Nvidia made a change to how it lets developers use its chips, and some folks aren't happy

  • The change is meant to restrict the use of Nvidia's GeForce and Titan graphics cards.
  • Nvidia says its Tesla graphics cards, which are meant for data center use, come with support and other enterprise perks.

Nvidia is cracking down on unwanted use of some of its graphics cards.

On Wednesday the company confirmed a key change to the licensing agreement for driver software that goes with its GeForce and Titan graphics processing units. The update, which was made when Nvidia introduced the Titan V GPU earlier this month, is intended to deter the use of those GPUs inside data centers.

The change does not apply to Nvidia's Tesla line of GPUs, which are available from cloud providers like Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure. GPUs are a popular choice among artificial intelligence researchers and have driven the 85 percent surge in Nvidia's stock price this year.

Discussion forums on Reddit in recent days have tried to make sense of the new language in the software end-user licensing agreement, which is posted on Nvidia's website. Some critical responses have alleged that Nvidia is making the change to compel customers to use the more expensive Tesla GPUs instead of lower-cost processors. The Titan V starts at $3,000, while the new Tesla V100 is available for $8,000.

An Nvidia spokesperson, in an email to CNBC, highlighted several reasons that companies would prefer Tesla GPUs inside data centers. They include support and longer life expectancy. The email said that if customers want to use Titan or GeForce GPUs in data centers, they can talk with Nvidia's sales department.

"We expect that, working together with our user base on a case-by-case basis, we will be able to resolve any customer concerns," the spokesperson wrote. Additionally, those who don't download new drivers won't be held to the new terms.

Here's Nvidia's full statement to CNBC:

GeForce and TITAN GPUs were never designed for data center deployments with the complex hardware, software, and thermal requirements for 24x7 operation, where there are often multi-stack racks. To clarify this, we recently added a provision to our GeForce-specific EULA to discourage potential misuse of our GeForce and TITAN products in demanding, large-scale enterprise environments.

NVIDIA addresses the unique mechanical, physical, management, functional, reliability, and availability needs of servers with our Tesla products, which include a three-year warranty covering data center workloads, NVIDIA enterprise support, guaranteed continuity of supply and extended SKU life expectancy for data center components. This has been communicated to the market since the Tesla products were first released.

We recognize that researchers often adapt GeForce and TITAN products for non-commercial uses or other research uses that do not operate at data center scale. NVIDIA does not intend to prohibit such uses.

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