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Nvidia accused of crippling board partners' designs

Nvidia accused of crippling board partners' designs

A source at a leading graphics card manufacturer claims that Nvidia isn't playing fair in its dealings with GK100 customers.

Nvidia is claimed to be exerting pressure on its board partners to stick to stock voltages in their designs, forcing them to drop hardware or software overvolting and even restricting most other hardware modifications on boards based on the GK100 GPU.

Hints as to the problem came earlier this week, when Overclockers found a thread on the EVGA forums stating that Nvidia is enforcing 'guidelines' that have resulted in the removal of the EVBot port - used to adjust hardware settings including voltages - from the company's GeForce GTX 680 products.

'Newer 680 Classified cards will not come with the EVBot feature,' an EVGA employee identified as 'JacobF' told a customer who had bought a board missing the EVBot port - a feature that had been present on earlier board revisions. 'Unfortunately we are not permitted to include this feature any longer. It was removed in order to 100% comply with Nvidia guidelines for selling GeForce GTX products: no voltage control is allowed, even via external device.'

That seemed strange, given that EVGA had been selling the GTX 680 Classified with the EVBot port previously. If Nvidia is insisting on limiting what its board partners can do with the chips provided, surely this is something that would have been communicated at the design and evaluation stage, not after products had hit shelves?

Apparently not. A source inside one of Nvidia's largest graphics manufacturing partners, who spoke to us on the condition that they remain anonymous, explains: 'The fact is Nvidia is stopping ALL partners from allowing any form of hardware/software overvolting, or providing hardware mods beyond its very limited restrictions. They threaten to cut allocation [of GK100 parts] if hardware mods aren’t removed or avoided entirely.'

While homebrew soldering-iron-and-prayer overvolting is still permitted, manufacturing partners aren't allowed to make it easy for buyers. 'We're not allowed to openly advertise the PCB markings [for overvoltage adjustment] on the GTX 680,' our source continues.

Bright Side of News has word from Nvidia's Bryan Del Rizzo that restrictions on overvoltage relate to Nvidia Green Light, a programme designed to provide warranty support. According to Del Rizzo, manufacturers aren't prevented from producing boards that provide voltage control outside the Green Light specifications but will receive no warranty from Nvidia if they do - potentially leaving the manufacturer on the hook if they receive a batch of bad chips.

Claims that manufacturers aren't being restricted in their designs beyond the confines of the Green Light programme are soundly denied by our source, however. We've been told that the secretive restrictions on board partners go yet further: 'They [Nvidia] also threaten allocation if you make a card faster than the [stock] GTX 690.'

These restrictions are not limited to just a couple of companies, either: they appear to stretch right across the board, and are responsible for product cancellations and - as with EVGA's removal of the EVBot header from the GTX 680 Classified - hardware modifications from multiple manufacturers. They're also leaving a bad taste in board partners' mouths: where in previous generations each company has been able to push its own cards to the limit in order to beat the competition, under Nvidia's alleged new rules all GTX 680 boards will be more or less identical in performance and features.

The hardware restrictions are a loss for the consumer, too: EVGA has already stated that it won't be reducing the price of the GeForce GTX 680 Classified, despite removing the EVBot header and corresponding facility for custom voltages outside Nvidia's recommended limits - meaning buyers now get less card for their cash than before the company capitulated to Nvidia's alleged demands.

We've approached other board partners, but thus far none have been willing to comment on the record regarding our source's claims of hardware restrictions - and with our source alleging that Nvidia may even cut chip allocations for companies that talk publicly about the matter, that's no surprise.

Approached about our source's claims, a spokesperson for Nvidia provided us with the following statement:
'Some of our best and most passionate customers have told us (though forums, partners and directly) that they are frustrated with our position on GPU Overvoltaging. So we feel that it is important to explain exactly what our position is and why we feel that it is important.

