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Nvidia taps Transmeta team for x86 chip, claims analyst

Shoring up, not quitting chipset biz

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Nvidia has taken on staff from one-time star of low-power processor design Transmeta, an analyst has claimed, to drive its own x86 core development programme.

In a note sent to investment clients yesterday, Doug Freedman of research house AmTech said Nvidia has to be considering a move into the x86 CPU market "by necessity to preserve both GPU and chipset revenue".

The chip maker is currently caught up in a legal battle with Intel over the scope it has to develop chipsets for future Intel processors. Clearly, that could limit its ability to sell chipsets long term, as will AMD's increasing willingness to emphasise its own chipsets over third-party products.

If Nvidia can't sell parts to go with Intel or AMD processors, arguably it has to develop its own CPUs which it can tie its own chipsets to.

Freedman noted that around 30 per cent of Nvidia's revenue comes from chipsets, so getting out of the chipset business would simply put too much pressure on Nvidia's other products, not only GPUs but also mobile chips.

Other analysts have forecast that Nvidia will quit the chipset business.

GPU revenue is also threatened by initiatives by both AMD and Intel to incorporate GPUs into their processors, a move that also tasks Nvidia's integrated chipset business.

"We believe Nvidia could (sooner rather than later) enter the x86 CPU business," said Freedman. "Nvidia will likely target mainstream and below performance, and not leading Core i7 like levels."

Nvidia has been said to be interested in x86 development for some time. At one point, it was rumoured that Nvidia would aquire chip maker VIA, though Nvidia CEO Jen-Hsun Huang kyboshed that notion in May 2008.

So where will Nvidia's x86 core come from? Internally, said Freedman. "We believe internally developed x86 solutions are more likely than external acquisitions - ie. VIA," he said, adding: "We believe that Nvidia has hired former Transmeta staff extensively." ®

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