Game time is almost here for NVIDIA (NASDAQ:NVDA), which is slated to report its third-quarter results for fiscal 2021 after the market close on Wednesday, Nov. 18. 

Investors in the graphics processing unit (GPU) leader are likely approaching the report with considerable optimism. Last quarter, the company easily beat the Wall Street consensus estimates for both revenue and earnings. 

Moreover, NVIDIA is once again a hot tech stock after struggling during the latter part of 2018 and spending 2019 gaining back lost ground. In 2020, shares have returned 130% through Monday, Nov. 16. The S&P 500 index has returned 14.1% over this period. 

A silhouette of a person's head amid a rendering of a computer motherboard.

Image source: Getty Images.

NVIDIA's key numbers

Here are benchmarks to use to gauge the relative strength of the company's top- and bottom-line results for fiscal Q3 2021. 

Metric Fiscal Q3 2020 Result Fiscal Q3 2021 NVIDIA Guidance  Fiscal Q3 2021 Wall Street Estimate Wall Street's Projected Growth YOY
Revenue $3.01 billion $4.40 billion $4.41 billion 46%
Adjusted earnings per share (EPS) $1.78 $2.55  $2.56 44%

Data sources: NVIDIA and Yahoo! Finance. Fiscal Q3 2021 ended in late October. YOY = year over year.

The fiscal third quarter will get a significant boost from NVIDIA's acquisition of Mellanox Technologies, which makes networking equipment for data centers. This deal closed in late April, or early in fiscal Q2.

For context, in fiscal Q2, NVIDIA's revenue jumped 50% year over year to $3.87 billion. Organic revenue growth, which excludes the contribution from Mellanox, was about 29%. Adjusted earnings per share soared 76% year over year to $2.18. That result breezed by the $1.97 analysts had been expecting.

Platform performance

Here's how the platforms performed last quarter:

Platform

Fiscal Q2 2021 Revenue

Change YOY

Change QOQ

Data center

 $1.75 billion 

167% 54%

Gaming

 $1.65 billion

26% 24%

Professional visualization

 $203 million

(30%) 

(34%)

Automotive

 $111 million

(47%)

(28%)

OEM and IP

 $146 million

32% 6%

Total

 $3.87 billion

50%

26%

Data source: NVIDIA. OEM and IP = original equipment manufacturer and intellectual property; this is not a target platform. QOQ = quarter over quarter.

Investors should focus on the two largest platforms, data center and computer gaming, which together accounted for about 88% of the company's total revenue last quarter. Their performances have an outsized effect on NVIDIA's overall performance.

The COVID-19 pandemic is both hurting and helping the company. It's providing a tailwind to gaming because people are spending more time at home. But it's negatively affecting the two small platforms. In last quarter's CFO commentary, Colette Kress said that professional visualization revenue was hurt because the global crisis caused corporate customers to delay spending on workstations and auto platform revenue fell because automotive production was "well below pre-COVID-19 levels." 

Kress attributed the data center's year-over-year increase to the Mellanox acquisition along with the ramp of products based on the company's newest GPU architecture, Ampere. The data center business has been growing briskly, thanks largely to the rapid adoption of artificial intelligence (AI) and the shift to cloud computing.

Last quarter, Mellanox contributed "just over 30%" of data center revenue, according to Kress. If we back out Mellanox's contribution, data center revenue grew roughly 86% year over year and 7% quarter over quarter. That's still super growth. 

Update on pending Arm acquisition

On the earnings call, investors can expect management to provide an update on the company's pending $40 billion acquisition of Arm, a leading chip designer owned by Japan's SoftBank. When this deal was announced in mid-September, it was expected to close in about 18 months.

If this huge deal goes through, NVIDIA's data center business will get significantly bigger.

Fiscal Q4 2021 guidance

The market is forward-looking. So its reaction to NVIDIA's report will probably hinge more on the company's fourth-quarter outlook than its third-quarter results, relative to Wall Street's expectations.

For fiscal Q4, analysts are modeling for adjusted EPS of $2.54 on revenue of $4.42 billion, representing year-over-year growth of 34% and 42%, respectively.  

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.