Apple, AMD, & Qualcomm Should Be Worried About NVIDIA's New Mobile Powerhouse

Go ahead & count 'em. NVIDIA's new Tegra K1 mobile processor has 192 GPU cores. Source: NVIDIA.

Ever wonder what it would look like to cram the same technology that drives the world's 10 most energy-efficient supercomputers into a mobile device?

Well buckle up, tech junkies, because the folks at NVIDIA  (NASDAQ: NVDA  ) are about to show you.

To be sure, they simply couldn't wait for this year's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, where, in their words, they eagerly "ripped the lid off" NVIDIA's new Tegra K1 mobile processor.

And can you blame them? With 192 Kepler graphics cores at its heart, the Tegra K1 is an absolute beast.

In fact, NVIDIA CEO Jen-Tsun Huang claims the Tegra K1 not only offers significantly faster performance than an Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3, but also delivers the "same graphics features as" the Xbox One and PlayStation 4. Naturally, Huang was also quick to note each of the platforms use chips provided by the veritable Advanced Micro Devices  (NASDAQ: AMD  )

If you thought the A7 was fast...
At the same time, he says, the Tegra K1 is 1.5 times more power efficient than both Qualcomm's (NASDAQ: QCOM  )  Snapdragon S800 and Apple's  (NASDAQ: AAPL  )  A7 mobile processors. And for all you gamers out there, Tegra K1 is apparently three times faster than Apple's A7 at rendering Epic Games' widely used game engine, Unreal Engine 4. 

Perhaps that's why Epic Games' founding CEO Tim Sweeney has already chimed in, saying, "We can take absolutely anything that runs on PC or high-end console and run it on Tegra. I didn't think that we'd be at this level on mobile for another three to four years."

The multibillion-dollar question
But why, exactly, has NVIDIA singled out Apple, AMD, and Qualcomm?

First, remember Apple has gradually moved away from NVIDIA's high-margin discrete GPUs over the past few years, namely through introducing lower-cost integrated graphics from Intel  (NASDAQ: INTC  ) in the latest versions of its lower-end iMacs, Mac Minis, and most recently its 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro.

I certainly wouldn't expect Apple to replace its reasonably powerful in-house mobile processors with an NVIDIA chip, but the K1 will certainly put pressure on the folks at Cupertino to improve the A7 in short order.

Then there's AMD, whose shares plunged in October when the chip giant beat earnings expectations, but left investors worried when lower notebook and chipset unit shipments led a 6% sequential decline in its Computing Solutions segment. Meanwhile, only a few days earlier, shares of Intel had rallied after its own PC segment revenue gained 3.5% from the prior quarter.

And while AMD has shown little interest in entering the smartphone space, at least investors could take some comfort in knowing their company was looking for design wins in the tablet realm for its semi-custom chips. Now, however, I can't imagine how AMD must feel with NVIDIA touting a mobile chip that can perform anywhere near as well as its desktop-centric offerings.

Worse yet, NVIDIA has made it clear it's not content with just smartphones, which is why it wasted no time unveiling a new Tegra K1 reference tablet to give OEMs a nice head start on integrating its new chip into their devices:

NVIDIA's new Tegra K1 reference tablet design. Source: NVIDIA.

Finally, there's Qualcomm, which not only took full advantage of NVIDIA's Tegra 4 delays last year by securing a coveted spot in Google's second-gen Nexus 7, but has also kept up the pressure over the past several months by panning the performance of Microsoft's Tegra 4-powered Surface 2.

Now with its feet firmly underneath it, you can bet NVIDIA's more than happy to take a few jabs at Qualcomm's Snapdragon lineup while it still has the upper hand.

Foolish takeaway
But don't get me wrong; it's also safe to assume Apple, AMD, and Qualcomm won't be resting on their laurels as NVIDIA passes them by in this high-stakes game of cat and mouse. After all, NVIDIA is only expecting the first devices featuring the 32-bit Tegra K1 to arrive in the first half of this year, while a 64-bit version should start shipping sometime in H2.

As a result, by letting everybody know of its new standard in mobile performance with this week's announcement, NVIDIA is all but ensuring its competitors have ample motivation to push the envelope further than ever before.

Still, that's also why I'm more than happy personally owning shares of this innovative company, and can't wait to see where its technology leads us next.

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Read/Post Comments (17) | Recommend This Article (4)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On January 08, 2014, at 11:01 AM, melegross wrote:

    Steven, we've heard all of this before with the original Tegra, and every new one since. If you haven't learned by now what all the tech people know, which is that Nvidia always paints a much rosier picture of its new products than the subsequent reality, then you haven't learned anything about Nvidia.

    By the time this chip is actually in devices, I can guarantee that Apple and Qualcomm will have advanced their chips sufficiently to at least meet it, and most likely, to beat it, as usual. And then we will find its performance to be below "expectations", again, as usual.

