NVIDIA's quad-core Tegra 3: the more, the better?

NVIDIA's quad-core Tegra 3: the more, the better?

NVIDIA is one of the biggest success stories of 2011. The company was the quickest to introduce dual-core processors to the mobile market and it reaped the monetary benefits to their fullest in the last couple of quarters. The Tegra 2 however is soon to be replaced by another hero: a superman in silicon, the Tegra 3 Kal-El, which will make its debut on the Asus Transformer Prime, hopefully around end-November/early December.

The new platform doubles the core count once again, this time to four, and promises up to 5 times the overall performance of the Tegra 2 and 3 times better graphical punch along with battery savings. Interestingly, Tegra 3 also comes with a fifth companion core that makes the low power consumption possible as it takes over during basic tasks as listening to music in the background and even playing back a video.

The good:

The NVIDIA Tegra 3 will again, just like the Tegra 2, outrun the rest of the competition and arrive earlier on devices. We should however also mention that the company didn't quite manage to roll it out as early as expected - initial rumors pin-pointed late August, then the date was pushed to October, and the final word on the street is that the first tablet with Kal-El is coming early December. Nonetheless, having four cores on your gadget would give you some bragging rights for a while. Here's why: 
1. Quad-core means less strain on each core, so that it runs at lower frequency and voltage, ultimatelgy giving you a lower power consumption. The key element here is symmetrical multiprocessing to distribute the work load across cores.

The Tegra 3 is the world's first variable symmetric multiprocessing processor (vSMP). Variable SMP is the brain that makes the 4 main + 1 companion core setup tick. Basically, it smartly distributes the workload so the platform uses four cores humming at up to 1.3GHz when needed (think games), but switches to two for lower loads (think browsing with Flash), and goes down to one for casual activities (browsing, no Flash). Finally, it can also use only the companion core running from 0 to 500MHz for active stand-by, video and music.

Battery life will also see a significant improvement, when compared to current dual cores, with as much as 61% savings for video playback which goes up to 12 hours, and lower gains but still gains for surfing the web, audio and gaming.

2. Web browsing is one of the biggest beneficiaries of having four cores working simultaneously. The reason for this is because contemporary browsers are optimized for multi-core processing and implement multi-threading. You don't have to look far for an example - each tab in Chrome is a separate process with its own set of threads, that’s multi-threading. 

Now, if you have more than one tab open, which is the common case, this grows in importance as each core can then be used to handle a separate process. Here the gain is not only in battery, but in sheer performance - the same processing happening on less cores would just take more time. 

An interesting example provided by NVIDIA, shows that even with only four tabs opened, often all four cores were used to their maximum as each one takes on the task of handling a separate tab. Check out the figure on the right showing how all cores reach their peak capacity in certain moments - definitely a convincing piece of evidence testifying in favor of the quad-core Tegra 3.

3. The next huge winners in performance are gaming and video and image editing software. We'd actually place this even before the web browser as the most obvious improvement, but sadly multi-core software is still not that easy to find. The software ecosystem tailor-made for quad-core tablets is virtually non-existant. 
We know that app stores are not only about numbers, but having around 15 "Tegra 3 games" (which are not even ready, but still under development), and only some 40 games in the Tegra Zone (including dual-core titles) doesn't seem to cut it.

Here are the titles you can expect to have optimized for your Tegra 3 device:
- Glowball,
- Shadowgun THD,
- Big Top THD,
- Bladeslinger,
- Da Vinci THD,
- Chidori,
- Riptide,
- Sprinkle.

It should be noted, though, that leveraging the code written for multi-core PCs throughout the years, speeds up the appearance of multi-core apps for mobile devices. The transition is bound to happen faster, but currently, the lack of optimized software is noticeable.

NVIDIA's Tegra 3 and the future in 2012:

A look at the company's plans reveals a very aggressive launch strategy by NVIDIA, which aims to introduce a new sytem-on-a-chip every year until 2015. But even with such ambitious plans to sprint past the competition, question remains open about NVIDIA's speed in transitioning to 28nm manufacturing, the generational leap that will optimize per core performance. More cores and higher clock speeds are undeniably better, but jumping to 28nm technology will allow for an even more effective setup while addressing issues such as power efficiency and allowing for even smaller chip sizes.

