Hunkering down for Another Tablet War

Wayne Rash

NVidia's announcement of a new quad-core processor with an embedded 12-core GeForce graphics processor is apparently the first shot in the next stage of a tablet war. The new processor, which was announced at the Mobile World Congress conference in Barcelona, will be approximately two to five times as fast as the existing Tegra-2 processors from NVidia. The new processor, code-named Kal-El (which was Superman's name before he adopted the Clark Kent alias), has four Cortex A9 cores and is capable of super-HD video.

This line of processors clearly has a bright future-the next step, which will be 10 times as fast, is code named 'Wayne,' which is a stroke of marketing genius if there ever was one. NVidia's announcement says that the new processor should ship around August, 2011. This puts it on the market much sooner than Qualcomm's quad processor version of the SnapDragon, which is set to launch in 2012.

And, of course, NVidia and Qualcomm aren't the only makers of processors in the marketplace. You should expect to see other high-performance processor/graphics combo devices emerge over the next few months. The result will be a real performance war between makers of Android and Windows tablets. So far, these wars have tended to keep prices down and keep performance up. Neither of these is a bad thing for users.

Once the tablet market gets the processors, the phone market is next. While it's hard to imagine a phone form factor needing the extreme graphics capability of the Kal-El, there's probably some demand for it. But a lot of tablet computers and phones are already using Qualcomm's architecture. Whether the extra performance of the Kal-El is enough to get them to change platforms remains an open question.

All of this is really nice, of course, but the next question is why you should care. After all, the initial market for the Kal-El and next-generation SnapDragon is the gaming crowd. But there's more to high-speed processing and graphics than games. Imagine a business tablet with 4G wireless support that can be used for very high resolution imaging. The possibilities for everything from health care to law enforcement are significant. Imagine, for example, how useful it could be to receive a nearly instantaneous MRI image on your tablet, regardless of where you are.

While today's tablet uses for things like e-readers and Web browsing don't require this kind of horsepower, it's likely that the tablets that will be out in the next couple of years will have this kind of processing power and display capability, and while you'll still be able to use your e-reader, you'll also be able to use business applications that take advantage of these great new powers. Maybe this is why they're calling the new version Kal-El, and the next, really powerful version Wayne. It only stands to reason.

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