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Apple iTV – Intel and NVIDIA Inside

Anandtech released the first Apple (AAPL) iTV hardware teardown accompanied by excellent analysis. Here are my takeaways, aided by their astute photos and observations.

  • The iTV uses a standalone Nvidia (NVDA) GPU chip (GEFORCE GO 7300) normally targeted for mobile applications with 64Mb of dedicated GDDR3. While 18 months old (about 10 dog years ) it is capable of decent graphical performance with support for multiple pixel pipelines and shaders and anti-aliasing. This chip is also used to offload the weak CPU in order to provide solid H.264 decoding.
  • The CPU is an Intel (INTC) processor of the low voltage mobile variety, something you would normally see in an ultra-mobile PC like an OQO. It is used in conjunction with an off-the-shelf mobile computing North and South bridge chipset and 256Mb of DRAM. The iTV is a full fledged mini-PC.
  • Inside is the 40G, 2.5 inch hard drive that appears to be easily replaceable. 40Gb is a joke if you consider a future need for storing HD quality video- I expect folks will quickly hack in 120Gb drives. Apple will probably announce a new revision of ITV when iTunes finally supports HD quality video (just like Xbox 360 already does).

My Thoughts:

  • The iTV is a great 1st generation example of how the “Third Screen” (see “Nyquist Predictions for 2007“, or migration of computing from the desktop to the laptop to the living room will be implemented in hardware. The emphasis is ultra-low-power and video, not necessarily computing horsepower and memory.
  • While the current Nvidia device is an 18-month old design, it is an excellent example of how the “Third Screen” places a greater premium on graphics performance rather than CPU performance. This is why AMD (AMD) bought ATI. Apple’s partnership with Intel all but excluded AMD from this design, though I expect AMD to continue to make inroads, as they already have supplying IP for the XBOX360 and Nintendo (NTDOY.PK) Wii.
  • I’m going to go out on a limb and compare the graphical power of the iTV to a Nintendo Wii. Both the iTV and the Wii have 64Mb of GDDR3 memory, both are in 90nm technology, and both have about the same release timeframe. Very little is known of the ATI Hollywood chipset used in the Wii, so this is speculation. 
  • GDDR3 memory demand is only going to increase as the Third Screen gains in popularity. While the iTV has a wimpy graphics processor today, it will not be long until consumers demand ultra-slick interfaces and graphical features that higher end GPUs can deliver. This will require more texture memory, particularly at 1920×1080 full HD resolutions.
  • The modest iTV hardware is general-purpose enough to equal the computing power of a 2-3 year old laptop, which means it is capable of doing pretty interesting stuff.
  • While the iTV is a dumb, headless, media extender today, all of the hardware potential exists for this device to be a portal for web based computing. Apple will roll these features out over time.

Photos courtesy Anandtech. Author is long Nvidia.

Discussion

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  1. Pretty much agree, the iTV isn’t a games console so no competition with the kids to play with it (i.e. less is more in this case vs XBox360), 40GB HD too small, no DIVx, but otherwise very promising. Spec of chip hardware is overkill, the Chinese would make that with half that spec and spend the rest of the money on a bigger hard disk instead.

    Notice the Wii, as predicted (by me) is winning the games console war. To the extent that I can get a XBox360 or a PS3 (only just, there were 2 in stock), but no a Wii. and I so badly want a Wii!
    It was launched last year and is still on preorder selling out as fast as it arrives where I am.

    I’ve just bought an iPod killer (a generic Taiwanese 2GB ipod with bigger screen, FM Radio, voice recorder, video, 2/3rds the price, and no need of that iTunes software nuisance). I expect that to make a dent in iPod Nano later in the year.

    So to sum up my view of ’07,
    Wii will win easily.
    Apple Ipod will lose some market to generic clones.
    iTV succeeds but not a killer product till next generation.

    Posted by I want my, I want my, I want my Nintendo Wiiiiii | March 23, 2007, 2:05 PM
  2. Wii will only win if the software guys move their resources over to develop for it.

    My bet is right now, EA and everyone else is telling MSFT and Sony to copy the motion sensitive features and cut console prices or they jump ship. MSFT and Sony, of course, will do this.

    Anything Wii can do MSFT/SNE can do better. I think Wii is a flash in the pan unless they score some media partnerships.

    As for iPod losing share, not a chance in hell. AAPL will cut margins before they cede share. Most people view iTunes as an asset, not a nuisance. I tend to agree with you but we are on the lunatic fringe.

    Posted by Andrew Schmitt | March 23, 2007, 2:16 PM
  3. Cool, we disagree, it will make the ‘I told you so’ more fun! ;)

    “Wii will only win if the software guys move their resources over to develop for it.”

    Nah, because the DS outsells the PSP by a long chalk. Nintendo’s own software development efforts seem to be able to carry their products ahead. (EA’s site ea.com current pushes ‘the godfather Wii edition, Tiger woods Wii edition….’ so they can see the potential of all their sports sims as interactive motion games).

    Sony/MSFT, can play catchup, but Nintendo won’t stand still either.

    iTunes sells 20 tracks per iPod (= only 2 albums), so I think the iPod is driving iTunes not the other way around.

    Posted by They'll Wii all over EA | March 23, 2007, 2:26 PM
  4. * good work spotting this … very cool.
    * Looks like they’ve left lots of room for new applications to be put on this beast.
    * This will be fun.

    Posted by iain | March 23, 2007, 4:15 PM
  5. I can imagine… Joe consumer powers up hit iTV one day and suddenly he can play tetris, order pizza, you name it. The disruption to the telco incumbents is only just beginning.

    Posted by Andrew Schmitt | March 23, 2007, 5:07 PM
  6. To add to the Wii debdate, Nintendo needs a “must have game” only for their console, which they don’t have yet. Until that changes, the Wii will be a niche market.

    Posted by kyelrm | April 1, 2007, 10:58 PM
  7. NPD just released the numbers for FEB for USA, Wii came top.

    335,000 Wiis were sold in the US in February. 228,000 Xbox 360s and Sony 127,000 PS3s.

    XBox and PS3 are in stock, Wii continues to be on pre-order. I think as they solve their supply problems they’ll pull ahead further.

    Japan numbers are:
    http://www.m-create.com/jpn/s_ranking.html

    (Week March 12 to 18 2007)
    DSL 130,549
    Wii 75,571
    PSP 41,546
    PS3 20,459
    PS2 16,961
    Xbox360 3,492

    Europe I don’t know the numbers for, but Wii is still only on pre-order and the other two are in stock.

    The volume seller is never ‘niche’. It’s a bloodbath.

    Posted by Mass Debdator | April 2, 2007, 7:26 AM
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