Nvidia Tegra is a system-on-a-chip series developed by Nvidia for mobile devices such as smartphones, personal digital assistants, and mobile Internet devices. The Tegra integrates the ARM architecture processor central processing unit (CPU), graphics processing unit (GPU), northbridge, southbridge, and memory controller onto one package. The series emphasizes low power consumption and high performance for playing audio and video.
The Tegra APX 2500 was announced on February 12, 2008; the Tegra 6xx product line was revealed on June 2, 2008 and the APX 2600 was announced in February 2009. The APX chips were designed for smartphones, while the Tegra 600 and 650 chips were intended for smartbooks and mobile Internet devices (MID). The first product to use the Tegra was Microsoft's Zune HD media player in September 2009, followed by the Samsung M1. In September 2008, Nvidia and Opera Software announced that they will produce a version of the Opera 9.5 browser optimised for the Tegra on Windows Mobile and Windows CE. At Mobile World Congress 2009, Nvidia introduced its port of Google's Android to the Tegra. On January 7, 2010, Nvidia officially announced and demonstrated its next generation Tegra system-on-a-chip, the Nvidia Tegra 250, at Consumer Electronics Show 2010. Nvidia primarily supports Android on Tegra 2, but booting other ARM-supporting operating systems is possible on devices where the bootloader is accessible. Tegra 2 support for the Ubuntu GNU/Linux distribution was also announced on the Nvidia developer forum. On February 15, 2011, Nvidia announced the first quad-core SoC that will be used in many of the tablets to be released in the second half of 2011. The announcement was made at the 2011 Mobile World Congress event in Barcelona. Though the chip has currently been codenamed Kal-El, it will likely be branded as Tegra 3. Early benchmark results show impressive gains over Tegra 2. Nvidia initially claimed that Tegra 3 could outperform a Core 2 Duo processor from Intel, and released benchmarks with an underclocked Tegra 3 to that effect; later investigations proved that the Intel chip had also been handicapped by compiling settings (although the handicap to the Intel chip was noted in the details initially released). Code running on the underclocked Kal-El (running at 2/3 speed) had been compiled with a modern version of GNU Compiler Collection (GCC) and aggressive optimizations while that running on the Intel chip was produced by an obsolete version of GCC and only minimal optimizations. When the Intel code was compiled using the same flags as the code running on Kal-El, the Core 2 Duo was appreciably faster than at least an underclocked upcoming Tegra 3. Codenames of all upcoming releases in the Tegra series are references to comic book superheroes. Specifically, Superman (Kal-El), Batman (Wayne), Jean Grey (Grey), Wolverine (Logan), and Iron Man (Stark).
Tegra 3 (Kal-El) series
* Processor: quad-core ARM Cortex-A9 MPCore, up to 1.5 GHz
* 12-Core Nvidia GPU with support for 3D stereo
* Ultra low power GPU mode
* 40 nm process by TSMC
* Video output up to 2560×1600
* NEON vector instruction set
* 1080p MPEG-4 AVC/h.264 High Profile video decode
* The Kal-El chip (CPU and GPU) is to be about 5 times faster than Tegra 2
* Estimated release date is now to be Q4 2011 for tablets and Q1 2012 for smartphones, after being set back from Nvidia's prior estimated release dates of Q2 2011, then August 2011, then October 2011.
The Tegra 3 is functionally a quad-core processor, but includes a fifth "companion" core. All cores are Cortex-A9s, but the companion core is manufactured with a special low power silicon process. This means it uses less power at low clock rates, but more at higher rates; hence it is limited to 500 MHz. There is also special logic to allow running state to be quickly transferred between the companion core and one of the normal cores. The goal is for a mobile phone or tablet to be able to power down all the normal cores and run on only the companion core, using comparatively little power, during standby mode or when otherwise using little CPU. According to Nvidia, this includes playing music or even video content. Tegra 3 officially released on 9 Nov, 2011.
Asus can't be absorbing all those limelight photons today. Not when its freshly detailed Transformer Prime depends so heavily on NVIDIA's special sauce. Admittedly, we already know a lot about Tegra 3 from its Kal-El days, but we haven't seen much in the way of real-world performance claims. Until now, that is. Below you'll see newly released screenshots of Android games that have been souped-up to capitalize on the imminent Asus Eee Pad as well as other Tegra 3-powered devices -- including smartphones -- that are expected early next year. NVIDIA has also put out slides containing in-house benchmarks and head-to-head comparisons with the Tegra 2, which you'll find right after the break. NVIDIA claims its latest chip is fives times faster than Tegra 2 overall, four times faster for web browsing, three times faster for graphics thanks to its 12-core GeForce GPU. This GPU can also handle 3D, which the Transformer Prime can then output to a bigger screen via HDMI. In terms of CPU-intensive tasks, we're 'only' looking at a doubling of Tegra 2 performance. Nevertheless, it's a CPU comparison with Intel's Core 2 Duo T7200 processor that NVIDIA uses as evidence for its claim that Tegra 3 is the first "PC-class processor for truly mobile devices." At the same time, Tegra 3 draws less power than its predecessor. This is largely thanks to a fifth "companion core" that kicks into gear for certain tasks, leaving the four more hungry cores switched off, as well as a smart 40nm process that employs two different classes of silicon -- one more suited to low-voltage activity, and one for the more energetic stuff. As a result, the Asus Transformer Prime is claimed to run 1080p video (which runs entirely off the single companion core) for a full twelve hours. In terms of real-world impact, the Tegra 3 ought to allow game and app developer to incorporate all manner of visual wizardry into their products.