The first tablets and smartphones based on its Tegra 2 system-on-a-chip (SoC) haven't even reached stores yet, but Nvidia is already planning to release new versions including a faster Tegra 2 for mobile devices with 3D displays and a quad-core SoC. These faster, multi-core chips will further blur the lines between ARM designs and the X86 processors in tablets, netbooks and ultra-thin laptops.
The new details on the Tegra roadmap come from what appears to be a leaked slide posted on several sites including Bright Side of News and Hexus.net. The Tegra 2 3D, which is currently in production and due to ship this spring, is based on dual ARM Cortex-A9 cores running at 1.2GHz and should be 20 percent faster than the current Tegra 2. The two versions, the T25 and AP25, will also be designed to support tablets and smartphones, respectively, with 3D displays.
The Tegra 3 series, which is scheduled to ship this fall, will begin to draw a sharper line between the tablet and smartphone variations. The T30 will have up to four Cortex-A9 cores running at 1.5GHz, three times faster graphics than the Tegra 2 series, and support for displays with a resolutions up to 1,920 by 1,200 pixels. The slides also mention an Ultra Low Power CPU Mode, which most likely means that the devices will turn off some of the four cores when not needed to preserve battery life. The AP30 will be available in dual- or quad-core versions and will work with smartphones with displays up to 1,366 by 768 pixels.
Though the ramp of Tegra has been slower than expected, Nvidia is the first company to release a dual-core ARM processor for smartphones and tablets. Tegra 2 stole the show at CES earlier this month as several companies announced new mobile devices based on it including the LG Optimus 2X and Motorola Atrix 4G smartphones, as well as the Motorola Xoom, Dell Streak 7, Asus Eee Pad Slider and Transformer, and an as-of-yet unnamed Toshiba tablet.
I expect to hear a lot more news on these and other Tegra 2 products coming out of Mobile World Congress in Barcelona next month. Assuming the slides are accurate, Nvidia will most likely announce the 3D-optimized at Mobile World Congress. The formal Tegra 3 launch and the arrival of the first quad-core, full 1080p tablets probably will not come until CES in early 2012.
Nvidia may have a lead on multi-core processors for these devices, but the competition isn't far behind. Intel kept the focus on its Sandy Bridge laptop and desktop chips at CES, but odds are that at Mobile World Congress it will formally launch its revamped Atom platform for tablets, known as Oak Trail, and perhaps shed more light on its smartphone roadmap. Texas Instruments' OMAP4430, a SoC based on a 1GHz dual-core ARM Cortex-A9 will make its debut in RIM's BlackBerry Playbook sometime this spring. Qualcomm is also pushing hard to get the dual-core version of its Snapdragon application processor out the door, and others such as Marvell and Freescale are vying for a piece of these rapidly-growing markets.
Combine these more powerful multi-core processors with Microsoft's support for ARM in the next version of Windows, and by the time CES rolls around next year, mobile devices ranging from tablets to netbooks and ultraportable laptops could start to look very different for the ones we use today.