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NVIDIA Pushes Vista to a Whole ?Nother Level

Earlier today I had the honor of attending the Nvidia launch of their flaming hot GeForce 8800 GPU and nForce 600 MCP. While the performance of these new products is stunning (you can get benchmarks from other articles) what I want to share is the experience of the launch event itself.

While most of you won’t be able to get the operating system until next year, those of us in the analyst community are already receiving systems and let me tell you, the visuals on the right hardware are impressive. But this isn’t really about that either, its about a blockbuster event and we don’t get that many in this industry so let me try to give you a feel for what this was like.

The Set-Up

Often for vendor driven events, you get a bunch of guys in ties telling you how great their company is, the speeds and feeds of their product, why their competition sucks, and ultimately you experience the reality of being bored to death. I often wonder why vendors feel they need to put you in a room and PowerPoint you till your eyeballs fall out, because it virtually never seems to get me excited about what they have to offer and I generally leave wondering if they even know why people should buy their products.

Nvidia fortunately took a different path. In a series of tents that took up most of a large parking lot coincidently next to the tech museum in the heart of Silicon Valley, Nvidia put together an event that reminded me a lot of the original Windows 95 launch. As with that event, the folks that developed the offerings were the behind-the-scenes heroes, but in this case the gamers were the stars.

As you entered the event to get to the stage, you passed through a large LAN party where people had been gaming straight through for the past 24 hours. Surrounding this section was some of the wildest hardware you are likely to see anyplace in the world. From custom cases to branded products by Voodoo, Hypersonic, Dell, Falcon and Alienware it was a gamer’s paradise.

Dell was actually the best represented because after you passed the main LAN party tent you came upon line after line of XPS 700s and those boxes still looked incredibly hot, plus they were all connected to 30-inch Dell flat panel displays which coincidently are this year’s hot display for those who want the very best.

You were then seated in a huge room where the best seats in the house had been saved for Nvidia’s most favored. These weren’t the chip companies nor were they the OEMs. The most favored were the individual gamers who have build killer SLI Nvidia gaming rigs. You simply got the sense that Nvidia gets gaming.

The Delivery

Nvidia executives got up one after another to present the company and its products and when the first PowerPoint went up I was getting kind of worried. But they stayed focused on pure performance and openly thanked the engineers who developed the offerings and the customers who will be purchasing them.

Some things to remember are that Nvidia now dominates all aspects of high end graphics from PCs and Laptops to workstations. They also shared their strategy with PortalPlayer which made it sound a lot like they were actually getting into the processor business. Whatever portable media player they are planning to build clearly wouldn’t be an iPod and given Nvidia’s graphics and gaming core, will probably be a kick ass personal gaming platform. Portable Xbox anyone?

As you would expect, the demonstrations were stunning. They actually modeled a real person this year and it was kind of surreal to see her on stage next to her real time rendering. Certain capabilities of the card which would render water and smoke to a level never before seen. You can see some of the videos you missed here. The $25,000 liquid nitrogen truck on standby part is worth it all by itself.

Now be careful, I typically get this stuff from the vendors for free and even I wanted to buy one of these things. The 8800 actually included one of the best consumer promotions for Windows Vista I’ve ever seen and, as the first Direct X 10 part on the market if you are thinking about Vista, it would be a natural to at least want to get the 8800.

Part of the program surrounded a poor new computer they named Henry. But during the talk they did an extreme makeover for Henry who entered the process as a weakling but excited the process as a near super powered quad core lust machine.

The Big Surprise

Even though many of us thought Intel was going to be the favored chip company at the event, it was AMD that took the stage and sang the praises of Nvidia. And it was AMD’s Quadfather (cool name) system (that was the buffed up Henry) that was given away to the two gamers who had the most pitiable systems. Even I had to agree the choice was a good one, one poor guy didn’t even have a case just a mother board, a power supply, a graphics card and a big honking fan blowing over that mess, and the other guy had technology that was so old that his system was compared unfavorably to the performance of the first iPod.

Even though most of us thought Nvidia and Intel had become incredibly close after the AMD/ATI merger, on stage it was Nvidia and AMD all the way; you got the sense that the two companies were still planning on doing amazing things together.

The Conclusion

You have to see one of these new Nvidia based systems to truly get a sense for the incredible visual experience they provide. They aren’t cheap, but well worth getting to know so you get a feel for what is coming next year with hardware and Vista. For those of us lucky enough to afford a system like this today, well we’ll have bragging rights that will last well into next year. Did I mention the new card is twice as fast as the previous generation or that you can easily double the performance of certain processors with the new Motherboard?

Keep your eyes and ears open and if you happen to be near a PC store, take a moment to check out these new Nvidia systems this weekend and prepare to be amazed.

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