NVIDIA's plans for Tegra and Tesla

Subject: General Tech | April 24, 2013 - 01:38 PM |
Tagged: Steve Scott, nvidia, HPC, tesla, logan, tegra

The Register had a chance to sit down with Steve Scott, once CTO of Cray and now CTO of NVIDIA's Tesla projects to discuss the future of their add-in cards as well as that of x86 in the server room.  They discussed Tegra and why it is not receiving the same amount of attention at NVIDIA as Tegra is, as well as some of the fundamental differences in the chips both currently and going forward.  NVIDIA plans to unite GPU and CPU onto both families of chips, likely with a custom interface as opposed to placing them on the same die, though both will continue to be designed for very different functions.  A lot of the article focuses on Tegra, its memory bandwidth and most importantly its networking capabilities as it seems NVIDIA is focused on the server room and providing hundreds or thousands of interconnected Tegra processors to compete directly with x86 offerings.  Read on for the full interview.

ELreg_nvidia_echelon_system.jpg

"Jen-Hsun Huang, co-founder and CEO of Nvidia has been perfectly honest about the fact that the graphics chip maker didn't intend to get into the supercomputing business. Rather, it was founded by a bunch of gamers who wanted better graphics cards to play 3D games. Fast forward two decades, though, and the Nvidia Tesla GPU coprocessor and the CUDA programming environment have taken the supercomputer world by storm."

Here is some more Tech News from around the web:

Tech Talk

Source: The Register

Khronos Group Announces WebGL 1.0.2 Specification and Extensions, Formal Release Expected in April

Subject: General Tech | March 28, 2013 - 12:54 AM |
Tagged: webgl 1.0.2, webgl, web browser, tegra, programming

The Khronos Group recently announced that the WebGL 1.0.1 specification is compliant across mobile and desktop systems on a number of platforms. Chrome 25 and Firefox 19 support WebGL 1.0.1 on Windows, Mac, and Linux operating systems. Further, mobile devices with Tegra SoCs can tap into WebGL using a WebGL-enhanced Android browser.

webgl_logo.jpg

Additionally, the WebGL 1.0.2 specification and its extensions have been submitted for ratification, and is expected to be formally released in April. According to the press release, the following features are being rolled into the WebGL 1.0.2 specification:

  • "adds many clarifications for specification behavioral precision
  • mandates support for certain combinations of framebuffer formats, to ease developer adoption;
  • clarifies interactions with the encompassing HTML5 platform, including the browser compositor and high-DPI displays;
  • dramatically increases the number of conformance tests to roughly 21,000 to improve both the breadth and depth of test coverage - thanks principally to work by Gregg Tavares at Google and the OpenGL ES working group."

The WebGL working group has also submitted several optional extensions for ratifications along with the 1.0.2 spec. On the developer side of things is a JavaScript debugger for WebGL API calls and shaders, and functionality to communicate when a mobile device is powered off while WebGL is running. The other extension deals with adding additional 3D features from OpenGL ES 2.0 including anisotropic filtering (AF), vertex array objects, and standard derivative functions.

Khronos President and NVIDIA Vice President of Mobile Content Neil Trevett stated that "The close cooperation between browser and silicon vendors to ensure the GPU is being reliably and securely exposed to the Web is ongoing proof that Khronos is a highly productive forum to evolve this vital Web standard." Meanwhile, WebGL Working group chair Ken Russell indicated that WebGL 1.0.2 is "a major milestone in bringing the power of the GPU to the Web.”

Although there are security concerns to consider, WebGL does open up some interesting opportunities for new web services. The full press release can be found here.

Source: Khronos

NVIDIA's Project SHIELD is just about ready

Subject: General Tech | March 26, 2013 - 01:49 PM |
Tagged: tegra 4, tegra, shield, nvidia, Tegrazone

Remember Project Shield from CES and before?  The Inquirer has managed to get their hands on an actual console at the Game Developers Conference and played a bit of Need For Speed streamed from a PC onto the Shield.  Project Shield its self is a Tegra 4 powered controller running Android 4.2 with a 5" 720p display attached and wireless connectivity.  The actual game is streamed wireless from a PC with a Kepler GPU via the Tegrazone application, so the real performance limit occurs from latency, similar to the company once known as Onlive.  While The Inq was not quite ready to toss their money at Project Shield, but it was close.

