NVIDIA Corporation (NASDAQ:NVDA) is slated to report its fourth-quarter fiscal 2018 results after the market closes on Thursday, Feb 8.

The graphics-chip specialist has a lot of momentum going into its report, with investor expectations surely very high. It's been posting robust revenue and earnings growth, propelling its stock to a 127% return over the one-year period, through Jan. 26, versus the S&P 500's 27.5% return.

Let's look at expectations for NVIDIA and what investors should focus on in its report.

A digital representation of a human brain hovering just above the palm-up right hand of a woman who is dressed in a business suit -- concept for AI

NVIDIA's push into AI has been powering its results. Image source: Getty Images.

The headline numbers: Tough comparables

Here are the previous period's results and Wall Street's estimates, as of this writing on Jan. 26, to use as benchmarks:

Metric

Q4 2017 Result

Q4 2018 Wall Street Consensus Estimate

Wall Street's Projected Growth (YOY)

Revenue

$2.17 billion

$2.67 billion

23%

Adjusted earnings per share (EPS)

$0.99

$1.16

17.1%

Data sources: NVIDIA and Yahoo! Finance. YOY = year over year. 

Analysts' growth expectations for the quarter are modest relative to NVIDIA's recent performance. That's because this will be the second consecutive quarter that the company is facing tough year-over-year comparables. These are driven by its big revenue and earnings boost that began in Q3 of last fiscal year from the ramp-up of products across its target market platforms based on its then-newly launched Pascal graphics processing unit (GPU) architecture.

While analysts continue to raise their earnings estimates, investors can probably count on another earnings beat, in my opinion. NVIDIA cruised by Wall Street's expectations for the first three quarters of this fiscal year.

Gaming: Expect a big holiday quarter 

Here's how NVIDIA's largest platform by revenue performed last quarter:

Period

Revenue

Change (YOY)

Change (QOQ)

Percentage of Total Revenue

Q3 Fiscal  2018

$1,561 million

25%

32%

59.2%

Data source: NVIDIA. YOY = year over year; QOQ = quarter over quarter.

NVIDIA CEO Jensen Huang said on last quarter's earnings call that the company's computer gaming business looked like it was going to have "a great" Q4. Investors should see continued strong adoption of NVIDIA's Pascal-based GeForce cards, which the company began rolling out in 2016 and continued to launch last year. 

The gaming platform has been benefiting from the overall market's expansion -- driven largely by the popularity of esports and the release of top-quality titles -- and the company taking market share from its rival in discrete GPUs, Advanced Micro Devices. In the third quarter, NVIDIA's share of this market increased to 72.8%, up from 70.2% in the year-ago period, according to Jon Peddie Research. 

Data center: Look for AI-driven Volta growth to continue 

Data center is NVIDIA's second largest target market platform by revenue (behind gaming and ahead of professional visualization and auto), and the fastest growing. Here's how this business performed last quarter: 

Period

Revenue

Change (YOY)

Change (QOQ)

Percentage of Total Revenue

Q3 fiscal 2018

$501 million

109%

20%

19%

Data source: NVIDIA. YOY = year over year; QOQ = quarter over quarter.

In the fourth quarter, investors can probably expect robust performance in data center. However, it's going to be very difficult for NVIDIA to continue posting triple-digit year-over-year revenue growth, with a break in its long quarterly string of doing so likely coming soon. This will be the third quarter that products for the data center based on the company's newest GPU architecture, Volta, have been available, though just the second quarter in which production of these products has been fully ramped up. 

Data center's powerful growth is largely being driven by the enthusiastic adoption of NVIDIA's GPU-based approach to deep learning, a branch of artificial intelligence (AI) that aims to train machines to mimic human thought processes. Demand for the company's high-performance computing (HPC) and GRID virtualization platforms are also fueling growth. All the world's major internet companies and cloud-service providers are upgrading their data centers from Pascal-based systems to Volta-based ones, and major server makers are also adopting Volta.

Auto: Growth from driverless vehicles is poised to rev up soon

Period

Revenue

Change (YOY)

Change (QOQ)

Percentage of Total Revenue

Q3 fiscal 2018

$144 million

13%

1%

5.5%

Data source: NVIDIA. YOY = year over year; QOQ = quarter over quarter.

Investors need to be patient with respect to growth in NVIDIA's auto business. The company has been laying the groundwork for huge potential growth from the imminent arrival of fully autonomous vehicles, which Huang believes will be in 2020 or 2021. More than 320 automakers, truck manufacturers, top-tier parts suppliers, tech companies, and research entities are developing with NVIDIA's AI-powered autonomous vehicle platform, DRIVE PX.

Currently, the DRIVE AI supercomputer is in all Tesla's vehicles and Audi's 2018 A8. Toyota, Mercedes-Benz, Volvo, and Chinese tech giant Baidu have also adopted the platform, and plan to incorporate it into their production vehicles within the next few years. Ride-hailing start-up Uber and Volkswagen just announced at the Consumer Electronics Show that they're also working with NVIDIA on their driverless-vehicle efforts.  

Cryptocurrency: The bonus category

Investors should view any revenue from the cryptocurrency market as an added bonus, not as necessary for NVIDIA to succeed. This revenue promises to be very lumpy given the volatility of the crypto market.

NVIDIA's recent financial results have been getting a boost from the rapidly emerging  crypto market, as the company's GPUs are ideal for "mining" -- or generating -- newly emerging digital currencies that require mining. In the second and third quarters, NVIDIA generated more than 6.7% and 2.7%, respectively, of its total revenue from the crypto market. Exact figures aren't known because some miners are buying the company's GeForce gaming cards to use for mining, rather than its application-specific product.

Beth McKenna has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Baidu, NVIDIA, and Tesla. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.