The NVIDIA Tegra 3 is still made using 40nm process, while in 2012 Qualcomm and TI are expected to first make the jump to 28nm, a leap that NVIDIA is slightly behind on. At the same time, Qualcomm brags that its entire MSM8960 System-on-a-chip is built on a 28nm process, compared to NVIDIA's 40nm. But that's next year's future, so let's not draw any final conclusions and see how NVIDIA moves to 28nm.

Secondly, it's also worth mentioning that NVIDIA uses ARM's generic Cortex-A9, which means no tangible improvements in architecture. That’s not a big surprise as currently Qualcomm is the only company investing significant amounts to customize and optimize the Cortex A9 with the Krait processor. A standard DMIPS test for measuring the performance of the two shows that Krait clocked at 1.5GHz scores nearly twice as much as the Cortex A9 clocked at 1GHz - 9,900 MIPS for Krait versus 5,000 MIPS for the generic A9.


We've looked at the good of the speed superman coming soon as the Tegra 3 KAl-El. We've also looked at the problems it's facing next year. Things are definitely going to heat up in 2012, when we start transitioning to more powerful, more efficient technologies, but Tegra 3 is already a step in that direction. It will make our mobile browsing more efficient and gaming more immersive.

References from AnandTech (1), Wikipedia (2)



1. arcq12

Posts: 733; Member since: Oct 13, 2011

pure awesome!

2. bobfreking55

Posts: 866; Member since: Jul 15, 2011

Superman. Batman. Wolverine. Ironman. Where's Spiderman?? lol YEAH! In 2030, Phones with 12 Cores named The Avengers, X-Men, Justice League. I wonder if Samsung's SoC can match with this one.

6. PimpStrong

Posts: 310; Member since: Jul 25, 2011

Can the Exynos beat Tegra 2? Exactly.

15. bobfreking55

Posts: 866; Member since: Jul 15, 2011

I mean, can samsung make a tegra 3 competitor? that would score (edited probably) 15k benchmark or the like?

7. remixfa

Posts: 14605; Member since: Dec 19, 2008

i love their naming scheme. on the original road map there were 2 chips with wayne.. the high power Wayne, and the optimized dual core Grayson (Batman n Robin for those playing at home) Though i am dissapointed, on the comparison chart it shows superman being only a single DIMM ram capable chip, while everyone else is dual channel. That is dissapointing as it creates a bottleneck. Oh well, it proves one thing once n for all.. Batman > Superman :)

16. bobfreking55

Posts: 866; Member since: Jul 15, 2011

Weird part is, it's DC, Xmen and Marvel. lol. Same thing I wonder about these stuff is what if they ran out of names? Like The android OS, any desserts that start with X? Lol.

3. Jericho unregistered

Ps vita has Quad_core Why Cant Nvidia run ps vita games or at least like psv quality games.


Posts: 19; Member since: Dec 08, 2010

Because PSVita is an ultimate gaming device. It was created and optimized for cutting-edge gaming performance. However, I'm sure even Tegra 2 could run much better quality games than there are now on the Market. But devs need to keep low price, because people are not ready to pay 30 bucks for a mobile game.

4. SuperAndroidEvo

Posts: 4888; Member since: Apr 15, 2011

I am getting the Asus Transformer Prime when it comes out. That will be my tablet for at least 1 to 1 half years. With the Tegra 3 quad-core I believe I will be ok for that amount of time. Then again who knows what will be out in a year, but that is another topic altogether. When it comes to mobile phones, I indeed will wait for the next HTC Evo. With Sprint's aggressive 4G LTE plans, this might be the first phone to have LTE for Sprint. Also the new HTC Evo will have Qualcomm's new 28mn quad-core Krait processor. That processor will be a beast in efficiency compared to the Tegra 3 quad-core. They are saying the Tegra 3 will offer 61% savings in battery compared to the Tegra 2 dual-core at 40mn. That is impressive, but imagine Qualcomm's 28mn quad-core Krait processor. The savings in battery life should be even more impressive. 2012 will be the year where phones battery lives should improve dramatically but without any loss in actual performance, in fact the performance will start to be on par with PC's & that is truly a marvel to behold.

8. remixfa

Posts: 14605; Member since: Dec 19, 2008

krait is still a dual core when it drops. they arent releasing quad cores for a lil while down the road. The savings in battery it produces should be great compared to its horrible S3 older brother, but I'd want to see it compared to other 28nm chips like the next exynos n OMAP before getting too excited. The S3 presented a big battery jump from its predecessors, but compared to the rest of the playground, it still sucks. And I totally agree.. there is soo much cool tech on the way this year.. this is really going to be the birth of the superphone-in-your-pocket this year. quad cores.. HD screens, bigger memory chips, the whole 9 yards. An exciting time indeed!

