Wednesday, February 20, 2013

NVIDIA unveils Tegra 4i, its first SoC with integrated 4G LTE

NVIDIA unveiled its Tegra 4 mobile chip at CES last month, and on Tuesday it unveiled a new version of the Tegra 4, one that finally integrates its Tegra processor with 4G LTE on a SoC (system-on-a-chip). The new Tegra4i chipset was previously codenamed "Project Grey," and includes 60 NVIDIA GPU cores, a 2.3GHz quad-core CPU based on the ARM R4 Cortex-A9 architecture, NVIDIA's stealth fifth low-power CPU core, and a version of NVIDIA's i500 LTE modem.

The Santa Clara, Calif.-based company hopes the Tegra 4i, its first integrated chip, will lead to wider adoption among handsets. While the Tegra series has been used in many different tablets, the company has had problems expanding into the handset market, largely because it didn't have such an offering.

Integrated chipsets are cheaper than those using separate designs. In addition, they are generally less power-hungry, a more important factor in a smartphone than a tablet.

The Tegra 4i is not simply a Tegra 4 with an i500 LTE modem "bolted on," though. There have been modifications made. For example, the Tegra 4 has 72 GPU cores, and the 4i only 60. In addition, the Tegra 4 sports ARM A15 CPUs running at 1.9Ghz as opposed to the previously mentioned 2.3Ghz A9s in the 4i.

Also, the 4i is limited to 2GB of LPDDR3 memory, while the 4 can have 4GB of DDR3L and LPDDR3 memory. The 4 supports up to a 3200 x 2000 display (once again, think tablets) while the 4i can support a 1920 x 1200 display resolution.

The 4 can support LTE -- for LTE tablets, naturally, but it is optional, not integrated as in the 4i.

The Tegra 4i is a big leap forward for NVIDIA, but its primary rival in non-Apple smartphones hasn't stood still. In January, Qualcomm unveiled two new processor lines, the 600 and 800 series. Both of them have much better performance than Qualcomm's prior processors, and also integrate faster LTE and wi-fi functionality.

It also faces competition from Samsung's home-grown Exynos processor line.  The upcoming Galaxy S IV is expected to carry a Exynos 5 Octa eight-core SoC.

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