Nvidia demos Tegra-powered netbooks

COMPUTEX — The Tegra brand may conjure up images of fancy, multimedia-friendly smart phones, but Nvidia isn't afraid of exploring other venues for its new system-on-a-chip. At the company's meeting room in Taipei's International Convention Center today, we got to see a handful of Tegra-based netbooks running Windows CE.

The systems were from firms including Compal, Pegatron, and Mobinova. Those names don't make too many headlines on the other side of the Pacific, but Compal and Pegatron are both large contract manfuacturers, the latter being an Asus spin-off.

At the heart of the netbooks: this little circuit board, which is the size of an SO-DIMM laptop memory module (it purportedly uses the same connector format, too). It houses a Tegra SoC with system memory and a handful of other chips. I/O connectivity is left to the host device.

Nvidia showed the netbooks playing back 720p video, streaming live Taiwanese TV, and running an alpha version of Firefox 3.6. Tegra handles video-related tasks quite well, and 720p trailers in particular looked surprisingly crisp and smooth. Nvidia tells us Tegra draws so little power that these netbooks should be able to play 720p video for 10 hours straight before exhausting the battery.

Web browsing was a somewhat different story. Although the slow Internet connection at the convention center didn't help, drawing page elements from a website like TR felt sluggish and caused the mouse cursor to go choppy occasionally. You can chalk that up to the Tegra SoC's 600MHz ARM processor core. Adobe Flash support was also incomplete, although YouTube videos actually played back reasonably smoothly—but Tegra's multimedia components take care of accelerating those.

While non-multimedia performance may not be too exciting, Nvidia expects Tegra-based netbooks to feature price tags in the neighborhood of just $199. Cell phone carriers could offer them for free with contracts, too.

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