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Nvidia's new graphics chip rings up 'Quake'

With GoForce 5500, company furthers its march to recreate sharp graphics on mobile phones and handhelds.

Nvidia's latest graphics processor for high-end mobile phones, unveiled Monday, can take 10-megapixel pictures and decode high-resolution video, marking another step toward turning mobile phones into powerful handheld entertainment devices.

The company touted the GoForce 5500 chip at the 3GSM World Congress in Barcelona. Nvidia is best known for its powerful PC graphics processors. But over the last few years, it has taken steps to recreate sharp graphics on mobile phones and handhelds. The company sells standalone graphics chips for mobile phones and licenses its graphics technology for other chipmakers to incorporate into their products, said Derek Perez, a company spokesman.

Handheld-device designers looking to cut costs tend to pick all-in-one chips that can handle basic applications such as processing, graphics and voice calls. Chips like the GoForce 5500 are designed for expensive handsets that let consumers watch movies, play PC-style video games and even pick up digital television.

While phone makers and wireless carriers have expressed excitement about mobile gaming, believing it will help pay for the cost of maintaining high-bandwidth wireless networks, interest has so far been lukewarm. One high-profile attempt, Nokia's N-Gage, has not sold nearly as well as the company would have hoped. But game developers are releasing more and more titles as phones gain more processing power.

Nvidia's new chip has received support from major game developers including Id Software, which will demonstrate its "Quake III" on a phone with the GoForce 5500 at 3GSM.

The GoForce 5500 adds support for the h.264 codec and externally stacked SRAM (static random access memory) chips to the GoForce line of handheld graphics chips, first unveiled in 2003. It will allow phone makers to boost screen resolution to 1,024 by 768 pixels, and is capable of taking up to 10-megapixel photos in rapid succession.

Battery life is always a key concern for users of powerful mobile applications, but Nvidia said the new chip outperforms its predecessors in reducing the power consumed by entertainment applications as well as voice calls.

Nvidia expects phone manufacturers to release new systems containing the chip by the fourth-quarter holiday shopping season of this year.