Shank’s Spiel: Absolute Power…

Last week at GDC, Nividia’s CEO and co-founder Jen-Hsun Huang delivered his company’s keynote. He discussed some truly amazing new technologies that technophiles such as myself drooled over. And like most people, I was eager to see just what GPU monstrosity would be unveiled, as per tradition.

I was not disappointed.

Enter the Titan Z. Packing 5760 cores and 12 GB of 7 Gbps GDDR5 memory, this card is the definition of that old adage, “absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

And yet, as thoroughly impressive as these specs are, I come away rather worried.

What? How could that be, Shank? I thought you loved power and graphics, graphics, graphics! True, I have great respect for raw power and progress through innovation – but the Titan Z is not innovation, nor is it progress.

I’ll let that shock ride over you for a second.

While that marinates, this is exactly the right time to re-visit the PC’s overall superiority and advantage over the consoles. The PC, being a flexible, open, and constantly evolving platform, will always remain ahead of the console market.

If this seems elitist to you, well, see last week’s Shank’s Spiel.

But this bears repeating, as so often, mainstream industry outlets will flat-out ignore this one fact. Nowhere is this monumental gap in computational superiority more evident than in the Titan Z. This card shows just how far behind the new consoles are relative to the advancement of the industry, even after only a mere five months in the market. (Truth be told, these consoles were already outdated when they were announced during the first half of 2013, but fanboys and industry outlets alike tend to conveniently forget that fact).

So why, then, do I keep bringing up the superiority of the Titan Z over the PS4 and Xbox One? What’s the point in all this? Surely, I do not bring it up just to point out how horribly outdated these new consoles are, though this comparison does serve that purpose well.

No. The real reason I bring it up is to point out that Nvidia is comprehensively delivering death punches to the groin of the console industry simply by doing nothing.

Yes. The Titan Z is a prime example of Nvidia doing absolutely nothing…and completely getting away with it. Don’t believe me? Take a second look at the specs. Upon further examination, you’ll notice that its CUDA count is exactly twice that of the Titan Black. It also has exactly twice the memory of the Titan Black. Most notably, it contains the same GK110 Kepler chip with all 15 SM units unlocked.

What we are looking at here is a dual GPU card on a single PCB. Effectively, the Titan Z is two Titan Blacks glued together.

While this undoubtedly makes this the most powerful card on the market, it is also completely unnecessary and an incredibly worrying sign.

Just why am I so worried? The Titan Z is the pinnacle of laziness and nothing more than a cash grab from Nvidia. Priced at $3000, this card is 50% more expensive than if you simply bought two Titan Blacks separately. This is absurd!

What is more disturbing is the fact that we have heard absolutely nothing about Nvidia’s next planned architecture, Maxwell. The only desktop cards running on Maxwell are the GTX 750 and 750 ti – hardly high end cards. There is absolutely no word on the enthusiast level GTX 880.

And this is exactly what is wrong with the current situation. With the consoles merely a blip in the silicon-infused PC Master Race detritus, and AMD literally having no comeback, Nvidia is left to their own devices – and they damn well know it.

There is literally no competition for Nvidia right now. This may be a hard pill for you to swallow if you proudly wear that AMD red, but it’s true. AMD’s best hope is to create a dual GPU 290X, but even this will fall short of the relentless juggernaut that is the Titan Z.

This is precisely what is wrong with the market today. Nvidia has no competition for the near future so they can do whatever they bloody well please.  I cannot begin to stress how incredibly dangerous this is to the growth of our industry.

Without competition – real, tangible, direct competition – Nvidia will continue to rest on its laurels and simply milk their current tech for all it’s worth. This will in-turn have a very real negative effect on the innovation and continuing evolution of the PC market as slightly improved versions of previous generation graphics cards hit the market with a markup in price and rebrand designed to pull the covers over your eyes.

And frankly, who can blame them? I certainly can’t. I know if I were in Nvidia’s position, I would be doing the exact same thing. From a power perspective, the consoles barely register as a threat. From a power efficiency and performance perspective, AMD just doesn’t seem to have a reply.

Nvidia is all-powerful today. And all this power is corrupting any innovation to be had, coming dangerously close to derailing the continued march of PC evolution. And this makes me sad. I don’t want my beloved PC industry to put a halt to its arms race, for it is through this arms race where the consumer benefits the most.

But without this check, without any balance to be had by way of AMD, there is no more arms race. There is no more massive leap in technology bringing us, the paying consumer, the best possible value and performance. There is simply Nvidia.

I guess it is true what they say, “absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

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