Nvidia is doubling down on its budding processor business for the next generation of mobile computers.
This week at Computex, Nvidia plans to show off its new Tegra brand for mobile application processors. Earlier this year, the company unveiled its first processor for smartphones, the APX 2500. It's now adding two processors to its Tegra brand, with plans to target the emerging Mobile Internet Device category, according to Mike Rayfield, general manager of the company's mobile business.
Nvidia is best known for its graphics processors, of course, but has been taking steps toward a mobile future since its purchase of PortalPlayer in 2006. The company is a member of the ARM universe, with an ARM11 processor core at the heart of the Tegra processors.
The ARM community, companies like Texas Instruments, Samsung, and Marvell, dominates the market for smartphone processors. But they are formulating plans for challenging Intel in the MID category, which by Nvidia's reckoning is loosely defined as everything from a 4-inch minitablet to a subnotebook like the Eee PC.
Intel has huge plans for this market with its Atom lineup of processors, but Nvidia thinks it can carve out a niche by promoting the power consumption of its Tegra processors, Rayfield said. Nvidia says the Tegra 600 series processors won't consume more than a watt of power running at either 600MHz or 800MHz, while Atom is capable of exceeding that limit.
The difference, according to Rayfield, is that Nvidia's design spreads the work out over several different hardware accelerators, rather than just one main processor like Atom. Texas Instruments made a similar argument earlier this year regarding its ability to move up from smartphones into more powerful computers.
One interesting part of Nvidia's strategy, however, is that the company's products are designed to work exclusively with Microsoft's Windows Mobile software. Unlike the PC world, there are several operating system options for mobile computers, and that number will continue to grow with the release of Google's Android and Palm's Nova over the next year and a half.
Rayfield acknowledges that Windows Mobile users of the past haven't had the best experience with their smartphones, but thinks that the most recent version of the operating system, and the forthcoming Windows Mobile 7, give device makers much more freedom to put catchy user interfaces on top of Windows Mobile. Microsoft's software also gives Nvidia's customers a fast route to the marketplace at an affordable price, he said.
Rayfield expects devices using the Tegra processors to arrive by the fourth-quarter holiday season. Nvidia has created its own reference design for a MID using the chips that it will show off at Computex this week.