Nvidia's new chips target mobile devices

The next-generation Tegra processor builds in more speed and better graphics performance

Nvidia launched its next-generation Tegra processor for low-cost laptops and tablets on Thursday, which could intensify competition with rival Intel in the chip market.

Nvidia's second generation of Tegra processors is for mobile devices with screen sizes from 5 inches to 15 inches. The new Tegra processors are close to four times faster than the previous generation of chips, Nvidia said at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Based on Arm's Cortex-A9 processor design, the dual-core processor can run at speeds of up to 1GHz. In addition to the Arm core, the Tegra processor includes a GeForce graphics core and other cores that will be capable of encoding and decoding full high-definition video, Nvidia said. The new chip provides 10 times faster application performance than its predecessor, Nvidia said.

The independent cores optimize the chip's power consumption based on active usage. The processor will help a device deliver 16 hours of high-definition video or 140 hours of music on a single battery charge, the company said.

A rollout of products based on the new chip will happen during the first half this year, company officials have already said. Devices targeted with the chip include low-cost laptops called smartbooks, tablets and other portable devices.

Known primarily as a graphics card vendor, Nvidia's intention behind Tegra chips is to bring advanced graphics capabilities and always-on Internet access to mobile devices while drawing less power.

The processor builds in multimedia enhancements that make it capable of supporting larger devices, Nvidia said. The processor has much faster graphics performance than its predecessor, which was mostly designed for smaller devices like portable media devices and mobile Internet devices. The most notable device carrying the older Tegra is Microsoft's Zune HD portable media player.

The processor will be able to handle 3D touchscreen user interfaces and include native support for Adobe's Flash Player, which is the backbone for streaming video playback on YouTube. The Tegra chip has already gone into manufacturing, and the chip will be manufactured using the 40-nanometer process.

The next-generation Tegra processor could intensify the competition between Intel and Nvidia as they fight for market share in the lucrative low-cost laptop market. The market is dominated by netbooks, which mostly come with Intel's Atom processor and either Windows XP or Windows 7. Devices with Nvidia's Tegra processors come mostly with Linux, as Arm designs do not support the Windows operating system.

But a larger number of PC makers are adopting Arm-based chips for portable devices. Lenovo recently announced a smartbook, which is a low-cost laptop based on Arm designs. Another player in the chip market, Advanced Micro Devices, has mostly tried to stay away from the low-cost space.

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Agam Shah

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