'We love to see our chips run faster and we understand that our customers want to squeeze as much performance as possible out of their GPUs. However, there is a physical limit to the amount of voltage that can be applied to a GPU before the silicon begins to degrade through electromigration. Essentially, excessive voltages on transistors can over time "evaporate" the metal in a key spot, destroying or degrading the performance of the chip. Unfortunately, since the process happens over time, it's not always immediately obvious when it's happening. Overvoltaging above our max spec does exactly this. It raises the operating voltage beyond our rated max and can erode the GPU silicon over time.

'In contrast, GPU Boost always keeps the voltage below our max spec, even as it is raising and lowering the voltage dynamically. That way you get great performance and a guaranteed lifetime. So our policy is pretty simple: We encourage users to go have fun with our GPUs. They are completely guaranteed and will perform great within the predefined limits. We also recommend that our board partners don’t build in mechanisms that raise voltages beyond our max spec. We set it as high as possible within long term reliability limits.

'The reason we have a limit on max voltage is very simply to prevent damage to the GPU chips. At NVIDIA we know that our customers want to push their GPUs to the limit. We are all for it, and as a matter of fact NVIDIA has always prioritized support for hardware enthusiasts by providing tools to access hardware settings and by supporting our board partners in creating overclocked enthusiast products. Leading up to the GeForce GTX 680 release for example, we worked closely with developers of 3rd party overclocking utilities to make sure they fully supported GeForce GTX 680 and GPU Boost on the day of launch.
'

While Nvidia admits that it 'recommends' that its board partners don't build in overclocking and overvoltage mechanisms, it states that this is just a recommendation - a claim distinctly at odds with those of our source.

20 Comments

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rollo 5th October 2012, 17:11 Quote
Considering EV bot has been removed from all future EVGA cards they have been pushing them hard it would seem.
technogiant 5th October 2012, 17:34 Quote
Sooo...this same argument could equally have been applied to previous Nvidia gpu's, are we to believe that Nvidia have suddenly become concerned about this?

I'm of the opinion they have found a weakness in the 600series/28nm gpu's which they are trying to hide by these measures...they have been trying to prevent excessive overclocking in the drivers and now at the hardware level......somethings wrong.

Either that or it's a marketing ploy, perhaps "big kepler" will be released without being hobbled in the hope that people wanting top performance will be forced to buy the flagship rather than OCing the pants off a lower model.
lp rob1 5th October 2012, 18:28 Quote
I smell foul play at work here... first it read:
Quote:
Hints as to the problem cam easlier this week
then it was
Quote:
Hints as to the problem came earlier this week
just as I was going to write a reply here...
Omnituens 5th October 2012, 18:32 Quote
Death of the custom PCB layout starts here I guess... shame, I really like the Asus and EVGA models.
greigaitken 5th October 2012, 18:43 Quote
If Nvidia set limits at the hardware level, and board parners make mods to get around this - then they should still be allowed to sell without threaterning treatment from nvidia but under conditions - no warranty from nvidia and box must say something about running above nvidia's guidlines and all this should be agreed before the retail package is developed.
Deders 5th October 2012, 18:44 Quote
Does it have anything to do with this?
Gareth Halfacree 5th October 2012, 18:52 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by lp rob1
I smell foul play at work here...
N-n-n-n-NINJA'D!

I was re-reading it after a few hours away - with the result that I saw what I'd written, not what I *thought* I'd written. Don't worry, there are almost certainly other typos I've missed...
erratum1 5th October 2012, 19:21 Quote
I would be too scared to mess with the voltages on such an expensive gpu.

£400 paper weight anyone.
Lazy_Amp 5th October 2012, 20:05 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by technogiant

I'm of the opinion they have found a weakness in the 600series/28nm gpu's which they are trying to hide by these measures...they have been trying to prevent excessive overclocking in the drivers and now at the hardware level......somethings wrong.

It's not really about Nvidia specifically, as transistors shrink Electromigration is a physical phenomenon that becomes harder to avoid. Overvoltages are simply more likely to cause an hardware failure these days, and NVidia believes that limiting voltages of on-the-shelf cards will increase the lifespan of their high-range products. They don't want their brand harmed by negative press on a bunch of products run outside the spec coming back bad.
jimmyjj 5th October 2012, 22:07 Quote
Seems pretty reasonable to me, the reason makes sense and rings true from a technical stand point.

