Nvidia Announces Tegra for Smartphones and MIDs

Nvidia has an Atom in its sights.

nVidia yesterday introduced the Tegra family of processors at a press conference here in Taipei. The company says that these are designed from the ground up for Mobile Internet Devices, sub-notebooks (or netbooks) and smartphones.

Tegra is a system on a chip that can play high-definition video and deliver a full Internet experience on hand-held devices. nVidia says that we will likely see this chip being used in devices with screen sizes ranging from 4in all the way up to 12in. nVidia made no mistake in highlighting that this is targeted squarely at Intel’s Centrino Atom platform, which is set for its official unveiling later today at Computex.

The Tegra family of processors packs an ARM11 CPU core, a GeForce graphics core, an HD video processor, an Image processor and a whole host of connectivity options, including an HDMI port, into a die that’s smaller than the size of an English penny at just 144mm². The three processors in the Tegra family ship with different specifications and are split into two different usage models – the Tegra APX 2500, which was launched back in February without the Tegra brand name, is targeted at the smartphone market. This features a 600MHz processor speed, a maximum LCD resolution of 854 x 480, and supports memory at 166MHz. With this, the chip can decode 720p h.264 video at 30 frames per second and nVidia says it can also encode at the same resolution.

The other two models in the family, the Tegra 600 and Tegra 650 processors, are aimed more at the Mobile Internet Device and sub-notebook markets. The Tegra 600 includes a 700MHz CPU core, a maximum resolution of 1,280 x 1,024 and, like the APX 2500, it can decode 720p HD video at 30 frames per second. The most intriguing model in nVidia’s new family is the high-end part, the Tegra 650, which features an 800MHz CPU clock, can support a maximum resolution of 1,680 x 1,050 and the company claims that it can decode 1080p HD video streams at 24 frames per second as well.

On paper, the specs sound impressive – but they only tell half the story. nVidia claims that all configurations of the chip draw less than 1W of power at full load. The demo nVidia showed during its event was of a Tegra-based sub-notebook with a total power draw of just 1.4W while decoding an h.264 720p video stream – and that ”included” the power required for the display. What’s more, with a battery no bigger than the one in Apple’s iPhone, nVidia claims that it can get 26 hours of 720p, h.264 HD video playback and over 130 hours of audio.

Our one major concern for the platform is its lack of x86 support, but nVidia has been quick to play down x86 on a number of occasions. Tegra cannot run any operating system that supports x86 exclusively – so you can rule out MIDs running Windows XP or Windows Vista, which we think is a bit of a shame. Instead, nVidia has teamed up with Microsoft and at least the first wave of devices will run Windows CE and Windows Mobile 6.0, with the option of a fully 3D user interface should device makers want to use that. Application support for this operating system is not brilliant, but nVidia seemed confident that it could persuade developers, with the help of ARM and Microsoft, to develop software for the mobile OS.


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