NVIDIA Tegra CPU plans to split Intel’s Atom

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Tegra_badge_2Now that raw, cold horsepower is relegated to the backseat in handheld Internet devices, the processor space is heating up. NVIDIA, a long-time player in the graphics card market, is casting its lot with the Tegra line of processors. The company is showing off the Tegra 600 and 650 CPUs this week at Computex and expects small notebooks powered by Tegra to be in the $200 to $250 range. That would be ideal in my book as the lightweight, web-centric notebook price trends are rising, which gets them away from the allure they first had.

It’s interesting that Intel’s plans for the Atom processors are for their chips to be in millions of Internet connected devices. Intel was generally dominant when CPU demands were high, but as we move towards mobile devices that don’t require heavy client apps, the need for major processing power are greatly diminished. This factor is causing the low-end CPU market to get blown wide open and that’s going to make it tougher for the Atom. NVIDIA’s Tegra 650 isn’t a necessarily a slouch when you look at its specs either:

  • ARM11 core at 800 MHz
  • 720p encode /1080p H.264 decode support
  • Imaging support for up to a 12 megapixel camera sensor
  • HDMI out support for full HD resolution (1920 x 1080)
  • NAND Flash supported
  • OpenGL ES 2.0

Will you build a high-performance, Windows Vista notebook around the Tegra? Nope, but I gather that you won’t build one around an Atom either, at least not in it’s first iteration. This CPU is targeted squarely at smaller devices that web-connected and since competition is good, I can’t wait to see what comes out of this.

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Chris K

See, the argument for yet another ARM-based pocketable general purpose computer keeps on falling flat on its face for me, and for a very simple reason:

No matter what OS I run, all of the apps are already there for x86 desktops.

Windows Mobile has a lot of apps, but they’re not *quite* where I want them. Linux x86 has just about every app out there, and most of them are in some usable form, but once you force them to run under Hildon, the software base collapses. (Hildon on ARM Linux is even worse.)

Not everyone has a cross-compilation setup at home, so this isn’t an easy issue to bypass. I personally still need x86 to expand into every available niche, so that I can get the easiest workaround possible: Windows in my pocket. I need offline processing capability in order to pull up my documents, media, etc. without issues. I need network connectivity for other reasons, but the two issues go hand in hand. Yet another ARM chipset is great, if I want a more powerful cell phone. It’s never a bad thing to have that sort of good, high-quality intermediary in your pocket, since the truly one-handed data access device will come with you ALL the time, while the pocketable PC may be stuck in a bag, at your desk, etc. I’ll check my Blackberry at the water cooler, but not my MID/UMPC/handtop.

It’s probably not an entirely useless niche, but it’s certainly an odd one to me. I don’t want an oversized cellphone so much as I want an undersized PC. There’s a certain inherent flexibility to a desktop-grade OS in your hand that many of these non-x86 MID-alikes just aren’t ever going to reach.

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