Ghosts of Cyrix, PowerPC, Transmeta haunt x86-bound Nvidia

For Nvidia to crack the Intel-AMD duopoly, it must avoid four past mistakes, say experts

Although the Nano hasn't attracted many customers, Brookwood attributes that to Via's lack of marketing muscle and its need to stay neutral as a major motherboard maker. Nvidia wouldn't be shackled by Via's constraints. "It would be the least bizarre of many alternatives," Brookwood said.

Enderle favors Nvidia approaching GlobalFoundries, the now-independent chip fabrication division of AMD, to see if it is willing to manufacture for Nvidia CPUs based on AMD or Intel technology.

Negotiating the necessary cross-licenses, though tricky, isn't impossible, Enderle says, citing Microsoft's XBox processor, which is manufactured by IBM for Microsoft. It is based on Intel Pentium III technology.

What Nvidia has to watch out for as it considers deals with third-parties is being burned. Take Cyrix's deal with its manufacturer, IBM: It allowed IBM to build and sell the same processor under its own name. Cyrix hoped that would allow its processor to quickly gain volume, resulting in lower manufacturing costs and expanding the market.

IBM had other ideas. "Their sales guys just followed the Cyrix salesguys into the same customers and offered them a better deal," said Brookwood. "[Cyrix] opened itself up to cannibalization."

Don't over-promise and under-deliver

Although no surprise to industry insiders, Nvidia's statement of interest in making CPUs will inevitably raise speculation, and expectations. Nvidia's CEO, Jen-Hsun Huang, also has a history of making brash, and some would say rash, statements.

That was the trap into which Transmeta fell, says Brookwood. The company had a huge initial public offering (IPO) at the tail end of the dot-com boom. It then spent the several hundred million dollars raised on developing mobile CPUs, which failed to deliver on their promise of super-fast and low-power. Transmeta's chips are not widely used and it was acquired by Novafora late last year.

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