Sunday, December 24th 2017

Not Too Cool to Rule: One of NVIDIA's Most Coveted Products is a Ruler

"This is super cool;" "I've never seen anything like it;" "How do I get my hands on one?" Talk to NVIDIA recruiter Lisa Calderon and she'll tell you she has a secret weapon when it comes to getting tech's top talent talking to her. It's a foot long, one-and-a-half inches wide and covered with - to the uninitiated - strange gold markings. "Everyone asks the same thing," Calderon says. "'Can I have one?' And, of course, 'can I take another one for my 'friend'?'"

It's the NVIDIA ruler. And, as many NVIDIANs have learned, taking this modest slab of PCB board to the right place - and showing it to the right people - gets an immediate reaction. "Every electrical engineer that I've showed it to has instantly said 'I need one of these right now,'" says Josh, an NVIDIA ASIC architect, who has mailed bunches of them to contacts around the industry. Each time the ruler appears at NVIDIA's internal company store - which has sold 5,000 of these rulers so far - it sells out in minutes. Thousands more have been snatched up at industry conferences such as NIPS - the long-running deep-learning conference - where its appearance created a social media sensation. Employees at competitors will sidle up to our booth at industry events to trade bundles of their swag for it. It's never been made available to the public. But, if you're quick, you can find one on eBay for 10 times its modest employee-only price of $3.50 (when it's available). The only sure to way to get one: make friends with someone at NVIDIA.
For Engineers by Engineers
The story behind NVIDIA's least likely cult product began in 2016 with VP of Hardware Engineering Andrew Bell, a 15-year veteran of the company. Bell wanted something engineers could slip into their back pocket and take with them to design meetings.

The motivation, Bell explains, was that many of the interns and new college graduates NVIDIA hires come from working in the digital world, where the physical size of things is hard to understand. Weaving a GPU into the mesh of inductors and capacitors, diodes and crystals held together by these boards takes sweat, a steady hand and a good soldering iron. The rule would be a training tool to calibrate people's digital world to the real world, to avoid using components that were too large, or too small, for a design, Bell says.

Creating that tool quickly became a labor of love, explains John, a NVIDIA engineer whose job is to manage the many complex tools engineers used to source parts and put them to work. John teamed up with Andy, a veteran systems engineer, who designed the schematic for the ruler using some of the same electronic design tools used to build NVIDIA's other products, and Oscar, who did the ruler's layout.

What makes the NVIDIA ruler unique, the pair explains, is that unlike other rules that reference the most widely used parts, the NVIDIA ruler shows the parts engineers at NVIDIA most often use to put together the company's products. That includes the formidable GP104 GPU found in our graphics cards for gamers and the Tegra X1 and K1 mobile processors, or SoCs as they're known in industry parlance. They not only give engineers the ability to see at a glance each part's size, they show crucial details, such as the position of the scores of ball grid arrays that need to be carefully aligned with the pins on the back of each processor to bring them to life.
NVIDIA's flagship products are just the highlights on a ruler that's packed with details. And talking with John and Andy about them is a fascinating crash-course in their craft. Take the series of holes that increase in size from bottom to top at the center of a table on one end of the ruler. A validation engineer, Andy explains, can use it to measure the diameter of a wire. The engineer can then refer to another table on the ruler - complete with a handy formula - to calculate resistance per unit of length so he or she can solve for what diameter of wire you need for a board, and know how many volts you'll drop when you carry a certain amount of current through it.

The ruler itself is a remarkable work of craftsmanship, too. It's made from a printed circuit boards, the multi-layered sandwiches of fiberglass and copper foil that connect the electronic components inside just about every electronic gadget. The gold markings are left by the same electroless nickel immersion gold, or ENIG, plating process used in many electronic components. The final product is manufactured by a small shop in Silicon Valley with a long track-record of creating custom circuit boards.

But it's one that quickly gained a cult-following inside the company when it was first revealed on the NVIDIA's lively "cross-discipline discuss" internal email alias in September 2016. "That looks like an absolute ruler to me," one engineer wrote when a picture was first posted. "This totally rules!" another wrote. Word got out fast. Within hours of the first public giveaway at an elite East Coast tech school, an image of the ruler was posted online where it was viewed more than 78,000 times. The most common comment? "I want one." One of the most common questions? "Does it play Crysis?"
Asked to explain the passion among NVIDIA's thousands of engineers - many of whom labor in computer-assisted design tools far away from the nit-and-grit of putting products together - for a tool designed to aid the work of just a few hundred, John has a simple explanation. "I know people who look at it and say 'I worked on this chip, I really want this,'" John says. "Anyone at the company who has done any work on any of these chips would think of it as a souvenir they would want to have."

It is, in short, a 12-inch piece of NVIDIA's soul. Source: NVIDIA Blogs
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23 Comments on Not Too Cool to Rule: One of NVIDIA's Most Coveted Products is a Ruler

#1
blobster21
Yeah Cool christmas story bro.

