Nvidia's Tegra 2 aims to power a new generation of super phones and tablets

Nvidia announced that a number of companies are using its Tegra 2 mobile chip in their power-efficient and graphics-rich mobile devices known as super phones.

Not all companies that will be using Tegra 2 have made announcements yet. But those who have include LG, which will use it in a new Optimus 2X smartphone, and car makers Tesla and BMW, which will use Tegra 2 in car computers. Those design wins are key to Nvidia, which wants to expand from PC graphics into mobile computing chips.

If it can charge ahead into mobile computing with Tegra 2, Nvidia can escape the squeeze on its graphics chip business in the PC market. For consumers, this means that users will be able to enjoy mobile devices with outstanding graphics and video.

Tegra 2 is a dual-core chip, or one with two computing brains based on the ARM chip architecture. It competes with lots of rival chips from Intel, Broadcom, Marvell, and others. But Nvidia contends Tegra 2 is the only chip that can play console-quality games on a mobile device.

Jen-Hsun Huang, chief executive of Santa Clara, Calif.-based Nvidia, made the announcement at the company’s press conference at the Consumer Electronics Show, the tech extravaganza being held in Las Vegas this week. He described LG’s Tegra 2 smartphone as “the world’s first Tegra super phone,” meaning it will be both a computing and communications tool.

In a demo of the phone, Huang (right)  showed how he could plug it into a high-definition multimedia interface (HDMI) cable and display the phone’s image on a big screen. He proceeded to play the Android version of Angry Birds on the Optiumus 2X. He also showed 1080p high-definition video playing on the phone and the big screen. Huang also showed Flash animations running on the Optimus 2X.

The mobile market is critical to Nvidia, since the company is being squeezed in the PC market by Intel and Advanced Micro Devices, which are trying to subsume the graphics chip into the microprocessor itself.

Huang said that this CES is as unique as the one in 1995, when Microsoft announced Windows 95 and turned the PC into a multimedia machine with gaming and internet access. Now, mobile computing is starting to drive.

Nvidia also said that its Tegra 2 processor will be used in the new Motorola smartphone, the Atrix 4G.