Breakthrough in Intel/Nvidia licensing standoff for i7, i5 CPUs

In a statement this morning that included a blessing from an Intel vice president, GPU maker Nvidia announced it has been licensed by Intel, along with other leading motherboard manufacturers, to produce its GPU-stacking SLI technology for motherboards that include Intel's Lynnfield generation Core i5 and Core i7 CPUs using Nehalem microarchitecture, with Intel's P55 Express chipset.

It's great news for system builders who had been concerned about whether a recent legal standoff between Nvidia and Intel would render it impossible (or at least, unsanctioned) for them to build performance gaming systems with the latest Intel 45 nm CPUs, plus multiple Nvidia GPUs. Simply being blockaded from doing so at the legal level would be perceived as a watershed moment for rival ATI, which wouldn't be good news for Intel either since ATI is now wholly owned by arch-rival AMD.

The Lynnfield platform is important because it integrates quad-core with Intel's hyperthreading technology. Introduced years ago as a stopgap while it developed an inexpensive true-dual-core to compete with AMD, hyperthreading is now perceived as a powerful weapon in Intel's arsenal, giving a four-core processor the threading capacity (if not yet the horsepower) of an eight-core system. But Intel also threw power-saving technology into the mix, in a move that combats AMD's Phenom II strategy, which some say sacrifices power conservation for higher performance.

Not that all high-performance system builders really place power conservation high on their features list. But they can get it along with high performance, and now without sacrificing the capabilities of SLI, Intel can stay competitive on the high end even when it doesn't have the cheapest up-front prices. Getting Intel's blessing to include its SLI technology on Asus, EVGA, Gigabyte, and MSI motherboards is a big step towards full redemption for Nvidia.

Last February, in a licensing skirmish that nearly all parties involved say was overblown by the enthusiast media (though which enthusiasts themselves have said is quite important), Nvidia intimated that it was already licensed to include SLI technology with motherboards using Intel chipsets including P55 Express. Intel went so far as to request a court injunction to preclude Nvidia from making such statements until an actual licensing agreement was worked out.

What today's statement from Nvidia does not yet say is whether Nvidia is now licensed to produce its own chipsets to compete with P55 Express, that would also enable GPUs using SLI to be used on different motherboards with Lynnfield processors. The absence of such information implies that such a license has yet to be obtained, though Betanews has sought clarification from Intel on that subject.

Update ribbon (small)

1:36 pm EDT August 10, 2009 · As Intel spokesperson Chuck Mulloy confirmed to Betanews this afternoon, this morning's Nvidia license does not extend to the right to produce competitive chipsets for Intel CPUs. "Two unrelated issues," said Mulloy.

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