Nvidia CEO: Notebook PCs To Follow Apple Macbook Air Design

Nvidia CEO Jen-Hsun Huang on Friday offered his vision for the future of notebook PC design, invoking the thin design of Apple's Macbook Air and the low power requirements of ARM processors.

Nvidia's chief executive said Apple's Macbook Air notebook design is ahead of its time, and offers a glimpse into the future of the notebook PC market, Cnet reported on Friday. When asked how he expects notebook designs to evolve over the next three or four years, Huang said it will be difficult to find a notebook PC that doesn't resemble the Macbook Air, Apple's 11-inch, thin-and-lightweight laptop.

"I think the Macbook Air is a good mental image of what a clamshell laptop will look like," Huang said. "They'll be thin because you won't need any heat pipes, the fan, and extra batteries to lug around."

Nvidia's graphics processors are featured in current versions of Apple's Macbook Air, and have been since Apple in 2008 launched its second-generation Macbook Air models. The third-generation Macbook Airs launched in October 2010, leveraging Nvidia's GeForce 320M discrete graphics card

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Huang also said future laptop devices will run on ARM's low-power CPU reference designs, which ARM licenses to manufacturers in exchange for royalty fees. According to Gartner, ARM-based processors currently have a 90 percent share of the mobile processor market.

By 2014, ARM-based processors will run on Microsoft's Windows platform, in addition to Apple's Mac OS, which currently runs Nvidia's GPUs on ARM's Cortex architecture. Nvidia is now a major supplier of ARM-based processors running inside tablet devices from manufacturers including Motorola, Samsung, and LG on display at CES 2011. Apple's iPad, which runs on Apple's ARM-based A4 mobile processor, currently dominates the tablet category with over 95 percent of total sales.

Nvidia is beginning to follow Apple's business model of manufacturing components based on its own designs. Nvidia's upcoming ARM-based Project Denver processors are in production at Nvidia's fabrication plants. Nvidia's integrated graphics platform will compete with Intel's Sandy Bridge processors and AMD's Fusion APUs in the growing integrated CPU-GPU segment. According to the Gartner forecast, the percentage of microprocessors with integrated graphics will rise from 39 percent in 2010 to 50 percent in 2011, and 82.9 percent in 2014.

Huang sees ARM now moving into the traditional CPU market. ARM-based PCs are expected by 2014 to include full-support for Microsoft's Windows platform. Microsoft at CES unveiled a forthcoming version of Windows that runs on both ARM and x86 processors at the Consumer Electronics Show next month.

Next: Huang On Intel's Sandy Bridge Delay

The current leader in the traditional CPU market has had to recall its first integrated CPU-GPU processor launch. Intel recalled its Sandy Bridge chips due to a design error in its Cougar Point chipset, and several OEMs had to recall new Sandy Bridge-based PCs as Intel fixed the chipset and eventually resumed some shipments of unaffected Sandy Bridge products.

However, Nvidia's CEO during a recent Nvidia earnings call said his company has seen no disruption in schedules to deliver Sandy Bridge-based products to customers. Huang said Nvidia has not experienced a disruption in its product sales or future roadmap to this point. He added that he believes Intel is doing a good job of helping its partners cover their losses as affected customers return affected systems expecting some form of compensation. Sandy Bridge processors paired with Nvidia discrete GPUs are rumored to be featured in upcoming refreshed models of Apple's 13-inch and 15-inch Macbook PC models, as well as the 11-inch Macbook Air.

In the meantime, Nvidia this week at Mobile World Congress 2011 unveiled its latest graphic products to mobile devices, the Nvidia Kal-El quad-core mobile processors , which are expected to come to market later this year.