updated 12:55 pm EDT, Fri March 23, 2012
NVIDIA sees Apple and itself hurting cheap PCs
NVIDIA's mobile lead Rene Haas in a conversation published overnight saw both his own company and Apple squeezing out traditional low-end notebooks. He explained to CNET that, just as Apple's MacBook Air had mostly killed the need for a "middle" system between the ultraportable and the faster MacBook Pro, NVIDIA would serve both Tegra-based mobile devices at the low end and graphics-heavy, performance-based notebooks on top. It was the stereotypical Windows notebook, which didn't have any of the performance edges or the portability, that was most at risk.
"I think the middle category, these $499 cheap and ugly machines -- battery life is not so great, the chassis is not so sexy -- I think that category is potentially under siege," Haas said.
One of the most likely examples for the Tegra options would be tablets with notebook add-ons, such as the ASUS Transformer Pad Infinity. While not as integrated as a full notebook, they're often much more portable and longer-lasting.
He saw most Windows ultrabooks falling into the 14- and 15-inch categories, such as the Acer Timeline Ultra M3, rather than smaller. The 13.3-inch size was a "bit of a boutique category," he said, putting Apple in that group by definition. While the argument was partly self-serving, as NVIDIA's power needs hurt its chances at being used in a 13.3-inch frame, he pointed out that the $1,000-plus prices often needed to stay in those dimensions were difficult for Windows PC builders not used to those prices. "It's a tricky value proposition in terms of a Windows-based system," he said.
Regardless, Apple is widely thought to be the most popular ultrabook designer, with a large part of its 5.2 million Macs sold last year going towards the Air. Windows builders are believed to have sold just a few hundred thousand systems each in the same period. Acer had said it was selling near break-even just to create a price gap and try to bolster sales.
In an almost side-by-side statement obtained by AnandTech, a letter from NVIDIA CEO Jen-Hsun Huang to employees on the launch of the Kepler graphics core hinted that it would come to "superphones," not just PCs. NVIDIA has usually drawn on the feature set from its GeForce chipsets for its Tegra line and could get much more performance per watt and almost penalty-free antialiasing in the mobile space.