Nvidia's "Optimized PC" campaign, announced today, is the market-oriented manifestation of its larger ambitions. The idea is that Nvidia wants to show you how to build or buy a PC that's "balanced." In Nvidia's opinion, that means that rather than spend all of your PC budget on a quad-core processor (and relying on a built-in graphics chip), for a truly modern PC experience you're better off spending less on the CPU and more on a dedicated graphics card. What this campaign really signifies is that a new fight over who gets to do your processing dollar has officially begun.
You can check out the official page for Nvidia's Optimized PC campaign here. You'll find a Flash presentation informing you that "Your PC is more visual than ever," as well as a generic configurator demonstrating the supposed benefits of a "balanced PC." There's also a page of links to various online retailers that lead you to lists of Nvidia graphics cards for purchase, as well as links to configurators from Gateway, Velocity Micro, Cyberpower, and Puget Systems, which lead to presumably "optimized" systems.
What's frustrating is that Nvidia offers little in the way of specific processor and graphics card pairings that might help you make an actual purchase. As for the vendor links, if you click through and start to build a system, Velocity Micro is the only one with a visual indicator that shows you the balance between graphics and CPU processing capability as you select different components. The allegedly balanced Cyberpower systems still allow you to match Intel's highest-end quad core processor with an integrated graphics chip.
If the Optimized PC site isn't all that useful, the point Nvidia is trying to make is clear. Rather than throw all of your money at a quad-core Intel chip, Nvidia wants you to spend less on the CPU and more on a graphics card. In turn, Nvidia promises that its 3D hardware will not only allow you to play games, but it will also enable you to watch and edit HD movies, edit and organize photos in flashy new interface designs, as well as turn on all of those visual effects in Windows Vista. You can do some of those things with quad-core CPU and an integrated graphics chip, of course, but you need a dedicated 3D card for the most robust visual experience. Therein, the battle for your processing dollar.
Whether Nvidia has a compelling argument depends on just how visual you like your computing. Do you turn the 3D cities on in Google Maps? Do you like Vista's translucent windows? Have you even heard of PicLens (which we actually like, but that's not the point)? PC Gamers already tend to favor Nvidia, but in order to appeal to mainstream PC buyers, Nvidia has to convince you that there's a nongaming need for the specialized visual processing capabilities of its hardware.
Arguing for the necessity of 3D hardware in day-to-day computing has traditionally been a tough position, largely due to a lack of compelling software. If Nvidia is going to continue with this marketing push, we need to see more than just a handful of applications that truly benefit from accelerated graphics. The question is, will that happen before Intel makes its next move? With graphics card plans of its own on the near-horizon, it's possible that Intel may be able to offer a balanced computing experience of its own.