Nvidia’s CEO has another ‘woodscrew moment’

Opinion: This one has serious implications

Nvidia world iconNvidia’s problem with honesty has cropped up again, and once again, Jen-Hsun Huang showed off  something that doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.  This time he choose to do so on stage at this week’s Financial Analyst Day. While this one is much more subtle than the ‘wood screw Fermi‘, it has FAR more serious implications.

The short story is that during Nvidia’s Financial Analyst Day on March 8, 2011, CEO Jen-Hsun Huang stood up on stage in front of many financial analysts, technical analysts, and journalists, and gave a speech. You can hear it here.

If you go to the drop-down and skip past Mike Hara, the intro speaker, the second one is Jen-Hsun. Go to slide 19/21 of his talk. Note the slide says, “Project Denver”, and has the description, “NVIDIA-Designed High Performance ARM GPU”. You can hear the wording about it around minute 52.

The version on the web site is low rez, but if you look around, there are higher quality images available. This Project Denver is the CPU we told you about last August, calling it Tegra 5/T5 at the time. So far so good.

The problem is that the pictures put up, and directly labeled ‘Project Denver’ isn’t.  It is a GF100/GF110 die shot, cropped, stretched, and overlaid, but it is not Project Denver. It is a ‘Fermi’ class GPU, most likely GTX480 or GTX580. If you can get a high rez copy of the slides, you can compare them for yourself, or just look at this thread on Xtreme Systems, specifically this post, to save yourself the work. A pat on the head to DarthShader for the excellent job.

The short story is that the picture purported to be Project Denver, is, well, highly misleading is being kind, a mishmash of a block diagram and a GPU dieshot. It may be many things but a picture of a CPU is it not.  Who would have thought that Nvidia would try something like that? Again? To be fair, this one is a lot less blatant than the painfully fake ‘Fermi’ that Jen-Hsun waved around on stage in late 2009, but it is a far more serious issue. The problem is the forum and the people in the audience.

Remember the forum where this was presented, Financial Analyst Day? Jen-Hsun presented the slide to Financial Analysts that cover Nvidia, to make them believe Nvidia had done something that they had not. Several sources at the event told SemiAccurate that the same information and more was given both privately and in subsequent talks to analysts and journalists. It was not a fluke, it was a deliberate attempt to mislead the viewers.

Other companies have put out massaged, obfuscated, or incomplete die shots, sometimes even completely false ones, but they were always labeled as such, and never done to a room full of financial analysts without explicit disclaimers about what is being shown.

Almost always, it was meant to hide sensitive technical information, not to mislead about progress. To do otherwise would be a violation of so many SEC rules that no one dares go there. Except Nvidia, brazenly. Again. To financial analysts that cover the company. And made decisions based on what they were told. And what they were presented was, well a GPU shot, not a CPU shot. See the problem?

I am not a lawyer, I am not an analyst, nor am I an SEC worker, but I can’t see how what was said was anything but blatantly illegal. The  ‘die shot’ labeled as “Project Denver” shown to the analysts was purported to be a critically important upcoming CPU from the company. When die shots like the purported ‘Project Denver’ image are shown, it is a direct statement about the state of progress and readiness of the chip. You can’t show a die shot, die plot, or even a floorplan, unless you are fairly far along in the process, the slide shown was far more than a pretty picture.

Showing a die shot tells technically aware observers exactly how far along a project is. A GPU die shot labeled as a CPU die shot is an attempt to mislead on the progress of the project, and it was done by an officer of the company to a room full of financial analysts. From the coverage that the talk got, the deception worked.

The ‘die shot’ was unquestionably not Denver, but was presented as such. The forum was unquestionably intended for the financial analyst community. The slide was unquestionably presented by an officer of the company, no less than the CEO. The same information was given out many more times in the next two days to journalists, financial analysts, technical analysts, and assorted other people in several places. The only remaining questions are how Nvidia will spin this one, and if the SEC will bother to look in to it. I can’t believe Nvidia did this, it is really unacceptable.S|A

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Charlie Demerjian

Roving engine of chaos and snide remarks at SemiAccurate
Charlie Demerjian is the founder of Stone Arch Networking Services and SemiAccurate.com. SemiAccurate.com is a technology news site; addressing hardware design, software selection, customization, securing and maintenance, with over one million views per month. He is a technologist and analyst specializing in semiconductors, system and network architecture. As head writer of SemiAccurate.com, he regularly advises writers, analysts, and industry executives on technical matters and long lead industry trends. Charlie is also available through Guidepoint and Mosaic. FullyAccurate