Nvidia engineers Sandy Bridge alternative

Sources in the motherboard industry have leaked some interesting info to Digitimes concerning Nvidia's development of a Sandy Bridge-compatible chipset.

Details are sketchy but according to the site, Nvidia is developing an alternative chipset that integrates GPUs and southbridge functions. This could enable Nvidia to circumvent current chipset licensing issues and give OEM/ODMs the opportunity to opt out of Intel's Cougar Point southbridge - saving a few dollars in the process, while gaining some graphics horsepower - Intel's true Achillles' heel.

Questions had been raised about Nvidia's ability to remain in the chipset game, with many analysts writing off the GPU maker entirely.

Things will really get interesting if this design proves itself to be a single chip part, rather than attaching a GPU to a third-party southbridge chip. By putting the GPU on the southbridge, Nvidia could entirely bypass the limitation of not having a QPI/DMI licence; however, the report isn't clear how exactly will Nvidia manage it. Whatever it does, it has the engineering skills to pull one off.

Business-wise, this new chipset could also represent a lot more than a simple alternative chipset: Nvidia would potentially be able keep Apple's MacBook business, which would otherwise collapse due to the company's inability to license Intel chipsets for newer CPUs. The current Intel+Nvidia chip combo is an ungainly mix of northbridge, southbridge and onboard GPU (or mGPU, as Nvidia calls it) that none of the parties involved really like. So far Apple has stayed away from Core i5/i7 processors in the lighter end of the Macbook range, but resorting to the three-chip combo in the higher end as power and heat weren't really the issue.

Sandy Bridge will be available from Q1 2011, and with any luck you'll be seeing a Macbook refresh in mid-February. Hopefully Nvidia will have something to show for itself by then.