TheInq_nvidia-shield-console-front-540x334.JPG

"CHIP DESIGNER Nvidia caused something of a stir at CES when it announced the Project Shield handheld games console, and with its launch nearing, the firm is letting people try its first own-brand game console, which we managed to get our hands on at this week's GDC gaming conference in San Francisco."

Here is some more Tech News from around the web:

Tech Talk

Source: The Inquirer

Podcast #243 - ASUS Crosshair V Formula-Z, MSI Z77A-G45 Thunderbolt, 2TB SSDs and more!

Subject: General Tech | March 21, 2013 - 02:54 PM |
Tagged: z77a-g45 thunderbolt, video, tegra, quadro, podcast, GTX 690, GTC 2013, DDR3-3000, Crosshair V Formula Z, 2tb ssd

PC Perspective Podcast #243 - 03/21/2013

Join us this week as we discuss the ASUS Crosshair V Formula-Z, MSI Z77A-G45 Thunderbolt, 2TB SSDs and more!

You can subscribe to us through iTunes and you can still access it directly through the RSS page HERE.

The URL for the podcast is: http://pcper.com/podcast - Share with your friends!

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Hosts: Josh Walrath, Jeremy Hellstrom, Allyn Malventano, Morry Teitelman, and sometimes Ken Addison

This Podcast is brought to you by MSI!

Program length: 1:18:24

Podcast topics of discussion:
  1. Week in Review:
  1. News items of interest:
  2. Closing:
    1. 1:09:50 Hardware / Software Pick of the Week
      1. Morry: Memory, always more memory - G.Skill Sniper 1866 16GB DDR3
  3. 1-888-38-PCPER or podcast@pcper.com

 

NVIDIA Details Tegra 4 and Tegra 4i Graphics

Subject: Graphics Cards | February 25, 2013 - 08:01 PM |
Tagged: nvidia, tegra, tegra 4, Tegra 4i, pixel, vertex, PowerVR, mali, adreno, geforce

 

When Tegra 4 was introduced at CES there was precious little information about the setup of the integrated GPU.  We all knew that it would be a much more powerful GPU, but we were not entirely sure how it was set up.  Now NVIDIA has finally released a slew of whitepapers that deal with not only the GPU portion of Tegra 4, but also some of the low level features of the Cortex A15 processor.  For this little number I am just going over the graphics portion.

layout.jpg

This robust looking fellow is the Tegra 4.  Note the four pixel "pipelines" that can output 4 pixels per clock.

The graphics units on the Tegra 4 and Tegra 4i are identical in overall architecture, just that the 4i has fewer units and they are arranged slightly differently.  Tegra 4 is comprised of 72 units, 48 of which are pixel shaders.  These pixel shaders are VLIW based VEC4 units.  The other 24 units are vertex shaders.  The Tegra 4i is comprised of 60 units, 48 of which are pixel shaders and 12 are vertex shaders.  We knew at CES that it was not a unified shader design, but we were still unsure of the overall makeup of the part.  There are some very good reasons why NVIDIA went this route, as we will soon explore.

If NVIDIA were to transition to unified shaders, it would increase the overall complexity and power consumption of the part.  Each shader unit would have to be able to handle both vertex and pixel workloads, which means more transistors are needed to handle it.  Simpler shaders focused on either pixel or vertex operations are more efficient at what they do, both in terms of transistors used and power consumption.  This is the same train of thought when using fixed function units vs. fully programmable.  Yes, the programmability will give more flexibility, but the fixed function unit is again smaller, faster, and more efficient at its workload.

layout_4i.jpg

On the other hand here we have the Tegra 4i, which gives up half the pixel pipelines and vertex shaders, but keeps all 48 pixel shaders.

