Let me clarify first that the title is a bit misleading. You may think that the story will comment on these devices in general, but you are wrong :). I will comment NVidia’s* entry in the handheld and portable devices business in particular, and what it means for the whole industry. Will they shape the landscape the way they did in the GPU market? Why is this event important enough to compel a guy that develops software to blog about hardware? Why the Nvidia Tegra? Why not the IPhone 3G? Or the HTC Diamond? A lot of tough questions to answer and I will try my best to give you a reasonable answer.
PNDs, UMPCs, MIDs – the common issues
Whether it is a PND (Personal Navigation Device), MID (Mobile Internet Device) or UMPC (Ultra-Mobile PC) or any other fancy acronym, the key goal of these devices is MOBILITY. One should be able to connect from various places, using various carriers, based on different technologies such as WiFi/Max, GPRS and 3G. Furthermore, it should feature positioning , and be able to use geospatial data based on GPS , Galileo or GLONASS, accept and broadcast live HD video.
UI intensive applications demand a powerful CPU, while being truly mobile relies on low energy consumption. Sadly, these two qualities are mutually exclusive – the higher the frequency and the intensity of calculations processed by the CPU, the higher the amount of charge drained from the energy source. Furthermore, as we all know, advances in battery technology does not follow Moore's law, so ultra-compact and über-powerful energy sources are not expected anytime soon. This leaves us to attack the problem from the opposite end: to conserve as much energy as possible. For this purpose, a number of energy saving techniques have been developed, but frankly speaking, ALL of them have a negative impact on CPU performance. Well that’s the tradeoff folks, as they say, there is no such thing as a free lunch. Reducing the power consumption and extending the operational state of the device, comes with lower CPU productivity, and ultimately results in a less vibrant user experience and sluggish graphics. It might even render some applications virtually unacceptable for MIDs (e.g. high-end medical applications).
So, what’s so special about the Tegra device, and can it deliver? Why not a ü(ber)Phone?
Don’t get me wrong about all the *Phones – they are marvelous devices, a huge leap in UX, but they still are today’s technology, while here the story goes about what comes tomorrow. An important difference is that the NVidia Tegra is a SoC (System on a Chip) while the IPhone, or the HTC Diamond for example are consumer devices. Still, keep in mind that consumer products are built on chipsets and CPUs. By highlighting this new technology the good guys and gals at NVidia brought to us, I am lifting the curtain and revealing to you what the next generation mobile devices will most probably look like.
Their architecture is ARM based, which gives a complete energy saving technology stack far better than the one the x86 architecture has to offer (even in its Atom incarnation). Furthermore, the ARM processor core provides Virtual Machine optimized instructions and a SIMD instruction set that is most suitable for multimedia applications. All of this, combined with NVidia’s low-micron fabrication process, it makes for a significant advantage.
You can see a sample of how NVIDIA Tegra packs more punch for less consumed power (or so they claim). What really amazed me is the demo UI interface that NVidia calls RayGun Navigator (any resemblance with a game?) which clearly demonstrates the GPU capabilities (HD video, smooth animations, physics effects such as particles, optical effects). In additional, you can have a full flavored 3D rendering.
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