If there's any one takeaway from both CES and Mobile World Congress this year it's that NVIDIA is unequivocally a player in the SoC space. With design wins from LG, Motorola and Samsung, NVIDIA may not have the entire market but it has enough of it to be taken seriously.

In our Optimus 2X Review I mentioned that it looked like NVIDIA was going to be moving to a 6-month product cycle in the SoC space. The intention is to out execute its competitors frequently enough that they are either forced out of the market or into making a mistake trying to keep up. It's the same strategy that NVIDIA used to compete with 3dfx almost fifteen years ago.

I wrote that in 2011 NVIDIA would release Tegra 2 followed by the Tegra 2 3D (a higher clocked version of the Tegra 2 with support for 3D content) and finally the Tegra 3 before the end of the year. While it wasn't too long ago that NVIDIA was telling people about its 6-month product cycle, things have changed.

The Tegra 2 3D looks like it's not going to happen. The higher clocked SoC is not currently in any designs that are in the pipeline. There are Tegra 2 based smartphones and tablets that are due out this year, but nothing based on T25/AP25 as far as I can tell.

Although the middle of the roadmap changed, it's the end of 2011 that's sort of amazing. Internally NVIDIA referred to this chip as Tegra 3, and externally we expected it at the tail end of 2011 with devices launching in Q1 2012.

NVIDIA got the first silicon back from the fab 12 days ago. While the chip may end up being called Tegra 3 or some variation of that, for now NVIDIA refers to it as Project Kal-El. Named after young superman (or Nicholas Cage's son), Kal-El will be sampling this year and shipping in devices as early as August 2011.

The Roadmap

I must say that this is highly unlikely behavior for a SoC manufacturer. Qualcomm recently announced its dual-core MSM8960 would be sampling in Q2 2011 and shipping in devices starting next year. NVIDIA is announcing sampling starting sometime very soon (the chip is only 12 days old after all) and device availability before the end of the year.

NVIDIA went on to be even more specific. Tablets based on Kal-El will be available starting August 2011, while smartphones will be available this Christmas and into the first half of next year. This is either NVIDIA over committing to an unrealistic future or the most aggressive schedule we've seen from an SoC vendor yet. NVIDIA won some points by actually pulling off the coup with Tegra 2 this year, however it's still too early to tell whether we'll see the whole thing repeated again just 9 months from now. I'm willing to at least give NVIDIA the benefit of the doubt here.

It doesn't stop with Kal-El either. NVIDIA is committing to a yearly refresh of its architecture, NVIDIA quantifies the move from Tegra 2 to Kal-El as a 5x increase in performance. By 2012 we'll have Wayne, which doulbes performance over Kal-El. Then we've got another 5x increase over Wayne with Logan in 2013. The furthest NVIDIA is willing to go out is 2014 with Stark, at roughly a doubling of the performance offered by Logan.

The baseline reference point is Tegra 2, which NVIDIA expects Stark to outperform by a factor of 100x. NVIDIA also expects Kal-El to be somewhere in the realm of the performance of a Core 2 Duo processor (more on this later).

Based on the cadence that NVIDIA presented, it looks like every year we'll either get a doubling or 5x increase in performance over the previous year. Kal-El is one of those 5x years, followed by a doubling with Wayne, 5x again with Logan and a doubling with Stark. Now the performance axis in the chart above is really vague, so end users will likely not see 5x Tegra 2 with Kal-El, but they will see something tangible at least.

The Architecture
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  • B3an - Wednesday, February 16, 2011 - link

    Android 2.3 finally, FINALLY has GPU acceleration. So the Samsung Galaxy S2 will have it for instance.

    I totally agree with you though, Google should have had GPU acceleration a long time ago, most people i know who have iPhones complain about the choppiness of Android when scrolling/animating.
    Windows Phone 7 actually has the smoothest OS of them all though, it's so well polished. MS done it literally perfectly on the first release. Android takes many versions to fix this, and it's still not as good, but atleast GPU acceleration is there now.
  • Lucian Armasu - Wednesday, February 16, 2011 - link

    Only Honeycomb has full hardware acceleration. Android 2.3 has better garbage collection that has improved the speed of the UI a bit.
  • AbRASiON - Wednesday, February 16, 2011 - link

    Someone listen to this guy!
    I love my Android phone but god damnit even a half decent one is a little laggy and sluggish at points.
    The iphone sucks in a lot of silly ways but it's always a smooth and consistent feel, even if it fakes it - they are clever about it.
  • BlueScreenJunky - Wednesday, February 16, 2011 - link

    Well according to the sales figures that doesn't prevent Android phones from selling well so I don't see a problem from Google and the manufacturers' point of view.

    And from my point of view that's absolutely no problem at all : Since I like my phone to be responsive and I dont need 50 widgets I only have one home screen (So I can't swipe through anything) and I disabled every single animation using spareparts...
    So there's nothing left to accelerate really and now when I use a phone with the animations enabled I'm like "Why do I have to look at the page sliding or zooming in before I can actually begin to read ? It's just a waste of time !"
  • Aloonatic - Monday, February 21, 2011 - link

    I guess you just eat protein and vitamin pills etc? What's the point in making tasty food and chewing it? It's just a waste of time.

    I guess it's good that you are happy to live in a bland little world, but most people aren't and whether you realise that it's an issue or not, but one of the reasons why many people love LOVE (LOVE!!!!!) their Apple devices, and why they still have a strong presence in the market in spite of their price premium is because they have realised that the swoop, expanding, sliding animations make using their devices a far more fun experience, rather than just being a dull utilitarian device.

    You might be happy with what you have, but I think you're in a teeny, tiny minority when the entire market (ie not just techies) is taken into account and that's where the money is to be made. Expect Android and WinMo to try to emulate Apple as much as possible, because if they don't, they will always struggle to lure people, their wallets and their personal data that they might want to mine, away from Apple.
  • softdrinkviking - Wednesday, February 16, 2011 - link

    If extra cores make browsing buttery-smooth, I'm all for it.
    They shouldn't be drawing extra power from your phone unless they are getting some tangible use anyway. (that is assuming some level of power-gating)

    I like GPU acceleration too, but there is no reason to ditch a wider architecture because it's effects are not immediately discernible by people browsing phones in the verizon store.
  • tviceman - Tuesday, February 15, 2011 - link

    The similarities with Nvidia's first products are strikingly similar to it's venture into the mobile space. Insofar as being a success,

    Tegra1 = NV1 (not successful at all)
    Tegra2 looks like it has become the RIVA 128 - huge turn around and very competitive.
    Tegra3 (Kal-El) could end up being the RIVA TNT/ TNT2 and the transition to 28nm (probably Wayne) could propel Nvidia to being the #1 mobile CPU manufacturer ---- much like what GeForce did for Nvidia.
  • djgandy - Wednesday, February 16, 2011 - link

    Well they haven't sold anything yet. It's business as usual at Nvidia, delivering lots of hype and marketing.

    Considering they struggle to keep their desktop parts running cool and with low power, maybe people should focus on the key aspect of a mobile chip, battery life, rather than salivating over cherry picked CPU benchmarks and potential GPU performance which is already out there in pocket melting form.
  • bplewis24 - Wednesday, February 16, 2011 - link

    They already have an article discussing Tegra2's battery life performance.

  • tim851 - Tuesday, February 15, 2011 - link

    What does Nicolas Cage's son have to do with all of this?

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