Hints of a $199 Tablet and 3-D Chromebook

The third major version of the Tegra chip is expected to come out this spring.

Nvidia is a scrappy semiconductor company that used to be known for chips that richly rendered gaming graphics, but is now getting its advanced chips inside tablets and supercomputers. Last week the company released a new computer chip architecture that promises sharper graphics and less power consumption in desktops and ultrabooks.

Comments by Nvidia’s chief executive, and one of its customers, indicate the company’s efforts will also lower the price and raise the performance of some products months from now.

The key Nvidia chip in tablets that run on Google’s Android operating system is called Tegra, which came out in a third major version last November, and is now making its way into the market. Jen-Hsun Huang, Nvidia’s chief executive, figures that the chip incorporates enough cheap commodity components that, once these cost savings take hold, Android tablets will by this summer cost as little at $199.

“We took out $150 in build materials, things like expensive memory,” he said. “At $199, you can just about buy a tablet at a 7-Eleven.”

With the new iPad from Apple starting at $499, it is a striking price difference. But is that enough to make Android a potent competitor to the iPad? That is already the price of an existing Android tablet, the Kindle Fire from Amazon, which quickly became the second best-selling tablet on the market after the iPad. Mr. Huang, however, thinks that tablets running Windows 8 from Microsoft could make a lot of difference.

“Android hasn’t developed as I’d hoped,” he said. “For many people, though, work is still the primary reason to have a computer. They want Windows to work well, they want Outlook to work well. A tablet running Windows 8 with Tegra could be very nice.”

Windows 8 is expected around the end of the summer, well before Nvidia chips could be available. Last week a technology blog noted that Sony appears to have filed a patent for a version of its Vaio computer line that is a Google Chromebook. While these very light and cheap Web-oriented machines have had little impact in the market, manufacturers are still trying.

Inside the Sony machine is a chip identified only as T25. This is almost certainly a Tegra 2.5, a bridging chip between Tegra 2 and Tegra 3 whose capabilities Sony would likely have understood when it filed the patent. Previously, Chromebooks have run on Intel’s Atom processor. The Tegra model would use designs from ARM, which tend to have longer battery life.

Another of the Tegra’s notable features is the ability to use 3-D graphics, and the 2.5 version runs slightly faster than its predecessor. That could be an interesting riposte to Apple, which is emphasizing the screen quality of the latest iPad.

Here is a guess about when you might see a Vaio Chromebook: June 27, the first day of Google’s I/O developer’s conference. In the past, I/O has been a showcase for Google-friendly tablets and phones.

Source: Nytimes