If there was one surprise here, it would be that the part is not completely OpenGL ES 3.0 compliant.  It is lacking in one major function that is required for certification.  This particular part cannot render at FP32 levels.  It has been quite a few years since we have heard of anything not being able to do FP32 in the PC market, but it is quite common to not support it in the power and transistor conscious mobile market.  NVIDIA decided to go with a FP 20 partial precision setup.  They claim that for all intents and purposes, it will not be noticeable to the human eye.  Colors will still be rendered properly and artifacts will be few and far between.  Remember back in the day when NVIDIA supported FP16 and FP32 while they chastised ATI for choosing FP24 with the Radeon 9700 Pro?  Times have changed a bit.  Going with FP20 is again a power and transistor saving decision.  It still supports DX9.3 and OpenGL ES 2.0, but it is not fully OpenGL ES 3.0 compliant.  This is not to say that it does not support any 3.0 features.  It in fact does support quite a bit of the functionality required by 3.0, but it is still not fully compliant.

This will be an interesting decision to watch over the next few years.  The latest Mali 600 series, PowerVR 6 series, and Adreno 300 series solutions all support OpenGL ES 3.0.  Tegra 4 is the odd man out.  While most developers have no plans to go to 3.0 anytime in the near future, it will eventually be implemented in software.  When that point comes, then the Tegra 4 based devices will be left a bit behind.  By then NVIDIA will have a fully compliant solution, but that is little comfort for those buying phones and tablets in the near future that will be saddled with non-compliance once applications hit.

ogles_feat.jpg

The list of OpenGL ES 3.0 features that are actually present in Tegra 4, but the lack of FP32 relegates it to 2.0 compliant status.

The core speed is increased to 672 MHz, well up from the 520 MHz in Tegra 3 (8 pixel and 4 vertex shaders).  The GPU can output four pixels per clock, double that of Tegra 3.  Once we consider the extra clock speed and pixel pipelines, the Tegra 4 increases pixel fillrate by 2.6x.  Pixel and vertex shading will get a huge boost in performance due to the dramatic increase of units and clockspeed.  Overall this is a very significant improvement over the previous generation of parts.

The Tegra 4 can output to a 4K display natively, and that is not the only new feature for this part.  Here is a quick list:

2x/4x Multisample Antialiasing (MSAA)

24-bit Z (versus 20-bit Z in the Tegra 3 processor) and 8-bit Stencil

4K x 4K texture size incl. Non-Power of Two textures (versus 2K x 2K in the Tegra 3 processor) – for higher quality textures, and easier to port full resolution textures from  console and PC games to Tegra 4 processor.  Good for high resolution displays.

16:1 Depth (Z) Compression and 4:1 Color Compression (versus none in Tegra 3 processor) – this is lossless compression and is useful for reducing bandwidth to/from the frame buffer, and especially effective in antialiasing processing when processing multiple samples per pixel

Depth Textures

Percentage Closer Filtering for Shadow Texture Mapping and Soft Shadows

Texture border color eliminate coarse MIP-level bleeding

sRGB for Texture Filtering, Render Surfaces and MSAA down-filter

1 - CSAA is no longer supported in Tegra 4 processors

This is a big generational jump, and now we only have to see how it performs against the other top end parts from Qualcomm, Samsung, and others utilizing IP from Imagination and ARM.

Source: NVIDIA

NVIDIA Releases Tegra 4i: I Shall Name It... Mini-Me!

Subject: Processors | February 20, 2013 - 09:35 PM |
Tagged: Tegra 4i, tegra 4, tegra 3, Tegra 2, tegra, phoenix, nvidia, icera, i500

 

The NVIDIA Tegra 4 and Shield project were announced at this year’s CES, but there were other products in the pipeline that were just not quite ready to see the light of day at that time.  While Tegra 4 is an impressive looking part for mobile applications, it is not entirely appropriate for the majority of smart phones out there.  Sure, the nebulous “Superphone” category will utilize Tegra 4, but that is not a large part of the smartphone market.  The two basic issues with Tegra 4 is that it pulls a bit more power at the rated clockspeeds than some manufacturers like, and it does not contain a built-in modem for communication needs.

