Gaming Conclusion

In situations where a game is available in both the iOS app store as well as NVIDIA's Tegra Zone, NVIDIA generally delivers a comparable gaming experience to what you get on the iPad. In some cases you even get improved visual quality as well. The iPad's GPU performance advantage just isn't evident in those cases—likely because the bulk of iOS devices out there still use far weaker GPUs. That's effectively a software answer to a hardware challenge, but it's true.

NVIDIA isn't completely vindicated however. In Apple's corner you have Infinity Blade 2 and the upcoming Infinity Blade Dungeons, both of which appear to offer a significant visual advantage over the best of the best that's available on Android today. There are obvious business complexities that are the cause of this today, but if you want to play those games you need to buy an iPad.

The final point is this: Tegra 3 can deliver a good gaming experience on Android, we've already demonstrated that. But as a GPU company NVIDIA should know that it isn't about delivering the minimum acceptable experience, but rather pushing the industry forward. Just last week NVIDIA launched a $500 GPU that is overkill for the vast majority of users. But NVIDIA built the GeForce GTX 680 to move the industry forward, and it's a shame that it hasn't done so in the mobile SoC space thus far.

Controller Support: An Android Advantage

With Honeycomb and subsequent versions of Android, Google baked in wired and wireless controller support into the OS. NVIDIA worked with game developers to ensure proper support for these controllers made it into their games and as a result there are a number of titles available through Tegra Zone that offer support for external gamepads. Logitech's Wireless Gamepad F710 comes with a USB nano receiver that can be plugged into the Transformer Prime's dock. It's using this controller that I played Shadowgun, GTA 3 and Riptide. Out of the three, the ability to use a gamepad made GTA 3 much more enjoyable (and it made me much better at the game as well).

Although many casual Android/iOS games do just fine with touch, some are certainly better suited for some sort of a controller. While controller support in Android in its infancy at best, it's more than iOS currently offers. I know of an internal Apple project to bring a physical controller to market, but whether or not it will ever see the light of day remains to be seen. As smartphones and tablets come close to equalling the performance of current game consoles, I feel like the controller problem must be addressed.

There's also the chance that physical controls will lose out entirely with these devices. A friend of mine in the game industry once said that we are too quick to forget how superior input devices don't always win. The keyboard + mouse is a much more precise setup for a first person shooter, but much FPS development these days is targeted at gamepads instead. The same could eventually be true for touch based devices, but it's too early to tell. Until then I'm hoping we see continued controller support in Android and hopefully that'll put some pressure on Apple to do the same. It is an important consideration for the future of gaming on these platforms.

A5X vs. Tegra 3 in the Real World WiFi, GPS & AirPlay
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  • Steelbom - Thursday, March 29, 2012 - link

    I'm curious why we didn't see any graphics benchmarks from the UDK like with the iPhone 4S review? Reply
  • Craig234 - Thursday, March 29, 2012 - link

    Wow, this is good to buy... 'if you are in desperate need for a tablet'?

    That's a pretty weak recommendation, I expected a much stronger endorsement based on the review.
    Reply
  • Chaki Shante - Friday, March 30, 2012 - link

    Great, thorough review, thanks Anand et al.

    Given the sheer size of the SoC (like 4x larger then Tegra2 or OMAP4430, and 2x Tegra3), you'd bet Apple has the fastest current SoC, at least GPU-wise.

    This SoC is just huge and Apple's margin is certainly lowered. Is this sustainable on the long run ?

    I wonder if any other silicon manufacturer could make same size devices (not technologically but from a price perspective) and expect to sell them.
    Reply
  • dagamer34 - Friday, March 30, 2012 - link

    No one else needs to crank out so many chips that are the same. Also, other companies will be waiting long enough to use 28nm, so there's little chance they'll be hitting the same size as the A5X on 45nm. Reply
  • Aenean144 - Friday, March 30, 2012 - link

    Since Apple is both the chip designer/licensee and hardware vendor, it saves them the cost of paying a middleman. Ie, Nvidia has to make a profit on a Tegra sale, Apple does not, and can afford a more expensive chip from the fab compared to the business component chain from Asus to Nvidia to GF/TSMC and other IP licensees.

    I bet there is at least 50% margin somewhere in the transaction chain from Asus to Nvidia to GF/TSMC. Apple may also have a sweetheart IP deal from both ARMH and IMGTEC that competitors may not have.
    Reply
  • shompa - Friday, March 30, 2012 - link

    @Aenean144

    Tegra2 cost 25 dollars for OEMs and 15 dollars to manufacture. A5 cost Apple 25 dollars to manufacture. By designing its own SoC Apple got 30% larger SoC at the same price as Android OEMs.

    Tegra3 is huge. That is a problem for Nvidia. It costs at least 50% more to manufacture. Nvidia is rumored to charge 50 dollar for the SoC.

    A5X is 50%+ larger then Tegra3. Depending of yields it cost Apple 35-50 dollar per SoC.

    The integrated model gives Apple cheaper SoCs, but also custom designed for their needs. Apple have a long history of Accelerating stuff in its OS. Back in 2002 it was AltiVec. Encoding a DVD on a 667mhz powerbook took 90 minutes. The fastest X86 AMD 1.5ghz it took 15 hours. (and it was almost impossible to have XP not bluescreen for 15 hours under full load). Since 2002 Apple accelerate OSX with Quarz Extreme. Both these techniques are now used in iOS with SIMD acceleration and GPU acceleration. Its much more elegant then the brute force X86 approach. Integrated makes it possible to use slower, cheaper and more efficient designs.
    Reply
  • shompa - Friday, March 30, 2012 - link

    The A5X SoC is a disaster. Its a desperation SoC that had to be implemented when TSMC 28nm process slipped almost 2 years. That is the reason why Apple did not tape out a 32nm A5X on Samsung. PA Semi had to crank out a new tapeout fast with existing assets. So they took the A5 and added 2 more graphics core.

    The real A6 SoC is probably ready since long back, but TSMC cant deliver enough wafers. The rumored tapeout for A6 was mid 2011. Apple got test wafers from TSMC in june and another batch of test wafers in october. Still at this point Apple believed they would use TSMC for Ipad3.

    ARM is about small, cheap and low power SoCs. That is the future of computing. The A5X is larger then many X86 chips. Technically Intel manufactures many of its CPUs cheaper then Apple manufactures the A5X SoC. That is insane.
    Reply
  • stimudent - Friday, March 30, 2012 - link

    Products reviews are fun to look at, but where there's a bright side, there is always a dark side. Maybe product scoring should also reflect how a manufacturer treats its employees. Reply
  • name99 - Friday, March 30, 2012 - link

    You mean offers them a better wage than they could find in the rest of China, and living conditions substantially superior to anywhere else they could work?
    Yes, by all means let's use that scoring.

    Or perhaps you'd like to continue to live your Mike Daisey dystopia because god-forbid that the world doesn't conform to your expectations?
    Reply
  • Craig234 - Friday, March 30, 2012 - link

    I'm all for including 'how a company treats its employees' and other social issues; but I'd list them separately, not put them in a product rating. Reply

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