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Nvidia CEO Huang Outlines Smartphone Strategy In Battling Intel

The graphics chipmaker's mobile strategy revolves around the smartphone, which "will become the next personal computer," said CEO Jen-Hsun Huang at Nvidia's Nvision 2008 conference.
Besides mobile computing, Huang also had some comments about Intel's new graphics architecture codenamed Larrabee. Intel plans to release a Larrabee-based GPU for PCs in late 2009 or early 2010, and eventually take the technology into high-performance computing within vertical industries, such as oil and gas, medical imaging, and scientific research. All of those areas are major markets for Nvidia's GPUs.

But Huang said no one can say for sure whether Larrabee will become a threat. "You and I don't know what Larrabee is because Larrabee hasn't shipped," he said.

What is known about Larrabee was revealed in a research paper Intel presented at the Siggraph show in Los Angeles this month. According to the paper, Larrabee will be based on an array of multiple x86 core processors. Intel is betting that the consistency of its x86 architecture in graphics and general-purpose computing will simplify development on the platform, and therefore be more attractive to software makers.

Huang, however, said that kind of consistency doesn't matter. "That part of it (Larrabee) is a bit of an abstraction, a bit of a smokescreen," he said.

While x86 remains the dominant platform for the PC, ARM, a 32-bit RISC processor architecture, is widely used in mobile electronics; and IBM's PowerPC is strong in the videogame industry as the platform for the Sony PlayStation. To be successful, a graphics processor has to support all computing environments, Huang said.

"The Internet doesn't run on the x86," he said.

The first Larrabee chips will have more than a dozen cores on a single silicon chip, far fewer than graphics processors from Nvidia and Advanced Micro Devices. Nvidia is shipping GPUs with more than 200 cores today, and AMD is planning a high-end ATI graphics chip this year with more than 500 cores.

Huang promised that when the first Larrabee products ship, Nvidia will have extended its lead in graphics technology even further. "Intel is still talking about our past," he said. "They need to talk about our present and our future."

In 1980, the entire graphics market totaled $1 billion. Today, the main hardware and software alone is a $60 billion market, according to market researcher Jon Peddie. As of the second quarter of 2008, Intel controlled an estimated 47.3% share of the overall graphics market, Nvidia held 31.4%, and AMD 18.1%.

Before meeting with reporters, Huang gave the opening keynote of Nvision, trotting out a number of companies that depend on graphics processors to power their software.

One such company was RTT, whose design software is used to build 3D virtual models of custom-made Lamborghini automobiles. Another was Korea-based Nurien, which showed off its online virtual world. Other companies demonstrated products in the areas of TV graphics, multi-touch computing, and videogames.

Huang said Nvidia hopes to build Nvision into a showcase for companies building state-of-the-art products on top of the GPU, rather than a show for announcing new GPUs or other graphics hardware. "We need to create an industry event for visual computing that goes beyond the internal core," Huang said.