Quad-Core Android: NVIDIA Tegra 3 Explored In-Depth


The ASUS Transformer Prime – officially announced moments ago – ushers in a new era of Android where Quad-Core processors are the top dog. It seems like yesterday that dual-core processors were the luxurious beast everyone craved, but NVIDIA continues to push the envelope and in turn push Android forward. The Transformer is build with NVIDIA’s Tegra 3 Processor and since you’ll be seeing a lot of these over the next year, we want to spend some time getting you familiar with your new four headed friend.

Actually, you could consider the Tegra 3 a five headed friend: even though the processor has four main cores, there is a fifth companion core that handles basic operations like syncing your data and listening to music. The four performance cores are only called upon when necessary, each one powering up when the situation calls for more processing power, and shutting off completely when not in use.

The cores even power up and power off within applications and activities which take the performance optimizations to a new level. NVIDIA calls the concept of using this companion core Variable SMP, or vSMP for short, and they’ve currently got a patent pending on the technology. Considering the current state of the industry, those patents could go a loonnng way and industry experts such as Nathan Brookwood seem to agree:

“NVIDIA’s fifth core is ingenious. Tegra 3’s vSMP technology extends the battery life of next-generation mobile devices by using less power when they’re handling undemanding tasks and then ratcheting up performance when it’s really needed.”

You heard right. Just like Tegra 2, not only does NVIDIA’s new processor mean performance improvements across the board but also greater battery efficiency. Use less resources and get better performance? Sounds like a no brainer.

Just for kickers… a similar comparison of “Fastest Apps” also yielded Tegra 3 victory with Up to 2X improvement. But as you may have guessed, gaming is one of those critical processor intensive areas where having 4 cores and a companion core make all the difference. Not only will the gameplay be smoother and the frame rate quicker, but the capabilities of Tegra 3 allow game developers to actually build and incorporate with Quad-Core in mind, adding  features and effects that would otherwise be un-(or poorly)-supported.

Take a look at some of the gorgeous screenshots below from up-and-coming Quad Core Tegra Zone games and you’ll see exactly what I mean. The last two are my favorite, from Riptide GP, illustrating the visuals from a speed burst and showing the “water splashed on my goggles” effect. I was VERY impressed with the natural water lighting and reflections in nearly every Tegra 3 demo and screenshot- beautiful stuff:


Gamers and 3D junkies will also be happy to hear the Tegra 3 supports game controller support for PS3, XBOX 360, Wii, Logitech and more, meaning you can plug your Android device directly into your TV or monitor and control the game on your big screen with the traditional game controller you so dearly love. And if that TV is a 3D TV and you’ve got 3D content on your phone? Voila… HDMI 1.4 support has got your back.

Pretty outrageous that this stuff is performing beautifully on MOBILE devices. NVIDIA was traditionally a maker of PC processors and they argue their Tegra processor for mobile devices allow for console quality graphics and gaming experiences. We definitely aren’t arguing.

NVIDIA has brought us a long way in a very short period of time. Tegra 2 didn’t launch long ago and they’re already launching Tegra 3 which boasts some pretty outrageous improvements including 5X performance improvements and what MANY Android enthusiasts probably consider a HUGE win: longer battery life.

Before we leave you with a couple video demos to continue the droolfest, let’s give you a quick recap/overview showing EXACTLY what Tegra 3 incorporates:

Glowball 2 Demo. You might remember when NVIDIA first demoed Glowball at MWC after announcing Kal-El was in development. Well here we are with Kal-El on the bring of launching and the Glowball demo gets even more intense with a sequel adding new levels and trickery.

Tegra 3 vs the competition. The one thing I don’t like about this video – and it’s a huge one – is that it doesn’t tell us who the competitor is. For all I know this is displaying Tegra 3 versus a Palm Pilot being powered by an Amish guy riding a bicycle. Not likely, just sayin’ – what competitor is this, NVIDIA? We’ll see if we can get an answer.

Happy Holidays ladies and gentlemen… Tegra Clause just brought you the early gift of Quad Core and that is the gift that keeps on giving with every Android device that leverages it. Starting with the ASUS Transformer Prime.

And don’t forget that NVIDIA plans to keep on giving every single year. They announced Tegra 3 at Mobile World Congress in February under the codename Kal-El, but they’ve already roadmapped a new version (presumably of the Tegra brand) each year, each being named after a super hero. Obviously Kal-El is Superman and the in 2012, 2013, and 2014 we’re set to enjoy upgrades named Wayne, Logan, and Stark.

It seems like NVIDIA is keeping consumers on their toes and competitors on their heels. I’m excited to see what’s next, but for now I can’t wait to get my hand on some Quad Core Androids.

