Graphics, Hardware

Nvidia Thinks World Domination: Tegra 2 3D in February, Tegra 3 by Fall 2011


Graphics giant Nvidia, which recently celebrated a billionth GeForce chip sold, is adamant to become the key silicon provider for portable gear. It’s no secret that Tegra 2 has "failed to launch" in 2010 and displace chips from QualcommSamsung and Texas Instruments in world’s most popular smartphones and tablets, all of which are built on the ARM ecosystem.

Learning from its Windows Mobile disaster, Nvidia has plotted an ambitious plan to put its silicon inside more gadgets by focusing on Android and improving its Tegra architecture.

At CES 2011 we learned that existing Tegra 2 chips will power flagship Android devices like the LG Optimus 2X and Motorola Atrix 4G smartphones, as well as Motorola’s Xoom tablet.

That’s just a taste of things to come in the near future. Think new breed of portable devices incorporating glass-less 3D displays, Blu-ray support and enhanced graphics, paving the way for stereoscopic 3D gaming, exciting user interfaces and other perks.

Motorola Atrix 4G runs Nvidia’s Tegra 2 chip. The phone can be docked via a special accessory to serve as a portable computer, thanks to its speedy processor and graphics.

In short, your mobile phone will become kinda computer, Mike Rayfield, Nvidia’s General Manager for Tegra Business Unit, told Hexus in an exclusive interview:

In 25 years I can’t remember a show that was this impactful. I’ve known for a long time that Tegra 2 is a kick-ass part – your phone is now a mobile PC.

All the pieces of this puzzle are finally falling into place. Nvidia has finally settled its licensing dispute with Intel for $1.5 billion and introduced ARM processor designs into its ecosystem. The latter deal is crucial for it enables Nvidia to merge ubiquitous processor designs from fabless British chip designer ARM Holdings with its own GPU designs, the initiative known as Project Denver.

It could finally enable Nvidia to crack open mobile space where ARM-based chip designs are a norm. An ARM CPU ticking inside a Tegra system-on-a-chip [SoC] also benefits from Nvidia’s GPU architecture known for the speedy communication between the cores and the integrated memory controller.

Current-generation Tegra 2 chips for smartphones and tablets include the AP20H and T20 SoC solutions, both built around ARM’s 1GHz dual-core Cortex-A9 processor. They are to be replaced soon, however, with Tegra 2 3D architecture consisting of the T25 and AP25 chips for smartphones and tablets, respectively. Upping the CPU frequency to 1.2GHz and adding built-in support for 3D displays makes these chips the world’s first mobile 3D processors, according to a leaked Nvidia’s roadmap seen below.

nVidia Tegra Product Roadmap slide from leaked presentation located somewhere in Far Eastern cyber wilderness
nVidia Tegra Product Roadmap slide from leaked presentation located somewhere in Far Eastern cyber wilderness

Provided vendors embed these chips in their products, your next smartphone or tablet will come with autostereoscopic 3D displays that needn’t special glasses, like on the recently unveiled Nintendo 3DS handheld, paving the way for gaming in stereo 3D on mobile devices. There are several players on the autostereoscopic market, such as Sharp, xyz3D, MasterImage 3D and others. For more on this, check out the below interview by Neil Schneider from MTBS3D with Roy Taylor, executive vice president and general manager with MasterImage 3D.

Game developers are already taking notice. Nvidia at CES showed off a demo of the upcoming role-playing game Soulcraft, being developed by MobileBits and published by Electronic Arts’s Chillingo subsidiary. Optimized for the current-gen AP20H and T20 chips, the game runs smoothly on the LG Optimus 2X smartphone even though it uses a lot of shaders – something we see as a capital advantage for Nvidia in this field. Nvidia’s competitors mostly do not develop their own GPU IP, but rather license PoverVR technology from Imagination Technologies. The problem with such approach is that the competition uses Tile-Based Rendering principle, while nVidia utilizes its ultra-successful GeForce architecture and more efficient Shader principle.

As you can see for yourself in the clip below, Soulcraft proves that even current-generation Tegra architecture packs in enough oomph to drive amazing 3D games with complex graphics. Apple, are you seeing this?