Nvidia confesses naked CPU ambitions

Graphics chip firm Nvidia has announced that it is developing ARM-based , which it reckons will find their way into future PCs, servers and supercomputers.

The firm must have felt left out in the Las Vegas cold as AMD unveiled its "Fusion" of CPU and GPU and Intel hyped up the graphics capabilities of its new Sandy Bridge line of chips.

So Nvidia delved into its bags of tricks and pulled out a licensing agreement with ARM, which gives Nvidia rights to develop its own CPU cores based on ARM’s future processor architecture. Nvidia also licensed ARM’s current Cortex-A15 processor for its future-generation Tegra mobile processors.

Nvidia has long eyed the CPU market but has been scuppered historically by Intel's refusal to grant it an X86 licence. But the world has changed and X86 is no longer the only kid on the block, thanks to ARM's low-powered expertise and the burgeoning market for a computer in your pocket.

"ARM is the fastest-growing CPU architecture in history,” said chief Nvidian Jen-Hsun Huang, in a statement. "This marks the beginning of the Internet Everywhere era, where every device provides instant access to the Internet, using advanced CPU cores and rich operating systems.

“ARM’s pervasiveness and open business model make it the perfect architecture for this new era. With Project Denver, we are designing a high-performing ARM CPU core in combination with our massively parallel GPU cores to create a new class of processor," he said.

Warren East, ARM chief executive officer described Nvidia as "a key partner" for ARM. "With this architecture licence, Nvidia will be at the forefront of next generation SoC design, enabling the Internet Everywhere era to become a reality.”

Nvidia's chief scientist Bill Dally reckons Project Denver "frees PCs, workstations and severs from the hegemony and inefficiency of the x86 architecture".

For several years, he writes "makers of high-end computing platforms have had no choice about instruction-set architecture The only option was the x86 instruction set. (...)

"Denver provides a choice. System builders can now choose a high-performance processor based on a RISC instruction set with modern features such as fixed-width instructions, predication, and a large general register file.

"An ARM processor coupled with an Nvidia GPU represents the computing platform of the future," he burbles.

With Microsoft's announcement that it will port Windows 8 to ARM, CES suddenly got quite interesting.