Rob Jackson
I'm an Android and Tech lover, but first and foremost I consider myself a creative thinker and entrepreneurial spirit with a passion for ideas of all sizes. I'm a sports lover who cheers for the Orange (College), Ravens (NFL), (Orioles), and Yankees (long story). I live in Baltimore and wear it on my sleeve, with an Under Armour logo. I also love traveling... where do you want to go?

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  1. :O I’m moist. O_o

  2. “He was so deadly, in fact, that his enemies would go blind from over-exposure to pure awesomeness”

    couldn’t think of anything better than this quote

  3. i’ll wait for the second generation of tegra3 phones to release.  I jumped on the bandwagon with the g2x, big mistake.  the photon was brilliant.  I currently have the epic touch, and will stick with that for awhile.  I’ll get the tegra3 when they take time to test it in phones.  I looks amazing though, as great as the graphics are, i hope they learn to improve the controls.  I bet that the galaxy s2 can run some of the games though…  i.e. riptide.   (with the new special effects).

    1. I’m going to wait for the Tegra7. That will blow the Tegra3 away.

  4. Mind. Blown. Take money. Give tablet. Please!

  5. This thing was supposed to be out by August

  6. Sony just pissed in its pants, psvita will be a flop

    1. Yes, because graphics are an indication of which device will do better in terms of gaming.

      It’s why Nintendo’s Game Boy destroyed the competition at it’s time. Oh wait.

      History proves that graphics means nothing as long as it’s good enough when compared to competition. Why do you think the PS1 destroyed the N64? Or why did the Nintendo DS made the PSP look like a joke? Pretty graphics have always been secondary in gaming.

    2. okay – its fine to be excited, but saying that a dedicated gaming hardware unit with proven, dedicated game manufactures on board who’s been developing games for said device for over a year is going to flop is a little mad.

  7. This should have been in the galaxy nexus. I hate how fast phones are obsolete. I currently have a vibrant and I’m afraid and confused when to upgrade, I wanted nexus, but should I wait for a kal-el phone? Damn you technology!!!

    1. If you keep waiting, you’ll be waiting forever. Just choose something that’s great to upgrade now, and you won’t be disappointed. There’s no need to think about what’s coming a few months from now. Technology develops extremely fast, there’s no reason to be sad because something better will come out down the road.

      I can’t wait to get my Galaxy Nexus, just because new devices are coming out after it, doesn’t mean that I am going to have buyers remorse or enjoy it any less. Hell, I bought the Nexus S when it first came out. The hardware was technically behind, but for several months it could easily compete with dual core devices. So my suggestion is to stop waiting, and settle on something you’ll enjoy.

      1. No! Wait for the SuperMegaUltimateTegra18Plus! That’s the one to get!

        1. I hear the SuperMegaUltimateTegra19Plus is coming out three months after that


  9. with ICS supporting x86 processors (according to a previous intel article), I’m looking forward to AMD jumping into the game so that we can have ATI vs nVidia wars in the Android world that the Windows world has enjoyed for years. The two are constantly pushing each other to new heights and the more quality competitors there are, hopefully we will see the great results.

  10. Only fools would disagree that this device and devices to follow and as well as the ipad2 and 3 are doing to eat into handheld console sales (psvita and ds)

    Transformer is out this holiday season
    Vs psvita after holiday season in february? Wtf

    Tegrazone has many games on there already if not more than psvita’s offering and some are even free or very cheap, while they might not all be good, they will get better.

    While psvita is a great device with great games which are limited at launch, android and ios devices will eventually eat into sony’s and nintendo’s profits.

    This is the begining of a new era for gaming, a new console platform the tablet/phone.

  11. Can it do PS3 controller wirelessly?  Impressive specs, including battery life but a little disappointing it doesn’t do USB 3 and BlueTooth 3 or 4.

  12. The ‘Stark’ chip will have ~75 times the performance of the Tegra 2.  Apparently, it will induce mini-blackholes and come w/ a teleportation app.  And will be powered by ARC Fusion, not Li-ion.

  13. Bury a finger

  14. “Pretty outrageous that this stuff is performing beautifully on MOBILE
    devices. NVIDIA was traditionally a maker of PC processors and they
    argue their Tegra processor for mobile devices allow for console quality
    graphics and gaming experiences. We definitely aren’t arguing”.

    I would argue that NVIDIA’ has never been a maker of PC processors (CPUs). On the PC platform, they do make GPUs.

  15. NVIDIA Tegra 3 Quad-Core Tablet LEAKS?! Sick 1920×1200 Resolution!
    WATCH ON YOUTUBE http://adf.ly/3ytGh

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