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Nvidia CEO, Qualcomm VP differ on 'quad' future

Qualcomm's and Nvidia's different design philosophies are manifesting as different schedules they have set for the introduction of quad-core ARM processors.

Nvidia and Qualcomm have very different schedules for putting chips with four processor cores in tablets, smartphones, and laptops. Nvidia's CEO and a Qualcomm vice president spoke to CNET recently on the topic.

Qualcomm announced that it is developing quad-core chips this week for Windows 8. Nvidia made a similar announcement earlier this year. And this week at Computex, Microsoft even floated the concept of a laptop running Windows 8 on top of an Nvidia quad-core processor, according to Anandtech (see photo below).

Analysts are even beginning to mention Apple's future A6 processor as a possible candidate for quad-core next year.

This heralds big changes for devices using ARM chips that, at one time in the not-too-distant past, could do little more than run minimalist, text-driven operating systems on tiny cell phone screens.

What a difference a few years make, as devices with ARM chips move from a low performance past to a high-octane future. Nvidia is trumpeting quad-core and expects to see devices like tablets and large smartphones later this year with its silicon. Qualcomm, while saying its quad-core product will "sample" early next year, is emphasizing power consumption--and designs that max out at two cores--over sheer power.

On Wednesday, I asked Raj Talluri, vice president of product management for Qualcomm, about his company's philosophy versus that of competitors like Nvidia and Texas Instruments. And last month, I spoke with Nvidia CEO Jen-Hsun Huang about why his company is leading the charge into quad-core processors this year.

An Nvidia quad-core based laptop running Windows 8 at Computex this week.
An Nvidia quad-core based laptop running Windows 8 at Computex this week. Anandtech

Raj Talluri, Qualcomm: "Nvidia brings a different marketing philosophy. They take a different attitude about how they market their products. Just because you make one device with four cores...[but] the rest of the system has to be big too," he said.

Talluri continued. "What's the big deal? I can get two or I can get four cores from ARM. When we do a core, we design it from the ground up. That means we do a lot of custom transistors. For example, when we run a processor at 1.4GHz or 1.5GHz...we don't push the voltage to get higher [speeds]. Because our design can run that fast at nominal voltage. The power consumption just explodes if you push the voltage up."

Qualcomm has, for many years, had an ARM architectural license, which allows the company to custom design its ARM processors--what Talluri is referring to when he speaks about designing a chip from the "ground up." Nvidia, only recently--earlier this year--got an architectural license from ARM.

Jen-Hsun Huang, Nvidia: "I feel that I answered this question once for dual-core. Using multiple processors is the best way to conserve energy when you need performance. And our strategy, our approach is efficient performance. We want performance but not at the expense of running transistors super hot. Parallel processing is really the most energy efficient way to get performance. And we'll use as many cores as the technology can afford. And the applications can use," he said.

Huang continued. "There's all kinds of application that benefit from mutli-core and quad-core. One is multi-tasking. [For example] if I'm buying an application, updating a whole bunch of applications, while I'm reading a book and connected to Wi-Fi and I'm streaming music. That's a lot of stuff going on. That's even a lot of stuff going on for a desktop PC. So, there's no question that performance lags a bit when that happens and when quad-core hits it's just going to crank right through all of that."