NVIDIA Tegra 3 review: better performance but lower power consumption

With the release of ASUS Transformer Prime, the fastest quad-core ARM processor NVDIA Tegra 3 finally available to consumers. How will it change the mobile devices market? Let’s have a look.

4+1 core Architecture

NVIDIA once published a thesis showed their intent to add the fifth “companion” core  to achieve the goal of high performance but low power consumption. The paper used a simple curve graph to describe it.

The cores that are optimized for absolute performance is less power-efficient in a low-intensity workload environment than a core optimized for absolute low-power. On the other hand, cores optimized for low-power don’t perform as well when computing demand is high.

Tegra 3 uses 4 fast processor and on low power processor which works in 0~500MHz. The low power processor can handle stand by, sleep, background mails or system notice tasks. When the system workload exceed its ability, 4 fast processor will successively work to handle tasks like game or picture rendering.

This is the patent from NVIDIA which is so called Variable Symmetric Multiprocessing ( vSMP ).

Automatic Core Switching

How to manage 5 core is a complex taks. Tegra 3 have 4 working mode:

  • low power processor: 500MHz peak, background tasks, audio play, etc.
  • single fast core mode: 1.4GHz peak, support 2D games, webpage browser, etc.
  • dual-core mode:  1.3GHz peak, support Flash, multi-tasks,  video chat , etc.
  • quad-core mode:  1.3GHz peak, support high load games,  video editing , etc.

This is to say, when users just need handle simple tasks, 4 fast core is sleeping to save power. NVIDIA announced that  Tegra 3 save 61% power than  Tegra 2 when playing videos.

The graphics performance

There are few apps need to wake 4 core up. 3D games is a great tool to test Tegra 3’s performance. NVIDIA transformed the GPU performance from desk PC to mobile devices. It shows a incredible effect in Tegra 3 demo video. The details expression surpassed most handheld PlayStation.

The NVIDIA’s goal is to make it “The True Mobile Console” by connect handheld devices to TV with a hand shank.


You can see NVIDIA’s portfolio for Tegra is Tegra 2, Tegra 3 ( KAL-EL), Wayne (quad core Cortex-A15), Logan ( 40 times faster than Tegra 2), Stark ( 75 times faster than Tegra 2).

If the development is smoothly, ARM will take over the desk PC market in 2014.

You can see the NVIDA Tegra 3 and elpidia RAM in the tear down picture of Transformer Prime fere.