Nvidia unveils Tegra 4 'Wayne' SoC

January 7, 2013 // 12:12 p.m.

Tags: #arm #cortex-a15 #geforce #icera #lte #nvidia #project-shield #soc #system-on-chip #tegra #tegra-4 #wayne

Nvidia has officially unveiled its fourth-generation Tegra ARM system-on-chip processor at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, surprising no-one with a powerful quad-core Cortex-A15 design.

As expected, Nvidia is focusing heavily on multimedia with its latest Tegra 4 chip, previously dubbed Wayne as part of the company's superhero-themed codename strategy. As a result, the Tegra 4 combines a quad-core Cortex-A15 with a fifth low-performance 'companion core' and a 72-core GeForce GPU graphics chip offering a claimed six-fold performance increase over the Tegra 3 GeForce GPU. Combined with a claimed 2.6x performance boost in CPU-driven tasks thanks to the move from ARM's Cortex-A9 IP to Cortex-A15, Nvidia's talking about a chip with some serious power behind it.

'Tegra 4 provides enormous processing power and efficiency to power smartphones and tablets, gaming devices, auto systems and PCs,' claimed Phil Carmack, senior vice president of Nvidia's Tegra arm, at the CES unveiling. 'Its new capabilities, particularly in the area of computational photography, will help improve a whole range of existing products and lead to the creation of exciting new ones.'

One of those 'exciting new ones' is, of course, the Nvidia Shield, a bizarrely-designed hand-held console which can play Android games as well as tapping into Nvidia's cloud-gaming know-how to stream Steam titles from a desktop PC. With a Tegra 4 under the hood, the Shield hand-held should theoretically wipe the floor with any existing hand-held console on the market.

It's not just about raw power, though: with Tegra 4, Nvidia's getting clever. The chip includes what Nvidia calls a 'computational photography architecture,' designed to provide ultra-fast image processing by offloading tasks onto the image-signal processor, CPU and GPU simultaneously. The most obvious sign of this feature is what Nvidia calls 'always-on HDR,' which allows smartphone and tablet cameras to perform high-dynamic range (HDR) photography at the same speed as standard image snapping - or even while capturing live video.

Performance boosts and new features aside, the Tegra 4 system-on-chip also includes some significant improvements to the power draw: in what Nvidia somewhat vaguely describes as 'common use cases,' Tegra 4 chips should draw around 45 per cent less power than a Tegra 3 - translating into 14 hours of HD video playback on a reference smartphone handset.

What the Tegra 4 SoC is missing, compared with rival devices from the likes of Qualcomm, is a modem. A requirement for smartphones, and increasingly common in tablets, Nvidia has opted not to build the modem into the SoC design but instead to offer it as a separate chipset. Dubbed the Icera i500, Nvidia's modem connects to the Tegra 4 and provides world-wide Long Term Evolution (LTE) connectivity with voice and data support in a package size some 40 per cent smaller than its rivals. As with Tegra 4, Nvidia also claims that it has made significant performance improvements with the Icera i500 offering four times the processing power of its fourth-generation predecessor.

Full specifications of the Tegra 4 SoC, including clock speed and benchmark results, did not form part of Nvidia's presentation.
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