NVIDIA's Super Chip Has Landed

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Kal-El has had a long journey to Earth, and now that it has arrived, our yellow sun has truly bestowed it with superpowers never before seen on this terrestrial planet.

NVIDIA (Nasdaq: NVDA  ) has just officially launched its Tegra 3 mobile processor, which is the world's first quad-core mobile chip. Previously codenamed "Kal-El" after Superman's Kryptonian name, the chip is being justifiably touted by NVIDIA for its impressive specs, and it gives CEO Jen-Hsun Huang plenty of reasons to be bullish.

Built on ARM Holdings (Nasdaq: ARMH  ) architecture and clocked at 1.3 GHz, the chip will deliver "PC-class performance levels," NVIDIA promises, while reducing power consumption by as much as 61% compared to the last generation. Graphics performance is supposed to triple, while battery life can top out at 12 hours, notably besting Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) 10-hour iPad battery.

Source: NVIDIA press release.

The chip even includes a fifth "Companion" core, which is meant for ultra-low power consumption and tasks that don't need as much horsepower, which helps boost battery life. The four primary cores kick in when some serious heavy lifting is required. As a longtime gamer, I'm particularly impressed with the graphics performance that these chips are capable of.

Source: NVIDIA press release.

The company was kind enough to also include some screenshots, as its been working closely with a handful of mobile game developers. It's pretty mind-boggling to think that mobile gaming can provide an experience on par with dedicated gaming consoles, and it speaks to how quickly mobile processing is evolving.

The first device to run on the chip is the Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime, and it boasts hardware to make any spec snob drool. The tablet will rock a 10.1-inch IPS display covered in Corning (NYSE: GLW  ) Gorilla Glass, an 8-megapixel rear camera and a 1.2-megapixel front shooter, 1 GB of RAM, and 32 GB or 64 GB of onboard storage. It will run Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) Android.

Available in early December, it will run at the same entry-level price of the iPad at $499, but that will fetch you twice the entry storage, with 32 GB. They call it the Transformer Prime because you can also buy a keyboard dock for $149 that effectively converts it into a laptop.


Source: NVIDIA press release.

While Android tablet competition has thus far lacked any credible threat to the iPad, the Transformer Prime might actually be a potential contender.

Next year promises a slew of other quad-core mobile CPUs, including Qualcomm's (Nasdaq: QCOM  ) Snapdragon, Texas Instruments' (NYSE: TXN  ) OMAP 5, and Apple's A6. However, the unifying theme behind all of them is ARM Holdings technology, which is exactly why I bought shares. We'll have to wait until 2012 to see if NVIDIA's first-mover advantage will keep it ahead of the pack.

Fool contributor Evan Niu owns shares of Apple and ARM Holdings, but he holds no other position in any company mentioned. Click here to see his holdings and a short bio. The Motley Fool owns shares of Qualcomm, Google, Apple, and Texas Instruments. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of NVIDIA, Google, Apple, and Corning. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended creating a bull call spread position in Apple, as well as writing puts in NVIDIA. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Read/Post Comments (2) | Recommend This Article (7)

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  • Report this Comment On November 09, 2011, at 4:34 PM, Inept wrote:

    Kal-El disappoints in memory bandwidth and graphics performance, in my opinion. A 32-bit memory bus, even at the new, higher clock speeds, isn't sufficient for a high performance 4-core CPU + GPU, in my opinion. The GPU is OK, but not competitive with top-end offerings from other vendors in terms of raw performance.

    I guess nVidia knows what it's doing here but I didn't expect such a powerful chip to be constrained in its ability to consume the data it needs. I likewise expected that nVidia should offer unparalleled graphics performance, since that's its stock-in-trade.

    That said, I'm hoping to see the Tegra 3 in a lot more phones this time around (as opposed to mostly tablets for Tegra 2), with its excellent power-gating technologies and the 5th companion core. This will be a boon for power saving, no doubt, which will be much-appreciated by smartphone vendors and users.

    In other news, the Transformer Prime looks like a wonderful tablet. I like my original Transformer and a lot of other people do as well. I'd wager the Transformer is the single best selling Android tablet today and the new Transformer Prime looks like it could certainly eclipse its predecessor. Perhaps it will be the first really "big" Android tablet.

  • Report this Comment On November 09, 2011, at 7:05 PM, rfaramir wrote:

    Agree on the ARMH call. Disagree that this tablet will challenge iPad at all. Happy to have the competition, though!

    (Long AAPL)

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