For the first time in years, NVIDIA is locked in a very real battle for graphics supremacy on the PC desktop. Up until a year ago, NVIDIA’s stiffest competition was itself, not only were they first to market with DirectX 7 hardware (with the original GeForce GPU), they also beat their competitors to market with DX8 hardware.
Then, in August 2002 ATI shocked the world with its RADEON 9700. Not only had ATI beat NVIDIA to DirectX 9 technology, they’d built a world-class part with breakneck performance thanks in part to its eight pixel pipeline architecture and 256-bit memory interface. NVIDIA’s DX9 part, GeForce FX 5800, was late to market due to several product delays. By the time it was released, over six months had passed since RADEON 9700’s launch; ultimately it was not released in significant quantities.
Since then, NVIDIA has introduced a top-to-bottom family of DirectX 9 products, ranging from the GeForce FX 5200 in the value segment, all the way up to the GeForce FX 5900 Ultra for hardcore enthusiasts. We’ve found that ATI and NVIDIA hardware compete very closely at the high-end, with each architecture winning their fair share of benchmarks. But more recent preliminary tests with DirectX 9 titles such as Half-Life 2 suggest that ATI has a significant lead over NVIDIA.
We were recently given the opportunity to conduct a phone interview with David Kirk, Chief Scientist at NVIDIA. In this position, Dr. Kirk has played a key role in developing the technologies that ultimately went into NVIDIA’s RIVA and GeForce line of video cards. There have been lots of questions surrounding the GeForce FX architecture that we wanted to ask about, more recently, NVIDIA has also shifted its focus from Cg, it’s high-level programming language for graphics, to Microsoft’s equivalent, HLSL.
FiringSquad: Could you give us more details on your recent decision to emphasize HLSL over Cg?
Kirk: You’re already seeing the ramifications of it as we begin to work more closely with Microsoft and optimize more and more for working with HLSL but let me give you a little history. Go back, say around two to three years when we started working on the FX architecture, we began to realize that complex programmable pipelines were going to require a high level language, and at that time there was no HLSL and we were working with other people in the industry including Microsoft to try and promote a programming language but we were not able to get any interest. So we started our own effort to develop Cg because we knew it would be required, whether or not anyone else thought it was important or not.
As we started out with Cg it was a great boost to getting programmers used to working with programmable GPUs. Now Microsoft has made a major commitment and in the long term we don’t really want to be in the programming language business and that’s not where our expertise is but its something we had to do, there was no other choice available. I think now that we have the opportunity to work collaboratively with Microsoft on HLSL for DirectX that’s a much more efficient way for us to work than to do it on our own. Now that doesn’t mean that we’re going to abandon Cg, there are other platforms that Microsoft does not support: OpenGL and non-Windows platforms, and also the professional workstation and content creation markets. There are a number of tools that have integrated Cg and we’ll continue to support those people and their markets.