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     Computex: Nvidia's Tegra versus the Atom
      Posted on 02/06/2008 at 20:13 by Damien
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    Just before the official opening to the expo, Nvidia organized a press conference in which a new brand was unveiled: Tegra.


    Rob Csongor, Vice President Corporate Marketing and Michael Rayfield, General Manager of the Mobile Business Unit, unveiling Tegra.

    Tegra is the name now given to a “computer-on-a-chip", or systems which are entirely integrated on single chip and destined for smartphones, MIDs (Mobile Internet Device) and netbooks (EeePC-like). Thus, the APX 2500, destined for smartphones and which was announced in February and integrates an ARM11 processor, video processor and an OpenGL ES / Direct3D Mobile compatible GPU changes its name to the Tegra APX 2500.

    Furthermore, Nvidia makes the distinction between the Tegra 650 and Tegra 600 which are similar but have different frequencies, slightly lower for the Tegra 600 (ARM11 processor set at 700 MHz instead of 750 MHz) and set higher for the Tegra 650 (800 MHz).

    The Tegra 600 and 650 support higher resolutions on their DVI and VGA outputs which were formerly limited on the APX 2500. All support the 720p format, as much in output as in decoding and encoding. The Tegra 650 goes as far a supporting 1080p in output and decoding; however, the Tegra 650 and 600 no longer target smartphones but rather MIDs and netbooks. Instead of trying to develop a product for integration into a smaller format, Nvidia opted for the opposite approach: take a base destined for smartphones (knowing that either way it is capable of much more) and integrate it to bigger systems.


    The goal is to take advantage of the low power consumption of a product adapted to smartphones in a format that opens up more possibilities in terms of the screen for watching video or in terms of the keyboard for more of an office use when traveling (like an EeePC). Nvidia isn't hiding the fact that the Tegra line is in direct competition with Intel’s Atom on these markets.

    However, Tegra has a significant defect in that they are not x86 compatible, because they are based on an ARM processor and therefore cannot function with Windows XP, for example, or x86 applications. We will have to be content with Windows CE 6.0. On the other hand, as Tegras are entirely integrated on the same chip, power consumption is largely inferior to that of the Atom’s (Nvidia says 10x less) as well as being at ease with HD video, contrary to Intel’s solution. In our opinion, Nvidia therefore has a product that isn’t in competition with Intel but is simply different, even if in the current context everything is good for fueling the battle between these future enemies.

    We will just have to see in practice if Nvidia will manage to have its solution accepted by MID and netbook manufacturers and especially if the final products will offer any real pluses compared to current solutions. It’s pertinent, for example, to wonder if the support for the decoding of HD video is truly useful on a machine equipped with such a small screen.

    There is often a thin line between flop and success for this type of product although Tegra is part of the movement started by the iPhone and EeePC. In the meantime, for this journalist that travels regularly, it’s hard to resist the promise of a system that enables comfortably watching video, surfing the net, and working for more than 30 hours with a single battery charge!


    A very energy economical prototype based on an EeePC but functioning with the Tegra system. Note the minuscule size of the "motherboard" (without connections) with the Tegra processor surrounded by various memory.


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