Nvidia Corp. has admitted at a conference that it does need central processing units technology in order to make competitive system-on-chip (SoC) devices in several years time. Moreover, the company said that in three years time it might enter the market of x86-based SoCs.
Nvidia has already developed its Tegra SoC that combines its DirectX 9-class graphics core as well as ARM8 microprocessor. The product has chances to become rather popular among handset and multimedia devices manufacturers thanks to rich feature-set as well as minimal power consumption, however, it lacks performance to become competitive on the market of mobile personal computers, where performance matters a lot. But Nvidia believes that in several years time it will be possible and will make sense to integrate x86 architecture-based microprocessor into SoCs like Tegra.
“I think some time down the road it makes sense to take [the general purpose microprocessor business] the same level of integration that we’ve done with Tegra. Tegra is by any definition a complete computer on a chip, and the requirements of that market are such that you have to be very low power, very small, but highly efficient. So in that particular state it made a lot of sense to take that approach, and someday it’s going to make sense to take the same approach in the x86 market as well,” said Michael Hara at the Morgan Stanley Technology Conference in San Francisco, reports EDN.
In fact, Intel Corp. on Monday signed a pact with Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) under which it would be able to build SoCs featuring Intel Atom processors for its clients. Theoretically, Nvidia could work with Intel and TSMC to create an SoC featuring its GeForce 9400M core-logic with built-in graphics core and Intel Atom processing engine. Obviously, such SoC will be able to target only very cost-efficient applications these days.
Meanwhile, considering the fact that the market of chipsets with built-in graphics will cease to exist in several years as graphics cores will be integrated into central processing units, Nvidia will need a powerful x86 processing engine to power its SoCs aimed at mainstream personal computers. It seems, Nvidia fully admits that and claims that such x86 system-on-chip devices is on their minds.
“If you look at the high-end of the PC market I think it’s going to stay fairly discrete, because that seems to be the best of all worlds. A highly integrated system-on-chip is going to make sense in the MID [editor note: mobile intelligent device] and netbook markets. Two or three years down the road I think it’s going to make sense. We won’t talk much more about what we think about that timeframe, but there’s no question it’s on our minds,” Mr. Hara said.
Since Nvidia, unlike Advanced Micro Devices or Via Technologies, does not own a license on x86 instruction set originally developed by Intel Corp., it cannot formally launch x86-compatible processors. However, Nvidia may license IBM’s Power architecture or even code-morphing software developed by Transmeta. In that case Nvidia’s microprocessors will hardly be really competitive performance- and support-wise.
Theoretically, Nvidia could launch an x86 CPU without getting a license from Intel Corp., but a legal battle with the world’s largest chipmaker would hardly end in Nvidia’s favour. Moreover, considering the fact that Nvidia will have 0% of the market from the start as well as no infrastructure in place, and that the legal dispute would last for a couple of years only it is hardly possible that by the end of the litigation the company will have substantial enough market share to justify a law suit from Intel.