Nvidia Targets $99 Netbook With Tegra Chips

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Shuffling its chip strategy, Nvidia on Thursday said it wants to put its Tegra chips for mobile devices into netbooks.

The company is already working with PC makers to develop Tegra-based netbooks, said Jen-Hsun Huang, president and CEO of Nvidia in an interview at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Tegra-based netbooks could be less than a year away from introduction, Huang said. Incorporating Tegra could also drop the price of netbooks to the sub-$100 range as prices of components have come down.

"I see Tegra [netbooks] at US$99 [to] $199," he said.

Announced in early 2008, Tegra puts an Arm-based processor core, a GeForce graphics core and other components onto a single chip. The product lineup will include the Tegra 600 running at 700MHz and the Tegra 650 running at 800MHz. The lineup also includes the Tegra APX 2500.

The system-on-chip, which is the size of a penny, will start shipping in mid-2009 for handheld devices like smartphones and mobile Internet devices.

The term "netbook" was coined by Intel to describe a tiny laptop good for Web surfing and running productivity applications. Most netbooks carry Intel's Atom processors. But the definition is evolving as chip developers like Freescale and Qualcomm enter the market segment, which view netbooks as devices constantly connected to the Internet to run applications like social networking.

One use for Tegra chips would be on connected mobile computers designed to run Web applications, Huang said. That separates it from laptops, which are designed to provide a full PC experience.

"A PC should run applications of the PC industry. A mobile computer should run all the applications of the Web... like cloud computing. That's how we see the two separating," Huang said.

Huang also tied the future of Tegra chips into the development of current netbooks to deliver a full PC experience. Last month, the company launched the power-efficient Ion platform, which provides full PC capabilities to Atom-based netbooks by bringing together the CPU with a GeForce 9400M graphics processing unit, according to the company.

The performance of Atom-based netbooks can be scaled further, despite the brilliance of the Atom processor, Huang said.

"The reason why the Atom platform so far hasn't looked like PCs is because the chipset is so unpowerful. The GPU is too weak. If you have a good enough GPU, you wouldn't need as heavy of a CPU," Huang said.

Though Ion and Tegra can both be fit into netbooks, Ion is designed to provide a full PC experience, while Tegra is designed to provide the Web experience, Huang said. Tegra also consumes much less power than the Ion platform, making it good for Internet-connected devices.

Ion-based laptops could be priced at $299 or $399, Huang said.

Nvidia's plan to put Tegra in netbooks could give the company a foothold in a market that is growing at a fast clip. Netbook shipments totaled around 14 million units in 2008, with shipments expected to grow this year despite the economic downturn, according to DisplaySearch.

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