Big hurdles for rumored Nvidia x86 technology

Even if Nvidia developed an Intel-compatible chip, the challenges would be big.

For Nvidia, the success of its widely-rumored Intel-compatible x86 technology is, to put it charitably, uncertain. And comments from an analyst Monday point to marketing challenges.

Amid the rumors about a skunkworks project at Nvidia to develop an x86 technology that would compete at some level with Intel and Advanced Micro Devices, the obvious--though often overlooked--fact is that Nvidia would face multifarious challenges.

A research note Monday from Broadpoint AmTech analyst Doug Freedman (who downgraded Nvidia to "sell") pointed to some of the marketing challenges. Though Freedman says recent actions by the Federal Trade Commission "could open the door to (an) x86 CPU product" from Nvidia, he quickly qualifies this. "We believe investors could be underestimating the effort and timeline as the cost of working with supply chain partners is much greater than presently accounted for in NVDA's spending model," he wrote.

The note continues. "We do not believe a product that is mainstream in performance would sell well given that the Nvidia brand is not as well-known outside the high-end gamer community or the investment community. A major media push would be required for mainstream success," Freedman wrote.

This presumes, of course, that the company could overcome the Everest-like development (and legal) hurdles. And it isn't known yet what form an Nvidia x86 chip would take and how it might be used by the company. "Until I know what type of product they are working on and it's target market, I can not comment on chances of success," said Freedman in response to an e-mail query.

But this much can be said: the challenges for any x86 "clone" maker that goes head to head with Intel are self-evident. Look no further than AMD--the most "successful" Intel rival--which after teetering on the edge of bankruptcy for a couple of years almost imploded in 2008.

Updated at 5:30 p.m. PST: throughout.

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