Changes to the Browser & Performance Analysis

Honeycomb's web browser has always had an issue properly loading Reddit.com. In testing the Transformer Prime, the fact that Reddit loaded properly was one of the first things I noticed—leading me to believe that ASUS and NVIDIA had done some work to customize the browser for the Prime and Tegra 3. This customization work is also evident if you watch the manner in which web pages are loaded on the Prime versus any other Honeycomb tablet, including the original Eee Pad Transformer. The difference isn't really better or worse, just clearly different.

It turns out that there are a number of improvements to the Honeycomb browser for Tegra 3 platforms. The first has to do with threading and GPU acceleration. Google has been steadily moving away from using its skia libraries for drawing to the screen in Android. These libraries are mostly run on the CPU. With Honeycomb Google moved many elements of the OS to OpenGL ES based rendering, but parts of the browser still use these non-GPU accelerated skia libraries for displaying rendered web pages. With Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4.x), Google moved the browser to OpenGL rendering but unfortunately Tegra 3 would debut on Honeycomb and not ICS so something had to be done. NVIDIA made two primary changes to the Honeycomb browser for Tegra 3. For starters, it further threaded a lot of the skia libraries to better take advantage of the four A9 cores in T3. It also moved some more components of the browser's display pipeline to OpenGL. The change isn't nearly as dramatic as what we'll see with the move to ICS, but it's a step forward.

There are some slight improvements in scrolling performance compared to the Tegra 2 build of Honeycomb. You don't get as much white blocking while scrolling on the TF Prime compared to the original (only when scrolling naturally, using the fast scroll bar on the right is the same on both).

NVIDIA also updated the JavaScript rendering engine in the Tegra 3 build of Honeycomb, which is likely responsible for some of the gains we saw in our original SunSpider numbers (higher CPU clocks helps a bit here as well).

The impact on web page loading performance isn't as dramatic as you'd expect. In general the Prime loads web pages in about the same amount of time as the original Transformer. Some web pages load quicker others load slower and it really varies from run to run. In my testing the original Transformer actually seemed to be more consistent in web page loading times. Whatever changes NVIDIA made to the browser seems to have resulted in this behavior. While there's no major performance gain when it comes to loading most web pages, the difference is that parts of the workload are spread across more cores, allowing each of the cores to run at a lower frequency and thus voltage.

I stand by my original assessment of the Prime's performance. The place you notice the additional CPU cores the most is when multitasking; unfortunately Honeycomb still degrades into a sluggish mess if you ask too much of it, which in turn limits the seat of the pants impact from having twice as many cores. Whereas the move from one to two cores was instantly noticeable on Android phones, the move from two to four is understandably less appreciable. The Prime as a whole feels much faster than its predecessor, but it's unclear to me how much of that is due to the faster GPU, higher CPU clocks, increase in memory bandwidth, NEON support, or the additional cores. I'm willing to bet that the faster GPU and increase in CPU clocks are the most noticeable of the improvements, followed by the increase in core count. I don't mind the extra cores, but I do get the feeling that we'd be better off with two faster cores than four A9s. With A15 and Krait really designed for 28nm, NVIDIA's decision to increase core count at 40nm was probably better for end users than simply increasing CPU clocks on Tegra 2.

I suspect Ice Cream Sandwich will remove some of the software bottlenecks that make the Prime feel sluggish under heavy load, at which point I may have to revisit this assessment. There's also the concern of how Tegra 3 will stack up against Krait based solutions in a few months time. I still feel like the Transformer Prime is a good buy today if you're looking for an Android tablet, but 28nm silicon is less than six months away....

The Final Word on Battery Life The Dock Experience
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  • Alienate - Friday, December 16, 2011 - link

    So, if I buy one of these now, will I be able to upgrade to Icecream ?

    If so, how?
    Reply
  • niteflyguy - Friday, December 16, 2011 - link

    My one concern is the single speaker. How doesit sound? Reply
  • stelek - Saturday, December 24, 2011 - link

    Hi Anand,
    Have you tested the GPS performance? Does it work? What's the accuracy?

    The first users report some serious problems and for me this is definitely a deal breaker. Could you please verify that? Please see here:
    http://forum.xda-developers.com/showthread.php?t=1...

    I'm supposed to pick up my pre-order in a few days. But I'm not gonna do that unless I know that GPS is not broken in Prime.
    Reply
  • Krewe - Monday, January 02, 2012 - link

    A brain injury rewired my hearing so that fan noise from computers/TVs/etc can literally cause me to leave the room.

    To Anand or anyone who is absolutely sure on this issue, are there fan(s) in the original Transformer or Prime or their Docks?

    Many thanks in advance.

    Krewe
    Reply
  • Krewe - Saturday, January 07, 2012 - link

    Anand,

    Thank you for the Transformer Prime teardown. Your attention to the Prime's fanless heat dissipation was not lost on me.

    Krewe
    Reply
  • shopscounty - Monday, January 09, 2012 - link

    Surely you will find on ShopsCounty. You can buy a <a href="http://www.shopscounty.com">ASUS Transformer</a> at ShopsCounty. Reply
  • kulpret - Saturday, March 03, 2012 - link

    Anand,

    Would love to see an update to your review now that ICS has been on this tablet for awhile. I personally haven't touched my iPad2 since I received my TP. I use it in place of my laptop and netbook as well. I rarely have to pick up anything else. I am a road warrior with a Verizon MiFi and Sprint Hotspot on my phone and always have internet connectivity and this thing is always with me.

    Games:

    Between onlive, emulators and all the gaming options from Android (including the great Tegrazone games) this makes the case for a mobile gaming platform with console quality graphics but also the dead simple casual gaming making this a great fit for both types of gamers. Onlive is excellent on this platform btw.

    Productivity/Web:

    I just recently added Onlive Desktop to my subscription and I have full blown Office at my finger tips along with Internet Explorer. It is limited to the MS stack on the desktop, but I find that good enough. Native to the tablet I use Polaris Office, Adobe, Firefox, Chrome, Android Browser and Dolphin. I literally have not found office content that I can't access. The same is true for web content including Flash support.

    Media:

    All the usual app suspects are here. Netflix, Pandora, Hulu + (installs but doesn't officially support the device takes a little bit of know-how to get it working. ie developer mode and config files.) One must have app for Android here MX Video Player It plays all my years of movie collecting, works as good as VLC on Windows/Linux.

    I also have this working with my ActiveSync Mail server for my corporation and actively use this device for presentations and note taking in customer meetings.

    I only hope they continue to develop and support the Transformer platform and I only see a bright future for this tablet.

    -Jon
    Reply
  • gmulak - Saturday, March 31, 2012 - link

    What a great review. Very detailed and complete. I do agree a signoff would be nice. I have had a little trouble finding out about battery "memory", I didn't catch that in the review, which would have been nice. Finally found what I think is correct on Asus web site. It is best to let the tablet discharge completely and then recharge it. I will definitely follow you. Great job. Reply

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