Tough times ahead for Nvidia? Part one

The Larrabee threat

Making matters even worse, Intel is just about to launch its own performance graphics chip, codenamed Larrabee. Say what you want about Larrabee's unconventional X86-based architecture, but thanks to Intel's sheer clout, it's bound to win some market share at the expense of incumbents AMD and Nvidia. And even if the first Larrabee chips are clunkers, in the long run you'd be bloody brave to bet against Intel eventually getting it right.

But what of Tegra, Nvidia's mobile phone wonderchip? It's certainly impressive on paper, packing massively more graphics horsepower than any other platform for smartphones. However, despite being unveiled a year ago, Nvidia has only been able to announce a small handful of design wins with lesser-known Taiwanese device makers. The big beasts in the mobile jungle are nowhere to be seen in Nvidia's marketing materials.

Finally, there is the minor matter of gaming consoles. Here the evidence is rather more tendentious. And yet somehow a consensus has emerged that says Nvidia's bombastic behaviour has burned bridges with both Microsoft and Sony. If the general internet scuttlebutt is to be believed, there's virtually zero chance of Nvidia technology appearing in the next Xbox or PlayStation consoles. Meanwhile, Nintendo is carving out a new niche in accessible gaming which places much less emphasis on graphics grunt. In that context, it seems unlikely that Nintendo would feel the need to ditch its long term graphics supplier, AMD.

So, assuming a devil's advocate posture, let's recap. Nvidia's desktop and laptop chipset businesses are being pinched, Ion looks like a dead duck even as it's being launched, Nvidia's core PC graphics business is in the trenches, Tegra is a virtual non-starter and its console cash flow will die with the underperforming PlayStation 3. In a word, ugly.

All of which paints a rather gloomy picture for Nvidia. But is it fair? Things are often not what they seem in the computer chip industry. Lest you have forgotten, 12 months ago AMD looked utterly dead in the water. Today it has arguably the best graphics chips in the world and a much more competitive CPU product in the Phenom II.

Where better, then, to get the case for the defence than Nvidia itself in the shape of Derek Perez, the company's long serving Director of PR? If Perez can't spin Nvidia's current situation into a tale of impending glory, nobody can. To find out if he can pull it off, tune in to part two on TechRadar tomorrow...