Tegra 4i_die_shot.png

The die shot of the Tegra 4i.  A lot going on in this little guy.

NVIDIA bought up UK modem designer Icera to help create true all-in-one SOCs.  Icera has a unique method with building their modems that they say is not only more flexible than what others are offering, but also much more powerful.  These modems skip a lot of fixed function units that most modems are made of and rely on high speed general purpose compute units and an interesting software stack to create smaller modems with greater flexibility when it comes to wireless standards.  At CES NVIDIA showed off the first product of this acquisition, the i500.  This is a standalone chip and is set to be offered with the Tegra 4 SOC.

Yesterday NVIDIA introduced the Tegra 4i, formerly codenamed “Grey”.  This is a combined Tegra SOC with the Icera i500 modem.  This is not exactly what we were expecting, but the results are actually quite exciting.  Before I get too out of hand about the possibilities of the chip, I must make one thing perfectly clear.  The chip itself will not be available until Q4 2013.  It will be released in limited products with greater availability in Q1 2014.  While NVIDIA is announcing this chip, end users will not get to use it until much later this year.  I believe this issue is not so much that NVIDIA cannot produce the chips, but rather the design cycles of new and complex cell phones do not allow for rapid product development.

NV_T4i_Feat.png

Tegra 4i really should not be confused for the slightly earlier Tegra 4.  The 4i actually uses the 4th revision of the Cortex A9 processor rather than the Cortex A15 in the Tegra 4.  The A9 has been a mainstay of modern cell phone processors for some years now and offers a great deal of performance when considering die size and power consumption.  The 4th revision improves IPC of the A9 in a variety of ways (memory management, prefetch, buffers, etc.), so it will perform better than previous Cortex A9 solutions.  Performance will not approach that provided by the much larger and complex A15 cores, but it is a nice little boost from what we have previously seen.

The Tegra 4 features a 72 core GPU (though NVIDIA has still declined to detail the specifics of their new mobile graphics technology- these ain’t Kepler though), while the 4i features a nearly identical unit featuring 60 cores.  There is no word so far as to what speed these will be running at or how performance really compares to the latest graphics products from ARM, Imagination, or Qualcomm.

The chip is made on TSMC’s 28 nm HPM process and features core speeds up to 2.3 GHz.  We again have no information on if that will be all four cores at that speed or turbo functionality with one core.  The design adopts the previous 4+1 core setup with four high speed cores and one power saving core.  Considering how small each core is (Cortex A9 or A15) it is not a waste of silicon as compared to the potential power savings.  The HPM process is the high power version rather than the LPM (low power) used for Tegra 4.  My guess here is that the A9 cores are not going to pull all that much power anyway due to their simpler design as compared to A15.  Hitting 2.3 GHz is also a factor in the process decision.  Also consider that +1 core that is fabricated slightly differently than the other four to allow for slower transistor switching speed with much lower leakage.

NV_T4_Comp.png

The die size looks to be in the 60 to 65 mm squared range.  This is not a whole lot larger than the original Tegra 2 which was around 50 mm squared.  Consider that the Tegra 4i has three more cores, a larger and more able GPU portion, and the integrated Icera i500 modem.  The modem is a full Cat 3 LTE capable unit (100 mbps), so bandwidth should not be an issue for this phone.  The chip has all of the features of the larger Tegra 4, such as the Computational Photography Architecture, Image Signal Processor, video engine, and the “optimized memory interface”.  All of those neat things that NVIDIA showed off at CES will be included.  The only other major feature that is not present is the ability to output 3200x2000 resolutions.  This particular chip is limited to 1920x1200.  Not a horrific tradeoff considering this will be a smartphone SOC with a max of 1080P resolution for the near future.

