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Tuesday, 13 August 2013 09:09

Nvidia’s Tegra business faces more headwinds

Written by Peter Scott

Things will get worse before they get better

This time last year Nvidia’s Tegra gamble seemed to be paying off nicely, but the insanely competitive SoC market moves fast and all it takes for things to go badly wrong is one botched generation. The Tegra 4 was late to the party and Nvidia eventually ended up with a big and relatively powerful chip that nobody wanted.

In its latest earnings call Nvidia made it clear that revenues from Tegra are expected to decline $200 to $300 million this year from about $750 million last year. Even this seems like a relatively optimistic forecast. Tegra 3 ended up in quite a few high-volume products, such as the Nexus 7, HTC One X, LG Optimus X4 and a bunch of other phones and tablets. On paper, Tegra 4 will end up with a similar number of design wins, maybe even more, but nearly all of them are low-volume products.

At the moment there are only a handful of Tegra 4 products out there. These include HP’s Slatebook 10, Toshiba eXcite Pro and eXcite Write tablets and Nvidia’s own Shield console. Nvidia’s 7-inch Tegra Tab is also on the way, along with the Surface RT 2. Some Chinese vendors like ZTE are also expected to roll out a Tegra 4 phone here and there, but the chip won’t end up in any big brand phones.

Nvidia does not release any Tegra unit shipment info, so we can only guess how many Tegra 3 and Tegra 4 chips are out there, but it doesn’t take much to realise Tegra 4 is a flop. Shipments of the original Nexus 7, powered by the Tegra 3, are estimated just north of six million units. Surface RT shipments were abysmal. Earlier this year analysts put the figure at just 900,000 units after a full quarter of sales. Microsoft eventually took a massive write-down on its Surface RT stock. LG and HTC didn’t reveal any shipment figures for the Optimus 4X and HTC One X, either. HTC shipped about 40 million phones last year, while LG managed about 27 million. We can’t even begin to estimate how many of them were flagship products powered by Tegra, but the number was clearly in the millions.

This time around Nvidia can’t count on strong smartphone sales, let alone the Nexus 7 and Surface RT. Even if it scores high-end tablet design wins, the truth is that high-end Android tablets just aren’t selling well. Nvidia needed high-volume design wins and Android tablets just won’t do the trick. Qualcomm is in the new Nexus 7 and the HTC One. Back in May analysts reported that HTC One sales hit the 5 million mark in the first two months of sales, although shipments have slowed down since then. Millions of Snapdragons found a home in the HTC One and millions more will end up in the new Nexus 7. 

Nvidia’s talk of a $200 to $300 million hit this year doesn’t exactly paint the full picture. Tegra 3 shipments in the first two quarters of 2013 were modest, but relatively good. However, nothing took its place and the true extent of the Tegra 4 flop will only become visible in the first quarter of 2014 and beyond. The big hope is that the Tegra 4i and Tegra 5 will start to come online by then, so the numbers for the full year won’t be as terrible, but it is abundantly clear that Nvidia cannot afford another Tegra 4.

As for Nvidia’s Tegra Tab and Shield, they might do well. Nvidia knows a thing or two about hardware, but even if they prove successful, they just won’t be enough, at least not in this cycle.

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