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Microsoft, Nvidia phone? Well, we know this much

That a Windows Mobile phone may emerge running on an Nvidia chip is something that Nvidia has been saying since very early on.

Updated on November 25 at 11:00 a.m. with correction about Intel Moorestown chip and additional comments at bottom.

Rumors of an iPhone-style Microsoft phone running on Nvidia silicon add heft, in part, to what Nvidia has been talking about since early this year.

Nvidia prototype phone using Tegra APX 2500 chip
Nvidia prototype phone using Tegra APX chip CNET Networks

In the spring, Nvidia demonstrated its Tegra chip-based mobile phone prototype to me and pretty much anyone in the media who made a visit to its Santa Clara, Calif., headquarters.

(See CNET Reviews video of the phone.)

Nvidia has made it clear that the chip platform was targeted at Windows Mobile--a point that an Nvidia representative reiterated Monday.

Though the prototype phone (actually a development platform) is quite a bit thicker than a real "thin" phone that a handset provider would bring out at some point, the prototype runs on top of Windows Mobile, as it would presumably in a commercial device.

And what does Nvidia bring to the table? The master of faster graphics processors wants to apply its chip know-how to juice up the mobile Internet device market and the Windows Mobile interface. After a decade of pumping up PC performance, Nvidia is betting a big part of its future on boosting graphics performance in fit-in-your-pocket mobile Internet devices, or MIDs.

iPhone-style devices with Nvdia's Tegra APX (or Tegra 600) incorporate most of the functionality of a PC. And Nvidia is building all of the core electronics that will run a mobile Internet device, not just the graphics component. (This Nvidia Mobile Device page shows the Tegra 600 series and Tegra APX.)

Tegra is different from Intel's Atom processor platform--which is offered as a processor and a separate chipset--because Nvidia integrates everything onto one piece of silicon. This makes it more akin to Texas Instruments' OMAP processors or Qualcomm's Snapdragon. (See "Additional Comments" below with corrected statement on Moorestown.)

Images shown on Nvidia's mobile devices Web page.
Images shown on Nvidia Mobile Devices Web page. Nvidia

Nvidia's goal is to pack as much processing punch as possible into a few-hundred-milliwatt power envelope. Notebook PC processors typically operate in power envelopes between 10 and 35 watts.

But to the user, the biggest difference will be Microsoft's Mobile Windows interface and what can happen when there's Nvidia GeForce graphics silicon pushing everything around.

The platform that Nvidia is demonstrating goes far beyond the staid, pin-striped Windows Mobile that is used today. Nvidia has been showing finger-flick-and-roll screens and accelerometer-based reorienting 720p video.

Devices--according to Nvidia's thinking at least--will also be designed to run 720p HDTV video for 10 hours--one of the marquee features that Nvidia will be emphasizing. The company has demonstrated the prototype Tegra APX-based device plugged into a large screen TV--via a High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) connector--playing high-definition movies with the same fluidity and resolution as you get from a big HDTV box or bigger computer.

Additional comments on two points: One, correction on Moorestown. As a reader pointed out, Intel's upcoming Moorestown is not a single-chip device. It is still at 2-chip solution. Two, about Tegra: another reader commented that Tegra is based on the ARM11 (shipping in products now), which is "older" than the Cortex-A8 class OMAP products from Texas Instruments.