We expect to see Tegra 4 out in late Q2 in some devices, but not a lot.  While Tegra 4 is certainly impressive, I would argue that Tegra 4i is the more marketable product with a larger chance of success.  If it were available today, I would expect its market impact to be similar to what we saw with the original 28nm Krait SOCs from Qualcomm last year.  There is simply a lot of good technology in this core.  It is small, it has a built-in modem, and performance per mm squared looks to be pretty tremendous.  Power consumption will be appropriate for handhelds, and perhaps might turn out to be better than most current solutions built on 28 nm and 32 nm processes.

NV_Phoenix.png

NVIDIA also developed the Phoenix Reference Phone which features the Tegra 4i.  This is a rather robust looking unit with a 5” screen and 1080P resolution.  It has front and rear facing cameras, USB and HDMI ports, and is only 8 mm thin.  Just as with the original Tegra 3 it features the DirectTouch functionality which uses the +1 core to handle all touch inputs.  This makes it more accurate and sensitive as compared to other solutions on the market.

Overall I am impressed with this product.  It is a very nice balance of performance, features, and power consumption.  As mentioned before, it will not be out until Q4 2013.  This will obviously give the competition some time to hone their own products and perhaps release something that will not only compete well with Tegra 4i in its price range, but exceed it in most ways.  I am not entirely certain of this, but it is a potential danger.  The potential is low though, as the design cycles for complex and feature packed cell phones are longer than 6 to 7 months.  While NVIDIA has had some success in the SOC market, they have not had a true homerun yet.  Tegra 2 and Tegra 3 had their fair share of design wins, but did not ship in numbers that came anywhere approaching Qualcomm or Samsung.  Perhaps Tegra 4i will be that breakthrough part for NVIDIA?  Hard to say, but when we consider how aggressive this company is, how deep their developer relations, and how feature packed these products seem to be, then I think that NVIDIA will continue to gain traction and marketshare in the SOC market.

Source: NVIDIA

NVIDIA Project SHIELD Development Detailed - Idea to Launch in One Year

Subject: Mobile | January 30, 2013 - 06:13 PM |
Tagged: tegra 4, tegra, shield, nvidia

A very interesting blog post by NVIDIA's Brian Caulfield tells the story of "How Project SHIELD Got Built" and you might be surprised about the timeline they were on.  In the story Caulfield details the team's move from idea to the CES release in under 12 months:

In less than a year, SHIELD has grown from an idea dreamed up by Jen-Hsun, Tony, and a handful of others into a conspiracy involving hundreds of gaming fanatics across every department at NVIDIA. “We’ve been talking on and off about building something for more than five years, maybe 10,” says Tony.

shield1.jpg

Caulfield goes on to detail several steps in the process including design, production, the first module shown to Huang, NVIDIA CEO, and more.  After realizing that they had the hardware with Tegra 4 and the software (both GeForce Experience and the controller drivers used by games from the TegraZone store), Tony Tomasi surmised that the company should "just build a device with a great controller built in."

The first prototype, assembled in early 2012, was little more than a game controller fastened to a smartphone with wood. From that crude beginning, NVIDIA’s team of industrial designers sculpted a device that could fit in a user’s hands. No outsourcing required: NVIDIA has a team of veterans who have already shaped the look of a number of products built around NVIDIA’s processors, such as the drool-worthy GeForce GTX 690.

Unfortunately no images of that wood-clad version of the SHIELD were shared, but the idea is amusing none the less.  NVIDIA does admit that the killer feature of the device is the ability to stream PC games from a GeForce powered machine to the SHIELD remotely.

Streaming games from PCs equipped with NVIDIA GeForce GTX 650 or better GPUs puts cutting-edge games on SHIELD on day one. As NVIDIA’s smart, funny marketing VP Ujesh Desai put it, when cynical gamers ask the eternal question – ‘but can it play Crysis’ – NVIDIA will have a simple answer ‘yes it does.’

And apparently some developers have been "lobbying" NVIDIA to make a console for years - a fact that I find both interesting and hilarious. 

shield2.jpg

Overall the post is incredibly insightful, if a bit overly "marketing-ish" about the product it discusses.  With such a tight timeline on the design and build I am curious to see if NVIDIA will be able to meet the deadline of release they set during CES: Q2 2013.  Also, many lines in the blog post are obviously meant to temper the fact that NVIDIA chips will find their way into exactly zero (0) consoles this generation and it is becoming more and more obvious that SHIELD is a reaction to that fact. 