As they have evolved their designs to have a GPU boost feature, perhaps they feel that the stock voltages are now pushing the cards as hard as is safe.
technogiant 6th October 2012, 03:26 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Lazy_Amp
It's not really about Nvidia specifically, as transistors shrink Electromigration is a physical phenomenon that becomes harder to avoid. Overvoltages are simply more likely to cause an hardware failure these days, and NVidia believes that limiting voltages of on-the-shelf cards will increase the lifespan of their high-range products. They don't want their brand harmed by negative press on a bunch of products run outside the spec coming back bad.


And yet we don't see Intel who are at the even lower process size of 22nm or Amd also at 28nm on their gpu's introducing similar measures??...in fact conversely intel are encouraging overclocking with their K series?
Deders 6th October 2012, 04:14 Quote
Again this?
fluxtatic 6th October 2012, 04:37 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by technogiant
And yet we don't see Intel who are at the even lower process size of 22nm or Amd also at 28nm on their gpu's introducing similar measures??...in fact conversely intel are encouraging overclocking with their K series?


Actually, that's true for both AMD and Intel, and it's the K series in both cases. However, the difference may be that CPU overclockers are less likely to overvolt? I freely admit that's pure speculation on my part. As far as I've done, I've never overvolted a CPU or a GPU - given how prone I am to stupid mistakes, I figure I'm safer making myself slightly less likely to fry my everyday CPU/video card.

And it's likely the case all around, the electromigration issue. It's just that NVidia's more nervous about getting a bad rap than AMD and Intel. Aside from that, Intel likely doesn't sweat it that much. Where AMD and NVidia are on fairly level ground, I'd speculate it's much less likely that if you blow up your 3750K processor by overvolting, you're going to bail on Intel and buy a Bulldozer. For AMD, they likely don't want to unnecessarily restrict themselves when they're already struggling for marketshare in the CPU space.

Seems to be a calculated risk on NVidia's part - piss off a tiny but vocal camp that wants to overvolt while lessening the risk of a bad reputation due to parts breaking down, versus that camp switching teams and overvolting the holy hell out of AMD GPUs.
azrael- 6th October 2012, 08:53 Quote
I suppose earlier nVidia got stuck with the bill for defective chips due to overclocking/-volting. As they correctly state electromigration is something that happens (more or less) slowly over time and it might not be the apparent cause of a defect. And as also stated, as you shrink the process the threat of electromigration gets bigger.

It therefore seems to me nVidia is simply trying to avoid having to pick up the bill for its customers' customers' OCing/OVing.
penryn 2 hertz 6th October 2012, 10:39 Quote
No wonder XFX dropped them...
law99 6th October 2012, 16:40 Quote
I think they are making a mistake.

That is all.

Eventually they'll see that we don't like it and neither do hardware partners.

But to be fair to Nvidia, I don't think AMD are particularly keen on overvolting any more either.
lysaer 6th October 2012, 17:59 Quote
As much as I don't like the idea I kind of understand Nvidia for doing it.

At the end of the day it is them who loses out come warranty time.

Sent from my GT-I9300 using Tapatalk 2
Whindog 7th October 2012, 23:39 Quote
So does this limit the voltage adjustments i make in Afterburner? (Im assuming no from the statement that these programs keep it within its spec limit)

Or is this just limiting the soldering crowd?
DbD 8th October 2012, 09:31 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by greigaitken
If Nvidia set limits at the hardware level, and board parners make mods to get around this - then they should still be allowed to sell without threaterning treatment from nvidia but under conditions - no warranty from nvidia and box must say something about running above nvidia's guidlines and all this should be agreed before the retail package is developed.

There's a reply from nvidia that basically says that - board partners can sell over volted cards but nvidia won't warranty them - the board partner will have too. It also says there will be no discriminatory treatment of companies that choose to do this.
The_Crapman 9th October 2012, 18:16 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Deders
Does it have anything to do with this?
Quote:
Originally Posted by Deders
Again this?
I would imagine it's a fair bit to do with that. Naughty old MSI taking shortcuts and spoiling everyone's fun!
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