  • Report this Comment On January 08, 2014, at 11:03 AM, kjurden wrote:'s not even here yet and your already pumping NVDA? AMD is taking market share back, so you would be better off buying AMD...just saying, for the near term AMD is the better investment. NVDA is already at their 52 week high and has no additional headroom to climb. AMD is WAY underpriced and has at least a potential for 50-100% ROR on investment!!!

  • Report this Comment On January 08, 2014, at 11:17 AM, kjurden wrote:

    You can tell when AMD competition is nervious about losing market share...they start publishing FUD like this. Do your on DD and you will see that they are pumping NVDA...I'm confident you will find that AMD is a much better stock to own!

  • Report this Comment On January 08, 2014, at 11:28 AM, Jberglive wrote:

    Just to clarify, the AMD hardware in the new consoles (xbox One and PS4) is actually architecture meant for tablets as well:

    It's based on the Jaguar APU.

    This is off of Wikipedia:

    Jaguar architecture (Kabini and Temash)

    Main article: Jaguar (microarchitecture)

    "In January 2013 the Jaguar-based Kabini and Temash APUs were unveiled as the successors of the Bobcat-based Ontario, Zacate and Hondo APUs.[44][45][46] The Kabini APU is aimed at the low-power, subnotebook, netbook, ultra-thin and small form factor markets, the Temash APU is aimed at the tablet, ultra-low power and small form factor markets.[46] The two to four Jaguar cores of the Kabini and Temash APUs feature numerous architectural improvements regarding power requirement and performance, such as support for newer x86-instructions, a higher IPC count, a CC6 power state mode and clock gating.[47][48][49] Kabini and Temash are AMD's first, and also the first ever quad-core x86 based SoCs.[50] The integrated Fusion Controller Hubs (FCH) for Kabini and Temash are codenamed "Yangtze" and "Salton" respectively.[51] The Yangtze FCH features support for two USB 3.0 ports, two SATA 6 Gbit/s ports, as well as the xHCI 1.0 and SD/SDIO 3.0 protocols for SD-card support.[51] Both chips feature DirectX 11.1-compliant GCN-based graphics as well as numerous heterogeneous system architecture (HSA) improvements.[44][45] They were fabricated at a 28 nm process in an FT2 BGA package by TSMC, and were released on May 23, 2013.[47][52][53]

    The PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, were revealed to both be powered by 8-core semi-custom Jaguar-derived APUs."

    So basically, a year and some later Nvidia is coming out with a mobile processor that is "equal" in performance to a mobile processor that AMD designed a few years back... I'm not really impressed by this.

  • Report this Comment On January 08, 2014, at 2:07 PM, kjurden wrote:

    AMD's new product line up is going to prove to be "Disruptive" in the industry. You'll soon see!

  • Report this Comment On January 08, 2014, at 3:53 PM, jjlav wrote:

    While that is an impressive amount of power to be contained in a mobile device, as a gamer I have no interest in it. I don't want to play graphically intense games on my phone, I leave that to my PC or Console. Angry birds and jet pack joy ride don't need the extra bump from a chip like that, so i would rather buy a phone with lower specs and longer battery life.

  • Report this Comment On January 08, 2014, at 4:12 PM, asH95 wrote:

    Two words -

    1) proprietary

    2) OpenCL( performance)

    case closed for Nvidia

  • Report this Comment On January 08, 2014, at 4:30 PM, nonbiasfool wrote:

    if google doesn't buy NVDA, they are crazy!

  • Report this Comment On January 08, 2014, at 4:31 PM, PropioFurbo wrote:

    Oh my, Steve, didn't you stir up a hornet's nest among the AMD contingent.

  • Report this Comment On January 08, 2014, at 4:32 PM, KenLuskin wrote:

    Nvidia is LOSING money in tablets!

    Nvidia makes ALL most of their profits from professional discrete GPUs and very high end retail Add in board discrete GPUs.

    Nvidia earns enough on its laptop discrete GPUs to maintain enough sales to cover the losses on tablet chips.

    AMD has won over HALF the market share in DESIGN wins for new Laptops in 2014!

    WHY? Because ALL the NEW AAA games are being optimized for AMD graphics.

    AMD is taking market share in professional GPUs because the new Apple Mac Pro is now a full work station rather than a high end PC.

    AMD is taking market share in high end retail GPUs because they are far superior for LiteCoin mining, and because ALL new AAA games are being optimized for AMD graphics.

    What will really KILL Nvidia in 2014, is when 20 new games, support AMD's MANTLE API.

    Mantle makes AAA games run 45% faster on AMD graphics.

    So, AMD is stuck working with IBM on supercomputers, while AMD is eating their lunch in gaming.

    The competition in ARM Tablets is brutal! Intel is buying their way in, Qualcomm is not going away, and Samsung is continuing to improve.

    AMD will stick to what is profitable for them, while they continue to drive graphic technology that is at least competitive to Nvidia, if not better.

    PS3 and Xbox 360 were created almost a decade ago, and launched in 2005 and 2006.... what is the big deal with Nvidia comparing to technology that is a decade old?

