Microsoft, Intel Era at CES Gives Way to Rising Star Nvidia

For most of its 33 years, Nvidia was best known for building graphics processors that helped computers display high-powered computer games.

Now, rising interest in the hardware that powers self-driving cars, artificial intelligence and virtual reality has taken the Santa Clara, Calif., chipmaker, little known outside the high-tech industry, to new heights.

On Wednesday evening, Nvidia will unofficially kick off CES in Las Vegas, occupying a speaking slot held in past years by the likes of Microsoft and Intel.

The mammoth technology industry confab, formerly the International Consumer Electronics Show, used to be centered on big-screen televisions, appliances and speakers.

Those devices are still featured at the show. But these days the hype, and much of the conference-hall space on the Las Vegas Strip, focuses on technology that enables cars to drive themselves or allows you to talk to your devices. Nvidia processors help power some of those futuristic applications.

"Nvidia was one of the first chipset suppliers that spied new opportunities in completely different markets," said Malik Saadi, a vice president with ABI Research. "Back in 2014 when everybody was just talking about automotive, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, they were very busy reshaping their product areas."

Nvidia's stock price soared nearly 230 percent in 2016, and the firm took in $1.2 billion in net income during its most recently reported 12 months, double the total of the previous period.

Nvidia's place in the keynote slot the evening before the opening of the CES show floor marks a changing of the guard at the event.

That position for years was held by Bill Gates, and, later, Steve Ballmer, during Microsoft's personal-computer heyday. When Microsoft bowed out after 2012, chipmakers Qualcomm and Intel, dominant in smartphone and PC processors, respectively, held that slot.

In Nvidia, the show, put on by the Consumer Technology Association industry group, is homing in on...

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