solutions, which work well for single-card setups. However, as PCWorld and Puget Systems point out, prosumers using expensive workstations or render rigs sometimes benefit from blower-style coolers (although it depends on how close they are to each other), as they typically facilitate a better cooling configuration for multiple GPUs slotted right on top of one another.
Secondly, there were reports some time back about system integrators using RTX 3090 cards with blower coolers in their server products, something Nvidia presumably wasn’t keen on. The GeForce RTX 3090 isn’t a server grade card, but as a Titan-class successor, it offers compelling enough performance for low-end and home or small business server offerings. Considering the price of Nvidia’s A100 accelerator and limited means to get one, SIs have been able to bridge the gap by leveraging the 3090 in non-gaming build sales.
11:29 | Intel Discontinues Performance Tuning Protection Plan
Intel has decided to discontinue its Performance Tuning Protection Plan (PTPP), which it began offering back in the Sandy Bridge/Ivy Bridge overclocking glory days. The news comes after Intel noted a lack of interest in the optional warranty, as “customers increasingly overclock with confidence.”
Both Intel and AMD have introduced their own boosting technology that already extracted a lot of the extra clock speed out of chips directly out of the box. Motherboard makers have also developed tools for overclocking-focused boards, and have begun to build-in multiple safety measures that have made overclocking a bit more user-friendly than it used to be.
According to Intel’s announcement, the PTPP service was no longer available effective March 1, 2021. Intel will continue to honor and service all existing PTPP plans throughout the respective warranties.
12:45 | User Builds DLL That Cuts GTA Online Load Times
Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto Online’s sluggish load times have been a central complaint for many players. However, a player and programmer has built a proof of concept DLL that cuts down load times by a claimed 70%.
The user, who goes by the name of T0st, began by comparing load times for the offline story mode and the online mode, and analyzing their own computer to look for any bottlenecks. T0st discovered what appeared to be a single core/thread being fully saturated for some 4 minutes by just loading in resources and assets for the game. T0st notes that during the loading sequence, there was virtually no disk, GPU, or network usage -- which led them to suspect sloppy code underpinning the game.
Using profiling, dumping the process stack, and doing some reverse engineering, T0st found two primary issues: The way the game parses JSON data, and the way the game hashes items and loads them into an array. To solve these problems, T0st wrote a custom .dll and injected it into the game, something you can learn more about here, should you want to give it a go.
T0st summed up the findings as such:
There’s a single thread CPU bottleneck while starting up GTA Online
It turns out GTA struggles to parse a 10MB JSON file
The JSON parser itself is poorly built / naive and
After parsing there’s a slow item de-duplication routine
As a general reminder, be careful about downloading random mods off the internet. Make sure you’re getting the right one.
15:23 | Intel Gets $2.18B Bill Following VLSI Patent Infringement Case
A federal jury in Texas has ruled against Intel in a patent infringement lawsuit, ordering Intel to pay VLSI Technology LLC $2.18 billion in damages for infringing on two patents. This marks one of the biggest awards for patent damages in US history, but the case is also mired in controversy, as these cases often are. For its part, Intel plans to appeal the decision.
This case is a bit more suspicious than most, as it pertains to VLSI Technology LLC. To be clear, this isn’t the VLSI Technology company of days past -- that VLSI was bought by Philips back in 1999 and later folded into its NXP Semiconductor spin-off, which itself is part of the NXP-Freescale Semiconductor merger. It gets hard to track the VSLI assets and patents post acquisition, but it seems they’ve bounced around.
“One of the patents was originally issued in 2012 to Freescale Semiconductor Inc. and the other in 2010 to SigmaTel Inc. Freescale bought SigmaTel and was in turn bought by NXP in 2015. The two patents in this case were transferred to VLSI in 2019, according to data compiled by Bloomberg Law,” says Bloomberg.
It appears VLSI Technology LLC was resurrected out of the ashes to pursue patent litigation, which is something Intel and its legal team have seemingly been trying to expose. Intel lawyer William Lee has stated that VLSI has no products or source of revenue outside of patent litigation.
“VLSI took two patents off the shelf that hadn’t been used for 10 years and said, ‘We’d like $2 billion,” according to Lee. The two patents in question deal with controlling clock frequency and operating memory voltage. Throughout the trial, the jury found Intel to be not guilty of “willful” infringement, which would have seen the damages increase substantially. Assuming the case and judgment is upheld, the $2.18B is approaching half of Intel’s Q4’2020 net income, which came in at $5.9B.
