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Nvidia Crams Tegra 3 Mobile Chip Chock Full of Cores

Nvidia Crams Tegra 3 Mobile Chip Chock Full of Cores

Nvidia's Tegra 3 is a quad-core chip targeted at applications like mobile gaming. The Tegra 3's four main cores are ARM Cortex A9 processors designed for high-performance work such as Web browsing, gaming and multitasking. A fifth core is turned off when they are working and activated when the device is used for lower-intensity tasks.

By Richard Adhikari
11/09/11 2:59 PM PT

Nvidia on Wednesday launched the quad-core mobile Nvidia Tegra 3 processor.

Formerly nicknamed "Project Kal-El," the Tegra 3 has four main cores and a fifth companion core.

It distributes the workload among these using patent-pending variable symmetric multiprocessing (vSMP) technology.

The Tegra 3 includes a 12-core Nvidia GeForce graphics processing unit (GPU).

It's aimed at mobile gamers and provides high-speed access to the Web as well as swift application execution and multitasking.

"Tegra 3 enables great experiences for consumers," Sridhar Ramaswamy, senior technical marketing manager for Tegra at Nvidia, told TechNewsWorld.

The Tegra 3's Guts

The Tegra 3 provides up to three times the graphics performance of the Tegra 2 and consumes up to 61 percent less power, Nvidia claims.

This allows up to 12 hours of battery life for high-definition video playback.

The Tegra 3's four main cores are ARM Cortex A9 processors designed for high-performance work such as Web browsing, gaming and multitasking. The fifth CPU is turned off when they are working.

The main cores consume less power than dual-core processors, Nvidia said.

When the device is being used for light tasks such as playing music or video or updating background data, vSMP shuts down the main cores and shifts the work to the fifth CPU.

The Tegra 3 comes with new video engines with support for 1080p high-profile video at 40 Mbps.

Gunning for the Gamers

The Tegra 3 processor offers full game-controller support.

It leverages Nvidia's 3D vision technology and automatically converts OpenGL applications to stereo 3D so consumers can experience 3D on big-screen 3D TV sets.

"Expect to see higher resolution displays, 3D stereoscopic cameras and autostereoscopic displays, higher-quality cameras of up to 32 MP, full 1080p high bit-rate, high-profile Blu-Ray quality, and 3D HDMI 1.4a video output, with up to 2 GB of system memory in some devices," Ramaswamy said.

"The use of an ARM-designed Nvidia chip that provides both long battery life and high performance when needed will appeal to users that need all-day performance but still want to play graphic-intensive games," Chris Hazelton, a research director at the 451 Group, told TechNewsWorld in a previous interview.

Nvidia expects 40 Tegra 3 games to be available by the end of 2011. More than 15 Tegra 3 games are under development for Tegra Zone, the company's free Android Market app.

By shutting the Tegra 3's four main cores down completely and shunting lighter tasks to fifth companion core running at a lower clock speed, vSMP offers "excellent multitasking in high-capacity use, while [it's] extremely power-efficient for simple tasks," Nvidia's Ramaswamy said.

"This has an advantage over asymmetric processing [where] all cores are continuously running regardless of the tasks at hand," Ramaswamy pointed out.

Coping With the Competition.

Computer maker Asus became the first hardware manufacturer to use the Tegra 3. The chip will appear in its EEE Pad Transformer Prime, set for release in December.

"A number of" other device makers are working on Tegra 3-powered tablets and phones, Ramaswamy said. However, non-disclosure agreements prevented him from being more specific.

However, Asus and Nvidia face competition from Sony's PlayStation Vita, set for release in Japan in December and in the United States in February.

The Vita uses is a quad-core ARM Cortex A9 system that makes it a "gaming beast, hands-down better than any iPad or any smartphone out there," Lewis Ward, research manager of consumer markets at IDC, told TechNewsWorld.


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