When thinking about platforms like Intel's Centrino or nVidia's nForce/SLI there are three components that spring to mind, CPU, motherboard and graphics card. Now admittedly nVidia doesn't make processors and Intel doesn't make performance graphics so there is a bit of chopping and changing but as a general rule, all three are optimised to work together with other components from the same manufacturer. With today's announcement of the Enthusiast System Architecture (ESA), nVidia looks set to change that preconception by bringing component integration to a system-wide level.
At its heart, ESA is basically a set of protocols that allow all the various parts of the enthusiast's system to talk to each other and adjust settings, depending on user preference, to change the system operation, be that by reducing power draw or upping performance. These adjustments will be made via a USB interface, using a custom instruction set, which is currently awaiting approval and certification from the USB Implementers' Forum - the body responsible for such things. ESA will be an open standard and nVidia will be freely distributing the specification to component builders, helping to reduce the cost of implemention and hopefully increasing uptake.
The kind of parts being talked about range from the CPUs to fans to power supplies and while it is fair to say these individual components normally have some form of user control, ESA adds to the mix by bringing it together in one central location. So, for example, you could have a high end system that when playing games would overclock the processor, tighten memory timings, increase the Northbridge, RAM and CPU voltages and up the CPU and chassis fan speeds to provide adequate cooling. When just browsing the Internet, on the other hand, that same system could then reduce the chipset and CPU voltages, clock speed and so forth.
The level of control could even extend as far as having the power supply shut off any rails not being used, improving efficiency and, for the green minded (no nVidia-related pun intended) reducing power wastage. Better still for nVidia, industry support is already good, with companies such as Dell (including Alienware), Asus, Tagan, and MSI all backing the standard. If you want more detail then bit-tech's Tim Smalley has the low-down.