Tegra Super processors

NVidia has officially unveiled it’s Tegra 3 chip (codename Kal-El [of Superman fame]), a chip that I have been eagerly awaiting for months – ever since I purchased the Asus Transformer. The flagship release device for this chip is Asus’s Transformer Prime (slated for a Dec ’11 release), but let’s take a look at the brain itself. The published specs of Tegra 3 indicate improvements in the following key areas:

* Improved clock rate (1.5ghz vs 1.2ghz)
* 4-core instead of 2-core (including a fifth, 500mhz companion core to handle low-load tasks)
* Individually power gated cores, meaning lower CPU power consumption unless more than 2 cores are in use at once
* Improved HD playback (1080p high-quality encoded MPEG playback on the Tegra 2 was
* 12-core GPU (discussed below).

With identical L1 / L2 caches, a similar 40nm manufacturing process and similarly an A9 chip as the Tegra 2 and Exynos processors, the main benefits will come from two main areas. The first being the addition of 2 extra cores, assuming the application and OS is able to take advantage of it. Second, reduced power consumption (which is where the 5th core comes in) – this can be demonstrated in the comparison of stated specs between the Asus Transformer (Tegra 2) and Transformer Prime (Tegra 3). They both utilise the same 6600mAh battery pack, but the former is rated for 8-9 hours of use, but the latter is 12-14 hours of use. Independent benchmarks at release time will tell a fuller story.

So where does that leave us? Those who benefit the most from the new chip will be game players, where the improved GPU on Tegra 3 significantly outperforms it’s predecessor. Removing the impact of clock speed improvements on the GPU, the Tegra 3 already delivers efficiency improvements – 7.2 Gflops vs the Tegra 2’s 4.8 Gflops at the same speed, whilst doubling the number of pixel shaders to 8. But wait! The Mali-400 from Samsung’s Exynos SoC – as found on the SGS2 and it’s new mini tabs – is more efficient (10.8 Gflops) and Apple’s A5 (using a PowerVR 543) even more so @ 19.2 Gflops. In short, there are better chips to play games on.

In practical terms, we saw a handful of Tegra 2 optimised titles in the 10-12 or so months it has been in circulation, the majority being game titles. A small number, such as Zinio’s magazine reader also took advantage of this. I did take some time to install and analyse each title, concluding that the Tegra 2 was a capable performer, comparable to around a Playstation 2 (or slightly under) level of quality at best. The challenge at this stage is actually getting hardware acceleration in any form to all parts of the OS and it’s applications, which is where Android 4.0 (scheduled for both Transformers) will provide benefits.

In short, Tegra 3 provides for an incremental and expected improvement in chip capabilities. Everything runs a bit faster with a bit less power, but it’s not substantially revolutionary. If you already have a Transformer, there’s no reason to upgrade in this generation, but if you have been putting off purchasing a Tegra 2 tablet, then look forward to the first of many Tegra 3 devices. The other notable Tegra 3 device on the horizon is the HTC Edge phone (at a blistering 1.5ghz), though presumably a host of OEMs will begin to churn out models in Q1 ’12.

More info here: http://www.anandtech.com/show/5072/nvidias-tegra-3-launched-architecture-revealed

Tegra Super processors

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