Nvidia, which increasingly is competing with the likes of Qualcomm and Texas Instruments in the booming mobile device chip market, is going to have to do it without the man who has been heading up the company's mobile efforts.
Mike Rayfield, a seven-year Nvidia executive who has been general manager of the company's mobile chip unit, quietly left the company in August for a job with another company. News of Rayfield's exit came to the surface over the weekend, though it's still unclear what company he is now working for.
An Nvidia spokesperson confirmed Rayfield's departure, though he declined to name the executive's new employer.
Rayfield's exit comes as Nvidia continues its transformation from a maker of high-end graphics technology designed to run the increasingly complex video games hitting the marketplace to a mobile chip maker leveraging that graphics history and the mobile chip designs of ARM Holdings. Nvidia has been making inroads into the highly competitive space with its dual- and quad-core Tegra 3 offerings for tablets and smartphones.
The company hailed a significant win in June, when Google rolled out its Android-based Nexus 7 tablet powered by Nvidia's Tegra 3 chips. At the same time, company officials said they expect Tegra 3 chips this year to find their way into more than 30 mobile devices, from tablets from companies such as Asus, Acer and Toshiba to smartphones from HTC and LG Electronics.
In a June 27 post on Nvidia's blog, Rayfield boasted about Google's embrace of Tegra 3 in the Nexus 7, and said the chip's energy-efficient 4-Plus-1 architecture will drive even more design wins. The quad-core chip features a fifth core that runs at a lower frequency than the other four, and is used to run Tegra 3-powered devices at low power while in standby mode. It also runs tasks that don't need all the power of the other cores.
"Tegra 3, with its quad-core 4-PLUS-1 architecture, continues its run of previous wins," Rayfield wrote. "Its blazing speed, outstanding battery life and super-smooth touch response make for a fast, fluid experience that's hard to match."
However, while Nvidia was expected by many analysts to be the chip supplier for Amazon's Kindle Fire tablet, the company lost out when the online retailer instead opted to stay with Texas Instruments.
As part of Nvidia's mobile efforts, Rayfield oversaw the development of the company's Kai tablet platform, which is aimed at leveraging ARM's chip designs to create tablets that are both energy efficient and high performing, and also cost significantly less than popular Apple's iPad tablets and other Android-based devices on the market. Google's Nexus 7 was built on the Kai platform, and costs about $199, less than the iPad and other tablets.
The Kai platform was unveiled during the GPU Technology Conference in May. Rob Csonger, vice president of investor relations at Nvidia, introduced the platform.
"Our strategy on Android is simply to enable quad-core tablets running Android Ice Cream Sandwich to be developed and brought out to market at the $199 price point," Csonger said. "The way we do that is a platform we've developed called Kai. So this uses a lot of the secret sauce that's inside Tegra 3 to allow you to develop a tablet at a much lower cost, by using a lot of innovation that we've developed to reduce the power that's used by the display and use lower-cost components within the tablet."