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Motorola tablet taps Nvidia for 3D

Upcoming Motorola tablet will feature powerful 3D graphics provided by a new Nvidia chip that was touted at a conference Monday during a demo of a new version of Google Maps.

Motorola's upcoming tablet packs relatively powerful Nvidia 3D silicon, confirming a demo Nvidia did a year ago at the Consumer Electronics Show and underscoring the importance of graphics in future tablets.

The Motorola prototype running Google's Honeycomb, the next version of Android, was shown at the D: Dive Into Mobile in San Francisco Monday.

"We're taking advantage of the 3D processing power. The particular processor is Nvidia. Their dual-core 3D processor. These guys really know 3D," said Google's Andy Rubin when showing off a new 3D version of Google Maps, which is due for cell phones "in a matter of days." The new version of Google Maps for Mobile will draw using vector graphics, which can result in more responsive mapping because less bandwidth is required. Google Maps will also allow buildings and locations to be rotated via a touch interface. His discussion of the tablet was streamed from the conference (see video, right).

That processor would be Nvidia's Tegra 2, of course. That chip is one of the first to pack a dual-core Cortex-A9 ARM processor with a graphics chip that delivers mobile "3D game playability and a visually engaging, highly-responsive 3D user interface," according to Nvidia.

Motorola's tablet was first revealed via an Nvidia demo at last year's Consumer Electronics Show. At that time, an Nvidia representative characterized the device as a Motorola-Verizon tablet and said it contained an Nvidia Tegra 2 processor.

The tablet's 3D capability that Rubin praised shows that Nvidia's expertise in 3D may give it a leg up on competitors. And it certainly puts Intel on notice, which has not emphasized 3D to date in its mainstream Atom processors targeted at small devices like tablets.

And a wave of tablets is about to break packing dual-core chips from Texas Instruments (OMAP 4) and Qualcomm (MSM8660), according to Ashok Kumar, an analyst at Rodman & Renshaw, all packing enhanced 3D processing. "[Nvidia] is fairly competitive but the offset is Qualcomm, which has most of the wins in new tablets," Kumar said, adding that TI will also be in a few high-profile designs.