17. SuperAndroidEvo

Posts: 4888; Member since: Apr 15, 2011

They are saying that by the time the new HTC Evo comes out the quad-core 28nm Krait should be out, thus making it the first quad-core Krait smartphone. They are saying it should be available by late June of 2012, which happens to be the around the same time Sprint wants to start releasing their first LTE phones. The 28mn S4 quad-core Krait chips will be some insanely sweet SoC. Your Exynos has one HUGE weakness, it doesn’t play well with LTE. So Qualcomm does have an advantage right now over the Exynos. Dude my HTC Evo 3D's "sucky" S3 as you say scored a 3879 Quadrant score & it was only overclocked at 1.7GHz. That is what I use on a daily basis. When I set my HTC Evo 3D on performance & have it overclocked to 2.0GHz I get over 4100 or 4200 if it doesn't freeze on me. (it’s not too sable at 2.0GHz) That is not too shabby. My HTC Evo 3D on 1.7GHz is so smooth, lag free & that is using Synergy ROM which is a Sense 3.0 ROM. Sense affects performance like you won't believe. Now that the Android 4.0.1 Ice Cream Sandwich as been released I can't wait for the first AOSP ROMS like CM9 to come out, we will finally then see the true power of this "sucky" S3 as you claim. Dude you are way too hard on the S3. The S3 is very competent. We know the Exynos is the best of the bunch & that OMAP is very good also. We have never seen OMAP chips run HTC’s Sense 3.0. All I know is that the Qualcomm 1.5GHz S3 on the T-Mobile Galaxy S II fares much better on Samsung’s TouchWiz as opposed to HTC’s Sense 3.0. So there is a correlation there. I will let you know when the first AOSP ROMS based on Android 4.0.1 Ice Cream Sandwich hit the HTC Evo 3D. I will let you know what the benchmarks are. The S3 IS a much better processor than you give it credit for.

24. biophone

Posts: 1994; Member since: Jun 15, 2011

I agree the S3 chip is more power then anyone really needs. Most people just want to say they have the best when in reality the sucky chips are more then competent. The UI like sense is so much more important. It makes the whole experience better.

27. remixfa

Posts: 14605; Member since: Dec 19, 2008

bio, sucky is in comparison to the rest of its competitors, not to all chips in general. Yea, there is more than you need for day to day tasks and most apps for now, but how long will that be. ICS is built on the OMAP chip as its baseline, which is more powerful than the S3 chip. Will the S3 give a sub par ICS experience compared to the OMAP? we will find out shortly. one thing is for sure, it doesnt have the horsepower or the GPU like the other dual core chips. What the tegra2 lacks in horsepower, it makes up in spades on the GPU. SAE, you are trying to compare a chip that is going to be out in june 2012 with a chip that is out now.. tisk tisk. u should know better. 1) The exynos 4212 chip will be out Q1 hopefully, should be as or more powerful than the krait is supposed to be, and can use LTE as well as it goes back to PowerVR GPU. The exynos quad core is supposed to be out around the same june time frame. Raise your hand if you think that the eyxnos Quad will be the king of the quads the way the exynos dual is the king of the duals (i raise my hand) 2) an eyxnos out of the box scores 3400+ at 1.2ghz. an exynos clocked to 1.5ghz rakes around 5000 on quadrant. 3) for me personally, 21mb/s is plenty fast. the ability to go to 42 and beyond (HSPA+ 42mb/s / LTE) is nice, but thats faster than the processors can process anyways, so its not really beneficial on a cell phone, so i dont see the exynos inability to use a LTE/HSPA++ chip at this very moment a big downside.