  • Report this Comment On January 08, 2014, at 6:20 PM, Bgraham55 wrote:

    It's ridiculous to compare a chip in development to chips that are in shipping devices. When a product ships then you can compare how it stacks up to the competition. This chip will most likely be faster than the A7. By the time it has been produced in any number of significance the A8 will be it's competition, not the A7.

  • Report this Comment On January 08, 2014, at 6:57 PM, kaoboy72 wrote:

    The problem w/ AMD is that they're financially unstable. They got the ps4 and xbox1 because they were willing to outbid Nvidia on chip margin that's already low to begin with. Nvidia was smart to walk away from bad deals and focus on a much bigger mobile market.

    It's true that Nvidia could end up being a bigger looser if Qualcomm bully them out of the mobile space like Texas Instrument, but I don't think that going to happen as long as Nvidia can stay ahead of the crowd w/ their graphics expertise. The key question is to ask is: will 3d games become popular on mobile device? Will people play 3d games like Unreal on their mobile device? I dunno, but if it does take off, Nvidia will probably do pretty well, otherwise, they'll just be another mobile chip vendor behind Apple, Samsung and Qualcomm.

  • Report this Comment On January 08, 2014, at 11:48 PM, rav55 wrote:

    What a load of gargage. Tegra is ARM not x86 so it can't run ANYTHING running on a console. What a load of bullshyte.

  • Report this Comment On January 09, 2014, at 12:04 AM, rav55 wrote:


    "The problem w/ AMD is that they're financially unstable. They got the ps4 and xbox1 because they were willing to outbid Nvidia on chip margin that's already low to begin with. Nvidia was smart to walk away from bad deals and focus on a much bigger mobile market."

    What rock are you living under???

    AMD won the consoles because as a sole source oem they could supply both x86 cpu with unequaled graphics performance by either Intel alone or a discrete gpu from NVidia. Basically AMD silicon cost 1/2 of what an Intel/NVidia solution would cost in silicon alone. Then the Mobo would have to have room for 2 chips and additional power.

    Intel IGP is the bottom of the pit and is laughably poor. And ANY NVidia solution would make the box too expensive to market.

    Besides NVidia and Intel don't get along very well so trying to work with them as equal partners would be a nightmare.

    Whatever the gain by AMD this loss by INTEL is CATASTROPHIC. As it shows the WORLD that AMD silicon is world class. I bet you kaoboy72 don't drive a car with 600hp under the hood, While car makers do make outrageously powerful motors, 99% of car owners drive something considerably less yet the car world and the computer world is equivocates ultimate power as the best indicator of quality. That's a load of bush-wah as well.

    Despite Intel's best efforts over the years at illegally trying to monopolise the x86 market, AMD still manages to be the primary innovator in the x86 ecosystem. All Intel can do is poach NVidia patents to build a third rate gpu.

    Financial instability is also no measure of quality. Do you really expect Microsoft or Sony to risk the future of their game console business on a company that was unstable?

    You are definitely NOT CEO or CTO material.

  • Report this Comment On January 09, 2014, at 4:51 AM, enihcam wrote:

    Apparently you are cheated by NVIDIA's fancy slideshow, because of the following facts:

    1. Not only Tegra K1 has a 192-Core GPU, AMD's low-end APU, Mullins, also has GPU with 3 CU x 64-Core = 192-Core. 192 is really not a big number in 2014.

    2. An ARM mobile processor should be less than 2W, but the power consumption of Tegra K1 is 5W, which actually puts this processor into battlefield with x86(64) processors. For example, Intel Baytrail 1.5-4w; AMD Mullins 2~4.5W.

    3. Tegra K1-64 only has dual-core CPU, but Baytrail/Mullins are quad-core in same power consumption level.

    4. Tegra K1 supports only DX11.1, but Mullins support DX11.2 and native OpenCL.

    5. Tegra K1-64 will not be available to OEMs till the end of 2014, but Mullins will be available to OEMs in summer of 2014.

  • Report this Comment On January 09, 2014, at 6:47 PM, dwilh51183 wrote:


  • Report this Comment On January 10, 2014, at 7:22 PM, TEBuddy wrote:

    This is a joke right, they think they can match the power of the XB1 or PS4 in this mobile chip. That is an outright lie, a dangerous one that will get them sued and anyone that publishes such lies.

    Fools like this author probably took the meaining out of context and Nvidia probably said something completely arbitrarily incorrect. While a single core in the Nvidia chip might be more powerful than a single low-power AMD core in the XB1 and PS4, the Nvidia chip only has two of them. The XB1 and PS4 have 8 cores and a much more powerful GPU attached to it as well. So these lies that you write will get you in legal trouble.

    How about some facts that Nvidia has not made a profit on its mobile Tegra lineup yet, just lots of losses. Or the fact this GPU company could not produce a mobile chip with better graphical capabilities than other semiconductor companies. Basically Nvidia has never had any advantage whatsoever in the mobile arena, and will not get there with this K1.

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