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Nvidia tantalizes with 4 cores at 1.5 GHz each for next year’s Tablets

The key to ARM based processors delivering the clout that say an Intel chip can, in terms of processing power, is to offer more than one core on a chi

By PETER WHITE

Published: 27 January, 2011

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The key to ARM based processors delivering the clout that say an Intel chip can, in terms of processing power, is to offer more than one core on a chip, and increasingly ARM players are able to harness two cores and now Nvidia is hell bent on getting to four first.

It is these chips which are already finding their way into high end smartphones and driving Tablet development and with one or two recent design wins for Tegra, in the Motorola Xoom tablet and LG Optimus 2X handset, among others and Nvidia doesn’t want its progress to slip.

Larger companies like Texas Instruments and Qualcomm, as well as the agile Marvell, are already snapping at its heels with multicore ARM devices. So Nvidia is already talking about its quad-core Tegra 3 for 2012 devices.

Sure it has a roadmap for a 3D version of Tegra 2, but right now all the attention is on the Tegra 3, which will come in two or four core variants, and it is also promising an ultra-low power mode for battery sensitive gadgets like phones. The higher powered, tablet implementation will run at clock speeds of up to 1.5GHz and will support very high resolution screens (1920 x 1200, a bit higher than 1080p HD video), as well as Blu-ray video. The latter suggests Tegra 3 will be targeted at notebooks and home media players as well as mobile products and should deliver close to 6 GHz of collective power across all four cores.

The phone version of Tegra 3, according to a roadmap leaked to Engadget, will support displays up to 1366 x 768 pixels in resolution.

Nvidia is aiming to get many of the early headlines in mobile multicore, but other, more established wireless players will soon be biting at its heels, and those of the other quad-core early mover, Marvell. Indeed, there were grumblings about Marvell recently when it emerged that RIM had turned against it for the upcoming PlayBook tablet, choosing TI's OMAP 4430 processor instead. Researchers at CCS Insight said this was a significant blow" to RIM's main supplier, Marvell. The 4430 has two ARM Cortex-A9 cores and runs at 1GHz.

TI has its own concerns though, and on its earnings call this week admitted to being under pressure from Nvidia in the new tablets space, because Tegra had got to dual-core first. Ron Slaymaker, VP of investor relations, told analysts: “Nvidia, to their credit, was the first out with a dual-core applications processor. I believe they had a couple of months, maybe a quarter lead on our OMAP4 product …. They were the first player out so there is a natural alignment there.”

Meanwhile, analysts at Strategy Analytics believe Samsung will led the multicore market this year with its Hummingbird range, which has the advantage of being heavily used by the Korean giant's own handset unit. The firm thinks 45% of smartphones will boast multicore processors by 2015 with eight key vendors battling for those slots - Samsung, Nvidia, Qualcomm, ST-Ericsson, TI, Marvell, Renesas and Broadcom. Qualcomm and STE will offer these designs with integrated basebands, but most first wave multicore app processors will be standalone.

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