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How Nvidia can accelerate the graphics in your apps

Nvidia wants to rally developers to its Tegra processor, which means some valuable resources are available.

Riptide GP
Riptide looks better on a Tegra 3 chip than without, according to Nvidia. Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

If you want to create some pretty apps, look to Nvidia.

The company, best known for its graphics processors in PCs and laptops, has during the past year branched out into the mobile world with its ARM-based Tegra processor, specifically designed for mobile devices such as phones and tablets. The company has quickly gone from an outsider to a niche player, serving high-end devices.

Its Tegra 3 quad-core processor is found in a handful of top-tier products, including the Asus Transformer Prime, the first tablet with Google's Ice Cream Sandwich variant, as well as international versions of HTC's One X.

One of the promises of the Tegra 3 chip is its ability to crank out an impressive array of graphics. For instance, the company showed off two games to me -- Riptide GP and the recently released Dark Meadow -- which are available on other Android devices. But with a Tegra 3-powered device, those games show off different effects, including more atmospheric effects in Dark Meadow, and splash effects in Riptide.

Like many major tech companies, Nvidia has a developer-relation team, working with both big and small programmers to help them optimize their code to run on Tegra. Despite Nvidia's strong ties to the gaming communities, its outreach program extends to other different kinds of mobile apps too -- basically anything that needs powerful graphics.

Nvidia isn't just in a charitable mood. The company wants more supports on its side as it tries to penetrate the mobile market with its Tegra chip. While some high-end devices may use it, Nvidia is a tiny player relative to giants such as Qualcomm and its SnapDragon processor, or Texas Instruments and Samsung Electronics.

Nvidia has a developer website that can be reached here. That includes tips, articles, and e-mail feedback to programmers looking to take advantage of Nvidia.

The company will also help developers improve their code. For example, some developers will have code that renders graphics too many times, according to Matt Webbling, director of product marketing for Nvidia's Tegra division. Nvidia can come and streamline that code so it is less processor-intensive.

"There's a lot of un-optimized code out there," he said.

In some cases, Nvidia will just hand out chunks of code to give a developer a certain capability accessed through Tegra, the company said.

Nvidia has high hopes for the future capabilities of Tegra. Dan Vivoli, head of marketing for the company, believes the graphics on a mobile device will be on par with the current generation of console systems by the next year and a half and surpass consoles within the next few years.

While Tegra 3 is already out in a few devices, the company plans to launch an updated and alternate version of the chip later this year. As if the current slate of high-end apps aren't pretty enough.