A Good Start at General Computing
The Applications

    The Tregra lineup will not be reaching a desktop anytime soon, if ever.  It is primarily aimed at the handheld market with the functionality of a product like the iPhone.  NVIDIA has seeded the market with the 3D UI software that it hopes manufacturers will pick up along with the chip, and looking at screen caps and videos of the product in action, it certainly looks as slick as anything available today.

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This is NVIDIA’s reference design for a handheld unit featuring the Tegra SOC.  It is not far fetched to believe that some manufacturers may just use the reference design as-is and get a product out to market in short order.

    The other area will be the smaller notebooks which feature displays less than 9”.  These ultra compacts require very power efficient parts to run for extended periods of time, all the while keeping weight down yet give a fully functional user experience.  Tegra is designed to run on WinCE, but it will not be running regular Windows.  Arm is not X86 compatible, which is one of the reasons it is efficient as it is.  It is an embedded RISC processor which runs as simply as possible so as not to waste die space and clock cycles on unnecessary or overly complex instructions.

    NVIDIA will not be shipping these products until later this year.  We can expect the first products based on Tegra to be released around the end of 2008.  Currently NVIDIA has several development platforms to address multiple handheld markets, and they appear to have a fully functioning software environment for these products.  NVIDIA has enough work already done that manufacturers could quickly bring their integrated products to market in a relatively short time as compared to a system that is developed totally in-house by these handheld manufacturers.

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Time To Market is key to NVIDIA’s charge into the handheld and mobile space.  By offering manufacturers a complete and feature rich hardware and software environment, less time can be used for developing the basic functions while more resources can be aimed at differentiating their products.  Or, by just using the basics that NVIDIA provides, these manufacturers can put out a fully functional product in record time.

    NVIDIA is really aiming this product at the upcoming 3G marketplace of handheld devices.  It promises a robust user experience with image manipulation, full HD video playback, and an immersive 3D interface.  NVIDIA hopes to continue producing and developing the Tegra line and fully expects it to continue to improve in functionality and performance all the while keeping the same power envelope.

The Conclusion

    NVIDIA did not fire a salvo across AMD’s and Intel’s bows with the Tegra line, but they are setting themselves up to compete in the general computing market.  Tegra is not X86 compatible, but because it is based on the well known ARM architecture combined with NVIDIA’s work on the drivers for the other functions of the chip, it should be relatively simple to integrate this product in a variety of applications.

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The Tegra is certainly impressive when considering the size of the die and how much functionality it actually encompasses.  SOC’s are not exactly new, but this one is breaking new ground with how integrated all of this functionality is.

    This certainly does get NVIDIA’s feet wet in the world of CPUs, but do not expect them to come out with their own X86 design for years to come.  NVIDIA is being very aggressive in pursuing this market, and the Tegra certainly looks to be a robust and feature rich product considering its power draw and small size.

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Is this the shape of things to come?

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