The rumors appear to be true: Microsoft's Zune HD media player will use Nvidia's Tegra, a processor that will play a pivotal role in the chip supplier's future.
Nvidia Chief Executive Jen-Hsun Huang said at the company's analyst day on Tuesday that the Tegra processor is expected to account for half of Nvidia's business in a few years. If this prediction comes true, Nvidia will bear little resemblance to the company it is today: a maker of large, power-hungry chips for gamers and professionals.
Tegra is the polar opposite of the hot, heat-sink-clad graphics processors that power the fastest gaming rigs today. Tegra uses less than 0.5 watts of power (compared, for example, with the Nvidia GeForce GTX 295, which is rated at 289 watts), an attribute the chip inherits from its power-stingy ARM parentage.
Tegra packs two ARM chips. One is the main application processor--based on the ARM11 core--which runs the operating system. Tegra's defining feature, however, is the Nvidia GeForce graphics chip: this is what likely caught Microsoft's eye. In total, Tegra integrates eight independent processors, according to Michael Rayfield, general manager of Nvidia's mobile business unit, who spoke during Nvidia's Analyst Day.
Audio codec technology has been developed by PortalPlayer, which Nvidia acquired in 2006, Rayfield said.
To date, Tegra has 42 design wins, according to Rayfield. "They range from media players to smartphones to smartbooks to Web pads," he said. Out of those 42, about 18 are smartphones. "You'll start to see those show up toward the end of this year," he said.
The smartphones are "household names, household carriers. Names you'll recognize," he said, possibly alluding to Microsoft, among other major brands. A total of 27 manufacturers are working on devices, he said.
Not everybody is impressed, however. "It's surprised me that it's taking as long as it is to get to tier-one (telecommunications carriers)," said Doug Freedman of Broadpoint AmTech. "Tegra has been available for over a year."
The Zune HD--due later this year--comes with a 3.3-inch, 16:9 OLED (480x272 resolution) screen. And also includes an HD (high-definition) Radio, HD (720p) video out, Wi-Fi, a Web browser (with tap-to-zoom technology), built-in accelerometer, and touchscreen QWERTY keyboard.