NVIDIA Tegra: HD video playback under 1Watt

NVIDIA is taking it to Intel, with an Atom-smashing CPU for smartphones and netbooks that sips less than 1W power.
In what is probably the most exciting announcement at Computex so far, Nvidia unveiled its new Tegra platform which promises powerful mobile computing while using under 1W of power.

It caught many people of guard. Nvidia has been talking about Tegra for some time, but has claimed that it’s something that will only be used in things like Point Of Sale devices – almost certainly to throw (fierce rival) Intel off the scent. There were no clues as to its announcement with Huang giving a long-winded preamble in which saw him arrogantly say that the day’s announcement was “unlike any announcement before at Computex” and that Nvidia had declared itself a “visual computing” company, that it was the “best visual computing company in the world” and that it was “the only visual computing company in the world”.

However, Huang then redeemed himself by holding up the guts of a Tegra device showing it to be a PCB (printed circuit board) that was barely the size of a packet of gum. With glee, he played back his Intel rival’s speech which goaded Nvidia by saying that adding a GPU to a mobile device wouldn’t allow playback of HD media. But in the demonstration that followed, Nvidia showed that it could... and with aplomb.

Tegra is an ARM-based 8-core processor where each core does a different task. When the other cores aren’t required they are put to sleep and only awakened when absolutely required. Most tasks require under 1W of power. Conversely, Intel’s Ultra Low Voltage processors use around 15W to achieve far less performance.

The eight cores are:
  • ARM 11
  • ARM 7
  • GPU
  • 2D Engine
  • HD Video Encoder
  • HD Video Decoder
  • Audio
  • Imaging
Nvidia backed up the performance claims by playing the Full HD trailer to Star Trek using a Tegra device with no stuttering whatsoever - the notion of plugging your Tegra-based phone into your HD TV is salivating. Tegra also smoothly navigated through Flash Earth which is another task that netbooks simply can’t do.

Initial figures showed that battery-based Tegra devices could playback music for 25 days as opposed to 5 hours on those with an Atom chip. HD Video playback would go on for 10 hours as opposed to 3 hours and old games like Quake could hit a playable 46fps on Tegra as opposed to 17fps on Atom.

While it will be some months before devices appear, working samples of netbooks and tablets were displayed from some OEM partners. Two unnamed phone carriers have reportedly picked up two products already, however, on a world map of partners, Australia was left blank.

We’ll be fascinated to see if Nvidia’s claims stand up. The company has promised to smash the power and efficiency of Intel’s Atom and it looks to have done so in one fell swoop.

When we asked Intel to comment, a spokesperson dismissed the technology and said Intel could make it far more efficient with better software support. However, they acknowledged that they weren’t anywhere near hitting the market with a similar performer.

BY Nick Ross

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