Back in February 2011 at MWC we were introduced to NVIDIA’s new processor, which was named Project Kal-El, and featured four cores each running at up to 1.4GHz. More and more details about the chip have been revealed in the past few months and, finally, today it was officially renamed as Tegra 3. The name of the first product to use Tegra 3 was also confirmed today as the ASUS Eee Pad Transformer Prime, a 10.1-inch tablet which will go on sale in December, just a few months ahead of the first quad core smartphone which looks like being the HTC Edge.
Tegra 3 is not just a quad core version of Tegra 2 though. Yes, it uses the same 40nm process node, and yes, each core is an ARM Cortex-A9, but the similarities more or less end there. Tegra 3 doesn’t actually have four CPU cores, the really inspired innovative part is that it has five CPU cores (more on that in a moment) plus a few other improvements such as a 12-core GPU giving 3x better performance than Tegra 2, an improved ISP, faster access to storage, higher memory bandwidth and, perhaps most significantly, longer battery time due to reduced power consumption.
Analysis of the unique features of this highly impressive chip and the implications on other apps processor vendors can be found in this report published by the Handset Component Technologies service today.
Back to the most interesting aspect of Tegra 3, it’s a quad core processor…with 5 cores.
But, it should not be called a 5 core processor, because the maximum number of cores that can be active at any time is four. The clever part is that the four main Cortex-A9 cores, each running at up to 1.4 GHz, are built using a standard general purpose silicon process while the fifth core, officially called the Companion Core, is built on a low power silicon process and has a maximum clock speed of 500MHz. Using sophisticated management of the CPU cores, and a technique called Variable Symmetric Multiprocessing, Tegra 3 is able to deliver extremely high performance for gaming using 2 or 4 cores, and deliver extremely long battery life for less demanding applications such as active standby, audio and 1080p video playback, using only the low power Companion Core. More details on how this is achieved can be found in the report.