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Nvidia takes on Intel in mobile x86 battle

Posted: 04 Jun 2008 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Atom processor? Tegra processors? navigation devices?

Nvidia Corp. will go head-to-head with the Intel Corp. Atom processor in a battle for design wins in mobile media and Internet devices. The graphics company is launching the Tegra processors which it claims provide more processing power in less space and with lower power consumption than Intel's latest mobile x86 chip.

Nvidia is launching the processors at Computex in Taipei, which is becoming a magnet for mobile media components. Last week Freescale announced it would debut at Computex a new version of its i.MX application processor aimed at mobile media players and portable navigation devices. Others are showcasing TV tuners, accelerators and other devices for media playback.

The Tegra is essentially a stepwise upgrade of the APX, Nvidia's first cellphone application processor launched at the GSM World Congress in February. The new versions are built in a 65nm TSMC process and crank the ARM11 core up to 800MHz, handling video decode at resolutions up to 1,080-progressive.

The new chips also add an IDE interface to link to hard disk drives that will be used in some high-end portable media players and ultrasmall PCs. The chip will be priced competitively with the x86-based Atom that ranges from $40 to $160.

Taipei is home of the Asus eePC, a subnotebook computer that broke through what had been a $500 entry-level price point. "With this chip you can build an eePC that sells for $399 today for $199," said Mike Rayfield, general manager of Nvidia's mobile group.

The Tegra could also help systems like the eePC get longer battery life, he added. The ARM is generally much lower than the x86 in power consumption, even considering Intel's achievement with the Atom which has a maximum power consumption of 2W at 2GHz.

Rayfield said the Tegra chip consumes as little as 400mW while decoding 720p resolution video and less than 100mW in idle mode. He compared that to 12W dissipation for a full system using the Atom.

Nvidia claims the Tegra delivers up to 25hrs of 720p video playback compared to less than 5hrs with an Atom chip. It can power PC applications for up to 10hrs, compared to less than two for Atom, Nvidia said.

The Tegra is sampling now and will be in production this fall. Nvidia plans to update the design once a year, as much as doubling performance with each generation. The company has alr4eady licensed the next-generation ARM core for use in the Tegra.

The Tegra will be paired with the Windows CE and Widows Mobile operating systems. Rayfield said Nvidia has many design wins for the companion APX chip aimed at smart phones, but added that he was not free to name them.

The market for mobile Internet devices, target for the Tegra, is still unproven. However, chips aiming at the segment will also seek design wins in established products including portable media players such as the iPod Touch.

"I believe there is a market for devices with 4-inch to 8-inch screens that do different things and are not just shrunken notebook," said Rayfield. "There was no way to build such devices previously without rotten battery life and rotten performance," he added.

- Rick Merritt
EE Times

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