32. SuperAndroidEvo

Posts: 4888; Member since: Apr 15, 2011

Yeah but remixfa they are all in the same boat. I think it's fair to compare quad-core to quad-core. If what you say is true, then if the chips don't come out at the same time then there should be no comparison. The Tegra 3 will come out in less than a month, I think it's fair to compare a the 40nm Tegra 3 quad-core with the 28nm S4 Krait quad-core even if it comes out in June of 2012. The S3 compared to the Exynos there no dispute, the Exynos beats it. You have to take into consideration what a hinder HTC Sense 3.0 is compared to Samsung’s TouchWiz. Like I said the S3 on the T-Mobile Samsung Galaxy S II out of the box has some nice Quadrant scores also, it got up to 3417. Actually it’s very close to Exynos numbers but significantly better numbers compared to HTC’s Sense 3.0. To say that is sucks is harsh because the S3 can handle anything even LTE, something the Exynos at this point can't do. The new Exynos can finally play well with LTE but it's a little too late. Verizon didn't release a Samsung Galaxy S II because of compatibility issues with its LTE network. I could be 100% wrong, but I also believe that it can be plausible. I think Google went with OMAP because they want their Galaxy Nexus to be released on every network possible. With the current Exynos that's not possible. We both know the Exynos right now is better than the OMAP on the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, but they went with the OMAP because it's the best dual-core chip on the market that can do everything right now at this moment.

36. remixfa

Posts: 14605; Member since: Dec 19, 2008

as far as the S3/exynos SGS2 thing, we figured out quite quickly that samsung was messing with the I/O score to inflate the S3 numbers. Always check and compare the break down of the score across multiple sets to ensure accuracy. :) (and yes, i take full credit for that one.. lol) Hence why the Hercules with a 1.5ghz S3 and 1gig ram got 1000+ more than the Amaze with 1.5ghz S3 and 1 gig of ram. You may be right about the reason for choosing OMAP. There is that, but I also think its a supply issue. Samsung cant make enough exynos chips to supply both the SGS2, i4s (the a5 is the same thing), and the G-Nexus worldwide... they would have to split it into 2 different phone chips to supply everyone (like the sgs2's snapdragon/exynos split). Or it could be both.. or neither. We will probably never know :(. I just know i was a sad panda when they confirmed no Exynos in the nexus AND hercules.. lol. Being a jack of all trades doesnt make it a great chip. If its a + for you, than cool.. but i (like most) only care about the technologies that work on the network i'm on. Tmobile isnt getting LTE any time soon, and doesnt really even need it, so LTE isnt in my scope of thinking. Also until they get the battery issues with LTE taken care of, its not really something that interests me for phone use. If they made a true unlimited LTE home use plan, I would jump all over that though. But like i mentioned before.. on the phone, there is no real difference in usage speed between 21mb/s and LTE's 30-40mb/s. The phones cant process the info that fast to render the page. Anything over like 10-15 is really just for showing off. If your a heavy tetherer then I could see its use.. but you are gonna pay out the nose for that. the comparison i was "tisk"ing you for was you compared the Exynos that is out now vs the Krait which has like 6-8 months till release. If you wanna compare it to the exynos 4212, go ahead, that would be fair. Just remember, when the krait first drops, its supposed to be dropping its dual core variants long before the quad core shows up. Nvidia is going to be king for quite a while in tech t erms.. lol

37. SuperAndroidEvo

Posts: 4888; Member since: Apr 15, 2011

I would never compare a new generation chip with a last generation chip, because the new chip would win. Tech generally moves forward not backwards. The S4 dual-core Krait may come out as early as Q1 of 2012 because they are sampling them right now as we speak. The S4 quad-core Krait will be out in around late June of 2012, so that is late Q2 or an early Q3 release. Also the Exynos 4212 will be 32nm not 28nm so the dual-core S4 Krait might be just as good or even better than the Exynos 4212. We don't know until the chips are out. Qualcomm's S4 Krait chipsets will be very nice I believe. 28nm will make a tremendous difference. Plus Qualcomm says their Krait chips will come as high as 2.5GHz, that is monstrous! You are right about NVIDIA, that is why I am going to get the Asus Transformer Prime. I will have a Tegra 3 tablet. For my phone though, I am going to hold out for a 28nm S4 quad-core Krait, the battery life should be insane compared to the Tegra 3's 40nm tech.

35. biophone

Posts: 1994; Member since: Jun 15, 2011

Remixfa Once s3 is optimized by ics i think the experience will be great. More then enough to handle whatever you can throw at it. And sae the s3 was tinkered with for a high quadrent you have to buy the app to get accurate results.

25. SuperAndroidEvo

Posts: 4888; Member since: Apr 15, 2011

I meant to say that HTC's Sense 3.0 does affect the performance & battery life. It's like Sense sips on battery life all day. My buddies HTC Evo 4G on an AOSP ROM CM7 gets very good battery life. It's like a completely different phone on HTC Sense. It's literally day & night.

