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Nvidia moves into the chipset arena

After grabbing the top spot in the graphics chip market, the company is looking to grab more of the real estate at the heart of a PC.

TAIPEI, Taiwan--After grabbing the top spot in the graphics chip market, Nvidia is looking to grab more of the real estate on the PC motherboard.

On Monday, the company announced its nForce chipset, a pair of chips that combine the company's GeForce graphics with the core logic functions that control the interactions between the processor and memory and other peripherals.

The first chip, dubbed an Integrated Graphics Processor, includes the graphics core, memory controller and an advanced type of caching engine that is designed to predict what information will be needed. The second chip, known as a Multimedia Communications Processor, combines an audio processor as well as controllers for various peripherals such as USB and PCI connections.

Versions of both Nvidia chips are being used in Microsoft's Xbox game console. However, while Xbox will use Intel's Pentium III processor, the nForce will initially support only PCs that use processors from Intel rival Advanced Micro Devices.

That's because Nvidia does not have a license for the interface used to connect a chipset to Intel's processors. Microsoft was apparently able to get a license for the Xbox as part of its deal to use Intel's chips in the gaming device.

The nForce has other ties to AMD as well. Nvidia is licensing AMD's HyperTransport bus--a high-speed method of connecting its two chips. As a result, the chips can share data at 800 MB per second, or about three times faster than the PCI bus that typically connects the parts of a chip set. Nvidia is also licensing AMD's method of connecting to Double Data Rate (DDR) memory.

Nvidia announced the details of the chipset at a press event at the Computex trade show here. The product won't show up on computer motherboards until this fall.

A motherboard is the main circuit panel in a PC. It typically houses the central processor, coprocessors for specific functions, memory and other systems vital to the system's functioning.

The entry into the chipset arena, as well as recent moves into the notebook and Macintosh markets, is part of Nvidia's strategy to continue its fast growth spurt. Last week, the Santa Clara, Calif.-based company topped Wall Street estimates and reiterated its expectations of growing its revenue by 50 percent in fiscal 2002 and by 40 percent in fiscal 2003.

The company did not reveal its exact pricing for nForce, but said it would be comparable with the cost of a graphics chip and chipset. Although others have introduced such integrated chipsets primarily for the low end of the market, Nvidia is targeting the mainstream and performance segments.

"We have never been the absolute lowest-cost (provider)," said Tony Tamasi, Nvidia's senior director of product management for nForce.

Tamasi said the nForce will be priced higher than a chipset from Taiwan's SiS that includes basic graphics. Instead, Nvidia appears aimed more at unseating performance chipsets from Via Technologies and others.