...and they lived happily ever after.
Posted on Reply
#2
FreedomEclipse
~Technological Technocrat~
Just dont let john wick get his hands on it.
Posted on Reply
#3
spectatorx
I started reading... few sentences later i keep reading and scratching my head... look at date... no, it is not april fools, far from it... what the actual f*** am i reading?! There are only three things nvidia extremely amazes me with: FXAA, SSAA and marketing. They are known of selling broken by design products (or doing other shady things like visual cheats in drivers to improve performance by cost of image quality), getting no penalty for it and making incredible profits on this crime (for example geforce 970, increasing aliasing, limiting draw distance, etc.). I can believe this story is real, even if hard to believe but nvidia's marketing is incredible and i can believe they sell out god damn rulers within few minutes once they become available again.
Posted on Reply
#4
qubit
Overclocked quantum bit
I sooo want one of these. :cool:
Posted on Reply
#5
kruk
Wow, they can make a hype basically out of anything. Quick, now release a Founders Edition of the ruler and price it $100 :peace:.
Posted on Reply
#6
the54thvoid
Some people QQ at the slightest thing. :rolleyes:

I want one. I have clockwork cufflinks and a PCB ruler would be nice for the office, even if I do work in fitness. Or a pressie for my engineer buddy.
Posted on Reply
#8
XiGMAKiD
kruk, post: 3773396, member: 168606"
Wow, they can make a hype basically out of anything. Quick, now release a Founders Edition of the ruler and price it $100 :peace:.
Even better a Star Wars Special Editions :rockout:
Posted on Reply
#9
lexluthermiester
spectatorx, post: 3773375, member: 95141"
I started reading... few sentences later i keep reading and scratching my head... look at date... no, it is not april fools, far from it... what the actual f*** am i reading?!
Funny thing, was thinking the exact same thought while reading your comment.
spectatorx, post: 3773375, member: 95141"
There are only three things nvidia extremely amazes me with: FXAA, SSAA and marketing. They are known of selling broken by design products (or doing other shady things like visual cheats in drivers to improve performance by cost of image quality), getting no penalty for it and making incredible profits on this crime (for example geforce 970, increasing aliasing, limiting draw distance, etc.). I can believe this story is real, even if hard to believe but nvidia's marketing is incredible and i can believe they sell out god damn rulers within few minutes once they become available again.
Wow.. Getting into the true Christmas spirit with your technological version of an Ebenezer Scrooge rant! I haven't laughed this hard in a while! Thank You. The only thing that would make it funnier is if you were serious.. God bless us, every one. And a very merry Christmas to you!

That ruler is a symbol of true and royal geekdom. Ah to have one..
Posted on Reply
#10
Chaitanya
I am getting a few in coming weeks, my cousin has picked those rulers for me. They look lot more useful than semiconductors nvidia sells.
Posted on Reply
#11
ZoneDymo
ill stick with my AMD measuring tape, thank you very much
Posted on Reply
#12
Assimilator
"PCB board": "printed circuit board board". Department of Redundancy Department, reporting in.
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#13
sergionography
Omfg this is cooler than the other side of the pillow! Lol Wth is it?
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#14
Outback Bronze
Too bad I would prefer an ATI one :)

Pretty cool nonetheless.

Merry Christmas everyone.
Posted on Reply
#15
Solaris17
Dainty Moderator
thats pretty cool. I dont ever need to use a ruler but if I did that would be pretty cool to break out. Id even use it!
Posted on Reply
#16
Gmr_Chick
spectatorx, post: 3773375, member: 95141"
I started reading... few sentences later i keep reading and scratching my head... look at date... no, it is not april fools, far from it... what the actual f*** am i reading?! There are only three things nvidia extremely amazes me with: FXAA, SSAA and marketing. They are known of selling broken by design products (or doing other shady things like visual cheats in drivers to improve performance by cost of image quality), getting no penalty for it and making incredible profits on this crime (for example geforce 970, increasing aliasing, limiting draw distance, etc.). I can believe this story is real, even if hard to believe but nvidia's marketing is incredible and i can believe they sell out god damn rulers within few minutes once they become available again.
Haha, was thinking the EXACT same thing :D

kruk, post: 3773396, member: 168606"
Wow, they can make a hype basically out of anything. Quick, now release a Founders Edition of the ruler and price it $100 :peace:.
XiGMAKiD, post: 3773413, member: 161561"
Even better a Star Wars Special Editions :rockout:
Shhh! Guys, don't put ideas into their heads! If they stand to make a $ off of it, they'll do it!
Posted on Reply
#17
GC_PaNzerFIN
Instead of competitive salary and industry's best benefits package we offer you this $3.5 ruler. :)
Posted on Reply
#18
R-T-B
GC_PaNzerFIN, post: 3773689, member: 76628"
Instead of competitive salary and industry's best benefits package we offer you this $3.5 ruler. :)
Frankly, pretty sure they are offered both.

It's pretty hilarious to see people thinking nvidia make money off a $3.50 part that includes a full pascal ASIC...
Posted on Reply
#19
OneMoar
There is Always Moar
R-T-B, post: 3773820, member: 41983"
Frankly, pretty sure they are offered both.

It's pretty hilarious to see people thinking nvidia make money off a $3.50 part that includes a full pascal ASIC...[/QUOTE
the junk dies aren't worth 3.50 more like 0.50c they throw them out anyway
Posted on Reply
#20
Solaris17
Dainty Moderator
R-T-B, post: 3773820, member: 41983"
It's pretty hilarious to see people thinking nvidia make money off a $3.50 part that includes a full pascal ASIC...
I'm not sure the research you put into that comment measures up. The die's are more then likely duds.
Posted on Reply
#21
R-T-B
Solaris17, post: 3773863, member: 14803"
I'm not sure the research you put into that comment measures up. The die's are more then likely duds.
lol, I'd pay $3.50 for a dud ASIC keychain. I still find it a value and I'm sure they aren't making money on these custom boards.

Still, nice pun, so have a thanks.
Posted on Reply
#22
Solaris17
Dainty Moderator
R-T-B, post: 3773866, member: 41983"
Still, nice pun, so have a thanks.
Thanks I live for it
Posted on Reply
#23
ensabrenoir
.....we've entered into the the upper echelon in the hierarchy of Geekdom.... only those with the ruler may pass....
Posted on Reply
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