Today in Las Vegas, Nvidia lifted the veil on the latest generation of its Tegra line of systems on a chip. Previously codenamed Wayne (as in Bruce Wayne, the superhero), the new Tegra 4 SoC brings a bevy of improvements over its predecessor, and is according to its maker, the “world’s fastest mobile processor”. Chip geeks will have time to analyze this claim once the first benchmarks are out, but till then let’s focus on the new features that Tegra 4 brings to the mobile SoC table. (For the full tech specs, head over here.)
The engine of any SoC is the CPU. In Tegra 4, Nvidia one-upped competitors like Qualcomm and Samsung by delivering the first quad-core CPU based on ARM’s A15 architecture. Some might take issue with this statement, given that Qualcomm’s Snapdragon S4 Pro chips are marketed as A15-class, but we’ll discuss these technical subtleties later.
The CPU in Tegra 4 is built on the same 4+1 design we’ve seen in Tegra 3, with the 5th core being the companion, low-power core used for applications where energy efficiency is more desirable than computational power. Nvidia didn’t reveal any clock speeds or even on what process is the new CPU built, but rumors suggest it’s a 28nm chip (Tegra 3 was built on 40nm) running at 1.9GHz.
The GPU in Tegra 4 is supposedly six times more powerful than the graphics processor in last year’s Tegra 3, thanks to the 72 GeForce cores that make it tick.
At the launch event, Nvidia showed off a comparison between a Nexus 10 (powered by Samsung’s Exynos 5250 chip, a dual-core A15 design) and a tablet equipped with the new Tegra 4. Naturally, Nvidia’s chip won hands-down, being the first to load a number of websites.
Tegra 3 was seriously hampered by the lack of an integrated LTE baseband chip. So, while the chip did score a number of wins in devices where LTE wasn’t essential (international One X, Nexus 7, Surface, etc.), most high-end smartphones destined for the huge North American market came with LTE-enabled Qualcomm processors.
Nvidia hopes to change the status quo with the Tegra 4, which comes with an optional LTE chipset, the Icera i500. This 5th generation Icera modem is smaller and more efficient than previous iterations, and Nvidia promises worldwide LTE voice and data compatibility. But the Icera i500 is not integrated in the SoC, meaning that there still could be efficiency issues. We’ll have to wait for more details on this.
The Icera i500 is a soft modem, meaning that it can be reprogrammed via software to work with different LTE networks. Given the cacophony of often incompatible LTE implementations around the world, the reprogramability of the Tegra 4 should ensure fast, worldwide device rollouts. The modem is capable of 1.2 trillion operations per second.
Nvidia touted another neat trick in Tegra 4’s playbook – the new Computational Photography Architecture, a technology that harnesses the computing power of the CPU and GPU, along with a new dedicated engine, to enable faster, better high dynamic range (HDR) imaging.
Nvidia demoed a live video with HDR applied in real time, and boasted that Tegra 4 is able to do HDR rendering even in burst shots and with LED flash. All this HDR prowess is enabled by the new CPA technology, which Nvidia claims is 10 times faster than existing technologies.
Devices equipped with Nvidia’s Tegra 4 chip will be able to output 4K (ultra HD) video. We can’t imagine too many use cases for this trick right now, but I am sure some will disagree.
Check out the press release for more details.
NVIDIA Introduces World’s Fastest Mobile Processor
Tegra 4 Features 72 Custom GPU Cores, Quad-Core Cortex-A15 CPU for Superb Performance and Efficiency; LTE Enabled with Optional Chipset
LAS VEGAS—CES—Jan. 6, 2013—NVIDIA today introduced NVIDIA® Tegra® 4, the world’s fastest mobile processor, with record-setting performance and battery life to flawlessly power smartphones and tablets, gaming devices, auto infotainment and navigation systems, and PCs.
Tegra 4 offers exceptional graphics processing, with lightning-fast web browsing, stunning visuals and new camera capabilities through computational photography.
Previously codenamed “Wayne,” Tegra 4 features 72 custom NVIDIA GeForce™ GPU cores – or six times the GPU horsepower of Tegra 3 – which deliver more realistic gaming experiences and higher resolution displays. It includes the first quad-core application of ARM’s most advanced CPU core, the Cortex-A15, which delivers 2.6x faster web browsing and breakthrough performance for apps.
Tegra 4 also enables worldwide 4G LTE voice and data support through an optional chipset, the fifth-generation NVIDIA Icera® i500 processor. More efficient and 40 percent the size of conventional modems, i500 delivers four times the processing capability of its predecessor.
“Tegra 4 provides enormous processing power and efficiency to power smartphones and tablets, gaming devices, auto systems and PCs,” said Phil Carmack, senior vice president of the Tegra business at NVIDIA. ”Its new capabilities, particularly in the area of computational photography, will help improve a whole range of existing products and lead to the creation of exciting new ones.”
Computational Photography Capability
Among the Tegra 4 processor’s breakthroughs is its Computational Photography Architecture, which automatically delivers high dynamic range (HDR) photos and video by fusing together the processing power of the GPU, CPU and the camera’s image-signal processor.
Its HDR capability captures images, including those taken with a flash, the way they are seen by the human eye – with detail in both bright and dark areas.
Unprecedented Power Efficiency
Designed for maximum energy efficiency, Tegra 4 includes a second-generation battery saver core for low power during standard use, and PRISM 2 Display technology to reduce backlight power while delivering superior visuals.
Tegra 4 consumes up to 45 percent less power than its predecessor, Tegra 3, in common use cases. And it enables up to 14 hours of HD video playback on phones.
Tegra 4 Key Features
NVIDIA, Tegra, tablet, smartphone, mobile, quad core, gaming, GPU, CPU, GeForce, ARM, Cortex-A15, LTE, photo, HDR
NVIDIA (NASDAQ: NVDA) awakened the world to computer graphics when it invented the GPU in 1999. Today, its processors power a broad range of products from smartphones to supercomputers. NVIDIA’s mobile processors are used in cell phones, tablets and auto infotainment systems. PC gamers rely on GPUs to enjoy spectacularly immersive worlds. Professionals use them to create 3D graphics and visual effects in movies and to design everything from golf clubs to jumbo jets. And researchers utilize GPUs to advance the frontiers of science with high performance computing. The company has more than 5,000 patents issued, allowed or filed, including ones covering ideas essential to modern computing. For more information, see www.nvidia.com.