We are eager to learn more and get our hands on it again!

Source: NVIDIA

NVIDIA to start producing tablets and smartphones for white-labeling

Subject: Mobile | January 28, 2013 - 03:35 PM |
Tagged: white label, tegra 4, tegra, tablet, shield, nvidia, cell phone

If you thought that NVIDIA's entry into the world of the mobile entertainment and gaming device market was odd with the announcement of the Shield Android-powered unit, we have some more rumors sneaking up from Droidlife.com about a possible move to develop and manufacture cell phones and tablets as well. 

nvidia_ces.jpg

While many SoC vendors often create proof of concept designs based around their own chips, none of the major players are in the business of building devices meant to find their way into consumers hands.  NVIDIA appears to be taking a page from its own book in the world of retail graphics cards and is planning on producing nearly complete cell phones and tablets to be rebranded and sold directly to consumers.  PC users are used to this practice already and you can see if happen with ever nearly every GPU launch - graphics cards that have the same specs and design with only a different sticker on the cooler. 

The process of white labeling is very frequent in today's laptop designs as well and it is how companies like AVADirect, MAINGEAR and iBuyPower are able to produce and sell custom notebooks. 

From what is in the report, NVIDIA has their eyes set on both tablets and smartphones, with plans to start designing and creating their devices around May or June of this very year. If all goes according to plan, we will begin to see a ton of cheap (but not any less in quality terms) 7-10″ tablets hitting the market, all running NVIDIA chipsets.

If this process does take hold in the mid-2013 time frame you can start to expect a lot of low cost options based on Tegra SoCs to hit in the holiday time frame.  There are concerns to be dealt with though if in fact NVIDIA attempt the white label move.  First, there is potential for "cheap" products, and by that I mean cheaply built, ruining the Tegra name and brand that NVIDIA has been building over the last few years.  Also, NVIDIA could offend and upset other vendors like Samsung and ASUS with whom they depend on to make the "high-end" products that many enthusiasts lust over. 

tegra2.jpg

As a small player though (in terms of pure sell through) NVIDIA is looking for anyway it can to improve its market share and starting up a white label market for smartphones and tablets is definitely something that could open up new opportunities. 

Podcast #224 - ASUS N66U Router, AMD FX 8350 and 6300 CPU, our Windows RT hands on, and more!

Subject: General Tech | October 25, 2012 - 02:26 PM |
Tagged: windows rt, windows 8, vivotab rt, vishera, tegra, podcast, nvidia, n668, linus, fx 8350, fx 6300, asus, amd

PC Perspective Podcast #224 - 10/25/2012

Join us this week as we talk about the ASUS N66U Router, AMD FX 8350 and 6300 CPU, our Windows RT hands on, and more!

You can subscribe to us through iTunes and you can still access it directly through the RSS page HERE.

The URL for the podcast is: http://pcper.com/podcast - Share with your friends!

  • iTunes - Subscribe to the podcast directly through the iTunes Store
  • RSS - Subscribe through your regular RSS reader
  • MP3 - Direct download link to the MP3 file

Hosts: Ryan Shrout, Jeremy Hellstrom, Josh Walrath, Allyn Malventano, and Linus Sebastian

This Podcast is brought to you by MSI!

