Nvidia plan for CPUs marks major disruption in PC processor choices

Stodgy state of chip market upended by tablets, smart devices

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In three to five years the market for and suppliers of microprocessors is going to look a LOT different than it does today, if mega shifts by both the manufacturers and their OEM customers are any indication.

Not only did Microsoft demonstrate Windows 8 running on ARM processors yesterday at the Consumer Electronics Show, graphics powerhouse Nvidia announced it will build CPUs that will run that operating system on a range of devices.

The Nvidia chips, code-named Denver, will be a combination of Nvidia's current microprocessors plus central processing cores licensed from tablet- and smartphone-processor king ARM .

Licensing ARM processors saves Nvidia the effort of designing CPU cores itself and, more importantly, makes any Denver-based systems compatible with the ARM version of Windows as well as Android and other non-PC operating systems.

Nvidia didn't announce an availability date, but predicted the first versions will end up in servers, rather than PCs.

Nvidia isn't known for the kind of low-power computing requirements on which ARM has built its reputation, but combining the two approaches is a step toward combination processors for tablets that can handle high-performance graphics without draining the battery as quickly as Nvidia processors normally would.

It also introduces, for the first time, a non-Intel/AMD chipset able to run Windows natively in home or business environments -- making Microsoft's decision to port Windows to ARM an even greater potential disruption to Intel and AMD's business than it would have been otherwise.

Intel, for its part, announced in late December that it is building graphics processing units into its CPU chipsets as a way to deliver lower-power, higher-performance systems, while shutting out competitors such as Nvidia.

AMD plans similar CPU/GPU combinations.

The changes in both technology and the competitive landscape are made possible by the ability of all three chip vendors to build more cores and modules into the same chipsets.

They are being driven by the consumerization of technology and demand by consumers for cheaper, more convenient, more powerful computer-enabled capabilities that can be available wherever they are and whenever they want it.

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