Microsoft‘s upcoming Zune HD, the next generation of its iPod competitor, will feature Nvidia’s “Tegra” chip, representing something of a victory for the latter in its competition with Intel over processors for mobile devices.
Both the Zune and Nvidia, however, face something of an uphill battle against their respective opponents, the iPod and Intel, which each command a dominating share of their respective markets.
The Zune HD, which will be released in September 2009, will feature a 3.3-inch screen and 16:9 OLED display (480×272 resolution), along with an integrated HD Radio receiver, a sold-separately Zune HD & AV dock for watching HD-TV, touch-screen QWERTY keyboard, and Wi-Fi connection – all of it powered by Nvidia.
“The Zune HD does have the Tegra chip in it,” Matt Akers, a software development engineer at Microsoft, mentioned during a corporate podcast on June 19, touting the boosted graphics acceleration offered by the processor.
Nvidia’s Tegra platform, based on an 800MHz ARM 11 CPU and a Nvidia GeForce GPU (graphics processing unit) along with an image processor and high-definition video processor, is the company’s answer to Intel in the mobile-processing space. Originally launched in June 2008, the Tegra 650 series processor is a mere 144 millimeters square and consumes less than one watt of power, which would theoretically help extend the battery life of the Zune HD.
The release of Tegra put Nvidia on a steeper collision course with Intel and its Atom processors, also designed for the MID space. Intel CEO Paul Otellini told the Financial Times on the day of Nvidia’s Tegra announcement that the Atom processor market would be worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $40 billion within two or three years.
Atom utilizes Intel’s own x86 processors, while Nvidia is relying on outsider ARM’s RISC processor, which is also utilized in a range of smartphones. Nvidia’s embrace of ARM indicated to analysts that the manufacturer was targeting not only the high-end market, but also devices that required a lesser degree of performance.
Even before the Zune HD was officially announced, rumors had been swirling for months about another Microsoft foray into the mobile market, many of them centering around a possible Microsoft-Verizon Wireless smartphone project code-named Pink.
“Microsoft is not going into the phone hardware business,” John Starkweather, Microsoft’s director of social marketing and mobile experiences, said in a statement at the time.
Other rumors centered on the possibility of Microsoft releasing a Zune-branded phone, a direct competitor to both the iPhone and the Palm Pre. Those rumors, however, were dismissed as a hoax by Microsoft.