Nvidia CEO takes a shot at Intel's mobile chips

Nvidia President and CEO Jen-Hsun Huang took a shot at rival Intel on Monday, telling reporters that computers running Windows 7 with an Atom processor paired with Nvidia's Ion graphics chip can be cheaper and more powerful than systems based on Intel's mobile processors designed for slim laptops.

An Atom processor and an Ion graphics chipset cost US$75, while a Core 2 Solo SU3500 processor and chipset with integrated graphics costs just over $100, Huang said during a press conference ahead of the Computex exhibition in Taipei.

Both Intel processors have a single core, although the Core 2 Solo's core is a significantly more powerful design than the one used with Atom.

Besides costing less, computers based on the Atom-Ion combination outperform the more powerful Intel processor on 3D graphics benchmarks and transcoding video, Huang said, attributing the performance difference to Windows 7's DirectX Compute API, which allows applications to tap the parallel processing capabilities of the graphics chip.

"Doing the right job with the right chip is the right approach," Huang said.

While Ion originally used the Atom to target netbooks and other low-cost PCs, Nvidia hopes to make the Ion more mainstream by making it available for computers based on any other x86 microprocessor, said Drew Henry, general manager of Nvidia's desktop graphics chip unit.

Nvidia has already put the Ion into systems based on other Intel chips and plans to put the graphics chips into PCs based on Via Technologies's Nano microprocessor this year, he said.

Nvidia is counting on applications that can draw on the parallel processing capabilities of its graphics chips to keep it one step ahead of Intel, which dominates the x86 microprocessor market and wields tremendous influence over hardware makers.

Nvidia expects such applications will become more widely used with the release of Windows 7. Nvidia has collaborated with third-party developers to engineer video applications that take advantage of parallel processing capabilities, and it maintains a fund it has used to support work on applications that combine that ability with DirectX Compute.

Unlike microprocessors which handle tasks in order one after another, graphics chips can handle many tasks simultaneously. The parallel processing capabilities of graphics chips are particularly well suited to video applications, such as transcoding, where a video file is converted from one format to another.

In a demonstration, Henry and Murray Vince, general manager of Microsoft's original equipment manufacturer division, compared the transcoding capabilities of an Acer Aspire Revo desktop PC, which uses an Atom processor and Ion graphics chip, with an Atom-based desktop using Intel's own integrated graphics. Both computers were running the release candidate version of Windows 7.

The Aspire Revo took approximately 1.5 minutes to transcode a 2-minute high-definition movie trailer into a format that could be replayed on a Sony Walkman, much faster than it took the standard Atom-based desktop to transcode the file into the same format.

The result of the test was not surprising since Intel has always maintained Atom-based computers are not intended to be used for multimedia applications. But it shows were Nvidia sees an opportunity to muscle its way into the netbook space, which has been a bright spot in recent quarters as overall PC demand sank. They've already had some success. Besides the Aspire Revo, which is a desktop, Lenovo last week announced an Atom-based laptop with an Ion graphics chip, the IdeaPad S12.

"We believe that every computer in the world should have the opportunity to delight and amaze consumers," Huang said.

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