Nvidia unveils 'Denver,' its first CPU for PCs

Nvidia's CEO also said Windows for Arm is in Microsoft's best interests as the PC industry shifts

Nvidia is developing new CPU cores based on the Arm architecture for PCs and servers that will be able to run Microsoft's upcoming Windows OS, the company said on Wednesday.

The series of CPU cores, which is code-named Denver, will be based on a future Arm architecture and give Nvidia a presence in new markets, Nvidia CEO Jen-Hsun Huang said during a press conference at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

The announcement of new CPU cores came on the same day that Microsoft announced it is developing a future version of its Windows OS for the Arm architecture. The new Denver chips will support the upcoming Arm-based Windows OS, said Ken Brown, an Nvidia spokesman.

Microsoft's Windows OS, which is used on most of the world's PCs, currently works only on x86 chipsets from companies such as Intel and Advanced Micro Devices. An Arm version of Windows could provide users an option to buy Arm-based systems as an alternative to x86 products.

For many years, users had no choice on operating systems and chip architectures, said Bill Dally, Nvidia's chief scientist, in an e-mail message.

"Microsoft's announcement that it is bringing Windows to ultra-low power processors like Arm-based CPUs provides the final ingredient needed to enable Arm-based PCs based on Denver," Dally wrote.

"Denver frees PCs, workstations and servers from the hegemony and inefficiency of the x86 architecture," Dally said.

The downside is that software written for x86 chips will need to be tweaked before it can run on Arm systems.

Nvidia, primarily known as a graphics card company, has hinted in the past that it was developing a CPU for PCs, but it currently offers only the Tegra 2 chip for mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets.

The Denver CPUs will be based on future Arm processor designs, and Nvidia has licensed the Cortex-A15 processor and its successor design from Arm, Brown said. He didn't specific dates for when the CPUs will be in PCs, but he said they most likely would initially go into servers.

The chips will probably combine Nvidia's graphics processor cores with Arm's CPU cores, much like the Tegra chips. The integration of CPU and GPU technology in a single, power-efficient chip will help the company better serve the PC gamer market, Brown said. Another target market for these chips is cloud computing, Nvidia officials said.

During his speech, Huang was critical of the x86 architecture, which has dominated the PC market for decades. The growth of tablets and smartphones has created a "new PC industry," Huang said, which has led to an increased focus on Arm.

Arm is poised to become the new standard microprocessor architecture, and in a few years there will be more Arm processors than the number of x86 processors that "ever shipped," Huang said.

He provided the example of Apple, which introduced the iPad and iPhone and has revolutionized the way PC makers build and distribute devices, Huang said. Like Apple, a lot more companies are focusing on tablets and other mobile devices.

"The world has changed," Huang said. "The companies in the past that were leaders are readjusting their strategies."

A lot of software developers are also moving to the Arm architecture as they program for mobile devices, Huang said. With Denver, Huang hopes to attract mobile developers to write for PCs and servers.

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