Nvidia's Gift For Gaming System Builders


Intel and AMD will ship beefed-up overclocking consoles with the high-performance desktop platforms the two main x86 central processor makers are set to release in the coming weeks. Intel's overclocking tool comes with its DX38BT motherboard, the first board for CPUs built under the chip giant's 45nm process. AMD's will accompany its upcoming Spider platform, the first to feature its new quad-core Phenom processors and also the first that was designed from the ground up with the company's ATI division. Both tools let overclockers tweak CPU usage, perhaps the most direct path to enhancing system performance.

Meanwhile, Nvidia and its ESA collaborators are approaching the problem from an entirely different direction.

The ESA initiative establishes an information-sharing protocol between PC power supplies, chassis and water-cooling systems that can be used to adjust operating parameters for those components, giving builders and users of high-performance PC systems a new way to fine-tune primary system support components. The Santa Clara, Calif.-based graphics processor maker will in the next 30 days release its first motherboards built around ESA specs, said Drew Henry, general manager of Nvidia's MCP Group.

"If you care about performance, than you want to use these communication tools to maximize performance. Today, the PC chassis, power supply and cooling devices are all isolated from each other. Standardization brings together the monitoring of all these peripherals and how they work together," Henry said in a Friday briefing with ChannelWeb to announce Nvidia's first line of ESA-certified boards.

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Component manufacturers participating in the ESA initiative will build various digital and analog sensors into their products. Those sensors gather temperature, thermal, voltage and air flow data, then communicate it in real time under the ESA information protocol to a software platform that can both analyze the data and let users adjust the interplay of components to maximize system efficiency.

Vendors on board with ESA include Nvidia, PC OEMs Dell and HP, gaming specialists Alienware, Falcon Northwest and Maingear, motherboard providers Asus, EVGA, Gigabyte, MSI and XFX, and cooling device, power supply and chassis makers CoolerMaster, CoolIT Systems, PC Power and Cooling, SilverStone, Tagan, Thermaltake, and Ultra. Certification of products under the ESA standards will be done by IT testing organization Allion.

The first ESA products will only enable manual control of component performance, but Henry said future systems will have automated controls for quickly and flexibly maximizing device efficiency.

"We see these things getting 'smart'," Henry said, adding that he believed the ESA standards would eventually work their way into mainstream PCs and, theoretically, any computing device.

"ESA is a standard that anybody can adopt. Because it's targeted more at performance-oriented customers, it will show up more at that segment of the marketplace at the outset," he said.

"As far as this first rollout of ESA-certified products goes, over the next 30 days you're going to see components built around ESA specs and standards. So places like Fry's and NewEgg are going to have them. The system builders and do-it-yourselfers are going to be the first [to build ESA systems] and the bigger OEMs will come later."