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Nvidia Banks on Split-Personality Chip

Hundreds of video gamers eagerly convened in San Jose, Calif., last November to celebrate the arrival of Nvidia's (NVDA) G80 graphics processor.

Since then, it's been Nvidia hitting the road, striving to convince a different group of computer users of the merits of a chip that the company hopes will bring a big boost to its business.

In June, Nvidia will launch a new brand dedicated to selling the G80 -- not as a graphics accelerator for PCs and workstations, but as a chip intended to take on data-crunching computing chores currently handled by microprocessors.

Nvidia calls the concept "GPU computing" and contends that the 128 individual "stream" processors packed into the G80 chip make it ideally suited for such computational heavy lifting.

According to CEO Jen-Hsun Huang, the G80 boasts 10 times the floating point computational muscle of today's top-of-the-line PC microprocessor.

"We believe GPU computing will usher in an era of the personal supercomputer, and will dramatically accelerate the adoption of new methods from computational chemistry to computational finance to computational genomics," Huang said in a February conference call with financial analysts.

The effort is being spearheaded by Andy Keane, who joined Nvidia last year and has worked at microprocessor outfits like Intel (INTC) and MIPS Technologies (MIPS).

Last year, speculation grew that Nvidia was secretly developing a PC microprocessor based on the x86 instruction set to better compete with the recently merged Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) and ATI Tech, which fields both graphics chips and microprocessors, as well as Intel, which already has both capabilities.

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