Jan 25 AT 4:02 PM Taylor Wimberly 33 Comments

3 reasons why NVIDIA won round 1 of the multi-core wars, and why they might win the next couple rounds as well

I am a fan of mobile technology. That is the reason I was drawn to purchase the T-Mobile G1 and it’s also the reason I started this blog. Over the years I’ve authored some pretty opinionated articles and have been accused of being a fanboy for HTC, T-Mobile, and now NVIDIA, but the only club I am loyal to is Team Android.

It took me awhile to figure out my blogging niche, but I finally realized I’m a passionate early adopter who obsesses with the latest technology and this has caused me to travel the globe in search of the next big thing. I am honestly still trying to figure out the role I play in this demanding Android community, but you can be sure that I will continue to blog about the things I find exciting.

This month I returned to Las Vegas for CES with the hopes of experiencing the mobile computing revolution that everyone in the industry loves to talk about. Last year brought us 1 GHz processors and 4G networks, but I truly believe that 2011 will be the period that we all look back on in 5 years and agree that it changed everything.

My current obsession is with multi-core processors coming to mobile device and this is the reason I’ve done about 50 posts related to dual-core CPUs. During CES I met with NVIDIA, Qualcomm, and Texas Instruments to see what they were working on and all three companies showed me some pretty impressive demos. However, only one company got me excited about buying products that they powered.

If CES 2011 was round 1 of the multi-core wars for mobile devices, then NVIDIA won by a spectacular knockout. The following list details three simple reasons why I think NVIDIA will rise to the top producer of processors for high-end smartphones in 2011.

1. First dual-core matters to the early adopters

Looking back at CES, the best smartphones were powered by NVIDIA’s Tegra 2. This includes the LG Optimus 2X, Motorola Atrix 4G, and Motorola Droid Bionic. These new phones represent the next-generation of mobile devices and I believe the benefits are compelling enough for anyone to pull the trigger that is looking to upgrade their current Android phone.

It is too early to tell which companies’ dual-core offering might be the fastest, but I don’t really think it matters at this point. From what I was shown, all the first-generation of dual-core processors will offer similar experiences, features, and performance. NVIDIA might lead in some benchmarks while Qualcomm and Texas Instruments lead in others, but all the dual-core CPUs will offer significant improvements over their single-core predecessors.

So if the first wave of dual-core processors delivers a similar experience, there is no reason on waiting for the other companies to ship their chips. If you want a dual-core mobile device in Q1, buy a Tegra 2 smartphone.

Not only was NVIDIA the first to market with a mobile dual-core CPU, but they are looking to keep up that momentum with the next generation of Tegra chips. In our interview with Michael Rayfield of NVIDIA, he emphasized the velocity at which his company moves and said, “I believe I will have my next generation Tegra in production probably before my competitors have their dual-core in production.”

It looks like he wasn’t bluffing because we just learned of NVIDIA’s new Tegra 2 3D and quad-core Tegra 3 parts that should be coming later this year.

2. Premium content sells phones and makes money for the operators

Tegra zone

Since we know that most dual-core CPUs will be quite similar, each semiconductor company will need to make the extra effort to differentiate their offering. NVIDIA’s strategy is to push their Tegra Zone, which is an application that showcases all the premium games specifically optimized for the Tegra 2 processor.

We spoke with the game developers at CES and it was easy to see the excitement in their eyes when talking about working on the Tegra 2 platform (go watch the interviews – 1, 2, 3). The Tegra 2 includes an ultra low power (ULP) Geforce GPU that features a similar architecture to that of NVIDIA’s desktop GeForce GPUs. This means that game developers can use the same assets from their console and PC games, which greatly reduces the amount of work it takes to get a game up and running on Android.

Featured developers that have committed to support Tegra 2 include several big names like Electronic Arts, Epic Games, Gameloft, Glu, Factor 5, Trendy Entertainment, and many more.

As we saw with the Samsung Galaxy S and the iPhone 4, the fastest platform does not always get the best games. Samsung’s Galaxy S featured a faster GPU than the iPhone 4, but Apple’s phone was the platform that all the developers targeted. When it comes to console-quality Android games, Tegra 2 will be the platform that developers optimize their games for.

In 2011, the best Android games will be found on Tegra devices.

I asked Qualcomm and Texas Instruments to explain their strategy to differentiate, but neither company provided me anything that I could share. Qualcomm even went as far as to say, “We allow the operators to differentiate their devices. The most important customers for us are the phone makers and the operators, not the end-user who buys the phone.”

Clearly, you can see the different approach between NVIDIA and their competitors.

3. Google chose NVIDIA to power the first Honeycomb tablets

Finally, if you don’t believe my analysis then just ask Andy Rubin and Google. His team put a lot of time and effort into Honeycomb to make sure that it provided the best tablet experience for Android and they chose Tegra 2 as their development platform.

The Motorola Xoom will be the first Honeycomb tablet and now many other companies have adopted the Tegra 2 processor for their products so they can get to market faster. I am certain that Honeycomb will eventually be up and running on a Qualcomm Snapdragon or Texas Instruments OMAP4, but the first wave of Android 3.0 tablets will all be Tegra 2 powered.

Now that Google has a strong relationship with NVIDIA, it could result in the next generation of Tegra processors becoming the lead platform for future versions of Android. If NVIDIA actually delivers a quad-core 1.5 GHz Tegra 3 by Christmas, you can bet that Google and their manufacturing partners will want to get a piece of those holiday sales.

Conclusion

Please remember that this is only a snapshot in time, but right now NVIDIA appears to be in the best position among all the companies fighting to power the mobile computing revolution. I’ve received a ton of hater comments and emails for writing about Tegra 2, but it’s the only mobile processor that gets me excited about going out and purchasing my next Android phone. When someone else produces a better chip, you can bet I will write about it.

If anything, we should all be happy that NVIDIA is changing the mobile industry by forcing their competitors to speed up their release cycles. We should see a new Tegra every year (and maybe a refresh part each six months) so our mobile devices are going to become increasingly more powerful (and kick ass).

As we approach Mobile World Congress, I am anticipating a response from Qualcomm, Samsung, and Texas Instruments. NVIDIA wowed me and got me excited about buying the products they powered – Can you do the same?

Taylor is the founder of Android and Me. He resides in Dallas and carries the Samsung Galaxy S 4 and HTC One as his daily devices. Ask him a question on Twitter or Google+ and he is likely to respond. | Ethics statement

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