NVIDIA Tegra 4 Architecture Deep Dive, Plus Tegra 4i, Icera i500 & Phoenix Hands Onby Anand Lal Shimpi & Brian Klug on February 24, 2013 3:00 PM EST
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.