NVIDIA CEO Huang gets the vision thing

9 January 2012 by Steve Blum
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It was a little odd watching the CEO of NVIDIA, Jen-Hsun Huang, spend most of his press conference time editing photos, remoting from one device to another and playing computer games. NVIDIA is a chip maker, not a game publisher or software company or computer manufacturer. But his roundabout approach was a dramatic way of proving the power of his chips and the platforms they support.
The hour long demo session drove home the point that NVIDIA powers consumer electronics products, not computers for the workplace, although performance is comparable for many – most – personal applications.
NVIDIA makes chips that power a big slice of the non-iPad tablet market. The company is putting thousands of engineers to work supporting both Ice Cream Sandwich – an attempt to unify the disparate flavors of Android into a single market for app developers – and Windows 8.
With worldwide tablet sales approaching 100 million units, Huang called it the “fastest growing device in consumer electronics history,” and said that non-iPad tablets are taking an ever larger share of that market, currently at 40%.
NVIDIA’s flagship CPU is the Tegra 3, a four plus one core ARM processor. Four of the cores run user applications, the fifth manages processes and housekeeping functions that are usually left to auxiliary chips, or not handled at all. Tagged the “ninja core” by Huang, it manages power consumption and touch screen processing, among other chores.
It’s powering a wide range of devices here at CES, including a 7-inch tablet from ASUS that runs Android and has a $249 target price point. Tegra, and its brothers in ARM, are increasingly integrated into vehicles too, running dashboard and entertainment interfaces. Huang calls the automotive industry “a brand new consumer electronics segment.”
Huang is not the first to say it. But he makes the point better than most, communicating a coherent and seamless vision of where the consumer electronics industry is heading.