Uproar in the hardware blogopshere about a conspiracy behind Origin PC dropping AMD sounds like something from an Alex Jones broadcast.
Last week something interesting, yet at the same time unremarkable happened: boutique PC maker Origin decided to drop AMD GPUs from its offerings based on “customer demand”.
“This decision was based on a combination of many factors including customer experiences, GPU performance/drivers/stability, and requests from our support staff,” a mass email from Origin PC to the press read.
On the surface this seems fairly reasonable. While AMD has had certainly had a year’s worth of wins in the first three quarters of 2013, and has vastly improved its offerings in the last few years with its APU revolution, it wasn’t too long ago that users were flocking to third party drivers because the official offerings were far too buggy for most user’s liking.
That was then, this is now; times have changed. Arguably, AMD has the lead right now in the GPU arms race and its IP is powering the next-generation of game consoles from Microsoft and Sony. On paper that lead isn’t much in terms of raw GPU power (and heavily relies on rebranded cards), but ask AMD and its own hubris will get the best of it: it believes it’s the undisputed hegemon of the GPU and gaming world. Informed rumor mongers say that Nvidia’s next Titan may beat AMD’s upcoming R9 cards in the benchmarking game. But AMD’s attitude would say otherwise; one of AMD’s #gpu14 seminars opened with CMO Colette LaForce and graphics general manager Matt Syknner stomping on an Nvidia GTX card.
Haters gonna hate
Old habits die hard. It may be that Origin PC’s internal customer surveys and metrics show that its consumers prefer Nvidia cards. Or it could be that Origin had a hard time procuring AMD cards because of their low sales volume, both as a company, and also in comparison to Nvidia cards.
But for some bloggers, a low-volume boutique PC vendor doing away with one flavor of GPUs must mean that there is a conspiracy afoot.
“If you were wondering how sleazy Nvidia will get when the chips are down, Origin PC’s ‘dumping’ of AMD GPUs answers that question,” began a screed by Semi Accurate’s Charlie Demerjian. “If you said Origin PC has some technical problem with AMD you would be wrong. If you guessed that Nvidia paid them off, you would be right on the money. Lets dive in to the matter with a little help from a bunch of sources we spent the last few hours calling.”
Demerjian says his sources all point to Nvidia marketing bigwigs making calls to Origin and other similar PC vendors offering “large dollops of funding to dump AMD GPUs”.
“Multiple SemiAccurate sources say this number is in the six digit range, several gave exact figures but asked us not to publish them. This isn’t direct cash payments but more towards MDF funding, product discounts, and other quasi-legal kickbacks that are directly tied to and based on sales volume of AMD GPUs,” Demerjian wrote.
In a followup post, Demerjian claimed to have the inside scoop on a project called “Tier 0″ that involves Nvidia “bribing” OEMs with a range of financial incentives to drop AMD chips and take on Nvidia hardware instead. Demerjian claims that Nvidia’s board is concerned about this, and has called Nvidia CEO Jen-Hsun Huang to talk about it.
Let’s just consider the gravity of the situation here: Demerjian alleges that Nvidia is engaging in anticompetitive behaviour (his words “quasi-legal kickbacks”) for a few wins in “Tier 3++” PC vendor sector.
This idea may have very well been brought up in a pitch meeting amongst marketing and PR people, and even brought to a higher level. But the aneurysm it would have given legal counsel, who would have feared the mild heart attack the company’s comptroller would have had if there was blowback from regulators or concerned shareholders, would have stopped the plan dead in its tracks. The wins for Nvidia, gaining a foothold in what Demerjian says is a 5000 unit a year business, would not have been worth the legal pain that it very well may have incurred.
Demerjian’s evidence for this anti-AMD conspiracy is specious. He points to Origin PC being the first to announce that it it one of the first to have Nvidia Battlebox (a ho-hum industry cert that says the PC can push out 4k in games) certified computers on the market, and sent out an email to press contacts that it was “going Green” because of consumer preference, means it is in the pockets of Nvidia.
Origin PC executive Richard Cary had a cool and collected defense to some of the allegations presented by Demerjian. Speaking to PC World he said:
“The decision to take AMD GPU’s off the web was made based on support. More Specifically, support from AMD to Origin, and Origin to our customers.
Take their last chipset announcement for example. It was another hardware representative that informed us of the new Hawaii chipset. AMD never told us anything about it, nor shared a road map outlining its future integration. When we did get with our AMD representative, we were told that there was a new chipset launching, and we could watch the event live and get answers to our questions.
We also asked for samples to start our research and development process, something that is standard in the industry for bleeding edge integrators, and we were met with resistance there… When they did agree to send samples it was for [two] R9 270’s, rather than the R9 280’s or 290’s that we would be more likely to offer…
Moreover, this wasn’t the first time AMD had done something like this to us. Support from AMD to Origin hasn’t been where it should be or up to par like we get from other vendors. In my opinion it’s due to our size. We don’t move enough AMD product for them to worry about us. You would think they would work with us to help grow the Origin-AMD business relationship.”
On the Origin PC customer forms he continued to defend his company, illuminating the fact that they’ve had their set of challenges in dealing with AMD and, as well, seemed to sell a low volume of AMD cards anyways.
Those two issues, combined with the very low percentage of Radeon cards that we sell, it didn’t make sense to continue offering AMD GPU’s. The way they treated Origin during the announcement of the Hawaii GPU showed AMD didn’t care for Origin’s business relationship. In effect, AMD dropped us.
As far as Nvidia paying Origin to do it, that simply didn’t happen. Nvidia doesn’t make enough in sales from Origin PC to justify the allegation. The numbers aren’t there for Nvidia to come close to six figures, (or any amount) the basic math shows that.
Without giving away trade secrets, Nvidia doesn’t make the cards, they make the GPUs. So every time Manufacturer X sells a video card, Nvidia makes a small percentage. If you multiply that number by how many systems we sell per year, the allegations simply don’t add up.
It should be remembered that this is all coming from someone who’s earned their titular namesake of being semi-accurate. In more than recent memory, Demerjian has only had two notable wins under his belt: calling out Nvidia for its Fermi fail which included faking a demo at its GPU Technology Conference in 2009, and being one of the first to shed light (one has to wonder who tipped him off) on the fact that AMD’s IP would power the Playstation 4 and Xbox One.
But Demerjian has got a lot of stuff wrong since then. This might be a hot headed attack on a favourite whipping boy, or perhaps this is a play to keep a partner in his game happy. After all, running through the last six months of content in his site brings up headlines like “Nvidia’s Kepler license has no chance of success” contrasted with “Announcing the AMD Gamer Memory contest winners”.