Nvidia CEO says 'Tegra,' Apple future of computing

At company's analyst day, Jen-Hsun Huang says future will make the graphics processor the equal of processors made by Intel, citing Apple as an early indicator.

Brooke Crothers Former CNET contributor
Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.
Brooke Crothers
2 min read

Updated at 4:30 p.m. PDT adding Tegra, Intel, and Ion discussions.

On Tuesday, Nvidia Chief Executive Jen-Hsun Huang said at the company's analyst day that the graphics processor will be an equal partner with Intel processors, citing Apple as an early trendsetter.

On other fronts, Huang said that the ARM-based Tegra processor is expected to account for half of Nvidia's business in a few years. He also repeated claims about Intel crimping the success of its Ion processor in Netbooks.

Nvidia CEO Jen-Hsun Huang
Nvidia CEO Jen-Hsun Huang Nvidia

Huang said that "CPU-GPU co-processing" is the future of computing. (CPU stands for central processing unit. GPU for graphics processing unit.)

"Apple is an early indicator," Huang said during his opening remarks that were streamed over the Web, referring to the importance that Apple is placing on the graphics processor. "The MacBook Pro to the MacBook Air has a GPU," he said. And he waxed eloquent about how the performance and power efficiency of the updated version of the Air has benefited by having co-processors: an Intel CPU and Nvidia GPU.

"Doing the right job with the right tool is more efficient," he said, referring to the Air, which Huang claims runs longer and cooler with a GPU. Typically, ultra-thin laptops like the Air don't have a discrete (separate) Nvidia or ATI graphics processor.

Apple currently uses Nvidia GPUs across its laptop product line and touts the potential for GPUs on its Web site. "OpenCL (Open Computing Language), makes it possible for developers to efficiently tap the vast gigaflops of computing power currently locked up in the graphics processing unit," according to a statement on Apple's Web site.

And at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference, an Apple executive expanded on this theme, explaining how Mac OS X will support GPGPU--general-purpose graphics processing unit--which lets a graphics chip run some computing jobs in addition to its ordinary job displaying graphics.

Huang also addressed its Tegra chip, which is an ARM-based design that integrates an Nvidia GeForce processor. Tegra is targeted at smartphones and Netbooks. Responding to a question from an analyst, he said that in a few years Tegra may represent half of its business, with the rest divided up between the professional (Tesla, Quadro) and the consumer GeForce markets.

Huang also repeated his assertion that Intel is using pricing--what he called "subsidies"--and "MDF" (market development funds) to prevent Nvidia from selling more of it Ion processors to customers. He claimed the success of the Ion processor would be two to three times greater without Intel interference.