BARCELONA -- Three years ago, few people had heard of Nvidia processors.
But today the chipmaker is winning attention for its latest Tegra 3 quad-core technology being used in smartphones and tablets. The Tegra 3 is, for instance, used in the new Asus Transformer Pad 300 series and the Transformer Pad Infinity series, both of which were unveiled this week here at Mobile World Congress.
Nvidia, like Asus Technology and others, is widely regarded as a technology innovator, the kind of company that rises quickly to take on giants like Intel, Qualcomm and Texas Instruments (TI), analysts said.
Asus, which started in 1989 in Taiwan, is older that Nvidia, which began operations in 1993. Both show similar aggressiveness and a focus on innovation. Nvidia started as a maker of graphics processor chips, competing against AMD and others, and moved into mobile only recently as the smartphone and tablet markets took off.
Nvidia officials admit their company is small when compared to TI or Qualcomm, but said they're thrilled to be included in the mix with chipmakers being used in reference designs for Windows-on-ARM (WOA) tablets. Microsoft showed off reference design tablets from all three ARM chipmakers at yesterday's Windows 8 Consumer Preview event in Barcelona, along with an X86 design from Intel.
Tegra 3 also showed up in five new smartphones at MWC, including the new HTC One X and phones from LG and Fujitsu. The AT&T 4G LTE version of the One X will run Qualcomm's LTE Snapdragon S 4 processor, providing LTE capability that Tegra 3 doesn't have.
In all, Nvidia processors run in 34 tablets and 67 phones, said Lars Weinand, senior technology marketing manager for the company.
Nvidia refers to its Tegra 3 as having 4-plus-1 cores, with the first four Cortex A9 general purpose cores operating at 1500MHz, and the fifth at 500MHz. The fifth core is used alone when a phone or tablet has a low-power task, such as keeping a single image displayed on-screen once it is placed there, Weinand said.
Nvidia expects to do well against TI and Qualcomm in building ARM processors for Windows tablets, Weinand said. That's because Nvidia already has hundreds of developers experienced in coding for Microsoft applications.
"Those companies don't do a bad job, but we have a natural head-start," Weinand said.
Nvidia isn't talking about when its next-generation mobile processor will be announced, but it has already labeled it with the code-name Bruce, after Bruce Wayne, the character better known as Batman.
Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.