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Is the CPU dead or alive? Nvidia says a little of both

Nvidia is making more statements about the demise of the CPU.

Nvidia's hostility toward Intel is on a high boil these days. In its latest dig against the central processing unit (CPU) and the company that makes the lion's share of CPUs, an Nvidia VP said in a private missive that the CPU is dead and it has "run out of steam."

Nvidia CEO Jen-Hsun Huang
Nvidia CEO Jen-Hsun Huang Rico Shen

But wait. That's not what Nvidia really thinks. The message cited by the The Inquirer is "not a public statement," said Brian Burke, an Nvidia spokesperson. "The views in (Roy Tayler's) e-mail do not mirror the views of Nvidia." (The author of the message, Roy Tayler, is VP of content relations at Nvidia.)

But is the statement that far apart from Nvidia's public sentiment? "You need nothing beyond the most basic CPU," Burke said. Sounds like Nvidia thinks the CPU is, if not terminal, certainly fading.

(The CPU, or central processing unit, is the main processor in a PC. The GPU, or graphics processing unit, handles much of the visual content on a PC.)

This of course is news to Intel, the largest chip company in the world whose main business is making CPUs. "We believe that both a great CPU and great graphics are important in a PC. Any PC purchase--including the capability level of components inside it--is a decision that each user must make based on what they will be doing with that PC," said Intel spokesperson Dan Snyder.

To be sure, Nvidia and Intel have never gotten along famously. But the acrimony (mostly Nvidia's) started to build at Nvidia's fourth quarter conference call and carried over to the company's financial analyst day earlier this month, when CEO and co-founder Jen-Hsun Huang, alluding to comments from game developer Tim Sweeny, said "Intel is incapable of running modern games. Intel's integrated graphics just don't work."

But the crux of Nvidia's marketing message, vis-a-vis Intel, is focused on the graphics chip maker's perceived limitations of the CPU. In short, buy a high-end GPU, not a high-end CPU, and save money. During the earnings conference call, Huang cited the Gateway P series notebook as an example. One model has an Intel 1.6 GHz processor and a GeForce 8800 GPU. He said systems like this with a "higher-end GPU" and "lower-end CPU" are better optimized for today's users. "Relative to a notebook with a higher-end CPU and lower-end GPU, the Gateway FX is twice the performance and yet $200 lower cost."