NVIDIA Turns Up The Ampere At CES 2021

By Patrick Moorhead - February 1, 2021

With this year’s CES happening virtually, I, unfortunately, did not get a chance to tour NVIDIA’s suite and tour NVIDIA’s latest gaming innovations. In past years, NVIDIA has used CES to launch the latest in gaming notebooks and display technologies. This year was no different, except I could not check out the latest in gaming monitors and gaming laptops. That said, NVIDIA took a slightly different tack this year by introducing the Ampere GPU architecture last year. While there was no Jensen Huang keynote this year at CES, NVIDIA had Jeff Fisher, EVP at NVIDIA, talk about NVIDIA’s significant gaming updates.

2020 was a challenging year for many people, but there is no doubt that gaming saw a considerable boost from people locked down at home. As Jeff Fisher cited during his talk, Steam saw its concurrent user numbers double from 2018’s figures. Famous gaming voice and chat service Discord saw its using numbers triple to 140 million users from only two years ago, and eSports viewership reached 500 million people. The growth of gaming during the pandemic is not a mystery to anyone, but NVIDIA also launched the new Ampere series of GPUs in 2020, and there could not have been more of a voracious hunger for new GPUs as there was in 2020. The RTX 3090, 3080, 3070, and 3060 Ti took the industry by storm, and shortages, unfortunately, caused many gamers to become upset.

With 2020 in the rear mirror, NVIDIA has decided to start 2021 with a bright and fresh start by announcing a new GPUs series, the RTX 30 series for laptops. The new RTX 30 series for laptops comes when both AMD and Intel are aggressively competing for performance leadership, and the laptop OEMs are excited to pair the latest CPU offerings from AMD and Intel with NVIDIA’s latest laptop GPUs. So at this CES, we have seen quite the array of gaming notebooks from all of the usual suspects, but this time leveraging both Intel’s 11th Gen CPUs and AMD’s Ryzen 5000 series for mobile.

Pairing these bleeding-edge CPUs with NVIDIA’s latest RTX 30 series GPUs in a laptop means that consumers are going to see some impressive performance from thinner and lighter laptop form factors. Along with the new laptop GPUs, NVIDIA is also launching new system-level improvements like Max-Q 3.0, Dynamic Boost 2.0, WhisperMode 2.0, and Resizeable BAR. Resizeable BAR is an advanced PCIe feature that allows the game to get full access to GPU memory. This feature is like what AMD calls Smart Access Memory, except NVIDIA, which says that it will work with both Intel and AMD CPUs soon and a wide range of motherboards later this year. Laptops with the RTX 30 series will start shipping as soon as January 26th  with the RTX 3080 and 3070, starting at $1,999 and $1,299, respectively. The entry-level starts at $999 with the RTX 3060 on February 2nd.

The RTX 3060 is not only launching on laptops but also as a desktop part. The RTX 3060 is not to be confused with the already available and launched RTX 3060 Ti. NVIDIA has not committed to whether the company will continue to ship the RTX 3060 Ti along with the RTX 3060, but I believe that AMD’s GPU ambitions in the RX 6000 series will likely determine that. The RTX 3060 touts a pretty impressive performance level with 13 shader TFLOPS, 25 RT-TFLOPS, 101 tensor-TFLOPS, and a 192-bit memory interface with 12GB of GDDR6 memory. While memory capacity is not everything, it will confuse many users that the RTX 3060 has 12GB of memory while the RTX 3070 and 3080 only have 8GB and 10GB, respectively. It doesn’t make much sense for an entry-level card like the RTX 3060 to have 12GB of VRAM because it won’t be able to run games at high enough settings to make full use of that 12GB. Resizable BAR could be an opportunity to use the superfluous amount of RAM for an entry-level card.

The RTX 3060 will be available in late February starting at $329 and will only come as custom boards from NVIDIA’s top AIBs (add-in board partners). I expect that the RTX 3060 will sell exceptionally well for NVIDIA, especially if it can get meaningful supply into the channel and get GPUs in peoples’ hands. Interestingly, the NVIDIA GTX 1060 is still the most popular GPU on Steam, and it launched in 2016; while the RTX 2060 never saw such popularity, there is a chance the 3060 could.

Wrapping up

NVIDIA’s new Ampere laptop GPUs will power more than 70 gaming laptops, a new record for the company. This year’s CES is perfect for NVIDIA as it rides the launch of the Ampere series in late 2020 and the momentum that it brings into 2021 with the architecture waterfalling from desktop GPUs into laptops. These laptops bring an entirely new level of gaming performance to gamers in form factors that are thinner and lighter, with more choice starting at $999 for the RTX 3060 and going all the way up to $1,999. NVIDIA’s new RTX 3060 desktop GPU also shows some promise as the company’s mainstream Ampere GPU at $329 and will deliver gaming performance levels never before seen in that price category. I have to believe availability will be better for the 3060s given the chips are smaller and die per wader and good die per wafer should theoretically be better. 

2021 is already shaping up to be quite a good year for NVIDIA, judging by the momentum we see at CES.

Note: Moor Insights & Strategy’s senior analyst, Anshel Sag contributed to this article. 

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Patrick founded the firm based on his real-world world technology experiences with the understanding of what he wasn’t getting from analysts and consultants. Ten years later, Patrick is ranked #1 among technology industry analysts in terms of “power” (ARInsights)  in “press citations” (Apollo Research). Moorhead is a contributor at Forbes and frequently appears on CNBC. He is a broad-based analyst covering a wide variety of topics including the cloud, enterprise SaaS, collaboration, client computing, and semiconductors. He has 30 years of experience including 15 years of executive experience at high tech companies (NCR, AT&T, Compaq, now HP, and AMD) leading strategy, product management, product marketing, and corporate marketing, including three industry board appointments.