5. SpanishDeveloper

Posts: 43; Member since: Aug 25, 2011

AMD-ATI and Samsung are f**ked if they don't react at time.

9. remixfa

Posts: 14605; Member since: Dec 19, 2008

the Exynos was the last one to drop from the dual core party. Which chip is the most desired because its far and away the best??? The exynos. Samsung is fine. Everyone's projections are based of the comparison from their previous chip. From the data sheets, the dual core exynos 4212 refresh thats coming out soon is going to be nearly as powerful as the quad core T3... so that speaks volumes about what the quad core exynos is going to be like (and hopefully we will see it in the SGS3 sooner rather than later).

11. remixfa

Posts: 14605; Member since: Dec 19, 2008

BTW, I love chip geekery articles.. keep em coming :)

12. iamcc

Posts: 1319; Member since: Oct 07, 2011

I like reading you and evo's posts because I never research into any of this stuff just knowing that i'll learn what I need to know from reading your comments... haha

13. remixfa

Posts: 14605; Member since: Dec 19, 2008

glad all my excessive reading is useful for something :)

22. SuperAndroidEvo

Posts: 4888; Member since: Apr 15, 2011

Hey I learned a lot from remixfa also. Now I am very proficient in the root scene & the chips because of all the reading I do too. (Yeah my wife calls me a geek. She thinks it's another language) Also if you want more information, there is a lot of great stuff on XDA & RootzWiki. You can do lots of research on all that good stuff.

19. Victor.H

Posts: 1056; Member since: May 27, 2011

Plenty of stuff coming out soon, so I think we'll keep the nerdiness alive!

28. remixfa

Posts: 14605; Member since: Dec 19, 2008

nerds nerds nerds nerds! (best "ogre" voice from Revenge of the Nerds") :)

14. remixfa

Posts: 14605; Member since: Dec 19, 2008

OK, this is how I know i have a problem.. a tech addiction problem I all but lost my lil T3 chubbie when i saw that it was a single DIMM RAM only archetecture while everyone else has already moved to dual channel ram. Odd that the only quad core monster even remotely close to coming out.. which is far and away more powerful than everything else out.. has me lose a lot of inteterest over 1 feature. And its going to weigh on every decision i try to make about my next purchases hmmmmm.. SAE, Proto, KK... slap me or something would ya?

21. SuperAndroidEvo

Posts: 4888; Member since: Apr 15, 2011

I know, I was feeling the same way. To me it seems like NVIDIA has a slight oversight on that aspect of its Tegra 3. I am still going to go for it anyway. The Asus Transformer Prime promises great battery life because of its Tegra 3 & the performance WILL be way better than the Tegra 2. This actually get me exited over the new quad-core Exynos Samsung is developing. Samsung would never make that kind of oversight. Just thinking about that makes me go crazy about the new Samsung Galaxy S III. Samsung’s designs have been so incredible that to me I can't imagine that the Samsung won't have the best phone in the world again in 2012. Wow just imagine a over 4.5" 720p non Pen Tile Super AMOLED+ HD screen, Samsung's new 28mn 1.5 to 2.0GHz quad-core Exynos with 2GB's of dual channel RAM, minimum 32GB of memory, sexier than Miss Universe & all running Android 4.0.1 Ice Cream Sandwich. The sad thing is that I might even be modest with these specs, Samsung's ambitions might lead to ever bigger specs. Who knows right? Also there no need for a slap, I kind of felt the same way also. lol I think the benefits outweigh the cons.

31. remixfa

Posts: 14605; Member since: Dec 19, 2008

thanks, i feel a lil better.. lol that lenovo tablet is looking mighty tempting with its 2 gigs of ram. hopefully it doesnt come in at a premium price.. though u know it will.. lol screw all that, bring on 1080p flexible screens!! we dont need it. but damn it would be fun!!! lolol

33. SuperAndroidEvo

Posts: 4888; Member since: Apr 15, 2011

lol The Lenovo does look very appealing but will the deference be that astronomical, I personally don't think so. I just want the Asus Transformer Prime yesterday. Remember if you buy the Lenovo then something else will come out that is better. lol It will never end & you will be waiting forever! Could you imagine going to someone’s house with a rolled up flexible 1080p HD screen. You bust that thing out like a map, that would be so cool. Sh*t I would put it on like a cape! lol

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