Continuing its mission to develop robust mobile hardware, chipmaker Nvidia (NASDAQ:NVDA) on Tuesday unveiled its latest smartphone chip, the Tegra 4i, to rival current mobile chips from current market leader Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM).
Designed in partnership with British semiconductor design company ARM (NASDAQ:ARMH), the Tegra 4i is described as the first “integrated processor that powers all the major functions of a smartphone,” in the words of Nvidia’s senior vice president of mobile business Phil Carmack.
This one-of-a-kind “integration” means the Tegra 4i will include a built-in LTE modem to support activity on 4G mobile networks. Essentially, Nvidia is saying that its powerhouse mobile processors will be able to offer the same network functionality of any Qualcomm chip to make a new generation of fast, lightweight and (relatively) cheap “super phones.”
“Tegra 4i phones will provide amazing computing power, world-class phone capabilities and exceptionally long battery life," Carmack said.
The new chip, originally codenamed Project Grey, has all of the features that made Nvidia a trusted brand name for processing units. It comes packed with 60 graphics processing unit, or GPU, cores, a quad-core 2.3 GHz central processing unit, or CPU, based on one of ARM’s previous designs, and the company’s i500 LTE modem. The primary development here is the integration of the modem with the rest of the chip’s hardware; the i500 modem is already available as an optional upgrade for Nvidia’s Tegra 4 mobile processor.
As the other features go, the new chip actually sacrifices some features previously offered. Nvidia said that the 4i will only run a 1920 x 1200 LCD display and support 1080 HDMI output, whereas the original Tegra 4 could support 4K and 3200 x 2000 displays -- features that made it a better bet for large mobile displays on tablets or especially ample smartphones like Samsung’s (LON:BC94) Galaxy Note 2.
But what promises to turn all of this power into the engine behind a new generation of “super phones” isn’t the chip’s sheer processing power, or lack thereof. As with all things mobile, it’s the size that counts. Nvidia said the Tegra 4i offers all of these features in a package that’s half the size and 2.7 times more efficient in its power use than the Qualcomm’s newest chip, the Snapdragon S800, which was unveiled just last month at the Consumer Electronics Show, or CES, in Las Vegas.
The main innovation the Tegra 4i promises, therefore, is the “exceptionally long battery life.” Nothing impinges on the usage of mobile apps, particularly the robust kinds of software that Nvidia can support with many flashy visuals and features, than the constant fear of draining battery life and being stuck in the middle of nowhere without one’s trusty Google Maps. If Nvidia can deliver on this promise, it could finally help mobile users let go of their separation anxiety when leaving the house with fully powered gadgets and finally begin using their devices as fully fledged mobile products.
But that’s still a big if. Nvidia will be demonstrating some of the Tegra 4i’s functionality next week in Barcelona, Spain, for the Mobile World Conference.
Nvidia shares dropped more than 1.8 percent during Tuesday trading, falling to $12.50 shortly before 2 pm EST.