Nvidia nabbing 3dfx staff already

Cherry-picking 100 best engineers

Nvidia yesterday said it wants to give a hundred of 3dfx's top engineers jobs - part of the company's programme to pick the flesh from the technological bones of the moribund graphics chip maker.

Speaking at an analyst conference yesterday, Nvidia CEO CEO Jen-Hsun Huang didn't go into detail about how his company will leverage intellectual property acquired from 3dfx. Too much, of course, depends on whether 3dfx shareholders will permit the sale of the company's technological and trademark assets to Nvidia for $70 million plus one million shares.

Hence, Nvidia's move to get key 3dfx staffers to join it as quickly as possible. It knows they'll bring a lot to the company, even if it is prevented from acquiring the technology they've been working on.

The key IP is Gigapixel's tile-based rendering system, which 3dfx paid $186 million for earlier this year. If Nvidia's acquisition goes ahead, it's hard not to see Nvidia utilising this technology, of all 3dfx's portfolio. As for the others, such as T-buffer, the company wants time to figure out how it can make the most of them.

"We're quite excited about the new products in the pipeline, and hopefully we'll be able to quickly assess how much of the technologies to incorporate into our follow-on products," said Huang.

Nvidia's own hardware roadmap is quite advanced, so it may well be some time before 3dfx technology begins to appear in Nvidia processors.

It's Voodoo brand, on the other hand, may fare better. Nvidia remains committed to staying a silicon-only company - that's why it didn't pick up 3dfx's Juarez, Mexico add-in card plant, which 3dfx is still trying to sell. However, Nvidia is buying the rights to the brandname, which remains a strong one, despite 3dfx's plummeting sales.

Huang said Nvidia hopes to grow the brand's retail market penetration from its current share of around 40 per cent to 60 per cent or more. How it will do that remains to be seen: "We haven't firmed up our plans there but we plan to," said Huang.

The options for Nvidia boil down to selling the Voodoo name to a board maker, to license the name, or use it itself for its next or next-but-one generation of graphics chip. The latter seems unlikely, since GeForce is now well established. Licensing may work, but will multiple board vendors all want to offer competing Voodoo cards? We reckon Nvidia will sell it to the highest bidder. We shall see. ®

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