Will Nvidia’s new high-performance ARM chip run Windows?

Nvidia chief executive Jen-Hsun Huang announced today that Nvidia has been working for some time on Project Denver, a high-performance ARM microprocessor. He didn’t specifically say that this ARM chip would run Windows, but he showed a headline that said Microsoft plans a version of Windows 8 that will run on ARM chips.

If all goes as planned, Nvidia could very well disrupt the duopoly of Intel and Advanced Micro Devices, which (while challenged by Via Technologies) dominate the market for chips that run Windows-based PCs. This is part of a chess game among giant tech companies to leapfrog each other or invade each other’s markets. Billions of dollars in chip and computer industry revenues are at stake.

Putting two and two together, it makes sense that a high-end ARM chip is what would be required to run the Windows operating system, which to date has only run on x86 (Intel-compatible) computers. Huang made the announcement of Project Denver at the very end of a press conference at the Consumer Electronics Show, just before Microsoft began its own press conference where the subject is how to make Windows run on ARM processors.

Steve Sinofsky, president of Microsoft’s Windows group, said that the company is planning to show that Windows can run on PCs, slate computers (tablets) and mobile devices too. Huang said in his press conference that there were rumors that Nvidia was working on something big and that it was an Intel-compatible processor. But it turns out that the chip is ARM based. Huang referred to it as a “game changer.” The hint is that this is part of Nvidia’s master plan to wedge its way into Intel’s market, even as Intel tries to squeeze Nvidia out of graphics by putting graphics capabilities into its Sandy Bridge microprocessors.