Peter Kafka

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Nvidia CEO Jen-Hsun Huang Describes Mobile's Powerful Future at D@CES

All of those tablets rolling out this week means lots of opportunity for chipmaker Nvidia, which used to specialize in graphics, but is now looking to power a whole new class of mobile devices. CEO Jen-Hsun Huang tells Mobilized’s Ina Fried how he sees the market shaking out, and what it means for his company and his competitors. We’ll also be looking for an update on Nvidia’s legal battle with Intel.

Sorry, joining slightly late. Jen-Hsun Huang is walking through Nvidia’s recent announcements.

And also some history. 1995 was important because the personal computer really became personal back then. (I assume this relates to a Windows release but not clear why.)

At the time, we thought we’d be a $300 million company in five years. But we got a lot bigger.

Ina Fried: You’re expanding beyond graphics, but how big is that business?

JH: We’ve shipped one billion GeForce processors. That’s a lot. We’re also doing Quadro processors for high-end processing. We’ve got the new Tesla business, where we use our GPU for general technical computing. It’s being used for the world’s fastest supercomputer.

Our newest business is the Tegra business. Using our expertise for a new class of mobile computing.

IF: Earlier versions of the Tegra were used in the Zune.

JH: And the Kin.

IF: I wasn’t going to mention the Kin.

Now JH is talking Intel. Which started with move into building chipsets, 12 years ago. Started with Xbox, then AMD platforms, then we wanted to scale out so we started talking about Intel. Now we’re in a dispute.

IF: So where do things stand with that?

JH: [More or less a non-answer here.]

IF: Okay, let’s talk about the future!

JH: Cool. 2011 is a big year, a year that computing is getting redefined because of these mobile products.

IF: That sounds like hyperbole, but I sort of agree. There’s some amazing stuff being shown off this year. But explain what’s different about this stuff.

JH: We like to call the new phones superphones. Time to do a demo.

JH is plugging in a new Android handset into a dock. It’s taking awhile. Complains about his vision. Okay, there we go. Showing off multitasking, apps, etc. Showing off 1080p video that looks cool. No audio, though. “This is a full-on computer.”

JH: We think these will really change things, because they can be laptops, or a media center, etc., simply based on where you dock it and the kind of accessories.

IF: So you have cellphones basically being able to replace a computer. But Microsoft is also announcing that Windows will run on ARM processors, including ones you make. How important is that?

JH: If you’re a software company of any kind, your primary focus is to target processors, anywhere. At this point, it’s a foregone conclusion that ARM will be the largest installed base of processors in the world.

Then the important thing is the operating systems: Andriod, iOS and RIM are incredibly important.

IF: So Windows is fourth most important?

JH: The most important CPU architecture going forward is likely to be ARM. At this point, you have to embrace ARM or you’re going to miss out on a very important market. Now they have a huge growth market that’s opened up to them.

IF: Again, explain the importance of Windows on ARM vs. Intel, etc.

JH: It’s huge!

Then he talks about energy dissipation, and that the designs are more elegant. He notes that the D staff backstage is using MacBooks and Airs “because they’re more elegant.”

And note that Steve Ballmer showed off a next gen of Windows running on Tegra 2/ARM. Office, too.

IF: But beyond Windows, what kind of software work has to be done to take advantage of ARM?

JH: Lots of work.

IF: Windows took a decade to catch up last time around. They can’t take this long this time.

JH: Right. That’s why we’re talking about this now, so when next gen of Windows is out, we’ll be ready.

A discussion about how the market shakes out between different chipsets.

JH: Next-gen Windows, by the time it shakes out, I don’t think it will matter what chipset you use if you’re a consumer. Enterprise will still run on x86, I think.

IF: Back to the cool stuff we’re seeing this year at CES, which seemed impossible a few years ago. What will we see in a few years that we can’t imagine now?

JH: Whatever expectation you have for game consoles, PCs, etc. will be “fully met by mobile devices in the next three to four years.”

And in the next three to four years this kind of device will likely exceed your expectations, because the supercomputer will be in the cloud.

IF: More future talk, please. 3-D on the phone?

JH: 3-D on the phone is a foregone conclusion. This kind of glass (on phone) is perfect for 3-D display. And it will work perfectly when you’re touching it. Long term, this device will have much better computer vision, so instead of taking a picture and sending it back, it might analyze the image and send a signal back, to reduce bandwidth.

IF: Except there are all kinds of problems with bandwidth. You had problems with wireless at your demo. Isn’t that a bigger problem going forward?

JH: The carriers finally have real incentive to invest in the pipe, because there’s a reason to use it, with all the hi-def video, etc. So we can take their promises seriously, finally.

Next year every phone will be a 4G phone.

IF: Talk about your fab-less approach to this business.

JH: In 1993, we couldn’t get a fab. We didn’t have a choice. And now ARM has democratized the CPU. It’s a big deal. [Missing the connection here, but perhaps it's my ignorance.]

Okay, that’s it! Thanks.

Jen-Hsun Huang Photos at D@CES

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