CES 2010: The Good

The Good according to...

Andy - Tegra 2

There was an almost intoxicating air of smugness to the nVidia press conference, but it was quite forgivable considering what it had to say. If the first iteration of Tegra was a hint at what was to come, its second saw the 'green team' deliver on its potential.

Powered by the exceedingly impressive ARM Cortex A9, a dual-core mobile chip capable of running at up to 1GHz, Tegra 2 delivers the holy grail of 1080p video playback without increasing power consumption compared to the first generation Tegra one iota. That's an impressive feat given the whole chipset itself is four times more powerful overall.
nVidia CEO, Jen-Hsun Huang, had good reason to be pleased as he announced Tegra 2

As if that weren't enough, nVidia demonstrated Unreal Engine 3 - the ubiquitous videogame engine - running on Tegra 2, as well as the new Audi A8 and its infotainments systems, also powered by the Tegra 2 chipset. All of which points toward a company in rude health, something that was no certainty but a few months ago.

Of course the promise of Tegra 2 is no guarantor of success, but despite the flimsiness of early concepts (more on which on the following page), the hardware itself delivers handsomely. I spent time with all sorts of Tegra 2 powered devices, some behind closed doors, and my overriding impressive was of a chipset just begging for a device to take advantage of it.

Be it running Android or some other Linux shell, Tegra 2 just flies, making the likes of iPhone 3GS and similarly brisk mobile devices look sluggish. It also allows for more intricate, visually exciting interfaces, though this can be taken too far.

Who could possibly take advantage of Tegra 2, however? Let me think about this…who was the first to use a new nVidia chipset in its laptops and is (allegedly) announcing a tablet soon? Nope, can't think of anyone.

Gordon - Smartbooks

Smartbooks were my favourite development of the show. A much doubted sector and one many even disputed had any need to exist. Surely we have netbooks, right? As it turned out smartbooks do indeed have a role: the role which netbooks forgot. If you think back to the original Eee PC 701 the aim of a smartbook was to be an extremely small, sub-computer with a small SSD running Linux with a circa £200/250 price tag.

Once netbooks adopted Windows this message was long forgotten. They became ever larger, more expensive, encroached on full size laptops and - arguably - now have little value compared to the more powerful and longer lasting CULV machines.

By contrast, smartbooks pay homage to the old school: Linux based, less than 900 grams and an SSD combined with the mantra of all day battery life and integrated 3G connectivity. We may even have our own format war: Qualcomm's ubiquitous Snapdragon chipset seen in the beautifully made Lenovo Skylight verses Nvidia's Tegra 2 as seen in the Mobinnova Beam and Pegatron Neo. Both solutions use ARM-based processors with Nvidia seemingly having the edge on performance, but Qualcomm has the bigger partners and the promise of dual core on the horizon.

Impressively, each offers HD capable video playback and in excess of 10 hours battery life while surfing the web, though where they potentially still have work to do is in terms of price. The Skylight, for all of its Thinkpad-esque build quality, has been priced at $499 (£310) and smartbooks need to drop below £250 - perhaps £200 - to really spell out their differentiation. Then again, both Qualcomm and Nvidia said they hoped to see smartbooks under £150 before the end of the year - and that really does excite me...

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