Intel and NVIDIA are in discussions to try and settle their dispute over system chipsets in a move that could give a major boost to Apple, leaks revealed Wednesday. Most of the details are still secret, but NVIDIA is most likely pressing to get back rights to make system chipsets for Intel processors with integrated memory controllers. The talks were private, Bloomberg said.
A fight between the two companies first became public in February 2009, when Intel decided that NVIDIA's licensing deal didn't extend to cover the integrated designs. NVIDIA sued Intel a month later and noted that the policy conveniently excluded the Core i7 as well as Core i3, Core i5 and Atom chips, effectively preventing NVIDIA from competing with Intel without an outright ban. Intel's FTC settlement didn't address these particular complaints and focused mostly on price dumping issues.
Intel has denied the claims, but NVIDIA noted that the ban came right as chipsets like the Ion and GeForce 9400M were proving to be several times faster than Intel's integrated video.
A settlement that let NVIDIA resume work would be helpful for the entire industry by letting companies choose an alternative system chipset while still using Intel processors, but it may prove vital to Apple. The company had struck a close partnership with NVIDIA to produce Macs with its graphics, starting with the unibody MacBook and MacBook Pro in October 2008, but ended up being penalized for the decision once it began using Core iX chips on a wide scale in 2010. Without an NVIDIA integrated chip for modern Intel processors, it has opted to use Core 2 Duos in its smaller notebooks as it would rather sacrifice a small amount of processor performance for much faster video and OpenCL support.
The deal would come just as Intel is poised to narrow the gap in performance with the integrated video in Sandy Bridge chips due at the start of 2011.