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David Zax

A View from David Zax

Nvidia's Rise

The chipmaker gets some marquee partnerships.

  • July 4, 2012

Sometimes we get so excited about the features and form factor of a device, we forget about what’s inside. As the brains behind the Microsoft Surface tablet and the Google Nexus 7, Nvidia’s Tegra chip is fast becoming one of the more important components out there. Its mobile business in particular is “gaining momentum,” per one analyst.

Previously, notes BusinessWeek, the chip market has been dominated by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon chips, as well as Apple’s proprietary A4 and A5 chips. But Tegra is taking off.

The Tegra 3 will not only power the Microsoft and Google tablets; it’s also the brains behind a couple of in-car infotainment systems, including the ones found in forthcoming Lamborghini and Audi models. Tesla Motors’ Model S sedan will also be using the chip. Fully 30 devices running on Tegra are expected to debut this year.

Nvidia is hardly a startup, of course, even if its moment of glory is only arriving in full splendor now. The Santa Clara company has been around since 1993, in fact, and has long been known for its chips’ ability to handle graphics processing at a high level. Indeed, a quad-core Tegra 3 was at the heart of what I called “the fastest tablet ever (for now)” back in November. At the time, the claim was that the Tegra 3 fully quintupled performance over the Tegra 2 (though some were skeptical).

Even though the Tegra 3 is only now having its moment in the sun, it’s not too late to start contemplating the Tegra 4, which is likely to appear in the first quarter of 2013, per recently leaked documents.

One fun tradition in the Tegra line is that upcoming products are codenamed after superheroes (the Tegra 3 was called “Kal-El,” Superman’s birth name), making reading about Tegra chips sometimes feel like you’re reading about “The Avengers.” Certainly, it’s been a blockbuster couple of weeks for Nvidia.

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