Chip Wars: Intel Sandy Bridge vs. NVIDIA Tegra 2 at #ces

With Sandy Bridge, Intel has machined the graphics processor onto the same die as the computer's main processor.

While a lot of the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) will be focused on exterior gloss such as the endless parade of tablets to be announced, new streaming apps and boxes for the living room, and uber 4G download speeds on nextgen smartphones, there is another battle raging behind the scenes: Intel vs. NVIDIA.

Certainly no strangers, their fierce competition has ultimately led to a windfall for consumers. Performance and battery life, for example, are no longer trade-offs we really need to think about as much.

A lot of other titanic tech death matches get the headlines these days. Facebook vs. Google. Apple iOS vs. Android. IBM vs. Microsoft… well, consider the latter added for a bit of 80s nostaliga.

Intel ($117B market cap) vs. NVIDIA ($9B)

But the really interesting spectator sport in the world of tech may well be Intel with its impressive Sandy Bridge CPUs in one corner and NVIDIA with its slick Tegra 2 processor in the other.

Two become one

Sandy Bridge Wafer (Photo: Intel)
Sandy Bridge Wafer (Photo: Intel)

For the first time Intel has machined the graphics processor (typically a separate chip or component) onto the same die as the computer’s main processor. While this has several technical merits including lower power consumption (resulting in longer battery life), and increased performance, it also has at least one strategic angle. By providing above-average built-in graphics processing power it means the average consumer may no longer feel compelled to buy a separate graphics card, certainly a shot across NVIDIA’s bow.

Meanwhile, NVIDIA has been attempting to change the playing field. And it appears it may well be succeeding.

Have you heard about these things called tablets?

Essentially a tablet is a multimedia device which consumers use to consume lots of graphics-hungry content such as photos, HD videos, web sites, flash animations and games. This is NVIDIA’s wheelhouse.

So when it comes to grabbing CPU/GPU market share during the transformational shift of computing from desktops to mobile think of the tablet as a bit of a Trojan horse.

It appears already that the tablet is biting into PC/desktop sales (and also the Mac line from Apple). With Tegra — NVIDIA’s advanced mobile processor — powering the likes of the Viewsonic G, the Motorola XOOM, Toshiba Tablet and scores of other tablets, all of a sudden, they find themselves in the perfect spot to not only grow share, but further build a defensive moat that may reduce the role of Intel (and AMD) in the mobile space. (also note that Tegra 2 is used to power all sorts of other devices including in-car information systems from BMW and Tesla).

Chip Wars.

Just one more intriguing storyline to follow at CES which opens in two days here in Las Vegas.

Explore. Create. Live. Follow Stark Insider on Twitter and Facebook. Join our 9,000 subscribers who read SI on tablets and smartphones on Google Newsstand. Prefer video? Subscribe to 
Stark Insider on YouTube, the largest arts & travel channel in San Francisco.
  • Charlie

    “It appears already that the tablet is biting into PC/desktop sales (and also the Mac line from Apple).”
    Actually Mac sales are up this year.

  • S

    Apples and Oranges. SandyBridge is a family of Desktop high performance processors and Tegra 2 is a marginal  performance mobile processor by a barely alive graphics chipmaker. It was beat out for the BoxeeBox by Intel CE4110 system-on-a-chip platform (that has a 1.2Ghz Intel Atom CPU with a PowerVR SGX535 Integrated graphics processor) due to Tegra 2 lower video performance.  AppleTV uses the A4 (ARM but its not likely to be in the next MacBook. (Even though Apple is part owner of ARM.)  ARM, whose primary advantage is its intelligent on-chip i/o devices not its architecture, is like Sparc reaching the limits of its design.   I haven’t written code for ARM for 5 years but it still can’t multitask and hardware virtual memory is slower than using software VM. Don’t wait for the 64-bit version of ARM, Intel and AMD are already 64-bit .  Performance per watt for ARM is good as long as performance is not a goal.  Compare the 2.6 Gigaflop PSP Portable MIPS4000 to Nintendo DSi ARM. Or AMD Fusion series.

  • S

    Apples and Oranges. SandyBridge is a family of Desktop high performance processors and Tegra 2 is a marginal  performance mobile processor by a barely alive graphics chipmaker. It was beat out for the BoxeeBox by Intel CE4110 system-on-a-chip platform (that has a 1.2Ghz Intel Atom CPU with a PowerVR SGX535 Integrated graphics processor) due to Tegra 2 lower video performance.  AppleTV uses the A4 (ARM but its not likely to be in the next MacBook. (Even though Apple is part owner of ARM.)  ARM, whose primary advantage is its intelligent on-chip i/o devices not its architecture, is like Sparc reaching the limits of its design.   I haven’t written code for ARM for 5 years but it still can’t multitask and hardware virtual memory is slower than using software VM. Don’t wait for the 64-bit version of ARM, Intel and AMD are already 64-bit .  Performance per watt for ARM is good as long as performance is not a goal.  Compare the 2.6 Gigaflop PSP Portable MIPS4000 to Nintendo DSi ARM. Or AMD Fusion series.