Nvidia's past drives reports about Apple

Has Nvidia been booted from Apple? A report is gaining prominence quickly because the graphics chip supplier is still dogged by past problems.

Brooke Crothers Former CNET contributor
Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.
Brooke Crothers
2 min read

A report claiming that Nvidia has been ousted from Apple laptop designs has gained prominence quickly because the graphics chip supplier is still dogged by past problems.

"The word is that Nvidia is out of Apple designs," according to a June 26 report from technology Web site SemiAccurate. The report has been cited widely with varying degrees of credence given to it.

"When I say out, I mean on the Nehalem-based Macs," Charlie Demerjian, the author of the report, said in a phone interview Monday, referring to future laptops from Apple that will be based on Intel's new Nehalem Core i series of chips.

Nvidia, not surprisingly, doesn't see it that way. "These rumors are baseless," an Nvidia spokesman said Monday. Apple had no comment.

Nvidia graphics processors are currently used widely in Apple MacBooks. And Apple has been touting a new technology in its upcoming Mac OS X Snow Leopard operating system called OpenCL, which takes "the power of graphics processors" and makes it available to Snow Leopard for everyday computing tasks.

However, lurking below this push to tap into the compute power of the graphics processor lie past issues with Nvidia chips. A May 29 Apple knowledge-base article (Article: TS2377) couches frustration with Nvidia in diplomatic language, according to Demerjian. The article updates a similar notice Apple published in October of last year.

"Nvidia assured Apple that Mac computers with these graphics processors were not affected," according to the Apple May 29 statement. "However, after an Apple-led investigation, Apple has determined that some MacBook Pro computers with the Nvidia GeForce 8600M GT graphics processor may be affected."

"The 8600M referred to in the Apple support page...had a particular material set," Nvidia said Monday, repeating a statement it has made several times in the past. "That particular combination of material set is no longer being used by Nvidia."

In a May 20 disclosure as part of a Form 10-Q filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Nvidia said that some notebooks still have problems associated with its graphics chips.

And past statements from not only Apple but the world's largest PC makers lend weight to the tenor of SemiAccurate's assertions about Nvidia's chip problems, if not necessarily to the accuracy of the report's claims about Nvidia's future at Apple. Hewlett-Packard said last year that it had been grappling with Nvidia chip issues since November 2007. And Dell made a similar statement last year.

Writing about the SemiAccurate report, Broadpoint AmTech analyst Doug Freedman said Monday: "If the reports are indeed true...Although negative at the margins, this shortfall could be offset by new product ramps." Freedman cited upcoming products--that will offset any negative impact--such as Nvidia's Tegra chip for smartphones and its Ion chipsets for laptops and Netbooks.