NVIDIA had some good news today, officially confirming the presence of its Tegra chip on the Zune HD. But rival chip maker AMD had its own announcement. AMD claims that its discrete mobile graphics chips have swept to the top spot in the market, claiming 53% of the discrete mobile market. But is that just a case of trying to rain on NVIDIAs parade, or is it actually a big win for AMD?
First – NVIDIAs Tegra on the Zune HD:
NVIDIA has officially confirmed that it’s Tegra chips will be powering the new Zune HD from Microsoft. There have been rumours, leaks and other indications to that effect for months now, but this is the first time NVIDIA has actually come out and said it. What’s the big deal about the Tegra? It’s a good graphics processing unit (GPU), but the main selling point for Tegra is its low power consumption. It’s a system-on-a-chip device, which means it’s small enough to be integrated directly onto the main chipset for the Zune HD. As a result it can handle movies, music and even HD video playback with absolutely tiny power consumption.
For more information, see our report on Tegra.
And now – what is AMDs news?
AMD has announced that it has snagged the number 1 spot for discrete graphics processors in Netbooks. AMD makes heavy use of the word “discrete”, by which they refer to the design of their GPU. As opposed to system-on-a-chip (SoaC) devices, a discrete GPU is separate from the main chipset. This means it doesn’t have to be as miniaturised as a SoaC chip, and can be a more powerful processor. But it’s also an entirely separate component drawing power from the battery – which significantly lowers the battery life of the device.
So, the AMD news release breaks down like this: AMD now provides 53% of the processors to the market of Netbooks that use discrete GPUs instead of SoaC GPUs.
What we think?
My question is whether that’s really a big deal, or is AMD making a mountain from a molehill? Opinions vary. TG Daily points out that the number of Netbooks that use discrete GPUs is much, much smaller than integrated GPU netbooks. If you look at the entire mobile GPU market, taking into account both discrete and integrated, then AMD is back in third place. NVIDIA is well ahead of them… but they’re both significantly behind Intel. That being the case, pulling into the number one position for discrete chips doesn’t really mean anything.
However, AMD is quoting its figures from Jon Peddie Research. Peddie claims that Netbook owners really do expect a huge amount of performance from their devices. As user demand for performance grows, Peddie claims that integrated GPUs will simply not be powerful enough to handle the workload – and that discrete GPUs are the future of Netbooks. AMD is currently claiming 200 different Netbook design wins for its main discrete chips in the Mobility Radeon series. It starts to look more like AMD couldn’t care less about the overall mobile GPU market, and is focusing directly on discrete chips.
I can imagine a scenario that AMD might find pleasing. As NVIDIA concentrates more on SoaC GPUs, and moves further and further into the mobile and smartphone market, it loses focus on larger chips. AMD takes advantage of this, and sweeps into the discrete mobile market, dominating the niche for GPUs that are too big for mobiles and too small for desktops. But dominating a niche market still isn’t going to be as lucrative as being highly competitive in the huge smartphone market.