18:01 | TSMC: 3nm Still on Track, Hiring Begins for Arizona Expansion
A report by Digitimes states TSMC is still on track to hit its target date of 2H’2021 to enter risk production for its first 3nm process. Early rumors suggest that Apple has already snatched-up most of TSMC’s early 3nm capacity, similar to what it did with TSMC’s first batch of 5nm production. TSMC has had 3nm risk production slated for 2021 on its roadmap for some time now, with a 2022 volume production schedule. Early this year, TSMC reiterated the 2021 risk production date for 3nm silicon.
As a reminder, risk production is where silicon is manufactured on a new process node, but isn’t ready for customers, as production complications and any inherent manufacturing risks are being assessed. Low yields and defects are expected, and it is part of the journey to volume production.
Also in TSMC related news, the foundry is gearing up for a hiring spree for its upcoming Arizona expansion. According to local news sources, TSMC is looking to recruit engineering talent both within and outside of Phoenix, Arizona. TSMC has a website dedicated to engineering opportunities in Phoenix, where TSMC said:
“And we wanted to locate the new fab in an area that delivers a lifestyle that would attract talent from outside of Arizona. Because the Arizona fab will ultimately employ well over 1,000 engineers, we need to go beyond tapping the existing Arizona workforce.”
Semiconductor plants are still offline in Texas following shutdowns in an effort to preserve the integrity of the power grid during an unexpected winter storm.
As it stands, the manufacturing facilities for Samsung, NXP Semiconductors, and Infineon are all idling as the companies take the appropriate measures to resume production and bring tools back online. Reuters is reporting that all of the fabs have the utilities needed -- that is, electricity, water, and gas -- but will require more time to restart the fabs.
Samsung told Reuters that it “may require more time to reach normal levels as we inspect and reconfigure the facility.” Additionally, Edward Latson, CEO of the Austin Regional Manufacturers Association, said that the process of restarting the fabs was one that is “very expensive.”
"For example, if one molecule of water would find its way into the tools, it could completely halt production. A fab uses very particular gasses, liquids and matter that is hard to store and put back after it has been brought out of storage," Moorhead said.
Separately, other industry analysts told the Austin American-Statesman that the loss in production will likely translate to millions of dollars’ worth of losses for Samsung, and certainly NXP and Infineon are also looking at losses due to the disruption in production. It’s also reasonable to expect that both consumers and contract customers will be experiencing some sort of knock-on effect down the line due to the shutdowns and loss of production.
Nintendo hardware rumors tend to be fairly rare until production gets closer, and the company seems more able to control leaks than most. The latest hardware rumors pertain to a potential Switch 2 or “Switch Pro,” as some outlets have taken to calling it. These are yet unsubstantiated, but from what we’ve looked at, seem believable.
The newest report from Bloomberg and picked-up by Cnet indicates a 720p OLED display at 7” as one of the upfits, running larger than the existing 6.2” and 5.5” displays. This could be partly done by reducing the screen bezel without expanding the body as much. The report also highlights the possibility of 4K for TV gaming, although this would require additional work from game developers.
Epic announced that it has purchased Tonic Games Group, the parent company of Mediatonic, which is the studio responsible for the sleeper hit Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout. Epic did not disclose how much it paid in the acquisition.
Epic's purchase of Tonic Games Group also includes Fortitude Games, and the acquisition signals Epic’s continued interest in expanding its horizons. Epic previously purchased the chat app House Party, which has been a popular app for Fortnite players, and before that bought Psyonix, behind Rocket League.
For the time being, Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout will remain on Steam, but Epic has confirmed that it will land in the Epic Games Store in the future. It also seems we’re destined to see a Fall Guys/Fortnite crossover, which is something Epic has done with countless brands and IPs now. Epic CEO Tim Sweeney notes that Tonic Games share’s Epic’s grand vision for a future metaverse, something Epic has been slowly building towards with Fortnite over the years.
Lastly, there’s some more broad technology news, specifically as it relates to the right to repair and net neutrality issues.
Much like it is in the US, the right to repair movement has been gaining ground across the pond in Europe over the last few years. Last year, the European Parliament voted to begin establishing right to repair laws, with specific emphasis on addressing e-waste, planned obsolescence, and products that aren’t sustainable.
Building on that momentum, Europe is now taking things up a notch, with the European Parliament voting to require electronics and appliances sold or manufactured in the European Union to be repairable for 10 years. This means that manufactures will have to commit to maintain part availability for at least 10 years. Additionally, products will be required to come with repair manuals/documents, and will be required to be manufactured using standardized parts and fasteners, so as to not require special tools. That means no glue, adhesives, or special fasteners like Pentalobe screws, the latter of which Apple is particularly fond of.
It seems that initially, the rules will apply to household appliances and larger consumer electronics, such as TVs. However, there’s hope that the rules will eventually extend to smaller electronics, such as smartphones and laptops.