Nvidia takes swing at Intel with new Tegra chips

Tegra low-power chips designed to enable high-def media and computing experiences on a small device

The market for hardware that can run mobile Internet devices heated up considerably Monday with the unveiling of Nvidia's Tegra family of processors, whose models contain chips for multiple functions.

The Tegra chips directly compete with Intel's Atom processor line, which was announced in early April at the Intel Developer Forum in Shanghai. With an increasing number of people wanting or needing to access computers outside of their offices, makers of mobile Internet devices are seeking new ways to make computers smaller and more efficient.

"There's a battle emerging here," said Nathan Brookwood, an analyst at research firm Insight 64. "This is going to be a very exciting area. It's perceived to be one with huge growth over the next few years. Everyone is going to want an in if they can pull it off."

Mobile Internet devices are small machines, falling somewhere between smart phones and laptops.

The new Tegra processors are low-power chips that are designed to enable high-definition media and computing experiences on a small device. Andrew Hamber, a spokesman for Nvidia, said that a MID device running an Intel chip uses about 12 watts of power. The same device running a Tegra chip uses 1.3 watts, he said.

Dean McCarron, an analyst at Mercury Research, explained that putting multiple functions on one chip reduces energy consumption. The bigger and longer the wire needed to connect multiple chips, the more energy is needed to send any signal or interaction between them.

McCarron also noted that a single chip takes up less real estate, which in turn leaves more space for a larger battery or other features.

"This Nvidia chip comes in handy because it makes video on a large screen look good," said Brookwood. "People go to a hotel room or their office and they want to plug their device to a TV so they can watch whatever movie they had downloaded. Handhelds didn't really have good video capabilities before. So if you had a movie on a small device and hooked up to a TV, it looked terrible. Now this can handle the high resolutions that TVS support."

Brookwood noted that Intel is slated to release Moorestown, the successor to its new Atom chip, next year. It's expected to have graphics and video capabilities built in, but Brookwood said it's unlikely that the quality will be comparable to Nvidia's product.

"The interesting battle will begin next year when you see these Nvidia chips up against [the new chips from] Intel," he added.

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