Nvidia Volta: Major clue about release date finally revealed

Everything you need to know about Nvidia Volta

(Update: August 15, 2017): Nvidia’s manufacturing partner TSMC has confirmed that volume production of the upcoming Volta GPUs will begin towards the end of year, giving us major clues as to the release date.

The Nvidia Volta is set to be the graphics card giant’s successor to its Pascal architecture, but what on Earth does that mean and why are we even talking about it?

Given that its big GPU rival AMD has just shown its hand with its high-end gaming Vega architecture, there’s no time to waste in looking at what might be coming next in 2017 or 2018. First, let’s look at what Volta is before assessing its role in the world of GPUs this year.

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What is Nvidia Volta?

Volta is the code name for Nvidia’s next generation of graphics architecture. Graphics architecture is another way of describing a chip’s design; the template on which the various different products are based. Volta is the successor to Pascal, which was the codename behind 10-series GPUs ranging from the bottom-spec GTX 1050 all the way up to the GTX 1080 Ti.

Nvidia Volta launch date – when is it coming out?

It’s already here! Technically, anyway. As it stands, only massive V100 servers running Volta chips have actually started shipping, and these computing behemoths bear little to no resemblance to the tiny boards you’ll be hungrily stuffing into your gaming PC in the coming months. While it tells us that the Volta rollout is well and truly underway, it doesn’t give us the remotest hint as to whether Nvidia is going to launch a desktop GPU based on the technology any time soon.

It sometimes helps to look at past trends. Nvidia launched its previous-gen, “Pascal”-based GPUs in April 2016 before revealing its Pascal-based gaming GPUs in May and putting them on sale at the end of that month. Given that we’re already months past Nvidia first revealing its Volta-based products, history isn’t going to repeat itself.

There are a couple of reasons for this. Back in those heady days, AMD was looking exceptionally competitive with its Fury-branded graphics cards and briefly held the crown as having the fastest gaming GPU on the market. This time around, AMD didn’t have an answer to Nvidia’s top-spec GTX 1080 Ti, with its two Vega launches slotting in just above the 2nd-tier GTX 1080 and 3rd-tier GTX 1070. Nvidia therefore still holds the crown and has no real reason to show its ultimate hand until there’s actual pressure to do so.

The best information on an actual release date that we have right now comes courtesy of TSMC, Nvidia’s silicon partner. Apparently, volume production of Volta GPUs won’t begin until the end of the year, which means consumer-ready products almost certainly won’t be available to purchase until 2018.

Should I wait to buy a new graphics card?

This is an important question, and really the reason why we decided to write this piece. As it stands, rumours of an upcoming Nvidia launch are extremely scarce. This is interesting given we had rumours of 10-series cards a couple of months before they launched in 2016. This either means Nvidia has tightened up its leak policies, or it has no plans to launch anything imminently. And even if it does launch something this year, it might not be Volta, and might simply be a minor refresh of its current Pascal line-up. Given how much of a lead it currently has, this makes more sense than a completely new architecture.

If you were always waiting for the next generation of GPUs before buying, you’d never end up buying one. However, proceed with caution as we head into the latter stages of 2017. Keep an eye on rumours and speculation; as soon as the leaks start coming, you’ll know a launch is very close indeed.

 

Nvidia Volta specs

This is where things get both technical and woolly.

We have no information on specifications whatsoever, aside from a couple of pieces of technology. Initially, it appeared that Volta would be based on a fabrication process (the way in which the chip is manufactured) of 10nm (nanonmetres) in size.

The smaller the process size, the more transistors (the yes/no gates that do all the work) you can fit on a piece of silicon, which means you effectively get more powerful components without using more energy. We warned you this would be technical.

By way of comparison, 10nm is the same process size as Intel’s Cannon Lake processors.

However, other rumours point to Volta being shifted to a slightly larger – and thereby easier – fabrication process of 12nm. This is according to Taiwan’s Commercial Times via Tech Report. As the publication points out, simply rating a GPU based on process size is a bit of a non-science since other factors come into play.

Aside from that, Nvidia apparently is looking to incorporate high-bandwidth memory (already found in high-end datacentre GPUs) into Volta GPUs. But that’s about it.

We’re going to keep this article updated as new rumours arrive, so bookmark this page and stay tuned to Trusted Reviews.

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