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Monday, June 2, 2008

Nvidia Tegra All-in-One Mobile Processors Aim to Nuke Intel's Atom ...

The NVIDIA Tegra 650 processor is the second product in the Tegra line, the first being the NVIDIA Tegra APX 2500 processor, which is enabling the next generation of Windows Mobile smartphones. “With the growing market demand for mobile Internet access, NVIDIA launched the APX 2500 computer-on-a-chip targeted at smartphones and handsets earlier this year. Recognizing that mobile Internet access usages will occur not just on smartphones and handsets but on compute devices as well, NVIDIA announced today their Tegra product line. Representing the first products to be targeted at the MID and portable device space, it is anticipated to bring integrated capabilities similar to the APX 2500 with NVIDIA’s graphics expertise, an ARM core, HD video,and advanced power management,” said Ian Lao, senior analyst at In-Stat.

This new processor features an optimized combination of an ultra-low power GeForce® GPU and an 800 MHz embedded ARM CPU, Due to their highly integrated design, NVIDIA Tegra processors achieve up to 10 times the power efficiency of existing products in battery-operated computer systems running compelling visual computing applications.

The company plans to demostrate this Tegra development platform at Computex.
Intel Corp. has been heavily promoting a new breed of pocket-size portable devices as a future market for its chips. Its competitors now hope to reap the benefits.

Chip suppliers for cellphones are moving aggressively to make products for the gadgets, dubbed MIDs, for mobile Internet devices. The contenders include Qualcomm Inc., Texas Instruments Inc., Samsung Electronics Co. and others who license technology from ARM Holdings PLC that is a mainstay in cellphones. And there is a new entry: Nvidia Corp., Intel's crosstown rival in Santa Clara, Calif.

Nvidia, known for chips that manage graphics in computers, on Monday plans to announce its first chips for MIDs. The company already sells graphics chips for cellphones and recently began combining that technology with components that include an ARM application processor, which provides calculating functions akin to those of Intel's microprocessors.

Nvidia describes its new Tegra chip for MIDs as a "computer on a chip" that will be particularly good for tasks such as watching videos and playing games. Mike Rayfield, general manager of the company's mobile unit, estimates a device built around his company's new chip can play 26 hours of high-definition video on a single battery charge, compared with four hours using a new Intel chip called Atom.

Nvidia's announcement is pegged for a conference this week in Taiwan called Computex, at which Intel and its customers plan to show off machines built on the company's technology. Anand Chandrasekher , the Intel senior vice president in charge of its ultramobility group, estimates the Atom chip has been selected for "30-plus" devices that will start hitting the market by the end of this month.

He puts typical battery life of Atom-based products at four to six hours, which he says is fine for many users. Intel plans to deliver a successor chip by 2010 that will draw one-tenth the power and offer more usage per battery charge.

"It's not surprising that our competitors would enter the fray," Mr. Chandrasekher said. "We think the pie will be big enough that there will be room for multiple people."

Users of ARM's technology say they've been slicing off big chunks of the emerging market already. Sanjay Jha, Qualcomm's chief operating officer, estimates that 15 MIDs are being developed using its chips.

Seshu Madhavapeddy , general manager of a new Texas Instruments business unit targeting the MID market, says its latest chip has been selected for 40 devices including MIDs and smartphones. He said he can't provide a precise count for MIDs, since customers don't always provide details of their plans.

MIDs are a loosely defined category. The term is generally applied to devices that are smaller than a laptop and larger than a cellphone that connect to the Internet wirelessly using either Wi-Fi or cellular data technologies.

Apple Computer Inc.'s iPhone and iPod touch are considered early examples, as is Nokia Corp.'s recently introduced N810 device. Other devices are expected to evolve from existing product categories, such as portable gaming or navigation devices, says Richard Yeh, a director of strategic marketing for Samsung's semiconductor unit.

Besides battery life, perhaps the biggest point of contention among chip makers is whether the x86 chip design Intel popularized in personal computers has advantages over its ARM-based competitors. Mr. Chandrasekher argues that most new Web-based software was developed for PCs long before it was adapted for ARM chips, giving portables based on that technology a second-rate Internet experience.

That is changing quickly, says Tudor Brown, ARM's chief operating officer. In one major development, Adobe Systems Inc. -- whose Flash software technology is used in such popular sites as Google Inc.'s YouTube -- recently announced an effort called the Open Screen Project to bring users consistent experiences with the company's software across PCs, cellphones, MIDs and other devices. "That has really leveled the playing field," Mr. Brown said.


Nvidia's mobile ambitions adding MIDs to the list
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.

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