Is Marvell's New Chip for the Masses Enough?


The ultra-competitive mobile chip market is about to heat up even more. Marvell just announced this week that it has a new quad-core processor for low-cost smartphones and tablets, mobile's fastest-growing market.

One chip for all
Marvell's new chip features a quad-core processor, as well as an integrated communications connectivity all-in-on-one chip. The main selling points for the PXA1088 are that it can handle smartphone or tablet processing and Internet connectivity, all with the ability to connect to global broadband standards. This means that smartphones with Marvell's new chip could jump from country to country and never have to swap out a SIM card . The new chip also sports 3G, HSPA+, TD-HSPA+, and EDGE technology. Although the processor is made for inexpensive mobile devices, it can also handle multimedia games and shoot HD video.

As recently as 2010, Marvell built chips for some of BlackBerry's most popular devices, but the company has since shifted its focus to other handset makers as BlackBerry chose Qualcomm as its primary chip provider. Losing Qualcomm wasn't good for the company, but Marvell has held its own as a major chip supplier to the Chinese market and its processors can be found in Samsung's Galaxy line on China Mobile.

Marvell's PXA1088 is made for 3G networks , and isn't as fast as other chips on the market, like NVIDIA's upcoming Tegra 4. But Marvell's new chip does fill a need for powerful chips that are inexpensive enough for the developing world.

Why developing countries
Marvell is aiming its new chip at smartphone devices priced around $100 . China, Brazil, Russia, and Africa are some of the fastest-growing smartphone markets in the world and Marvell is positioning itself to sell chips that could work in any of these markets. Next year, China alone is expected to buy 235 million smartphones, two times as many as American consumers are expected to buy.

Growth across these developing nations obviously doesn't translate directly into sales for Marvell, but it does show that the company is smartly focusing on new areas of growth in the mobile market. Marvell isn't moving into more mobile territory without a fight, though.

Worldwide tablet shipments were estimated to be about 122 million in 2012, and are expected to reach 442 million by 2016. This is good news for chip makers such as Marvell, considering that the developed world has barely even broken into the tablet market. But NVIDIA is the second-largest tablet chipmaker, behind Apple, with 17% revenue share. Marvell will have to compete with NVIDIA to get its new processor into tablets. Luckily, the company has some hands-on experience in the area considering it helped build the current version of the One Laptop per Child tablet. The latest version was unveiled last month at the Consumer Electronics Show and is in the process of being sold to governments around the world

Should investors marvel at Marvell?
Marvell is moving in the right direction with powerful chips for low-cost mobile devices, but will face intense competition from Qualcomm and NVIDIA. The latest chip isn't a good reason to jump into the boat with Marvell, but current investors should be glad to see the company pursuing additional low-cost market penetration. The chips will be available in the first half of this year, so investors shouldn't have to wait long to see if carriers and handset makers start ordering the new chip.

Back in December, Marvell's stock slipped temporarily on news that it infringed upon several Carnegie Mellon University hard disk patents, which cost the company at least $1.17 billion in fines and possibly more. Although this lowered the stock price for just a few weeks, some worry the price could drop again if more penalties are levied. But Marvell is well integrated into the Chinese smartphone market, which is the largest in the world. Investors should consider its partnerships with companies such as Samsung and China Mobile as a sign that it can compete in the highly competitive mobile space and win big contracts.

In the mobile processor world, competition for market share is at an all-time high. NVIDIA's Tegra 4 processor may be faster than Marvell's latest chip, but investing gains haven't followed as expected for the company. NVIDIA is struggling to gain momentum in the smartphone market. The Motley Fool's brand-new premium report examines NVIDIA's stumbling blocks, but also homes in on opportunities that many investors are overlooking. We'll help you sort fact from fiction to determine whether NVIDIA is a buy at today's prices. Simply click here now to unlock your copy of this comprehensive report.

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Fool contributor Chris Neiger has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Apple and NVIDIA. It owns shares of Apple, China Mobile, and Qualcomm. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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