While Nvidia Corp. has been talking about incredible performance of its second-generation Tegra system-on-chip (SoC) for several months now, since there are no devices powered by Tegra 2, the actual performance of the SoC is still not quite clear. The chief executive officer of Nvidia said this week in an interview that performance of Tegra 2 is, in fact, higher than that of Intel Atom, the chip that powers the vast majority of netbooks.
“Tegra 2 is already much superior to Atom from a performance perspective,” said Jen-Hsun Huang, chief exec of Nvidia, in an interview with LaptopMag web-site.
Nvidia Tegra 2 SoC does have rather impressive specs: it features dual-core ARM Cortex-A9 central processing unit, GeForce graphics core with programmable pixel shader and programmable vertex shader support (OpenGL ES 2.0 compatible), build-in low-power DDR2 memory controller, NAND flash memory controller, audio processor, high-definition video processor that supports MPEG 4, H.264, VC-1/WMV9 decoding, H.264 and MPEG4 encoding and features some other capabilities. Nvidia claims that Tegra 2 has about four times performance advantage compared to the first-generation Tegra SoC.
Actual performance of Tegra 2 compared to Intel Atom is rather hard to validate, considering the fact that the chips are incompatible and cannot run the same software. If Nvidia Tegra 2 is indeed faster than the latest Atom processors, then netbooks are in danger since tablets powered by Tegra promise to have longer battery life than netbooks. On the other hand, Intel has its Atom Z600-series SoC platform, which will show up shortly in actual devices, which will reduce overall power consumption, but will retain x86 compatibility. But according to Mr. Huang, the code-named Moorestown platform is just an elephant on a diet.
“It is not possible [that Atom Z600 will be competitive]. You could give an elephant a diet but it’s still an elephant. And when they think about power they think reducing from 20W down to 5W down to 4W down to 2W is really good. But you and I both know that in a mobile phone you need to be in a 100mW – 200mW. So they are still ten times away,” said Mr. Huang.
Interestingly, but neither Nvidia nor Intel have yet published official power consumption figures for Tegra 2 and Atom Z600, respectively.
In fact, the real competitor for Tegra 2 is not Atom or Moorestown (which is mostly aimed at tablets and mobile Internet devices, not smartphones), but Qualcomm’s Snapdragon platform, which sports single-chip solutions that combine ARM central processing unit(s), high-definition video processing, GPS support, camera support, mobile TV support along with baseband and Bluetooth/Wi-Fi network functionality. At the same time, Nvidia’s solution requires additional baseband/networking controllers, which increases power consumption, complexity and sizes of actual devices.
Will Tegra 2’s multimedia functionality and performance turn out to be more important that high integration of Snapdragon? That is something only time will tell.