Just a couple of days ago, NVIDIA announced the upgraded version of Tegra 3, named as Tegra 4 (codenamed “Wayne”). “Wayne” is in reference to fictional superhero, Batman. It is said to be 6 times faster than its predecessor and consumes 45% less power. We’ll take a closer look at the significant improvements in Tegra 4, and comparison with Tegra 3 in a moment.

nvidia tegra 3 vs tegra 4

What is Tegra?

First thing you need to know is, what is Tegra exactly? Tegra is a SoC developed by NVIDIA. It is designed for portable/mobile devices like smartphones, tablets, handheld devices, etc. SoC refers to “System on a Chip”. If you don’t want to go in details, you can say it’s an Integrated Circuit.

“A system on a chip or system on chip (SoC or SOC) is an integrated circuit (IC) that integrates all components of a computer or other electronic system into a single chip. It may contain digital, analog, mixed-signal, and often radio-frequency functions—all on a single chip substrate. A typical application is in the area of embedded systems.” – Wikipedia

It is a general definition given by Wikipedia, but we can simplify it in context of Tegra chip. It is clear from the quote above that SoC integrates various components in one single chip. Similarly, NVIDIA integrated ARM processor (CPU), Graphics Processing Unit (GPU), northbridge, southbridge and memory controller in one chip – And that’s Tegra.

Tegra 3 – Overview

nvidia tegra 3

Codenamed “Kal-El”, Tegra 3 pushed the graphics and mobile gaming experience to a whole new level. And all that was possible due to quad-core CPU. NVIDIA did something innovative to increase the performance without compromising battery life – added a fifth core to save battery. If you don’t know how it works, you might find it confusing.

The fifth-core consumes low power, and is limited to 500 MHz clock frequency. Therefore, when the device under-utilizes CPU capacity or on standby mode, the power consuming quad-cores are shut down and the device starts functioning on the fifth (low-power) core. under-utilization of CPU simply means when much processing is not required, like while listening to music. When high processing is required, quad-core takes over and provides lag-free, smooth graphics.

All the cores (except the fifth core) are Cortex-A9s in Tegra 3. The GPU is provides 3 times higher clock frequency and number of pixel shader units, as compared to its predecessor. It supports video output up to 2560×1600 resolution and various high definition video decode, including 1080p MPEG-4 AVC/h.264 40 Mbit/s High-Profile, VC1-AP, and DivX 5/6.

Tegra 4 – What’s New?

nvidia tegra 4 cores

NVIDIA has done some very significant improvements in Tegra 4 SoC. To name a few, it has 72 GPU cores, 45% less power consumption, Cortex-A15 quad-core, and many other. The functionality is same as Tegra 3, quad-core with fifth core to save battery consumption. Unlike Tegra 3, the fifth-core is also Cortex-A15 but it’s synthesized to work at lower frequencies and power. The Cortex-A15 cores can run at up to 1.9 GHz clock frequency.

Tegra 4 also supports worldwide 4G-LTE using an optional chipset, NVIDIA Icera i500 instead of conventional modems. Icera Inc. was acquired by NVIDIA in June 2011. NVIDIA i500 is more efficient and 60% smaller as compared to conventional modems. It currently supports category 3 (100 Mbps) but will be updated to category 4 (150 Mbps).

What’s impressive about Tegra 4 is, it automatically provides HDR (High Dynamic Range) photos and videos by fusing together the processing power of GPU, CPU and camera’s image-signal processor. NVIDIA call it “Computational Photography Architecture”. It also supports 4k ultra-high-def video.

nvidia computational photography architecture

Tegra 3 vs Tegra 4 – Comparison

FeatureTegra 3Tegra 4
Semiconductor Technology40 nm LPG by TSMC28 nm HPL
CPUup to 1.6 GHz quad-core ARM Cortex-A9up to 1.9 GHz quad-core ARM Cortex-A15
GPUULP GeForce 416 MHz (T30L) | 520 MHz (T30/T33)72 cores (custom NVIDIA GeForce)
CPU Instruction SetARMv7ARMv7
Video Support1080p MPEG-4 AVC/h.264 40 Mbit/s High-Profile, VC1-AP, and DivX 5/64K ultra-high-def
Power SavingFifth (low-power) coreUpgraded fifth-core, PRISM 2, 28 nm HPL

Apparently, Tegra 4 is a considerable upgrade to its predecessor. It is able to provide more performance at less battery consumption, which is exactly we need in a mobile device. What’s you take? Share with us in your comments.