NVIDIA (Nasdaq: NVDA ) may have had a first-mover advantage with its quad-core Tegra 3, but mobile chip king Qualcomm (Nasdaq: QCOM ) may have the last laugh with its quad-core Snapdragon S4 Pro.
Jumping the gun
Qualcomm has now confirmed that its newest chip will power a new phone from LG later this year, which LG hasn't even announced yet. That shows just how excited Qualcomm is to get these chips out there. The unnamed device is expected to launch in Korea next month and has already entered production, and subsequently make its way around the world with a global rollout.
We could be talking about the Optimus G, which is rumored to be LG's new flagship device to compete with Samsung's Galaxy S III and HTC's One X. This LG phone is the second device to feature Qualcomm's quad-core processors, the first being the Mi-Two made by Chinese OEM Xiaomi.
It will also use one of Qualcomm's latest baseband modems supporting LTE data speeds, the same one that's built on a 28-nanometer manufacturing process and is expected to power Apple's newest iPhone's LTE speeds. Hopefully those 28-nanometer constraints at Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing (NYSE: TSM ) are improving, or at very least the decision to bring on additional manufacturing partners is starting to pay off.
Here comes Qualcomm
So far this year, NVIDIA has been scoring numerous tablet design wins with its Tegra 3, notably including both Google's Nexus 7 and Microsoft's (Nasdaq: MSFT ) Windows RT Surface, in part because it's built on a 40-nanometer process which has not been faced with the same supply constraints. It was the first-mover in mobile quad-core and NVIDIA's graphics specialties carry more weight in the tablet space. However, Qualcomm's quad-core Snapdragons will boast several advantages over those from its smaller rival.
Since these chips are also built its 28-nanometer Krait architecture, they will have inherent advantages in power efficiency, thereby extending battery life. On top of that, Qualcomm boasts asynchronous cores, so it can throttle each core up or down separately as needed, which conserves energy when not all cores are in use. NVIDIA's approach involves adding a fifth "companion" core for the low-power tasks, while using the four primary cores for the heavy lifting.
Don't forget me!
Meanwhile, all has been expectedly quiet on Texas Instruments' (NYSE: TXN ) quad-core front. After all, the company already said it was taking a conservative approach to quad-core processors last year, instead focusing its efforts on juicing up the performance of its existing dual-core chips with its OMAP 5 platform. Part of this decision was related to cost considerations, plus the fact that most applications don't fully tap into quad-core computing, so the extra potential processing power is somewhat lost.
TI had previously released benchmark results of its dual-core OMAP5 outperforming the quad-core Tegra 3. The company also said to expect devices carrying these chips start to show up in early 2013. TI has mostly sat on the sidelines this year, without any headline design wins to brag about. The company, along with NVIDIA and Qualcomm, will play a big part in the rollout of Windows RT, though.
All that and a bag of chips
NVIDIA's Tegra business continues to make progress, but it remains much smaller than Qualcomm's chip segment and isn't growing as fast.
|NVIDIA consumer products business
|TI wireless segment
|Qualcomm CDMA technologies
Source: SEC 10-Q filings. Calendar quarters shown.
TI pulled out of the baseband market, causing its overall wireless segment's revenue to drop 39% last quarter to $342 million.
Both NVIDIA and TI are going to need to watch out as Qualcomm's quad-core Snapdragons kick up the competition to a new level. Sometimes just being first mover isn't enough.
Windows 8 and Windows RT are going to be a big deal for all three of these chipmakers, as well as for Microsoft itself. Pick up a copy of this new premium report on the software giant to read why the market isn't fully appreciating the company. Sign up now and get free updates included at no additional cost!