January 6, 2014
Graphics chip maker Nvidia (NVDA) resorted to a somewhat “alien” tactic to market its new Tegra K1 tablet and smartphone processor. Its marketers, working on a narrow budget, arranged for a likeness of the technology to be carved into a barley field near Salinas, Calif.—a stunt that mystified local residents for a while but ultimately gained the vendor the attention it sought.
Nvidia rolled out the fifth generation Tegra processor, its first mobile SoC to support next-generation graphics capabilities with 192 Kepler graphics cores, at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas on Monday.
But not before the company got its jollies out with people thinking for a while the puzzling field carving was a message from aliens.
“We can’t say who did it. Or exactly how. But we can tell you this: It didn’t involve aliens,” wrote Brian Caulfield, an Nvidia corporate blogger, in a Jan. 5 posting ahead of CES.
In planning to promote the Tegra K1, Nvidia’s marketers mused on how best to tout its capabilities, settling on a theme that it was “impossibly advanced” and “other-worldly,” Caulfield said.
They decided to enlist the aid of a team of crop circle experts (who knew there was such a thing?), locating the “perfect canvas” for the artists in a field in Chualar, about 100 miles south of San Francisco, whose owner intended to plow it under to renew the land, wrote Caulfield.
In short order, the team carved an image of the chip with the number 192 in Braille into the field.
“While we were hoping to get the word out—we even created a video showing the crop circle’s discovery to spread the mystery and the fun—we didn’t realize how big this thing would get,” Caulfield said.
The gag brought so much unexpected attention the vendor played right along.
“We decided not to step forward too quickly. Puzzle lovers—many of them our fans—were having too much fun with this,” Caulfield wrote. The crop circle, which was found Dec. 30, was plowed under a few days after its discovery.
Jen-Hsun Huang, Nvidia chief executive, said the ploy fooled even him.
“When I learned about it, I learned it on CNN,” he. “People thought aliens had done it.”
Nvidia hopes the Tegra K1 will give Qualcomm (QCOM) and Apple (AAPL) a run for their 64-bit money. The chip can make a tablet more powerful than an Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 game console, but eats up only one-twentieth of the power.
The 32-bit version, powered by a quad-core 4-Plus-1 ARM Cortex A15 CPU, will be incorporated into devices during the first half of this year, while the 64-bit version, powered by a customized dual-core CPU based on the ARMv8 architecture, is a second half of the year arrival.
At CES, Nvidia demoed the Tegra K1 64-bit version running Android, suggesting the chip maker will follow Google’s (GOOG) mobile OS into new markets.
"We've bridged the gap—we've brought mobile computing to the same level as desktop computing," Huang said.
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