Program length: 1:30:18

Podcast topics of discussion:

  1. 0:00:50 Welcome our Guest: Linus Sebastian of Linus Tech Tips!
  2. Week in Reviews:
    1. 0:07:50 ASUS RT-N66U Router and Adapters Roundup
    2. 0:13:15 AMD Never Settle 12.11 Driver Update
      1. The Never Settle Bundle is awesome too
    3. 0:25:50 AMD FX-8350 and FX-6300 Vishera CPU Review
  3. 0:36:20 This podcast is brought to you by MSI
  4. News items of interest:
    1. 0:37:15 A quick look at the data on Apple's Fusion Drive
    2. 0:46:30 AMD work force cut coming?
    3. 0:52:10 ASUS VivoTab RT Released
      1. Hands on time!
    4. 1:07:45 ASUS TAICHI as well - can this really become popular
    5. 1:08:45 Corsair Carbide 200R Launches
      1. LinusTech Video on it
  5. Closing:
    1. 1:06:15 Hardware / Software Pick of the Week
      1. Ryan: Lantronix xPrintServer
      2. Jeremy: Counter-electronics High-powered Microwave Advanced Missile Project
      3. Josh: Nice motherboard, now with new CPUS!
      4. Allyn: Media Player Classic - Home Cinema
      5. Linus: Fractal Design Define R4
  1. 1-888-38-PCPER or podcast@pcper.com
  2. http://pcper.com/podcast
  3. http://twitter.com/ryanshrout and http://twitter.com/pcper
  4. Closing/outro

Be sure to subscribe to the PC Perspective YouTube channel!!

Rumor: Microsoft announcing branded Windows RT tablet with Tegra 3

Subject: Mobile | June 18, 2012 - 03:49 PM |
Tagged: windows rt, windows on arm, tegra, tablet, nvidia

Today at 6:30pm EST, Microsoft is holding an event in Los Angeles for a "major announcement" and there are rumors floating around the web that this could be anything from a new e-reader device in cooperation with Barnes & Noble to a custom-built Windows phone.

After sifting through some rumors and going off of some information I got during Computex this month, I think the answer is pretty obvious as to what we are going to see tonight: a Windows RT tablet device that will be branded and sold by Microsoft.  Rather than depend on partners like ASUS, Dell and Toshiba, Microsoft will pull out all the stops to compete against the Apple iPad directly by making the "reference" device to spark the Windows tablet market.

mstab03.jpg

Who will actually BUILD this Microsoft branded Windows RT tablet?

While this is unusual for Microsoft, this isn't the first time we have seen this.  The Microsoft Zune was a great device for the music player market that just happened to come along too late as the convergence of phones and music took hold.  However, the Zune software and music infrastructure live on with the Windows Phone devices and I think you'll find it a part of today's announcement for the Microsoft Windows RT tablet. 

mstab02.jpg

Ah, the first Zune HD.  Yes I still use mine!

One of the most interesting parts of this announcement is going to be the hardware itself.  Will Microsoft go the "safe" route and base the tablet on a timid design like we saw from the Amazon Kindle Fire or will they go more aggressively after the iPad with a higher resolution screen and mobile carrier plans? 

mstab01.JPG

Amazon's Kindle Fire

When talking with the major ARM SoC vendors about Windows RT in May and June, one thing became very clear to me - only one hardware vendor claimed to be ready for the pending release of Windows RT - NVIDIA.  While Qualcomm and TI were struggling to bring performance levels to where they needed to be to run the operating system effectively, NVIDIA was the vendor best prepared for the new ecosystem.  We saw that play out with the first public demonstration of a Windows RT tablet device coming from ASUS and NVIDIA earlier this month.  

I fully expect the NVIDIA Tegra 3 processor to be at the heart of the new Microsoft Windows RT tablet announced tonight - and that would be a HUGE victory for one of the smallest (in terms of volume), yet loudest, SoC vendors competing in this market.  And NVIDIA and Microsoft already have a history of working together with Tegra products - remember that the Zune HD player was the first major product win for NVIDIA's SoC

mstab04.jpg

I believe this tablet will have the NVIDIA Tegra 3 SoC inside

A Microsoft-built Windows RT tablet will no doubt miff some of the company's partners, the same companies we mentioned above like Dell and ASUS, but MS may finally be realizing, much like Google has with the coming Nexus Tablet, that competing with Apple requires a different kind of mindset than previous hardware battles.  On the other hand, a Windows RT tablet that combines Zune music service, Barnes & Noble e-reader integration and maybe even some Xbox and TV options would be a VERY compelling product.