At CES 2014, NVIDIA (NASDAQ:NVDA) announced its next-generation mobile processor known as the Tegra K1. The K1 is actually set to hit in two flavors: a 32-bit version using a 4+1 ARM (NASDAQ:ARMH) Cortex A15 configuration, and a 64-bit version using dual NVIDIA-designed Denver CPU cores. While NVIDIA showed reference designs playing graphically intense games at CES, we're still waiting on designs packing K1 to hit the market.
Jetson TK1 should be available soon...
At NVIDIA's GPU Technology Conference, the company announced a development board based on the 32-bit Tegra K1 known as Jetson TK1. This platform, intended for embedded systems, sports a Tegra K1 chip, 2GB of memory, 16GB of flash, and various connectors. The platform is available for pre-order now, with shipments beginning this month. Very cool for developers but, unfortunately, not really that interesting to investors.
That said, when the Tegra K1 was first announced, NVIDIA assured investors that devices using the chip would roll out in the first half of 2014, and devices based on the 64-bit Denver Tegra K1 would hit the market during the second half of 2014. We're in mid-April, and no devices have been announced/released yet, although we still have May and June to get through before worrying about it.
Remember, we're seeing a similar pattern with Intel's Bay Trail on Android
While a lack of visible design wins may be discouraging, it's important to note that tablets are usually "hot" during back-to-school and Christmas shopping. For example, while Intel (NASDAQ:INTC), one of NVIDIA's competitors in the tablet-chip market, has been public in stating that it has more than 90 tablet-design wins, the majority are Android-based and based on Intel's Bay Trail-T processor.
Designs based on this platform are, by and large, not announced either, despite pretty reasonable assurances from management that these designs are "won," and that the company would hit its goal of 40 million tablet chips shipped during 2014. This suggests it's not at all time to panic about the potential adoption of Tegra K1 by OEMs.
What OEMs are likely to adopt Tegra K1?
The next question, then, is which companies are likely to adopt NVIDIA's Tegra K1 in designs rolling out this year. It's unlikely, at this point, that NVIDIA will be able to displace Qualcomm in designs such as the Kindle Fire HDX, and Samsung's tablets are out of the question. This leaves the more traditional PC vendors such as ASUS, which worked quite successfully with NVIDIA on designs like the initial Transformer Pads and the original Nexus 7, and the Chinese white-box OEMs.
Where things get tricky is the fact that Tegra K1 is a no-holds-barred performance part. The die size is likely not small, and it's probably not anywhere as cheap to make as, say, a quad ARM Cortex A7 from MediaTek or Allwinner. High resolution, gaming-oriented Android tablets seem to be the best fit for Tegra K1. Oh, and it seems almost a done deal that Tegra K1 will power a next-generation Surface from Microsoft.
Foolish bottom line
Unlike the smartphone market, the tablet market does seem to lend itself well to a wide variety of vendors playing in a broad range of price points/features. Tegra K1 looks like a fantastic high-end tablet part -- particularly on graphics -- and it will be great to see where it lands by the end of the quarter.