Final Words

NVIDIA’s Tegra 4 is a significant step forward in both CPU and GPU performance. Although Tegra 3 was decent in both areas, Tegra 4 really moves things forward. ARM’s Cortex A15 is an excellent performer, although that performance comes at a high power cost. In a tablet, as we’ve already seen with Google’s Nexus 10, the power consumption associated with the Cortex A15 core is manageable. If NVIDIA’s data is to be believed however, Tegra 4 can get into a smartphone just by aggressively controlling frequencies. At reduced frequencies, Tegra 4 can draw less power than Tegra 3 but with no performance advantage. NVIDIA could then scale up performance (and power) to offer an improvement over Tegra 3. The real question at that point is whether or not Qualcomm’s Krait 300/400 designs offer better efficiency at these intermediate points on the performance/power curve. We’ll be able to find out for sure later this year when both Tegra 4 and Snapdragon 600/800 based devices are shipping.

Icera i500 looks like an interesting competitor in the modem space, which presently is dominated by Qualcomm. More competition is always good, and before the NVIDIA acquisition Icera was on the up and up with impressive performance and interesting SDR architecture. In addition the integration into NVIDIA's own SoC seems to have taken place pretty quickly, and we had the opportunity to see it in the flesh doing over 100 Mbps on a test box.

On the imaging side NVIDIA's Chimera ISP architecutre looks intriguing, though it is obvious that NVIDIA is trying to craft a compelling story for leveraging the GPU. What we did see of HDR video capture and assist looks better than some of the other solutions out there, and object tracking does make for a compelling demo even if it requires user training.

NVIDIA’s biggest advantage hasn’t been architecture, but rather being in the right design wins. Without a doubt, the Nexus 7 and Surface RT were significant wins for NVIDIA last year and they really helped ensure a successful year for NVIDIA’s Tegra business. Whether or not NVIDIA will be able to guarantee similarly key design wins with Tegra 4 remains to be seen. The architecture looks good enough on paper, now it’s just up to NVIDIA’s sales teams to get it into the right devices.

Hands on with the Phoenix, NVIDIA's FFRD
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  • Krysto - Monday, February 25, 2013 - link

    S600 is just a slightly overclocked S4 Pro with the same GPU.

    The real competitor of Tegra 4 will be S800. We'll see if it wins in CPU performance (it might not), and I think there's a high chance it will lose in GPU performance, as Adreno 330 is only 50% faster than Adreno 320 I think, and Tegra 4 is about twice as fast.

    Qualcomm has always had slower graphics performance than Nvidia actually. The only "gap" they found in the market was last fall with the Adreno 320, when Nvidia didn't have anything good to show. But Tegra 3 beat S4 with its Adreno 225.
    Reply
  • watersb - Monday, February 25, 2013 - link

    I'm amazed at the depth of this NVIDIA data-dump. Brilliant work.

    Anand's observation re: die size, cost strategy, position in the market and how this buys them time to consolidate... Wow.

    Clearly, Nvidia is in this game for the long haul.
    Reply
  • djgandy - Monday, February 25, 2013 - link

    So OpenGL ES 3.0 doesn't matter, but quad core A15 does? Why do people suck up to Nvidia and their marketing BS so much?

    T4i still single channel memory? What a joke configuration.
    Reply
  • djgandy - Monday, February 25, 2013 - link

    Also a 9 page article about a mobile SoC without a single reference to the word "battery". Reply
  • varad - Monday, February 25, 2013 - link

    Read the article before you write such comments. The very first page is "Introduction & Power" where they do mention some numbers and their thoughts. Reply
  • djgandy - Tuesday, February 26, 2013 - link

    Yeah its all smoke and mirrors under lab test conditions. Where is the real battery life? Is this not for battery powered devices? Reply
  • Krysto - Monday, February 25, 2013 - link

    Personally, I think all 2013 GPU's should have support for OpenGL ES 3.0 and OpenCL. I was stunned to find out Tegra 4 was not going to support it as they haven't even switched to a unified shader architecture.

    That being said, Anand is probably right that it was the right move for Nvidia, and they are just going to wait for the Maxwell architecture to streamline the same custom ARMv8 CPU from Tegra 5 to Project Denver across product line-ups, and also the same Maxwell GPU cores.

    If that's indeed their plan, then switching Tegra 4 to Kepler this year, only to switch again to Maxwell next year wouldn't have made any sense. GPU architectures barely change even every 2-3 years, let alone 1 year. It wouldn't have been cost effective for them.

    I do hope they aren't going to delay the transition again with Tegra 5 though, and I also do hope they follow Qualcomm's strategy with S4 last year of switching IMEMDIATELY to the 20nm process, instead of continuing on 28nm with Tegra 5, like they did with Tegra 3 on 40nm. But I fear Nvidia will repeat the same mistake.

    If they put Tegra 5 on 20nm, and make it 120mm2 in size, with Maxwell GPU core, I don't think even Apple's A8X will stand against it next year in terms of GPU performance (and of course it will get beaten easily in CPU performance, just like this year).
    Reply
  • djgandy - Tuesday, February 26, 2013 - link

    Tegra is smaller because it lacks features and also memory bandwidth. The comparison is not really fair to assume you can just throw more shaders at the problem. You'll need wider memory bus for a start. You'll need more TMU's and in the future it's probably smart to have a dedicate ROP unit. Then also are you seriously going to just stick with FP20 and not support ES 3.0 and OpenCL? OEMs see OpenCL as a de facto feature these days, not because it is widely used but because it opens up future possibilities. Nvidia has simply designed an SoC for gaming here.

    Your post focuses on performance, but these are battery powered devices. The primary design goal is efficiency, and it would appear that is why apple went swift and not A15. A15 is just too damn power hungry, even for a tablet.
    Reply
  • metafor - Tuesday, February 26, 2013 - link

    If the silicon division of Apple were its own business, they'd be in the red. Very few silicon providers can afford to make 120mm^2 chips and still make a profit; let alone one with as little bargaining clout in the mobile space as nVidia.

    Numbers are great but at the end of the day, making money is what matters.
    Reply
  • milli - Monday, February 25, 2013 - link

    nVidia is trying hard but Tegra still isn't making them any money ... Reply

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